c-print on dibond, Hubert Blanz, 2012-2016
THE HOUSE OF SANTA CLAUS
In the exhibition Das Haus vom Nikolaus (The house of Santa Claus) the gallery Reinthaler shows an excerpt of Hubert Blanz’ wide body of work Homeseekers. Like in many of the other artist’s series it deals with spatial structures, architectonic situations and urban motives, whereby the origin of this project has to be found in capturing London’s facades and mural exterior walls. Blanz took over 2600 images in each boroughs of Greater London, edited and, in some extent, composed them in collages and scenes.
The reduced form is what Hubert Blanz is interested in. He spares details and objectifies his photographs. The absence of humans and the fact that there is barely any environment is strikingly obvious. This is how he intentionally achieves his ‘stage-like, naïve and viewless’ scenes.
In repeating similar subjects, photographed from different angles in order to show them as two-dimensional as possible, their importance gets emphasized even more.
This kind of approach can also be found in Blanz’ windows and light structure compositions of Chicago: Urban Codes.
Blanz is a collector of subjects. His work contains, alongside a concise amount of documentary character, the intention to evoke and allow new contexts.
Beyond example his planar and abstract way of depiction of window- and door-less house walls do remind of the children’s rhyme The house of Santa Claus: while simultaneously saying out loud all eight syllables one draws a simple house within one line.
In the exhibition Hubert Blanz shows single images, multipiece series and collages taken from edited crops. Each photograph or image contains many-faceted possibilities of perception and intends to be read so.
Expressing sociocritical questions and historical contexts is an important aspect in Hubert Blanz’ bodies of work: showing the ‘backyard scene’ is clearly more interesting than the splendour side of a building. Houses are consciously viewed from behind (‚The City from behind’) – with their bare facades without windows and doors.
The artist emphasizes his fascination for the architectonical peculiarity of the simple brick houses, which increasingly replaced the wooden buildings after the Great Fire of London in 1666.
Additionally, an essential influence on their appearance has been the window tax from 1696 and the ‚tax for light and air’ from 1746, both oft them only abolished in the mid of 19th century and therefore a significant sign for social differences during their long efficacy.
In Brickline 1250 A British Wall Frieze Blanz creates a frieze composed out of virtually endless garden and property walls made from stone bricks, running through the gallery. When scanning the room one gets reminded of the vast wanderings through those cities Blanz makes his topic. The walking and encircling of London reflects the frieze’s arrangement.
Again we find the methodical concatenation of a similar subject in Brickline. Here, too, distinguishability is in the back seat. More important is the quest for new artistic possibilities and contexts. The construction of walls makes one think of the current world affairs.
During his investigations in London the numerous real estate listings caught Blanz’ eye. In the title Homeseekers he refers to their adverts – an elucidation of the hopeless
flat-hunting within a precarious situation of the apartment market, which one also can sense in Vienna increasingly these days.
The creative inquiry undertaken by Hubert Blanz presents a form of research in which he explores urban and digital networks by choosing alternative methods than those offered by the social sciences. His approach is nonetheless rigorous and results in a systematic inquiry. It emphasizes the role of the imaginative intellect by questioning, creating and visually constructing knowledge that is not only new but also has the capacity to transform our perspectives on, and understanding of, urban issues. Urban infrastructures, spatial grids and geographical networks are Hubert Blanz’s domain of research. His methodological approach to these themes involves the formulation of a hypothesis based on his first impressions of a city, research into various selective aspects of the topic on a theoretical basis followed by a practical exploration.
He has applied this approach throughout his artistic practice focussing on megacities, culminating in his series Homeseekers created during his residency in London in 2012. The starting point for this project, upon Blanz’ arrival in London in early 2012, was his fascination with the brick buildings and terrace houses that are so characteristic of the British capital. This is an interest he shares with many visitors to London, for whom both the low skyline and rows of terraced houses are a curiosity. Blanz was particularly struck by the general absence of windows or other decorative elements on many end-of-terrace and rear facades. Occasionally he found some with bricked-up window spaces, however, most featured hermetically closed brick walls.
This peculiarity of the dominant residential architectural style has inspired, in particularly non-Londoners, to artistic and scientific explorations. Both Hubert Blanz and the Austrian architect and Central St. Martin’s lecturer Günter Gassner (who will be joining us for a talk on 11 April 2013) have focused on these themes in their work.
Hubert Blanz’ interest in architecture stems from his studies at the University of Applied Arts Vienna and his photographic works primarily focus on architectural themes and concepts. In London his inquisitive nature and methodological approach led him to explore the greater London area on foot. In that survey he has taken more than 2000 images of individual houses and concluded in this process that those in the outer boroughs of London share this characteristic of a naked facade. In order to convey the abstractness and highlight the strangeness Blanz photographed the facades in a series of frontal, centred shots that present the building as a two-dimensional, lineal drawing. Background elements are kept to a minimum denying the houses their spatial qualities, reducing them yet again to a flat, two-dimensional pictorial image. This effect is reinforced by the vertical format of these small single images. Blanz inverts the traditional structure of the photographic image between foreground and background giving greater prominence to the empty street in front of the house than to the sky above. The history of this architectural style begins with the Great Fire of London in 1666 and the resulting switch from wood to brick buildings. Later the low cost of brick, the brick tax introduced in 1784, and in particular the window tax were significant social, cultural, and architectural forces in England and Scotland during the 18th and 19th centuries. The window tax was a property tax based on the number of windows in a house introduced in 1696 and repealed only in 1851. It was designed to impose tax relative to the prosperity of the taxpayer, with a variable tax for the number of windows. The term daylight robbery is thought to have originated from the window tax as it was described by some as a tax on light, that was also mentioned Harold Brighouse’s play Hobson’s Choice.
In his writings Hubert Blanz compares his photographs of houses to linear graphical representations and children’s drawings because of their flatness, linear quality and two-dimensionality. Specifically he refers to the house of Santa Claus, an old German drawing game for small children where they are taught to draw a house with a single line.
Another interpretation of these single images lies in the comparison with housing ads that populate newspapers and agency windows throughout London. Not only do they share a similar composition, but both refer to the need and desire for housing. The title Homeseekers reflects on the difficult and often precarious housing situation in the British capital, that is certainly also connected to the preference for low-rise brick townhouses.
Ultimately Blanz intends to mount all 2000 individual images together as part of an enormous collage that would represent London as the City from Behind. This is very much the culmination, and at the same time, the reconnection with the starting point of this project, the individual house facade. In taking individual images of houses’ rear sides and terrace endings Hubert Blanz investigated, approached and discovered London. With his collage he puts the single house impressions back together to form the City from Behind.