Texts/Andreas Krištof: The Politics of Space – On the work of Beatrix Bakondy

Andreas Krištof

The Politics of Space
On the work of Beatrix Bakondy


Beatrix Bakondy deals with space. As simple as that opening sentence of my essay on Beatrix Bakondy’s artistic work may sound, the artistic assertion underlying it is all the more complex. Given the diversity and multi-layered complexity of the spatial references in her work, it is worth reflecting on some of the fundamental systems of references and relationships that underpin what is commonly referred to as a theory of space. It is rare enough to find such distinctive and clearly formulated works that do so consistently and therefore allow such space for thought in the first place. It should be said at the outset that the relevance of the work in the context of the discourse on the problematised relationship between material and immaterial art occurs at a time when our society is highly mediatised, and that this context therefore represents an important backdrop for discussing Beatrix Bakondy’s artistic strategies and methodologies.

A great deal has been written about the significance of space in connection with the visual arts, and a great deal has flowed into the production of art in the 20th and 21st century. Explicitly conceptualising the notion of space with regard to each particular artistic work has contributed to qualifying the autonomous status of art, and its definition. The broader notion of ‘context’ as a space-defining parameter has served to illustrate and anchor this problematised relationship.

As the Spanish artist Eduardo Chillida once remarked, “the limit is the real protagonist of space”, thus pinpointing a key aspect of the exploration of this particular theme.1
In his attempt to find a valid definition of a concept of space Immanuel Kant had already posited an additional component of perception (referring to it prosaically with the words “and so on”, by which he understood no more and no less than subjective perception itself) – bearing in mind that, in keeping with the Euclidean model, he worked on the assumption of no more than three dimensions in space.2 Alongside culturally and individually determined definitions of space, it is the subject-object relationship first and foremost that isthe determining factor in the perception and description of space. With the discourse of postmodernism and the introductionof the notion of ‘contingency’, which
ultimately describes constantly changing commensurabilities (not in the sense
of a post-modernistic ‘anything goes’, but following defined general laws), the
subject-object relationship is no longer a hard and fast rule; the stipulation and description of spatial relationships are therefore similarly fluid.

The viewer’s cultural conditioning therefore plays a key role in this web of relations; it
is certainly its most changeable component. Beatrix Bakondy’s work is a constant interplay with and within that web, with the outside view itself incorporated as an image-constituting factor. Her entire œuvre can be read within a particular spatial stringency, less in the sense of a chronological sequence than of an illustration of the different spatial relations and their relationship to one another.

This probing, surveying and sounding out of concrete architectural spaces and structures using the extended means of drawing, photography and installation are the fundamental instruments involved. Her space-constructing drawings entitled Possibilities are not just overruns of classic image formats; they use the white wall as an image-shaping part of the work and incorporate as a matter of course constructive elements such as the medium of architectural drawing. They confront the viewer with architectural spatial settings which can only be objectively apprehended at first sight. Despite the presence they achieve through the black-and-white effect they are merely fragments of space; they are, in the best sense of the word, overlaps and permeations of drawn and real space, and represent objects of transition from the two-dimensional to the three-dimensional, and vice versa. In their geometric rigour and ultimately rigorous release from architectural or functional contexts of meaning they are a reminder of the utopias of the classical avant-garde movements.

Generally speaking, it is difficult to shake off the impression that Beatrix Bakondy has somehow cultivated – not to say perfected – the methodology of dissection in order to expose certain spatial constellations. How else does one explain the way in which, in the series Grasping, she affords visual space to the gap between the palms of the hand and the objects that are held, palpated and clasped by the hand? Or the way in which, in the series Aerosols, she succeeds in affording quotidian objects a permanent, schematic presence by spraying them with black paint against a support medium, but also a supra-physical and therefore universally valid presence by erasing their conventional insignia such as colour, product logos and other information? The photo and video work entitled Questions of Space is borne by the clear conviction that even invisible spatial relationships can be articulated and rendered visible through the vector of art. Physical space is translated into the medium of photography, which is in turn the starting point for a video work. Interlacing different media in this way immediately gives rise to a seemingly non-existent space.

The artist also extends this consistent probing of spatial arrangements to the three-dimensional space. Equilibrium and solid traction, stability and instability – sculptural conditions all – play a key role in her installations Shells and Memory of a Space. The function and impact of sculpture within a space are coupled with particular social conditions, thereby opening up a further spatial constellation, namely that of the political space and the relevance of art in and for said space. Her installation Memory of a Space represents a series of portraits of asylum seekers taken in and then extracted from a church environment which, in this case, is synonymous with the social involvement of a church institution and therefore a non-governmental institution. The work evokes an unstable situation that confronts the viewer with a world in upheaval, shifting and menacing. Migration is described as a universal ex­perience and a continuation of a colonial world order. In his book published in 1997 entitled Die Gesellschaft der Gesellschaft [literally: The Society of Society] Niklas Luhmann defines the relationship between inclusion and exclusion and concludes that exclusion has a far stronger integrating effect than inclusion, adding very clearly and tellingly that “in the sphere of inclusion people count as a person while in the sphere of exclusion it would seem that it is nearly always all about their bodies”.3 Exclusions for ethical, religious, ideological, economic or political reasons continue to be the dominant strategies of the Western capitalist world. Here the installation space becomes linked with the space of real and therefore political social orders. The installation formally includes a condition of social exclusion. Thus the work also reflects on the aesthetics of disappearance while maintaining a state that is no longer extant in this form. How is identity constituted? How important is the aspect of outwardness – and with it the relationship structure of shell (form) and content? And how powerful in this context is the impact of one’s own memory? As if to underpin these questions and these unanswered commensurabilities Beatrix Bakondy translates the installation into the medium of photography, thereby not only transporting her sculptural concerns, but also releasing the fleeting event itself from any temporal notion.

In the work Mirror Strobl Beatrix Bakondy uses a kindred methodology, albeit applied to the medium of video, to visualise a topic repeatedly rendered taboo in Austrian history, i.e. not just the resistance to the Nazi regime, but the resistance of women specifically. The action is set in the Salzkammergut region of Austria. Landscape shots are overlaid with the outline shadow of a female figure in which the filmed landscape is once again mirrored with a time lag, making the figure visible in the first place. The artist subtly creates a form of visual memory space devoid of pathos for the female protagonists of the resistance movement on the dark side of history. There is a correspondence between form, content and medium to the extent that they strike a balance between presence and absence without negating the existing fragility of the topic’s social importance. It becomes clear that space is not present as a matter of course; rather, that it is created through complex constituting processes and, consequently, that it
is consciously created or consciously not created, and is therefore also always
a political act.

Beatrix Bakondy’s exploration of space and spatial constellations is very much borne by this interest in the social location of art. To quote Pierre Huyghe: “I am interested in constructing situations that take place within reality […]. I focus on something that is not played, but which exists in itself. I seek not to identify the relationship between subjects, but to invent initial conditions that lead to permeability. What interests me is intensifying a presence, giving it its own presentation, its own appearance and its own life, rather than subjecting it to pre-established models.” 4


1 See Christian Knechtl, Der nicht digitale virtuelle Raum, in: exhibition catalogue INNENaussenINNEN, Kunstraum Niederösterreich, Vienna, 2013, p. 26.
2 See Stephan Günzel, Einleitung, in: ibid. (ed.), Raumwissenschaften, Frankfurt/M.: Suhrkamp, 2008, p. 8.
3 Niklas Luhmann, quoted in Peter Weibel, Vorwort, in: ibid., Slavoj Žižek (ed.), Inklusion : Exklusion. Probleme des Postkolonialismus und der
globalen Migration, Vienna: Passagen Verlag, 2010, p. 12.
4 Pierre Huyghe, Centre Pompidou press release, 2013, quoted in Kunst-
forum International, 229 (2014), p. 84.