hubert blanz

Level Five
audio/video installation, 4:3 format, 12:05 min, 7-part, Hubert Blanz, 2005

The Heartbeat of Anonymity

Roland Schöny

Hubert Blanz’s artistic work takes us on a journey through urban in-between worlds devoid of any trace of individuality, to seemingly unreal places far away from any tangible human communication. The walk-in audio/video installation Level Five, made in 2005 for the O.K spektral series and consisting of several parts, also leads us through seemingly deserted corridors and connecting zones, an apparently never-ending internal network of passageways in a monumental hospital complex. In the course of his research for this work, Blanz looked for spatial situations with architectonic framing parameters representing the temporary sojourn, transition zones as well as transfer. In his search, he discovered the Allgemeines Krankenhaus (AKH), Vienna’s general hospital. The hospital is one of the largest of its kind in Europe, with 345,000 square meters of usable space, a total of 45 clinics and institutes of the University of Vienna as well as more than 2,180 beds.

However, the installation’s videos and picture sequences, which run in parallel, give no indication of the geographic surroundings. On the contrary, such references, even in reality probably not exactly omnipresent, are deliberately omitted. The sterile scenario of corridors leading from ward to ward, one on top of the other and connected by elevators, has long become a kind of pan-regional prototype. References to the local context, which may occur in the macro realm, such as labels and signs, or traces of wear and tear, are overwritten by a purely functionally determined system of codes.

In spite of the spatial sequences, which are all shown in color and in varying stages of light and darkness, seemingly conceptualised in this way to create nuances and a visual differentiation between the individual wards and building segments, the camera’s journey through the endless hospital corridors reminds us of a hermetic, isolated world in which any orientation towards the outside world gradually becomes paralyzed. When confronting these images, one initially may associate them with inescapable dream sequences, but then the ghostly, deserted atmosphere created exposes the character of the architecture, which generates a placeless monotony and gradually drifts away from organically evolved urban traditions.

The French anthropologist Marc Augé describes such globally interchangeable spatial dispositives as “non-places.” In the shadow of developing economic and communicative population centers, these non-places exist to provide efficient infrastructural services, taking the form of train stations, airports, hospitals, hotel lobbies or highways. Thus, it is not only the dramatised inner world of hospitals that is prototypical for a definition of such non-places. It is much rather functionally determined transition zones that can be characterised as non-places, such as waiting rooms, the always monotonous and repetitive logistics of supermarkets, temporarily used public transport systems or stereotypically uniform holiday villages from the assembly line of mass tourism.

As a late-modernist phenomenon, non-places emerge as a principle that replaces or complements the classical location of places within organically arising grids, such as those generated from the structural design of European cities, which share a system of squares as central points around which streets and houses are arranged. Due to the inherent logic of production in the fully industrialised society that is late capitalism, the design of such non-places is becoming increasingly conform, regardless of their geographical location. However, the term “non-place” denotes two essentially different realities that also complement each other: on the one hand, places designed for specific purposes such as traffic, transit, trade and leisure, on the other, the relationship between these places and the individual.

In Level Five, shown at the O.K Center, Hubert Blanz reflects the temporary and impersonal nature of these relationships by moving the camera, making it relentlessly inch forward through the hospital corridors and never allowing it to stop. The imagination calls up an aseptic, positively uninviting environment, consisting solely of surfaces, and Blanz further intensifies this impression with the restlessness of the endlessly moving camera in four of the projections, each of which is synchronised and matched with the others according to the changes in the respective colors. At the same time, three computer-animated projections moving in the opposite direction suggest the approaching end of the space. The material for the visual construction of this almost threatening spatial constellation are often digital photographs that record moments of collision into walls or shut doors and also convey the typically abrupt movements through similar passageways. Such varying viewpoints, often as serial sequences, are like leitmotifs in Hubert Blanz’s work. In this seven-part video installation, they create a space that would be structurally and logically impossible in real architecture. In the process of producing the utmost visual density, Blanz has succeeded in creating intensely claustrophobic geographic spaces at the brink of traumatic abysses.

But while the worlds Blanz translates into images usually remain deserted, the rhythmic soundtrack of the Level Five installation, played on several channels, reminds us of the omnipresent and at the same time frighteningly remote-seeming existence of people in a state of waiting marked by uncertainty, alienation and loneliness.

Translations: Jennifer Taylor-Gaida, Cologne and Nita Tandon, Vienna
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