Moby Dick by Michael Beutler

Issue no3
June / July 2019
Brussels / Bruxelles

Visiting an exhibition of German artist Michael Beutler at the Hamburger Bahnhof Museum for Contemporary Art in Berlin is without a doubt a journey one-of-a-kind, a peculiar adventure in which visitors can experience anew the historical hall of the museum. Thanks to artist’s intervention it has been transformed into a peculiar creation resembling a great ship’s hall or construction site of a Crystal Palace look alike building or the reconstruction of the museumarchitecture itself. It defies any qualification and does not allow for boredom.

Melanie Roumiguière, the curator of the show, already states in a video at the entry that the museum has been turned upside down for this show. The space of the historic lobby has been filled with a tons of different materials, tools, grids, models and other weird structures, between which the viewer can move like in the warehouse or manufactory. All appears to be arranged completely randomly, whilst in fact it is preceded according to set-up plan. There is an exception - each first week of the month Beutler is paying a special visit to make some alternations. And thus the exhibition space resembles more the structure of a workshop or a studio - the final result of the show remains unpredictable.

Beutler’s universe, built of basic and found sources, imitates the existing world - while at the same time it is a creation of an imaginary landscape. Expanded sculptural and architectural forms seem to be made in a symbiosis with the museum structure, the museum hall. It responds to its original internal grid. DIY techniques and simple construction materials, like paper, metal or plastic - mirror glass and iron are used to build a massive installation that behaves like one coherent bricolage art work.

The title of the show derives from nineteenth-century novel by American writer Herman Melville Moby-Dick; or, The Whale, called by D.H. Lawrence one of the strangest and most wonderful books in the world. A rotating round construction that stands in the middle of the room is named Pequod, after a Nantucket whaling ship that appears in a novel. The form of the mobile Pequod resembles a garden pavilion or greenhouse - it attracts most attention and reveals Beutler’s interest in how architecture affects visitors’ movements.

Melville’s book is composed around narrative chapters and non-narrative descriptions and studies on whales. Sermons and travel reports are intertwined with dreams, autobiographical accounts and epic poetry. A similar structure can be observed in the exhibition, where old works activated anew adjoin the new ones and completed projects are accompanied by displayed sketches and studies.

At every turn the beholder is asked to be an explorer. The view resembles something between amusement part and garbage dump or mad constructor’s workshop. Like being inside one of the assemblage sculptures of Belgian artist Panamarenko or surrounded by scenery from Alain Tanner movie Light Years Away (1981), which tells a story of an old man living in a middle of a junkyard, taught by birds how to build a flying machine in his hangar. In the end its main protagonist Yoshka decides to share his fantastic secret.

What Michael Beutler wants to tell us? What all this muddle is hiding? Like in the movie (where for more than half of the time it’s hard to tell what the main protagonist is doing) – at first sight it is no easy task to figure out what this is all about.

Each of Beutler’s exhibitions opens a new space for experimentation. Through reflection on social and architectural structures of the exhibition space he designed his own methodology where it becomes both a place of production and presentation. Moby Dick, as befits the great whale infamous for his power and giant proportions, possess and seduces the space offering its new reading. Architectural elements lose their function and gain a new one. Cranes on a construction site outside the window look like an extension of the show (or maybe they are?), disturbing even more the sense of what is fictitious and what’s real. The tectonic skeleton is created now by brought and borrowed elements, which seem to feel very comfortable in this new environment. Similarly, the visitors do. In a long time I haven’t seen an art exhibition with so many happy and smiling faces.

Michael Beutler
Moby Dick
Hamburger Bahnhof - Museum für Gegenwart – Berlin,
17.04 - 06.09.2015

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Metropolis M Magazine for contemporary art No 3 — 2019