Andrea Liu

Floating Walls and Translucent Cool

With an airy coolness and subversion, Bob Gramsma brings his architectural installation Schwamendingen, OI#05104 to Haswellediger Gallery in Chelsea, New York. An architectural structure of over two hundred glass windows and doors salvaged from an old house in Zurich layered into walls, floors and ceilings, this installation stood aloof from being categorizable as a pavilion, a sculpture, a segment of a house, a window or a passageway, while being faintly evocative of all those entities. Essentially a pavilion-like structure that one could walk through composed of multiple layers of large glass windows, the white-painted window panes of these windows form elaborate grid patterns when the windows are placed atop one another in varied permutations, creating interlocking patterns of bewitching intensity and enigmatic purposefulness.

Gramsma's installation exists as an anti-structure, a structure that uses form to elude the classical assumptions of what form is (solidity, mass, symmetry, closure, hierarchy). An agglomeration of clear planar surfaces expressing lightness rather than mass, the installation exists in a liminal zone that transcends the qualities of glass, windows and walls unto themselves to become a hybrid creation of supra-glass-wall. Attaining a paradoxically solid-diaphanous quality, the multiplication of the glass panes atop one another engenders intensity. The glass, though clear and unobtrusive, nonetheless makes its material presence as glass felt. In spite of its purported invisibility, the clear glass paradoxically is all the more thickly present, reflecting refractions of natural light, gallery windows; capturing, deflecting, transmitting and transforming matter and space.

The floor/ceiling/wall are not dutifully demarcated as discrete parts with respective functions, but are instead structurally interchangeable, as the "ceiling" contains the same intense grid patterning as the "floor," with no hint of recession into a neutrality that an orthodox ceiling or floor would require. It therefore plays upon an ambiguity of being at once a structure to tempt a reading or social inscription as a "building," with its right-angled wall-and-ceiling pavilion-like formation, but then veers away from the formal attributes of a building.

The labyrinthine patterning created by the window panes seem to hold in reserve some knowledge of their purpose only partially revealed, or graspable, by the viewer. With neither a beginning nor an end, no unitary frame, they crisscross and overlap in a rhizomatic decentered fashion. Taken as a whole, they create a tectonic gestalt. Just as the eye rests upon one grid patterning and begins to retain it as "pattern," one is interrupted, penetrated, destabilized, from above, the side, or beneath, with another windowpane grid, thus creating a stilled kaleidoscope effect of ever-shifting grid-like patterns. The rhythm of the pattering of the grid, though dense, deftly eludes being confusing, claustrophobic or busy, nor is it quite so conveniently utopian so as to be "musical." The contrast between the density of grid in some places, such as the "floor," versus the openness and clarity of space in other parts-for instance, the upright left wall-creates a sense of the relief of an intelligent dynamism. It imparts a sense of balance-but not the balance of an austere hierarchical classicism, but the balance of an irreverent and peripatetic postmodernism.

The piling of multiple clear glass windows atop one another breaks up the notion of the unitary plane; it destabilizes the monolithism and epistemological authoritarianism of a discrete and complete physical plane. That is to say, in place of a solid unitary plane with edges and boundaries, we have a reconstitution of what a plane is: a plane based on multiplicity and multiple endpoints and origin points. The continued transmittance and capturing of natural light by multiple planes of glass windowpanes creates a beatific cleansing experience.

Though this installation was glibly compared to Mondrian because of the electrical line-like rectilinear grid patterning, it is totally bereft of the sublimated elitist humanist self-importance and self-appointed heroism undergirding the quasi-religious redemption quests of the Mondrian cult. This piece is cooler, and human subjectivity is neither the inspirational source nor the projected audience of its content.

Windows are transitional zones from point A to B. They seem forever circumscribed to a context that defines them in contrast to solidity. They are looked upon to illuminate a space that would be bereft of light due to its solidity. They are culturally metaphoricized as harbingers of hope/redemption, as synecdoches of knowledge and insight, as vehicles of transition to the sublime, otherworldy, or the fantastic.

But here they exist not as windows "onto" something else, not in the context of a passageway between one state/place/situation/psychology to another. This installation is composed of disembodied and truncated windows-windows extirpated out of the social context of their usual function in human abodes and buildings. No longer bridges between worlds, these windows are like multiple bridges connecting nothing to nothing, but bridges connecting in intricate and complicated patterns to themselves. Denuded of the weight of all the tired and self-serving humanist aspirations of the metaphor of windows, this piece is like a sonata on a structuralist examination of the plasticity, weight, solidity and translucence of windows themselves.

The euphoria engendered by this installation is the liberating disposal of principles of solidity, unitary planes, univalent energy for instead a series of inversions and paradoxes: motion created through stagnant structure, diaphanous translucence created by solidity, "floating walls," an allusion to a human-purposed structure, a liminal space between architecture and art. A passageway of stymied metaphors and inverted expectations, and outright negations, of what passageways are, it creates a new postmodern passageway.

This text was first published in: NY Arts Magazin, Vol. 11, No.7/8, July/August 2006, and is reprinted in: Bob Gramsma, IN – Works 931–14209 (Zurich, 2014).