Finally, a precedent for such a rare installation genre as architectural intervention is set in Russia. In August last year, in the middle of Siberia, in the city of Krasnoyarsk an enormous two-storey house was gutted and transformed into a fascinating sight. All of this took place thanks to the talent and persistence of a frail Dutch woman, Marjan Teeuwen, who is a link in a relatively short chain of artists who perforate buildings, dating back to 1970s to the pioneer of building cuts Gordon Matta-Clark.

While many heroes of art brought their sublimation (at least in designs) up to works built in architectural scale, hardly any of them are keen on artistic destruction of buildings. Treating a building as a material could only have emerged during an epoch of post-modernist self-consciousness, which expands the physical limits of ready-made objects. Michael Heizer, Chris Burden, Richard Wilson and Urs Fisher contributed to cutting off the excessive of the bulk of the building.
Marjan Teeuwen’s unique approach was shaped by researching the capacity limits of a dwelling. From 2005 on, the artist consistently experiments with filling interiors with things. She uses various media: films, studio photos, drawings and installations. In the Living Rooms series rooms are overflowing with numerous books, totes, newspapers, clothes, plants, boxes, pieces of wood, and various types of cooking outfit. Chosen by their function, texture and colour, the objects are stacked up in neat horizontal and vertical rows. Things fill in the living space, forcing the human figure out and replacing it. The visual emptiness gives way to a stockroom and containers.
Following the household belongings a symbolic flow of debris – asphalt, bricks, pieces of pipes, tiles, and laths ‚Äì rises in the photo series Archive (2006-2008). Reminiscences of demolished buildings are collected, sorted and put together in the studio. This peculiar kind of archiving a building raises a contradictory sense, that there is secondary order in these remains.
Levelling down characteristics of objects by painting them white or black, which is a kind of allusion to Louise Nevelson’s works, sometimes calls up an association with frosty freezers and charry hearths, the two extreme states of matter, which seems to freeze or burn on the walls one layer after another. While her attention is completely drawn to the physical assortment of materials, the metaphor of collecting and keeping is not the only one that Teeuwen’s poetics builds upon. She is rather attracted to the strange, almost biological or flow nature of the object, the topography of some secret chambers and glands, out of which black and white pulp flows into the dwelling. Concealed suspense of spatial stress can be compared to some powerful scenes by cinema visionaries; just remember Stanley Kubrick’s cult film Shining and the bloodbath in a hotel room, or a less aggressive intervention of Tuscany landscapes into the open windows in Andrey Tarkovsky’s The Sacrifice.
Marjan first experimented with invasion of a real architectural context in 2008 with a smaller dwelling in a Dutch town of ‘s-Hertogenbosch.
When searching for sources releasing a substance produced by a dying dwelling, it is only logical to apply a lancet. For cutting and turning the building inside out, Matta-Clark’s topologic clipper comes in handy. “He transformed architecture into sculpture. Where he stopped, my work begins,” says Marjan Teeuwen. And while the American author is more of a sculptor, who reveals the depth, a playwright of multilayer emptiness, his Dutch disciple is an installation artist and a filler. In openings, holes, gaps in the floor and the ceiling she detects some elementary swamp of the subconscious. Subdermal structural epithelial tissue is turned inside out through interior cuts. Material of the house itself is made further use of, which constitutes a continuation of the deconstruction cycle; new assembly work follows the act of destruction and dissection of what was previously built. Sawn and painted boards and tiles stacked in piles, as if they were books, impart to the site an image of a library and, simultaneously, of a thin plinth brickwork wall. Along with combing through partitions and floors and bringing them to a new physical state, a total reboot of the living environment is taking place. What happens here is that cuts regenerate, after the saw-cutting of the building dissections seem to heal and deposits are grown over.
The absolute dispersed and layered deposition of surfaces adds just another quality to the formatted environmental memory of the dwelling; it receives something originating from a mud hut or a mine excavation. The texture that reminds of cleaving stone evokes geological allusions. Change of scale due to removal of conventional references – doors and windows – combined with rammed deposits can eventually bring the building to the state of a giant casting mould. It wipes away the boundaries between void and plenitude completely. The method of pumping inner surface into the dwelling triggers the mechanism of constantly shifting figure and background.
The play of multiple reflections of space, volume and surface is logically expressed through a photograph. It is characteristic that strenuous large-scale efforts required for rebooting the whole building and turning it into an installation may eventually be motivated by virtual arguments. One could refer to that as a photo-staging enterprise. Another separate and substantial procedure consists in assembling the final print, which takes 3 to 9 shots from various perspectives. This actually is the third level of deconstruction, which is inseparable from perforation of the body of the building and regenerating its flesh.
Interestingly, this quite contemporary obsession with contact installation photography the author distinguishes some echoes of the Dutch paintings of the seventeenth century ‚Äì the contents and composition of the image brings together and mixes the two classical genres:  still life and interior. As if Snyders’ excessiveness poured into Vermeer’s camera lucida¶

Teeuwen’s renovative approach has reached its maximum in the Space Odyssey in Krasnoyarsk. Through negotiations with city authorities and the owner of the land plot, she managed to obtain “for art management” a two-porch log house long marked for demolition at number 12 in Dzerzhinskogo St., hiding within one of the central districts. For one month about a dozen workers and volunteers hand in hand with the author were cleaning and transforming the abandoned building. First partitions in the four adjoining flats on the second floor were broken through along the longitudinal axis of the building, and so were the floors and camp ceilings, revealing new passages through thirteen rooms. It was as if an ovoid body flew through the walls and left behind openings shaped like a flattened circle. It seems that having moved beyond the Urals, the European artist underwent a change of her geometric paradigm:  she replaced the right angle with the circle and went from regular Western rationality to loose Russian cosmism. The author’s concept turned out to be akin to the famous Chinese ivory puzzle balls, where inside the outer shell one centre ball, and then another one, etc. are carved – as long as life shall last. Releasing inner boundless spaces, Teeuwen unfolded an impressive topological experience. Going up the stairs to the second floor, the visitor finds himself in front of the only square opening in the extending enfilade; this frame crops the depth of the setting and establishes the favoured angle. Cutting half-round cavities along the perimeter of each holey partition ultimately shifts unambiguous meaning of the floor, the ceiling and the walls; it creates a mind-bogging effect of the square turning into a circle, of a doubled inner contour. That way the space develops both along and across the view direction. The main theme of the performance staged in this home theatre is anatomizing the perspective and bringing it to its apotheosis. Barrack and baroque oval frames are the wings of the stage, where a race for superiority between space and surface is staged.
Giving a straightforward answer to the subject of the Krasnoyarsk Biennale Dal (Distance), Marjan Teeuwen presented an extraordinary depth machine. As Maurice Merleau-Ponty would have put it, reflecting on this distance that opens before us, there is a dialectic, double, paradoxical structure that shines through and darkens at the same time. In the depth a space is given ‚Äì but it is given distant, given as a distance, that is, it steps back and disappears to some extent, always stays at a distance, always produces disruption, dispersion. One can be certain to register manifestation of the body of the distance here. Powerful physical energy of foresight produces the effect of reappearance on the removed volume. Through contrasting black and white areas, the resulting ellipse sucks in, in the direction of the viewer, the anthracitic shiver of the background in the distance. It turns the negative form of emptiness bulge. Which can turn into a mouth of an ogre chewing partitions and moisturising with his sticky saliva the dust, which he then uses to build the walls of his mound, like a sparrow or a wasp. When art eats architecture, the geometric turns into the bionic.
The vortex of the perspective is able to turn the building inside out: all the finishing was taken off the facade, sawn into pieces and piled up around the inner contour of the camera. Disintegrated construction material accelerates and reaches the speed of light in the small collider and is transformed into the energy of sight directed at the viewer. The depth radiates the mysterious darkness. The distance virtually emanates an aura and exhales concentric circles of void. The distance and the chasm of the inexpressible are breath-taking. One can even distinguish a slight humming of the spatial voltage, as if a voltage transforming plant were working at the border of the two universes, the outer and the inner one. And through the slots between the original figures, the black cylinder and the white prism, the upper and the lower worlds are shining through.
The magic of the black and white is diffused slightly by wood naturally shining through and is distributed unevenly. Going back and forth, the eye registers a drastic change of colour: the visitor sees the space in black with a blue tint, and the space sees the viewer’s place in white. Such leaps from negative to positive in the bellows fitted to a giant camera lens reveal the whole installation being immanently adjusted to produce a photo impression. Another moment – and maybe the ruffled hall will turn into a camera obscura projecting an image of itself.
Although painting does not yield to photography yet at this celebration of sensuousness. Painted ends of pieces of wood create a vibration of the textured surface, at the same time reviving Van Gogh’s rayism, with his strokes and lines that charged the space with starlight, and suprematist clippings of the Big Bang from Malevich’s cosmogony.
This log hole glazed with strokes of expressive abstraction brings fresh breath of the chaos. Marjan Teeuwen intentionally took the risk of creating an extreme installation in a far Russian province, which is known to be the closest place to the space. “In the depths of Siberian mines” (from a poem by Alexander Pushkin) she managed to embody the metaphor of the artist’s mission – drill holes in an artificial horizon made of clichž©s and stereotypes, making cuts in the crust of triviality, in order to power up with chaos and transform an abandoned dilapidated dwelling into a superhuman abode, even if for a short while.
It is likely that it was such a topological experiment that Osip Mandelstam meant, when in 1937 (when this log house was built) he said “in draft, in a whisper”:

“And under Purgatory’s temporary Heaven

We often forget

That the happy Heaven-keep

Is an expandable, life-long home.”


March 2010, 
Sergey Kovalevsky, head curator Museum Center Krasnoyarsk

This is a unique website which will require a more modern browser to work!

Please upgrade today!