This exhibition by Daniel Buren (born 1938) and Bettina Pousttchi (born 1971) was initially inspired by the video work Conversations in the studio 3. This saw Pousttchi recording her exchange with the French conceptual artist Buren – a conversation between artists from two entirely different generations about public art and its limits, but also about points of view and what the artists have in common. Based on their earlier work, Bettina Pousttchi and Daniel Buren are now not only continuing their cooperation for the exhibition in Kunsthalle Mainz, they’re even ramping it up a notch: by coordinating with each other, two artists who work with space and location are establishing a relationship between new site-specific works and existing works.
As a venue with exceptional architecture and history, Kunsthalle Mainz is the ideal setting for this project. It opened only nine years ago after an extensive facelift, having been originally constructed way back in the history of Mainz as a boiler and turbine building by the city architect of the time, Eduard Kreyßig. From 1887 until well into the twentieth century, it supplied the Mainz customs port and harbour as well as the Neustadt district with electricity. During World War II it offered Mainz families protection and shelter from the aerial bombing. It was only when the customs port area was being repurposed and redesigned that the decision was made to construct a Kunsthalle as an art venue. The conversion of the single-storey brick boilerhouse, completed in 2007, resulted in windowless white cubes which provided a stark contrast to the listed Wilhelmine exterior. The narrow gap which used to exist between the boilerhouse and engine sheds now contains a twenty-one-metre-high tower, leaning at an angle of seven degrees.
This combination of small cabinet-style rooms and generously proportioned white cubes, and of architecture from the nineteenth and twenty-first centuries, as well as the clash between two very different functions over the course of history, makes the Kunsthalle the ideal domain for Daniel Buren and Bettina Pousttchi’s spatial interventions. Pousttchi’s works frequently undermine objective relationships between time and space by connecting the histories of places, former architects and artists with the current functions of buildings and the way they look. Here, she traces for example the appearance of brickwork as a construction material through the centuries. We see what looks like an excavation at various levels of Kunsthalle Mainz, revealing layers of the past and present. Buren, on the other hand, rejects any kind of reference to or influences of “external history” in his vertically striped works, spatial structures with colour segments, and installations. What counts is space – with all its architectural qualities, specific light conditions, and specific proportions. When the space is enriched with meaning it is possible to experience its ambiguity, at the same time as it undergoes a neutralisation thanks to the application of universal patterns. Where the works of Bettina Pousttchi and Daniel Buren are concerned, expanding and imagining history meets the negation of narration and references to time.