Christoph Buchel’s; “Simply Botiful” Hauser and Wirth, Coppermill, 2007- Dominic Rich, March, 2007
Buchel has created through his colossal installation a setting for artistic enquiry into contemporary social and political issues. The installation comprises three main spaces; a hotel space, a makeshift warehouse, and a refrigerator sales room. The hotel space’s appearance is a down at heel seedy nightmare. A warren of interwoven narratives and stereotypes are unveiled in its rooms and corridors. The effect is a genuine affront on the senses.
The confined dimensions cause anxiety and claustrophobia. The hoarding of personal effects creates a barrage of references that heighten this oppressive feeling. Buchel’s techniques hone in on contentious populist issues such as poverty, vice, crime, terrorism and capitalism. He uses his inventive play with narrative to explore the clichés and myths associated with these themes, forcing the audience to contemplate issues of social responsibility.
Narratives are created through the artist’s strategic cluttering of cheap consumer objects. Operating as evidence, the audience observes, investigates contemplates, and intrudes. An ethical crossroads between exploration and voyeurism is generated. Exploitation for the sake of encouraging artistic questioning is challenged. The abundance of references encourages the audience to let curiosity override its ethical quandaries and fears. Art through installation serves as a vehicle for creative analysis.
Music of various genres plays in different parts of the installation. It filters, echoes, merges, and supports the constructed narratives. The music connotes a mix of people occupying the space; it is a temporary dwelling for countless numbers of socially deprived people; fallen women, travellers, freedom fighters, terrorists, drug addicts and vagabonds. The narratives are stereotyped. For example, one of the smaller rooms is dirty, with used tissues strewn among discarded condoms. Tawdry garments and seedy magazines inhabit the room’s corners. The centrepiece is a soiled, unkempt bed. It is clearly the intimate setting of a prostitute.
Half made meals, open doorways, journals and general disorder suggest a sudden departure of the hotel’s occupants. This is reminiscent of Arthur Conan Doyle’s story “Ghost Ship”, an elaboration on the “Marie Celeste” myth dating back to the late 1870’s. It is based on a small ship discovered in the straights of Gibraltar; unmanned, dry, in good condition, with clothes laid out on the floor and a meal prepared and ready to eat. The inexplicable disappearance of the ship’s inhabitants is a central element of intrigue in Conan Doyle’s story, however, the public found the author’s narrative so convincing that the British and American governments had to respond with an official investigation. Buchel’s installation is like Conan Doyle’s story in two ways. The first is the sudden inexplicable disappearance of people. The second is the artist’s and author’s command, their inventive use of mediums to blur the boundaries between fact and fiction.
To fictionalise implies motive. “Simply Botiful” acts as Buchel’s microcosm of present western culture. It seems a personal and jaded representation. Initially the audience is prompted to assume the installation exploits common tragedy; Buchel pursuing his own fanciful agenda, a selfish absorption into sensational myth making. However large segments of the warehouse and sales room have been appropriated by Buchel and installed in their original state. Whole, real life contexts are presented, not just objects. One such context appears within the warehouse space; a metal storage container decorated with lurid pornography. Amongst the pornographic images is a small photo of a proud five-a-side football team.
Buchel’s juxtaposition of fabrication and appropriation exposes the deceptive nature of myths and clichés. He demonstrates that clichés and myths are both fusions of truths and lies. Furthermore he shows that clichés are often truths masquerading as lies, and myths, lies masquerading as truths. “Simply Botiful” emphasises the difficulties that exist in deciphering myths and clichés; the (fabricated) prostitute’s narrative is as credible or incredible as the (appropriated) porn containers.
Buchel’s distortion of fact and fiction is similar to Conan Doyle’s representation of the “Marie Celeste” event. Nevertheless both had different objectives and outcomes. Conan Doyle melded facts and fancy; captivating people of the time to such an extent that they believed his story was true. Buchel contrasts his own fictional narratives against imported contexts. Masquerading as a story teller he subtly unearths truths. He exposes contradiction and unfairness in the dominant attitudes of society. Buchel’s use of objects and referencing are so directly taken from western society that it forces the audience to contemplate the environment they inhabit and apply artistic enquiry directly to their reality.