Make Yourself at Home

Robert F. Hammerstiel confronts us with familiar motifs from everyday life. Everyday life - for all its connotations the term refers to the inconspicuous, but also to the subtext. It marks out a zone of the non-conscious which, concurrently, comprises a large part of the lives we lead; it therefore provides the ideal conditions for social structures to establish themselves unnoticed and, as hidden causes, to reveal their symptoms like ordinary circumstances. Hammerstiel reconstructs these structures and, with meticulous forensic accuracy, uses photography, video and installation to secure the trails that lead to these individual scenes.

This process of taking stock therefore focuses on what is actually found on site: what is to be found in our daily lives permeated by consumerism is ultimately usually a product, charged with the paradoxical tension generated between imaginary appearance and materialised reality. In his earlier works Robert F. Hammerstiel would intervene in these product worlds by staging and arranging. But in the works on show at the exhibition his documentary gaze has become more radicalised, with the artist himself withdrawing completely behind the lens to the level of the medium itself. The four large-format photographs of the installation Make Yourself at Home feature an authentic garden, one that really exists. In all four directions, tall thuja hedges several feet high obstruct the view either into or out of the garden. Set within this deliberately defined rectangle we find all the accoutrements of the private idyll, from the summer house complete with seating area and parasol to the swimming pool complete with roll-back cover: nothing here is left to chance. And although there is no-one to be seen, the owner of all the paraphernalia somehow seems strangely present. All we are shown are mass-produced articles, yet their selection and arrangement suggest an underlying identity. The fact that the world has been - literally - broken down into products has resulted in a disastrous short-circuit. Desire is the mainspring of existence, the result of narcissistic self-awareness aimed from the outset at the other side of the mirror, forever beyond reach. Its fulfilment lies in appropriating available goods while forfeiting the potential of constituting the archetypal and essentially human desire as a longing and a moment of transcendence. The photographs that make up the installation act on the one hand as a visual extension of the space itself while illustrating the vivid mode of desire founded in the mirror stage - not just through the striking demarcation of the dark framing, but also and above all through the razor-sharp definition. In this world there are no in-between spaces, no sfumato that allows the interpreting subject to think beyond the image.

This seclusiveness ultimately provides the framework for the Playground III series of videos. We see from a bird's eye view five gardens on a residential housing estate, with the people on show resembling protagonists entering a stage. And even if the stage setting itself is shaped by the homeowners' visions, the hierarchy appears reversed. The backdrops and props that correspond to the image of leisure determine the performance of the weekend's scheduled activities. The wishes fulfilled here are like the negative moulds, cast from liquid longings, of the purchased products themselves. In this construct of identity the recognition of the mirrored self as an entity gives way to the fragmented view of individual and interchangeable goods. An attempt at preserving a residual entity out of the fragments of the identity depicted is made through the clear demarcation of the private space. Thus the script of leisure time is played out with a discipline similar to that which exists in the professional world. That inevitability is summed up in the video Warum bin ich nicht überrascht?. We see a woman swimming on the spot against the hydro-flow system of a swimming pool, the edge of which also defines the boundaries of the photograph. When she's not swimming, she's sitting at the poolside. Whether this reduction to the immediately real signifies a loss of transcendence or perhaps even its conquering remains unanswered - the arrow of longing once fired off beyond a person's scope has inadvertently hit the mark.

Finally, as we step onto the installation's artificial turf and confront the talking robotic lawn mowers we find our considerations subtly expanded to the reality of our visit to the exhibition. And anyone sitting in their garden who might be overcome with the need to confront the big questions of life will find the industry of culture serving up the offering of art enjoyment. Indeed, as an exhibition catalogue, that enjoyment is even there to be taken home, as a commodity as it were.

Johannes Holzmann