Whitehot Magazine

March 2008, Gregor Schneider @ La Maison Rouge

süβer Duft,
detail, courtesy of La Maison Rouge, photo by Marc Domage

Gregor Schneider’s süßer duft at La Maison Rouge

 Specially created by Gregor Schneider (born in Rheydt, German in 1969) for La Maison Rouge, süßer duft (‘sweet smell’) is no standard art exposition. The experience begins just as most visits to an art gallery do. Upon entrance to the gallery, situated near the heart of Paris, the visitor is presented with a quiet, pristine white space. Visitors purchase tickets and mill around, looking at brochures and reading books on the artist whose work they are about to view. From here on though, the art experience is like no other that I have ever encountered.

 Before entering the exposition, attendees are pulled over to the side and informed that only one person is admitted at a time. As visitors are asked to sign a waiver stating that turning back is prohibited (this is hard to do anyway- in a moment of panic, I tried!), the implications of seeing an exhibit all alone begins to sink in – the silence, the solitude, the lack of discussion. From the very beginning, Schneider tests the limits of his viewers, forcing them to experience feelings and situations that many consider uncomfortable.

 Best known for his fascination with and manipulation of architecture, süßer duft follows in the same vein as much of Gregor Schneider’s previous works, particularly Die Famille Schneider and Totes Haus Ur (for which he won the Golden Lion award at the 2001 Venice Biennale). The work is comprised of a labyrinthine maze of rooms and hallways, each attaining individuality through differing sizes, materials, amounts of light, temperature, size and even scent. Each chamber is connected to the rest of the maze by a cramped, closet-like space, usually dark and confining, and fostering a prevailing sense of claustrophobia. Schneider is well known for his ability to infuse the mundane and ordinary with his disturbing sense of reality. In süßer duft Schneider most certainly achieves this.

 “I consider that action is superior to thought.” Schneider’s mantra is most certainly fulfilled
 in his painstaking architectural recreations.
 The sculpture itself is nothing out of the ordinary, besides the fact that Schneider has taken on such a huge project within the confines of a gallery, building an enclosed space within another space. We have all been in warehouses or storerooms with exposed metal beams, concrete floors, and florescent lighting, where our footsteps echo and the atmosphere is one of cold, hard industry. This tedious recreation is not what is remarkable about Schneider’s work. Instead, it is the way that Schneider, unpresent, of course, is able to control his visitors within his domain- everything from their path (the doors have knobs on only one side, preventing any back tracking) to their bodily systems (one room was so hot that I began to feel faint in my winter jacket), and most significantly, their emotions.

 Every one of Schneider’s rooms brings a new experience and unleashes a new sensation, usually one that we did not know could be possible in the controlled confines of an art gallery, or most public spaces for that matter. Through süßer duft, Schneider is able to pit the raw, animal instinct of fear against the logic of the human mind, which knows that the exposition is in a monitored public space where no harm will come. As viewers progress through the rooms, the sense of fear and unease sets in. At times, Schneider offers his visitors relief, such as when the progression of the rooms leads from a stiflingly hot space into a cold metal room. The climax of the piece is the last room, where Schneider removes all light, leaving visitors alone in a dark space, with no reference for escape. It is here that the most potent emotions well up from deep inside, as attendees are forced to grope along the wall, searching for respite.

 One of the most remarkable aspects of süßer duft is that Schneider has given viewers no exact references to anything disturbing. Rather, he leaves the mind of the visitor to run rampant, creating their own reasons for fear, and thereby perhaps making the experience even more disturbing than if he had included direct references to, say, corpses or other generally ‘creepy’ things, as he has done in some of his past works.

süβer Duft, detail, courtesy of La Maison Rouge, photo by Marc Domage

 While other artists rely upon their art being published in books and magazines in order to reach the largest audience and perhaps gain fame, in many ways Schneider turns his back on the notion of celebrity. This is evident in the time-consuming nature of his work, both for the artist, and the viewer. The sheer quantity of time and materials necessary to make one of his installations is breathtaking and rules out the possibility of any haste in the creation process. Also, rather than allowing his installation to be flooded by viewers, Schneider invests time, as much as each individual needs, in his visitors.

 As with most architecture, süßer duft. cannot be understood by merely viewing images or reading a synopsis- it must be experienced. That is its sole purpose. So much of the genius of süßer duft lies in the sense of mystery and loss of control that Schneider is capable of creating in visitors. Schneider aims to inflict upon visitors pure, unabashed emotion; emotion that the average viewer experiences only occasionally; emotion that is rife with anxiety, fear, panic, and at the end, relief.

süβer Duft, detail, courtesy of La Maison Rouge, photo by Marc Domage

 Upon leaving, Schneider has actually managed to affect my psyche. In those twenty minutes, my world view changed, at least during the hours following my departure. Suddenly, everyday, mundane spaces seem sinister and foreboding. Schneider’s work is indeed quite powerful. Through his innovative take on sculpture and art, he is able to shape our view and understanding of the world, what loftier goal could an artist have?

Gregor Schneider’s süßer duft will be on view at La Maison Rouge until the eighteenth of May, 2008.

Zoe Brant

Zoë Brant lives and writes in Paris.

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