How do we, individually, experience the space surrounding us? Is there something like a personal–space biography? Is such a biography linked to how we build, shape, inhabit, and move through space? Visual artist Simone Rueß, based in Germany, examines the question of a biography that is not only defined by experienced time, but also by the perception of space.
Biography, in terms of Simone’s work, doesn’t only mean what influenced a person, but also how these influences shape the way we deal with our surroundings based on our individual experiences and preferences. The relation between space and the individual has been the focus of her work for quite some time, and has taken on different formats like drawing, short films, sculptures, and installations. In her latest project, space/biography LAB and the concluding exhibition Space/Biography 2016/17, many of these threads seem to form a central string.
Sometimes things make sense when you look at them from a distance. The first thing I remember about Simone Rueß is how she, her partner Matthias Reinhold, and their two year-old son Leon moved into studio 14 at Akademie Schloss Solitude in early spring 2016. Being a fellow myself by this time I found it remarkable how, without setting up any borders or fences, everyone passing by the Rueß studio-door facing the Schloss’s garden could sense where their »backyard« started and ended. Although suddenly the space felt like it belonged to someone, it was by no means the feeling of an occupation or a marking of territory. Furthermore, there was no doubt you could step through the commonly used backyard. There was no doubt everybody was cordially invited to join Leon and Matthias in the turtle shaped sandbox or at the table for dinners outside.
But, through consciously setting up three to four objects – like a pot with herbs, a sandbox and a swing hanging from the tree’s branches – the space felt like a space that wasn’t there before.Even more, the space felt like it had an identity, although there was only a barely noticeable change. For me, in hindsight, this said a lot about Simone Rueß’ approach towards »space«.
Visible And Invisible Space
This coexistence of visible and invisible space, was the thing that caught my attention when discovering Simone Rueß‘ work for the first time in 2016. Her drawings of movement spaces made me understand Simone’s interests in the same way I noted the space she set up in the backyard. Looking at bundles of colorful crayon lines that stretched over groundline structures, I followed depicted descriptions and perceptions of space that presume a certain sensibility when it comes to the definition of what space is.
Have you ever asked yourself »what would a visualization of ›the space your body marks while moving through space‹ look like?« No? But isn’t this movement space the actual space you inhabit? There were drawings that showed Simone’s body-lines of movement in her flat in Warsaw, where she spent four years after graduating from the Academy of Fine Arts in Stuttgart in 2008. Although drawing seems to be a consistent tool of Simone to examine space, her work has taken on different formats. One of the movement spaces turned into a sculpture, that looks organic and totally different than the architecture we move through. Another series of similar drawings became a short film, another work was less about movement and more about the structure of architecture presented as an installation. But the movement remained a theme in Simone’s work. Later, when Simone was pregnant again, there were drawings of the fetus’ movements in her womb.
Space – More Than a Three-Dimensional Category?
When it comes to the space we live in and move through there has been important research on how social, political, cultural, and economical systems affect the shape of infrastructure, architecture, private, and public sphere. Without a doubt these parameters influence each other and define the spatial structure of our surroundings. It might even be possible to read the history or biography of a city, a geographic area, a district through it’s spatial structure. Simultaneously, the personal spatial biography of an individual often dissolves in broader categories like a social class, a generation, a gender, belonging to a certain landscape or to a culture.
In contrast, Simone Rueß developed a reflective format, similar to an interview to examine the perception of space of the individual and makes parameters like nationality, age, gender move in the background without neglecting them. In some cases you can see how the impact of a political situation on the perception of space can become rather substantial. For example: interviews conducted with people from Israel and Palestine, who defined space through it’s limitations.
»It was not only an interview or a valuable conversation, it turned into a happening in between two people, which means that the time we spent together to describe and to understand the personal space biography became an interactive zone, that triggers processes on both sides and activates a continuation of spatial examination.«Simone Rueß
In a way, the format of the narrative interview questions the definition of space, depending on the perspective where it is perceived from and the sensual filter it is perceived through. These parameters are rarely measurable. If you ask people to describe the first space that comes to their mind, most of them won’t remember an exact size, but the smell, the sound, the light, the colors, the texture.
Spines, Membranes, Flowers and Cells
»Could you describe the materiality of the membrane more precisely?«, Simone Rueß asks with a quiet voice, looking down at the huge piece of paper where she is constantly making notes and small sketches while I’m explaining to her the structure of my favorite place. We are doing a space biography interview almost exactly one year after we met for the first time. At the time, the idea of the »space interviews« was very new and Simone had just done the first version with Sybille Neumeyer, an artist she met at Solitude. Simone transcribes the notes of every interview into single drawings illustrating the narration of the interviewed persons. So far, she interviewed 26 persons of different age, gender, and nationality. Her act of formalizing the interviews into six to twenty drawings, that are distinctly influenced by her own image language, provide the quality of equality between totally diverse spatial biographies.
»The membrane is made out of a rather strong material, but has a more flexible texture than glass and is also more organic than tarpaulin«, I answer. The space I’m describing has, of course, no membrane in real life, but for me it feels like that. It somehow surprises me that it doesn’t seem to be a given fact to experience the borders of a space as a membrane.
When I look through the drawings of other peoples perception of space, I’m even more surprised. There are persons which describe their spatial experience as a spine or a plant with many roots. Certain ›roles‹ appear, like that of ›an observer‹, when asked about the position in social space.
Do We Perform Space Differently?
But how, if the perception of space is so diverse, can we actually share a space? Is there even space before it has been perceived by somebody? And, if we experience space so differently, do we also »perform space« differently?
The latest project by Simone Rueß – space/biography LAB – works with these questions and lifts the different spatial biographies up to another level. As a result of the interviews many of the participants expressed the desire to continue the collaboration with Simone. The space/biography LAB is where many of them came together to fill the space with different interactions. This step may seem like the logic continuation of the space biography interviews, but it also exchanges past for present and narration for performance. By inviting all the different artists, researchers, musicians, etc. Simone Rueß was no longer recording spatial experience but actually providing a platform where these different experiences could become a live-narration where people were invited to join, in some cases.
space/biography LAB, Akademie Schloss Solitude, 01. – 16.02.2017
»There was an openness for the experiment, not knowing where the action will take us. These were incredible experiences when the static space shaped itself to an narrative, only through the time and the presence of a few people acting in the space with their biographies. Not the direct trace of the examination, but rather to go through different spatial qualities was a main outcome.«Simone Rueß
When meeting Simone in front of the space/biography LAB’s door she almost apologetically mentions that the space might be »energetically discharged« already. As soon as we step into the room that is located in studio 16 of Akademie Schloss Solitude’s basement, it is obvious what Simone meant using the term »discharged«. Instead of the vibrant chaos of a laboratory that has been used for different experiments over the course of six weeks, there is emptiness accompanied by a pile of rolled paper, a table and a huge chalk drawing of something like a spine hanging from the wall.
Nevertheless, it only takes a few minutes listening to her about the different actions that took place where we sit now until the space begins to transform in my mind’s eye. I follow her imagining all the different actions and atmospheres from day to day along her narration: shy kids hesitating to enter the empty space in the beginning. Balls of crushed paper kicked and thrown through the air by the same kids to conquer the space. A former fellow, Paula Kohlmann, »charging« the space through everyday rituals like boiling water and baking waffles. An evening performance by Simone herself and the musician Bryan Eubanks. Jean-Lorin Sterian, a performance artist, asking participants of his performance lecture Theatre of the Self to choose their position in the room with regard to how well they knew him. The highly concentrated atmosphere the space was filled up with, and that had it’s origin in, Simone’s drawing hands capturing every movement in the space.
space/biography LAB, Akademie Schloss Solitude, 17.02 – 09.03.2017
»To choreograph the activities for these 6 weeks, I followed a thread of junctions in between the different interviews. But I didn’t expect that the links of the actions would become so relevant. The sequence of happenings and it’s connections in terms of content created a permanent changing circulation with constant cycles of action and reaction.«Simone Rueß
Some performances extended the space around hundreds of kilometers. For example, a mail project Simone Rueß started with the artist Sybille Neumeyer that is based on daily post mails they send each other. The messages describe the felt distance to each other or to themselves. On the envelopes you find notes on the submission date to tell how many days they took from point A to B. Another time, the invisibility of space showed itself again when Simone Rueß was drawing what came to her mind while she listened to Frauke Aulbert, a vocal artist, creating spaces and sceneries with her voice in the echoing LAB. These examples are only some of the very different experimental actions that performed the space and allowed others to enter it.
The Space Is a Waiting
The author Anne-Kathrin Heier was the last LAB participant and her words seem to close it somehow as she writes during a writing-drawing session with Simone Rueß: »The space is in waiting, I imagine, as long as nobody sits in it, walks through it, talks in it, lives in it. The space is in waiting as long as it hasn’t been filled with an idea, as long as there hasn’t been a thought about a whatever-shaped movement.«The concluding exhibition Space/Biography 2016/17 – taking place in March 2017 at Akademie Schloss Solitude – shows an overview of the different ways in which participants narrated space, as much as it shows how the space became a narration about themselves.