VIEW OF TOWN N
Aleksander Konstantinov’s project «Cretzeturm», realized in the Swiss town Stein am Rhein, is a
part of a larger project called «View of Town N», on which the artist has been working since the summer of 2002. Strict, and at first glance simple, geometric structures, which Konstantinov exhibits on the facades of buildings in various towns, carry in themselves multilayered cultural and historical associations that involve the viewer in an ironic game of simulation and substitution of various meanings.
Konstantinov’s outdoor works represent a new genre of gigantic, facade-scale «drawings» or «prints». Their geometry clearly continues the tradition of post-constructivism and concrete art of the 20th century, which Konstantinov enriches with historical connotations and combines with the contemporary practice of outdoor installations. Placed on the walls and facades of buildings, the works impart a new character to city spaces,
and are an innovative approach to the practice of installation. Unlike conventional examples of outdoor installations, Konstantinov’s works are not built into the real space of the viewer. On the contrary, these gigantic drawings and prints depict a very particular transcendental space, and introduce it to the real space of a city. The co-existence of the actual buildings of a town and facade imitations by Konstantinov casts doubt on the materiality of the former, and promotes the reality of the latter. In a playful and ironic way, Konstantinov realizes the utopian dream of the Russian avant-garde artists, who aspired to transform the real word, including nature, into the language of art.
People’s everyday life, played out against the background of the drawings, becomes a part of the installations. And in turn, the installations transform the life of a town’s inhabitants. The artistic space becomes an arena for their everyday concerns, turning a routine walk to the mail boxes into an art happening. This interactivity constitutes an important social aspect of the works. It brings the ideas of contemporary art into people’s lives in a natural and harmonious way, unlike the artificial situation of a museum.
According to the artist, the structures depicted on the facade works are based on the visual language of late 15th century woodcuts of the Nurenberg School. Konstantinov’s structures are enlarged and modified transcriptions of prints of town views. These images of a town, superimposed over the buildings of a real town, make layers of time transparent, as if the town is reflecting itself through the prism of history. At the same time, the geometry of Konstantinov’s installations resembles a regular city plan– a concept realized in most of contemporary megapolises. Meanwhile, the surface of the «facades» refers to the mirror-like facades of skyscrapers. The very technique with which the works are made – a combination of plastic film and hand-glued tape – relates to contemporary plastic civilization where synthesized materials substitute for traditional ones. These cheap, temporary materials correspond with another principal aspect of the works: they are completely not-for-profit. Like advertisements on huge city billboards or scaffoldings, the works promote the notion of contemporary art among the general public, but they themselves are meant to be discarded after use, like advertisement panels or plastic cups from a fast food restaurant. This popularization among the public of the ideas of high art by means of the materials of contemporary mass culture is akin in a way to the popularization of visual images trough the mass produced woodcut in the 15th century, which Konstantinov’s works imitate.
The installations integrate multiple aspects of city life, ancient and contemporary. Realized in towns very different in their history, architecture, culture and society, they emphasize the individuality of each place, and at the same time unite them all into an idea of a town per se, a «Town N».
The project in Stein am Rhein, created between projects in Moscow and New York, reveals the complexities and play of interchanging meanings especially clearly. Three large-scale facade works, installed in the historic part of the town, bring into the cozy, fairy-tale like streets the spirit of large cities. At the same time, they exist in harmony with the town, referring to the cultural history of the region and its architecture. Thus, one of the works placed opposite an old building, represents a structure of a frame house, typical in the area. Done with blue tape, it resembles an ink sketch, drawn by a slack student of a local school. The other piece, placed in the enclosed space of a publiccourt, looks like an exact quotation from an old woodcut. The viewers synthesize perception of the facade itself with the depicted «project» of a facade, the perspective of a real city with a historical print portraying a city view, a city plan with an actual
city environment, historical buildings with popular culture advertising. Town dwellers, recognizing these logical reflections and substitutions, experience a spatial complexity and the multilayered interrelations of epochs and locations.