|A Balancing Act|
June 21 – September 28, 1997
Fridericianum, Kassel, documenta X, 1997
– A Balancing Act
Wednesday, May 14, 1997,
10:00 am, ca. 60 min.
Elements of the Performance
– Balancing rod, oak and brass
Heinz Jürgen Weidner
– A Balancing Act, 1997, oak and brass on a base, monitor with the video A Balancing
Act, 20 min., camera: Jan Lackner, photographs and documents, framed and labeled
with signs, wall text
Catherine David, artistic director of documenta X, conceived the 1997 exhibition in Kassel as a “retroperspective,” a situating of the present with a view to the past. Christian Philipp Müller focused his backward gaze on the location of documenta and its changes, uncovering the traces left by other artists in the vicinity of the Museum Fridericianum. On the third floor of the building, Müller designed an exhibition space oriented to the sole window on thatfloor opening onto Friedrichsplatz, uncovered from behind a wall. The exhibition area itself focused on two works installed in public space: Joseph Beuys’s 7000 Oaks from documenta VII and Walter de Maria’s Vertical Earth Kilometer from documenta VI.
De Maria had wanted to realize his piece as a conceptual work in public space. A five-centimeter-thick brass rod was inserted one kilometer deep into the earth; viewers in Kassel were supposed to see only the tip, sunk into Friedrichsplatz. Contrary to de Maria’s intention, however, the elaborate drilling process became as much of a spectacle as the attempts to conceal the installation work. On May 6, 1977, the latter was concluded and the brass rod was inserted into the earth on the site where the paths across Friedrichsplatz intersect in front of the Fridericianum.
Joseph Beuys’s action 7000 Oaks, on the other hand, was a radically participatory work. 6999 basalt steles were piled up in front of the Fridericianum in preparation for planting next to an equal number of oaks throughout the city of Kassel. In 1982, Beuys planted the first oak together with the first stele in front of the Fridericianum; in 1987, his family set the 7000th stele and oak next to it. By that time, 6998 pairs of steles and oaks had been distributed throughout the urban area of Kassel. Müller’s investigation addressed both the fundamental difference between these two works as well as the ongoing effect of the urban structure on both installations. The construction of an underground parking garage beneath Friedrichsplatz in 1996 has changed its structure: De Maria’s Earth Kilometer is no longer located at the center of intersecting paths, and Beuys’s first and last oaks have likewise shifted away from the center of the visual axis.
In a performance for the media, Christian Philipp Müller paced off the distance between Beuys’s and de Maria’s works. Dressed like the tightrope walker Philippe Petit, he balanced on a rope stretched out on the ground between the two works, carrying a six-meter-long balancing pole made of half oak and half brass. Petit had practiced secretly for a number of years when, in an unannounced and highly sensational performance on August 7, 1974, he balanced on a steel cable stretched between the over 400-meter-high towers of the World Trade Center. He was arrested, and as punishment had to repeat his tightrope act for children in Central Park.
In the exhibition space, Müller’s performance was presented as a past event on a video monitor across from the window. The balancing rod, placed on a pedestal, divided the space into two: at one end was the window looking out onto the square, at the other was the video of the balancing act. On the window wall, the history of Friedrichsplatz was combined with that of documenta. To the left and right of the window, framed and accompanied by commentary on Plexiglas panels, illustrations and texts documented the production and financing of the two works outside the window (and therewith the difficulties of art in public spaces at documenta) along with a quotation by Gordon Matta-Clark.