Christoph Büchel: Simply Botiful

Artvehicle 2/Review

11th October 2006 — 18th March 2007

Büchel’s installation is located along a dark cobbled street off bustling Brick Lane in the same old copper factory that housed Paul McCarthy’s installation last year. You sign a waiver at the door, abandon your bag and step into the first of many overlapping layers of an alternative reality. Upstairs, the first room you encounter is a study very like Freud’s in Finchley Road, with antiques, exotic carpets and armchairs. The seed that this installation functions on the level of the subconscious is planted. Loud music draws you through a small hole in the wall into an antechamber containing a rusted moped displayed in a vitrine. An overall feeling of trepidation and violence sets in. You walk down a deserted domestic corridor filled with beds, passing cramped bedrooms, kitchen and bathroom also full of beds; a kind of hostel or brothel. It feels as if the inhabitants could return at any moment. The bare pink mattresses and grubby fridges stir memories of the worst place you’ve ever lived.

Climbing out onto a balcony the scale changes radically, and you are looking down on a nightmarish landscape formed out of the detritus of our society. Freight containers, derelict camper vans, a forest of rusting fridges, ugly piles of obsolete computers. Electronic parts, toner cartridges bleeding into plastic bowls, rusted machinery, old tools, junk. This hybrid space is part lorry-park, part salvage yard, part shantytown or refugee camp. There are signs of recent habitation, sofas in desolate corners with cigarettes in overflowing ashtrays, empty takeaway cartons and beer bottles. Pornographic centrefolds of women with legs spread are pinned up. Climb up into the back of a filthy lorry and it is crammed with squalid bunk beds and soiled curtain partitions. It feels deeply uncanny and you wait for someone to move under a blanket. At the back is a hole leading down into a concrete bomb shelter. It made me think, with a shiver, of the basement in which the kidnapped Austrian girl was imprisoned for 10 years. Touch anything and your fingers are blackened.

Nearby is an abandoned sweatshop, a sewing machine ironically paused working on a British flag. These traces of a fled workforce of illegal immigrants and asylum seekers, exploited by the black economy, expose the dark underbelly of capitalism. Contemporary society’s voyeuristic fascination with the desperation that makes people smugglers rich, is stoked. The atmosphere is so ominous, you are half glad to spot the occasional invigilator. Is this a dystopian vision of the near future, in which humans have been wiped out by nuclear war, or some deadly plague virus? An archaeological dig beneath a container reveals a mammoth’s tusks and sounds a strange note. This excavation seems to link back to the study, as a kind of command centre, a hub of colonial authority.

A descendent of Kurt Schwitters’ Merzbau, the psychologically unsettling and physically demanding nature of Büchel’s installation also recalls Gregor Schneider. Büchel’s work feels engaging and theatrical when compared to Mike Neilson studiedly bland installations. Büchel’s piles of junk, commenting on the fluctuating value of objects in capitalist society bring to mind Tomoko Takahashi’s Serpentine installation. Büchel offers a dream-like view into other worlds, cinematic and literary, his secret tunnel inside the freezer is like Alice’s rabbit hole or the surrealist juxtapositions of a Charlie Kaufman film. When trying to obtain an overall view of this work, we are forced instead to focus on its myriad details. The intense detail in Büchel’s work is clearly a labour of love, his archaeological study of the present. His use of a site in the East End, loaded with cultural references, adds to the visitor’s experience. As in the recent Istanbul and Berlin biennials, the use of a building with a past, infuses the art work with this added visceral history. Impossible to commodify, Büchel’s work is a welcome antidote to the recent rash of bland art fairs in London. I wonder if this installation will be infested by rats over the winter, and by March have become as malodorous and entropic as a Dieter Roth exhibition.


Hauser & Wirth Coppermill
92-108 Cheshire Street
London E2 6EJ

Thursday-Sunday, 12-7pm

Christoph Büchel: Simply Botiful — Christoph Büchel  Simply Botiful,
                                            2006  Installation  Courtesy Hauser
                                          and Wirth Zurich London Photo: Mike

Christoph Büchel
Simply Botiful, 2006
Courtesy Hauser and Wirth Zurich London Photo: Mike Bruce