‘James Turell an der Tankstelle’

With the spread of cyberspace, spatiality designed on the computer, architecture and urban planning have undergone some changes. Martin Pawley, editor of the magazine World Architecture, sees us on the threshold of digital urbanism which will further radicalize the burgeoning growth of the metropolises while ignoring the concept of the city, including its function as a centre. In his article ›The Dissolution of the City‹ he writes: »We are living in a time of a twofold existence, of ›architectural entities‹ and ›information entities‹, of appreciated, but conquered and abandoned cities and new, unwelcome, but triumphant non-cities«. Analogue to this, the renowned Japanese architect Toyo Ito describes a juxtaposition of two forms of present reality. In Japan he sees a society that is »completely saturated with information and communication systems. A society in which each individual possesses two bodies: a ›real‹ body existing in its material presence and a ›fictitious‹ body that is shaped by the information directed at it or received by it.«

It is this dualism of manifest, verifiable reality and a virtual corporeality that is also characteristic of Wolfgang Ellenrieder’s architectural pictures. His pictures show contradictory worlds consisting of reality and fiction in equal measure. Details of façades, shop windows, rooftops, alleyways and passages delineate urban structures. Neither the wares displayed in the window nor the street signs offer any indication of the history or geography of the places outlined. They are recognizable architecture and at the same time strange detached worlds of their own. The areas of green in between—flowers and leaves placed monumentally and decoratively well into the foreground—have as artificial an effect as the architecture itself. Atmospherically painted segments of sky give no indication of wind or weather conditions or of the magic of the cosmos. Rather, nature appears to be girded round with square light wells that, in their minimalism, are reminiscent of James Turell’s light installations. And yet, in the pictures, Wolfgang Ellenrieder references a tangible reality, namely the reality of the 1970s style of architecture still characteristic of German architecture. Architectural details—mounted glass display cases, cement flower boxes, diamond-shaped paving stones, all of them classical examples of modern urban planning—illustrate the aesthetics of German pedestrian zones. The world of shop windows, roofed passageways and gas-station-like awnings reflects the great urban dream of the 1970s, the desire at that time for modern shopping universes of all kinds.

In Wolfgang Ellenrieder’s pictures this architecture becomes strangely abstract and is presented without any indication of a contemporary life. The objects seem ahistorical, deserted and as unsullied as they would be on the drawing board. They are simplified copy-and-paste worlds with the contours often drawn in more strongly in order to re-emphasize the illusionary quality of these real worlds. The painting style underlines the contradictory nature of these pictures. Here there is also the »real« and the »fictitious« body that Toyo Ito spoke of. On the one hand, the colour schemes follow precisely architectonic lines and perspectives. Many of the squares are filled out with grey pastel tones, matte violet or grubby yellow and invoke memories of the tristesse of the 1970s architecture, particularly the condition it is in today: stained concrete, dark and mossy paving slabs, flaking metal plates. On the other hand, the artist has conceded certain freedoms to painting which run quite counter to the realistic approach of his pictures. Large areas of his pictures show garish-expressive colour structures, appear sometimes patchy, sometimes translucent, sometimes as though done with a spray can. A nervous, flickering orange suddenly encounters a melancholy greyish violet; a brilliant light blue finds itself next to a pale surgical green. The sometimes grafitti-like crudeness of the lines creates remarkable changes in scale. Structures emerge that enter into connections with what is beyond the sketched locales and create their own moods. A picture such as »Im öffentlichen Raum« (p. 76/77) appears as a blazing conflagration – aglimmer, also metaphorically, with a large-format electric cable in glittering orange. Virtuoso whirlpools of colour and overlays dominate the ›Inventar‹ (p. 15), so that one would make reference to the colour content of these works rather than to the architecture. It is particularly the dynamics and the diversity of the peinture that contradict the monotony of the portrayed buildings. It almost seems as though the architecture is only an excuse for an ecstatically charged painting which, nevertheless, in its garishness and brittleness still bears very urban features.

This permanent amalgamation of fictitious and real, of the descriptive and the imaginary, differentiates Wolfgang Ellenrieder’s architecture pictures from the earlier series presented in his exhibitions ›Super Bunt‹ or ›Surrogate‹, where the motifs were obviously fictitious or simulated. The close interweaving of artifice and reality remind one more of the collages of Amelie von Wulffen. In contrast to Wolfgang Ellenrieder, von Wulffen uses real photographic finds as paradigms which are then developed with pencil, coloured pencil and acrylic to panoramic, assembled worlds. In the collages, glimpses of a domestic bourgeois environment complete with, for example, standard lamps, carpets, imposingly framed oil paintings and a decorous modernism are suddenly found next to exterior views and nature motifs. In the case of Amelie von Wulffen, as Manfred Hermes wrote, »different social spheres, varying areas of public life and also diverse artistic and autobiographical references encounter each other.« The connection that both artists—von Wulffen and Ellenrieder—have with this is the principle of architecture assembly which, in characteristic post-modern manner, is marked by great subjective detachment. Both artists show no recognizable sympathy or criticism—only ambivalences: In Wolfgang Ellenrieder’s case, the melancholy tristesse of the architecture of the 1970s is counteracted by a glowing vitality of colours and textures, and in the work of Amelie von Wulffen, the graphic development of the interiors captured in a photograph take precedence. While Amelie von Wulffen creates new panoramas and spatialities—be they ever so bizarre and fantastic—Wolfgang Ellenrieder has surrendered illusionistic spatiality in its entirety. The components, segments and perspectives of his pictures are placed separately, adjacent to each other like templates on a computer screen. As if through windows, one can look through the templates into the depths beyond. At the same time, the interlocking of the windows to a type of pictorial user desktop makes the ›contrivedness‹ of all spatiality obvious. The pictures illustrate the effect of cyberspace and the sign systems fundamental to it. It is precisely here that the topicality of this painting lies, as Knut Ebeling emphasized on the occasion of the exhibition ›Painting Pictures‹: »Painting today is painting in the midst of media. It draws its energy from a fortified position amongst other media. While the subject itself has been laid ad acta, painting is still busily occupied with creating new spatialities and artificial worlds. As an agent between sign systems, it avails itself of a differing codification. It is liberated from the burden of content and will be occupied henceforth with the translation of one codification into another.«

  • Joachim Jäger
  • in ›Wolfgang Ellenrieder—parallel‹, Kerber Verlag Bielefeld, 2006