Judith Saupper, 2013
born 1975 in Feldkirch, Vorarlberg; lives and works in Vienna and Lower Austria
In the sound of the flood of houses
The view of the water. A lake, dark. The waves swash onto the shore and spit foam. The radio is on. It hisses.
Judith Saupper, a native of the Vorarlberg, spent six months in the tower studio of the ZF Kunststiftung in Friedrichshafen. Her quarters: a former rail station that was realised by Reichsoberbaurat Karl Hagenmeyer in 1933 in the harbour area. Clear, cubic, purist. A house that today as the Zeppelin Museum brings together art and technology in its programme, and which was adapted in the 1990s by the architects Jauss+Gaupp. The tower projects sufficiently above the building and looks out towards Lake Constance. Horizontal rows of windows are laid out accurately and symmetrically in the vertical form. A house that would be suitable as a protagonist for Judith Saupper’s geometric architectural objects, with which the artist generates her model-like parallel worlds. To live in the tower, direct on Lake Constance for a few months means: taking walks along the waterside through the nearby nature reserve, strolling alone through the town. Despite all the people around, one can talk of isolation – the work is going well, there are bedtime stories being told by the radio.
The lake is omnipresent, the wave fills up the space, from the tower one can see to the Swiss side of the tripoint. The Säntis lies directly in the field of view and with it the Alps loom as a mountain backdrop with varying degrees of definition, depending on the weather. Judith Saupper grew up in Switzerland before going to Vienna to study at the Academy (now University) of Applied Arts. The silhouettes of the mountains are familiar to her. A large mountain also forms the basis for Judith Saupper’s work that she has conceived and implemented in Friedrichshafen. The dimensions are considerable: six lengths of paper all in all seven metres long and more than four metres wide. As an installation, Das Große Rauschen (The Big Noise) reaches to just below the ceiling of the exhibition room. Along the contour lines a turmoil of nothing but little houses spreads out like ornamentation on a topographic carpet. A demarcation line divides the field into the ground and sky areas. In the lower area the pictures are printed on the paper, in the upper they are affixed as a collage in the original. Altogether there are 475 drawings of houses, all in black and white. Architectural details can be seen, every building is considered with the same documentary attention: without a hint of irony, kitschy cottages are also visually scanned and put on paper like houses that one might also come across in actual architecture magazines or publications about the modern age. The lines and areas in black ink do not judge, but rather trace lifestyles, for in each house – even though not visible in the representation – people live according to their own principles. The interest with which Judith Saupper collects and conserves the different styles resembles the creation of a collection of insects in which iridescent butterflies can be found along with multi-limbed flying creatures and horrid looking beetles.
The houses that are depicted really do exist and originate from the stock of photos that the artist has compiled in the course of her travels and from her everyday observations. Buildings from France, Italy, Sweden, Scotland, Germany and Austria are represented in this collection. Yet the question of assignment to styles with regional characteristics does not at first arise because, free from epoch and nationality, they have all been sown along the ridge of Judith Saupper’s mountain landscape. Now they spring up merrily as an invasive species, like in reality the Tirol house with its carved veranda started out on its triumphal march in the east of Austria, or modern high-rise buildings shot up in the French Alps. In the main they are homes with a spectrum ranging from rustic to urban. Industry is also there, a school, a few church buildings. Unsystematised, the arrangement is subject to criteria that might be perceived as arbitrary, although a system of her own is immanent in Judith Saupper’s artistic creative processes. The change in perspective when looking at the houses is consciously chosen and supports the surreality of the scenery. With the frontal representation of buildings the iconicity of the picture is every now and then increased. Contrasting areas of trees and greenery give the ensemble variety and rhythm. Where the representations of the houses have been mounted on the paper background in the form of a collage, a rustling is produced by the overlaying of paper of different material that can also be associatively connected with the “Rauschen” (noise) giving rise to the title. The ends of the six lengths are creased with wavelike wrinkles straining upward. When visitors pass by the exhibition room, a draught of air can set off a slight motion in the lengths of paper. Then the sculpture begins to softly rustle.
But how would it sound if each one of the houses were to let out a specific tone? Would the frequency of an exposed concrete building interfere with the pitch of an Art Nouveau villa? Can the canon of types of building literally be understood? And how differentiated would an individual sound be in the din and moans and roars with the development of the whole mountain ridge? Or is it not rather the snapshot of their use that distinguishes all these houses acoustically from each other ? “steps on the roof” – “wind through a window that is not shut” – “clinking bottles” – “children’s voices” – “whistling in the stair well”: with this extract from more than 150 notions with which Judith Saupper verbally subsumes Das Große Rauschen, it is again clear that the buildings of her construct are not uninhabited. En passant one is aware of the background noise coming through the open windows. One hears the television or perhaps even snippets of conversation, is here and there a witness of everyday life, imagines the faces that go with it, and pictures a story. This synaesthesia has already been taken into account in the installation Echo, an object with sound and “Wildwuchs” (uncontrolled growth) that was produced in 2011 together with the composer Rupert Huber.
In the case of the Friedrichshafen installation, which manifests itself as an Alpine Panoptikum, the sound level takes place purely in the head of the viewer. However, in spite of the many pictures, the visual counterpart of “Rauschen” – shimmering or flickering – is decidedly not addressed by the artist. The acoustic denotation remains in the foreground of the title of the work. In front of the symbolically reduced mountain panorama the “Höhenrausch” (high-altitude euphoria) can even be included in a deduction. For “Rausch” and “Rauschen” have the common West Germanic root “rūschsen, riuschen” a verb that is classified by the Duden dictionary of etymology as probably of onomatopoeic origin (an echo word imitating a sound). The association of visual and sound levels was dealt with by Bettina Schmitt by reference to the representability of water in landscape painting: “To penetrate into the hostile highlands, to look down into the deep chasms, to let the unleashed force of great waterfalls take its effect, this self-awareness of the removal of boundaries regarding the awesomeness of nature was, in the second half of the 18th century, consciously provoked as the experience of the sublime, stage-managed and theoretically understood.” 1
In the case of the distinguished semiotician Roland Barthes, “Rauschen” is not dealt with as a romantic natural phenomenon but on the acoustic level. The suspension of sense takes place in those situations where, due to no understanding of the language in a foreign land – in the case of Barthes it is Japan – what is heard becomes an indecipherable sequence of sounds. Le Bruissement de la Langue was published in 1984 as a collection of critical essays.2 “Rauschen” as a phenomenon also occupies communications theoreticians like Michel Serres. In the 1960s, the philosopher put the physical materiality of the channel in the centre of his signal model with which the relationship of communication to noise had priority over that between transmitter and receiver. The noise source thereby becomes an independent entity.3 The actual word “Störfaktor” (noise factor) is listed by the artist in her catalogue of terms. But how can these theoretical considerations be transferred beyond that to the work situation of Judith Saupper in her Friedrichshafen tower studio? Bernhard Siegert writes in his essay Die Geburt der Literatur aus dem Rauschen der Kanäle: “With the radio, by means of which an electronic amplification, processing and transmission medium was made available to sound events, the poetological model on which the concept of the parasite is based (that a (phatic) reference to interference precedes every utterance, every appeal or every referentialisation) becomes performative. […] Actually the figure of the transcendence of the anthropological model on the origin of language through electromagnetic channels appears explicitly in one of the most prominent contributions on the aesthetics of the radio from the time of the Weimar Republic – in Rudolf Arnheim’s Rundfunk als Hörkunst. Radio is for Arnheim first and foremost a medium that returns the listener to a prehistoric condition of the sonic world in which language and sound were still not distinguished.” 4
Radio is on in the background. The culture-based station of the Austrian Broadcasting Corporation can be accessed via the Internet worldwide. In Friedrichshafen too. Judith Saupper is drawing intently. On average, 2.6027397 houses every day of her six-month residence at Lake Constance. Fences, gables, bays, flat roofs, shutters, stonewalls. Straight without a straightedge, and with a sure stroke. They are not embellished illustrations. Imperfections – for example on a facade – are recorded and shown. Nevertheless, the drawings are not prosaic: they resonate with a memorable image – the downpour when driving past, the breakfast in the café opposite, the visit to an event near by. Judith Saupper recalls the houses and what she experienced with them. In between “a call with skype” – “lonely browsing through books” – “the silence of arrivals”: this can be read in Judith Saupper’s collection of text to Das Große Rauschen. The guest studio at a location that is many hours away from Vienna, from partner, from family, from friends also means: being thrown back on oneself in a clearly structured regime of time and space, virtually free of distraction. In 1914 August Stramm wrote:
Ich und Ich und Ich und Ich
Grausen Brausen Rauschen Grausen
Träumen Splittern Branden Blenden
Sterneblenden Brausen Grausen
Lake Constance can be very dark, explains Judith Saupper. A large area, to which the town of Friedrichshafen owes a promenade and a harbour rail station. The detailed scenes, that really do exist in another context, and which Judith Saupper – a set designer in a secondary occupation – designs as scenery for many chapters of a fictional Alpine saga between Austria, Germany and Switzerland, remain spaces that can only be perceived from outside. Unlike many of her objects in which interiors function as an expression of the character of their occupiers, the doors of the drawing inside the installation Das Große Rauschen remain closed. They condense to stations on an imaginary hiking map through the mountains. The concrete reference to the landscape in the drawings is new, even though in the facade design of a Viennese inner city house under the title Checklist: Zukunftsplanung (Checklist: Future Planning) from 2013 the map appears abstract, and alienated nature scenes in photo series have been present for quite some time.
Judith Saupper has, in and for Friedrichshafen, precisely surveyed the territory of the intellectual freedom of a tower studio that looks onto the lake. In the meantime the next has moved in. There is a diffuse hissing noise. Someone turns the radio off.