The Berlin-based artist Christian Jankowski conceived a project for the Donauspital subway station which addresses fundamental questions about commissioned art. The result is a multi-faceted work which, aside from conceptual poignancy, also has much phantasmal potential: comprised of eighteen images of signs and lettering put up in different places across the station, Die große Geste (The Grand Gesture) works as a desire machine—simple verbal stimuli are used to evoke in viewers memories and projections that reach out far beyond the geographic site of the station.
The starting moment for Die große Geste was a briefing that Jankowski was given for an earlier art-in-architecture competition. From a one-hundred-page manual specifying the desired qualities of the artwork projected for an air terminal, he extracted a number of verbal messages and markings which, while referring to its purpose and function, were nevertheless kept so general in wording as to be applicable to almost any other place as well. One requirement was for the art to “create an important visual and emotional point of reference,” and another that “the art should provide a mark at this site.” And of course “the grand gesture” was supposed not to be overlooked and to give some stately grandeur to the arrivals hall. Not without some unintended humor, the briefing is quite unabashed about making it very clear what art was to be used—or abused—for here.
Authored by a marketing agency, the briefing gives expression to a rather functionalizing notion of art. What they were looking for was a type of art that would put itself in the service of the building and its functions as a communication tool; a type of art that draws attention, elicits emotions, and is committed to spectacle.
Like in earlier works, Christian Jankowski has developed an astutely wry counterpoint to the omnipresent utilization of art. “Using artistic means to take the phenomenon of art in architecture to a meta-level and addressing its very structures” is, as the artist himself explains, in the focus of the multipart installation. Visitors are to be inspired to reflect on the conditions of public space and on the role of art in the public realm. This is achieved through a number of marker signs (rectangles, ovals, circles, etc.) and accompanying textual elements of different size and coloring, milled from sheet aluminum and stainless steel and placed throughout the interior and exterior spaces of the subway station. These sign and text displays are enlarged handwritten copies of phrases from the briefing manual which were traced by the artist using wax paper. Blown up enormously, their making is reminiscent of billboards, and their coloring of guidance systems, entering into an almost natural dialogue with the commercial and operational communications which are also present at the subway station.
Particularly significant is the placement of the written images which is done by Jankowski with mischievous precision. The main entrance to the station is crowned with the phrase “Der Auftritt” (Making an appearance), reminding passengers and passersby that they themselves are part of the public—performers, as it were, and actors on the stage of the public sphere. In addition, the markings encourage people to take a fresh look and reconsider familiar structures (station entrance, ticket machine, escalator, platforms, surveillance cameras, waiting areas, etc.).
Eventually, the words call forth in the minds of viewers the images that these have already been carrying around inside themselves. Christian Jankowski’s Die große Geste is a work of art that is a brilliant analysis of the mechanisms of art, communication, self-presentation, and subject construction, bringing them together in a convincing and stylized overall form.
Text: Christoph Doswald
U2 subway station Donauspital, 1220 Vienna
* 1968 Göttingen (DE), lives and works in Berlin (DE).
This project was selected as a winner's project in the course of an artistic competition. For more information please follow this link:
Die große GesteChristian Jankowski
Since October 29, 2014
Eighteen-part installation of written and drawn images
Sheet aluminum, stainless steel, traffic-sign red, aluminum white and aluminum gray color coating, different measurements