Camouflage, paravent, veil, protective wall, grid, as well as display and projection surface: Nevin Aladağ regards screens as hybrid elements which both block out and shield something while disclosing and representing it. What is so special and particularly fascinating about these mobile wall and architectural elements is that they emphasize and complicate what they conceal thanks to their transparency. The world behind the screen is not obliterated but remains visible and can be felt as a shadow, a silhouette, an imprint. It is there though it cannot be made out in detail. Screens allow us to divine a presence, an appearance, a movement without exposing it to our view.
Screens are the modern descendants of the semitransparent ornamental walls and wooden latticework used in the Arab world since the twelfth century. Mashrabiyas have decisively contributed to the codification and geometrization of the gaze. Their most sophisticated designs attest to the systematic deconstruction and algorithmic generation of form and figure. They do not only make the gaze rebound but make you literally fix your eyes on the latticework whose abstract figurations stamp themselves on the mind. According to Hans Belting such latticework is proof of a “visual culture in which the presence of geometry in dialogue with light was more powerful than the random appearance of things” (Florence & Baghdad: Renaissance Art and Arab Science, 2011). The regulation of the gaze which the mashrabiya administers is not only a barrier between the private and the public but also an encryption, a codification of the sensory.
Aladağ’s three partitions on Vienna’s Graben—Screen I–III—defined a public place by temporarily laying claim to it. Adorning the promenade like tapestries, their stony presence obstructed and disguised the commotion in the inner city. They marked the boundaries of a space and drew contours and axes within a field of movement regulated by façades, shop windows, and urban furniture. Screens are also walls, barriers, boundaries that describe what is in front of and behind them and create perspectives and terminal points. “Boundaries are many things: material, constructed, symbolic, felt, fictional and remembered, embodied, lived, there forever—always to be expected. And yet: it always starts with the body,” the theoretician Sandra Noeth points out (“Bodies of Evidence,” unpublished text for Olafur Eliasson: Green light, TBA21, 2016). Which is to say that screens not only constitute dividing lines and breaks but invite performativity, call for joint and individual action, actuate regimes of the gaze, and negotiate protocols of presence which are neither entirely private nor really public.
Cobblestones of white and dark blue Rauris marble and Waldviertel granite composite, fixed in different patterns and, though apparently floating, visibly attached to bars held by three freestanding high-grade steel frames, created an ornamental roar and whir defamiliarizing both the pattern and the stone. The large-size slabs used for the pavement on the inner city’s Graben and Kärntner Straße as well as for the paved sidewalks also come from granite works in the Waldviertel region in Lower Austria.
Is it permissible to think of the quarries in Mauthausen and St. Georgen an der Gusen in Upper Austria in the years between 1938 and 1945? Of the part that granite played as an instrument of torture and punishment or the licensed terror in these concentration camps? Or of another quality also inscribed into the stone: its long history as a material for protective walls in street fights, as a missile and weapon on behalf of the revolution? When the barricades of the Paris Commune were built in 1871, cobblestones stones were directly torn up from the roadway and piled up on carts and carriages. For decades, stones were regarded as the epitome of the proletarian weapon in class struggle, as evidenced, among other works, by Ivan Shadr’s Cobblestone is the Weapon of the Proletariat of 1927, a masterpiece of Socialist Realism, produced for the tenth anniversary of the October Revolution and still highly revered today. In May 1968, revolting students discovered the handy cobblestone for their purposes, directing it against the establishment. “Beneath the pavement, the beach!” (Sous les pavés, la plage!) was one of the battle cries of the agitated fighters who found the nineteenth-century cobblestones beneath the pavements of Paris and knew how to use them right on site.
Nevin Aladağ’s penchant for multivalence and polyphony was also—or rather especially—visible in the influential format of the public. Pattern and missile, orientalism and the local, veiling and revealing precisely inscribed themselves into her work and thus created a public space of action that resisted straightforward definitions. By disentangling the architectonic elements of the screen as well as the cube stones from their familiar functions, Aladağ released hidden narratives and opened up rooms to move that stimulated action and turned into dispositives of story-telling.
Text: Daniela Zyman
Kunstplatz Graben, in front of Graben 21, 1010 Vienna
*1972 in Van (TUR), lives and works in Berlin (DE).
Screen I-IIINevin Aladağ
June 3 to October 30, 2016
Schwarzstahl, Edelstahl, Pflastersteine aus Herschenberger Granit, weiße und dunkelblaue Pflastersteine aus Rauriser Marmor
3-teilig / 3 parts, je / each 303 x 160 x 65 cm (Pflastersteine je / each 5 x 5 x 5 cm)