Common for an Open Digital Environment

This ambiguous urban entity, commonly called “the city” is utterly complex. The common formula is, the bigger it gets the more its complexity increases accordingly. However, mere size is not the single determining factor in complexity. Similarly, structure renders an entity complex. While it may be argued that size and structure are intertwined, or the bigger something becomes, the more complex its structure is, this is both true and false for the city. It is a fact that an urban environment’s structural complexity witnesses a drastic increase the more it grows. Still, a small urban complex may also be utterly confusing and difficult to navigate – in other words its structure is complex, while it is still small in size.

Apart from the dual relationship above, any city is strongly determined by its individual specifics. A city is subject to its geography, its inhabitants, its administration, among many other determining factors. All of them shape it into a singular, characteristic entity, not to be found identically anywhere else.

This raises the question, what is our relationship with the city? The city we live in, we know. We have experienced it, have seen it in broad daylight, at night, we have seen its seasons. In other words, it has become our habitat – a place we know, a place we belong. We navigate freely, knowingly through the streets of quarters we are familiar with. We know what we see and we are usually not in need of navigational devices, and if we are we quickly determine our way by using them.

A place we know is not abstract. It becomes concrete through our knowledge of it. However, what if we were placed in an environment fully unknown to us, a place we have never been before. We are immediately insecure and this insecurity is triggered by our perception of this new place as abstract. This abstractness is triggered by our detachment from the place, as we lack knowledge of landmarks and it is even further increased by not being familiar with the language spoken. Abstractness means detachment, and its result is alienation. On the contrary, to establish a relationship or familiarity with a place, the main prerequisite is attachment, which can only be achieved through establishing common mode of operation. This mode founds itself solely on mutual understanding. If a person and the urban space are not corresponding, there will be no understanding and thus they will not establish a common mode.

In this case, the role of the city and one’s own needs to be fundamentally reconsidered. To the person not familiar with a city, it becomes an alien place, far removed from the intellectual sphere and reduced to the sphere of senses. The unknowledgeable spectator cannot rely on intellectual considerations, but on sensual stimuli – visual, haptic, auditory to name only a few.

This arises the question of how we perceive our urban environment. The human mind functions best with symbols. As archaeological findings prove to us, early humans sought to express themselves by means of simplified pictorial expressions, i.e. symbols. This enables the conclusion that symbolic expressions are the means most inherent to the human brain for achieving mutual understanding. A combination of symbols forms a code, for whose meaning this exhibition searches.

Urban space and the human mind, as Klaus Fruchtnis seeks to convey through his artwork, fundamentally functions with and consists of various codes – both readily intelligible, as well as hard to grasp for those unfamiliar with them. Fruchtnis inquires upon how codes form a new, partly mutual language for navigation and therefore questions the above discussed abstract notion of an unknown place. He uses the city as an artistic resource, like a painter uses a canvas to illustrate the unconscious process of exploration.

Fruchtnis also experiments with visuality, thus questioning the way we perceive a place. Employing sophisticated techniques of visual representation, such as a 3dimensional depiction of the Kremlin, a Russian symbol and landmark of Moscow. The artist literally destroys this symbol and reduces it to its basic visual components in order to challenge the viewer’s perception of it. Just as everything is composed of molecules, Fruchtnis reduces this landmark’s depiction to small dots that, only when viewed from afar, reveal the full picture. He therefore makes visible the underlying invisible code that is the fundamental aspect of how we perceive a place – and how it becomes familiar or common to us. This challenging of given notions of visuality and familiarity is a continuous current of this exhibition. The artist investigates our vision in connection to a place and exploration of it.

Since exploration is a per chance endeavor, it is inherently arbitrary. However, sensual stimuli, symbols and codes might unconsciously lead the person on and alter the arbitrariness into an unconsciously guided process. As a city is overflowing with such elements of stimulation and symbolic meaning, one can argue that arbitrariness and chance is ruled out by the unconscious direction of the mind. This again indicates that symbols are indispensable and their relation to urban space is of utter importance for our understanding of it. They diffuse abstractness and infuse meaning, which makes them a crucial part of urban space in that they substitute prior knowledge and foster immediate understanding.

Essential to non-abstract and non-arbitrary exploration are maps, a substantially 2dimensional rendition of a spatially complex entity – a place. Since a place is always a 3dimensional thing, Fruchtnis creates 3dimensional bodies from maps, thus questioning their spatial characteristics, while at the same time rendering them dysfunctional. Their original, practicable usage is voided. They become a tool of exploration of a different sort in that they loose function while being transformed in a play with vision. The maps themselves thus become an object of exploration in that they now too are a 3dimensional body. They have gained topographical features. They are given structure and therefore, one might say, their complexity increases and additionally, since their original function is rendered void, these maps also become, just like an unknown city, abstract entities and a new form of code in itself.

This exhibition explores the vastness of meaning that lies within codes and challenges given notions of space and our perception of it.

Frank Feltens – Art historian, researcher at Columbia University, New York © 2010