Burghart Schmidt

Ornamentation in a Clinch with Myth

For his installation for a very specific room in Vienna's MAK Museum, the specific nature of which consists in the gallery character of a passage room, Georg Salner produced an excellent text that I would actually have to put here to avoid duplication of work. Yes, his description includes the first convincing interpretative approach to the visual and formal. True, the metal squares, which have been measured out according to a clear formula, changing in a few metallic colours, and which have been arranged in strict proportion along a number of rows, greatly enhance the gallery's perspective via a through wall. True, also that when looking at the structure and colours of the rows of metal squares that turn to cross the perspective, the wall opens to the depth of the room, and the metal plates, at least those of the darker colours, shoot to the forefront. The room is overstretched and made to swing like springs.

What is also convincing is how the artist in his own text hints at references of the western history of symbols. From the strictly orthogonal pattern, which the wall imposes, he hints associatively at the infrastructural pattern in which ancient Greek and Roman colonial cities were organized. And it is from this association that he picks out Diocletian's Palace in Split (ancient Spalato), where the infrastructural cruciform pattern was symbolically illustrated in the names on the doors at the ends of the cross, with the words for the four metals that were most important for the people of the ancient world: gold, silver, copper, iron. The artist writes these door names so that they are clearly visible on a large board that blocks one of the gallery's doors, and thus integrates them as a fixed point into the swinging installation, the only fixed point that allows the visitor, for example, to experience the room as an incomprehensible movability in the 'double door motif.' So that there is something, after all, "to which we can hold on to" (Bertold Brecht).Yet, Salner's chains of associations reach even further, from the myth of the Metallon to the urban infrastructure, and eventually to their signifying function as the image of the cosmic structure.

All that remains for me to do is to put the artist's project somewhat into the context of the trends of our century, especially those of the last few decades. And we are certainly reminded here of the ideas of neoplasticism during the twenties, from Piet Mondrian (Netherlands) to Josef Albers (Bauhaus). I am talking about a way of working emphatically on the flat surface, not simply two-dimensionally on the flat surface, which nevertheless seeks to achieve the greatest three-dimensional effect. In Salner's case, these even become the adventures of an event space within the spatial event, which no longer want to allow the room to be a trunk or wardrobe, or maybe a wardrobe trunk, where we put things away in order.

Despite these dynamic dramatics, it remains evident that the installation appears as a system of ornamentation, albeit as a cool, constructive, calculated system of ornamentation. This puts the installation in the context of that resumed debate about ornamentation that is related in its traits of the discussion about postmodernism. It was with postmodernism that artistic and cultural matters were revalued, especially in the sphere of architecture, although they had seemed past, settled, done with. This involved a new pleasure derived from ornamentation, traditional ornaments in citation to such a degree that one had to understand postmodernism - at least in architecture - as a new historicism, as some would say. In its novelty and absence of citation, the system of ornamentation that Salner has designed and installed is absolutely free of this.

Instead, with its lavish use of ornamentation, it touches on a different issue of the postmodernist debate, namely the "Work on the Myth" (Hans Blumenberg), whereas preceding periods were so proud of their successful demythologization. In Salner's work, the question about the myth of the cosmos becomes fully conscious again, and even has an element of citation. I have hinted at the infrastructure of ancient cities as an image of the cosmos. Here ornamentation has more than the merely decorative function required by our lifestyles. Even the specific experience of the room was not simply a matter of overcoming the tedious effect of a large white wall. What if which is presented begins to talk about the structures of the cosmos and its history, maybe in the mathematical formulas of proportions and functionalities that relate to 'holy mathematics', quantifiable religiousness. It has to be noted in this connection, however, that Salner is neither a preacher nor a missionary, but only asks questions about age-old matters that may, nevertheless, not be so old that they are no longer true.

That is why the artist's installation remains a descriptive game of questions between free art and applied art, one that seeks to explain itself. After all, it can, on the one hand, be understood as an interior concept, interior design, and, on the other, as a descriptive study of mythical problems. In the current trend of intermediate positions it therefore stands between its applied nature and the freedom of artistic production. It is from this intermediate position that, as we know, applied art is hoping to find new paths from the beaten tracks of easy transformativity, since these tracks are increasingly being taken over by computers. And free art is obviously expecting through this intermediate position to once again move closer to the realities of our time. I think that hopes and promises of this kind are not out of this world. Salner's installation can be helpful here, too, although as the work of a thoughtful and allusive artist, its intentionality reaches far beyond that, as I briefly tried to describe here.

Burghart Schmidt was born in northern Germany in 1942. He is a professor for language and aesthetics at the University for Design in Offenbach/Main.

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