Magazine article Artforum International

Maria Eichhorn: Talks about Her Forthcoming Projects at Documenta 14, Building as Unowned Property and Rosevalland Institute

Magazine article Artforum International

Maria Eichhorn: Talks about Her Forthcoming Projects at Documenta 14, Building as Unowned Property and Rosevalland Institute

Article excerpt

MEETINGS, CONTRACTS, REGULATIONS, the intricacies of official protocols, and the arcane workings of government agencies: Maria Eichhorn deploys the components of the administrative everyday in radical and counterintuive ways, using whatever resources are available to her--an exhibition budget, say, or access to a building or site--to create works that perversely elude easy definition and anarchically tilt at the impossible. Her projects are often the result of lengthy negotiations that reveal and trouble systems of value and redirect flows of power and capital. The effects of these interventions are both real and symbolic. Her images of agency and her singular gestures resound as durational events that slow down time, as performative acts that open up new spaces for meaning, as aesthetic propositions marked by a formal intelligence of the highest order. They also redistribute wealth, enable new forms of communal knowledge and organization, concretely change people's lives. Nor are they static--they continually evolve in response to the facts on the ground. Her works are rooted in the frank facing of such facts. They are not Utopian; rather, they enable us to think differently about the here and now.

Making that which was private public and inquiring into what is seen and what we are not allowed to see are constants in Eichhorn's work, crucial aspects of her excavation of the present. Not surprisingly, given these concerns, she has a long-standing interest in issues of provenance and restitution. Tracing the ownership of valuable things is a reliable way of uncovering suppressed histories within and beyond the institutions of art. Eichhorn 's two projects for Documenta 14, one located in Athens, the other in Kassel, address such histories, elucidating the legal frameworks that define what it means to own, to steal, to possess. In Athens, she intends to have a vacant building declared unowned--not abandoned or derelict, which would mean that the building belongs to the state, but genuinely unowned, the property of no one. In Kassel, she is establishing an institute that will work to restore to its rightful owners property stolen by the Nazis. In both locales, she will be dispelling the discursive and legal occlusions that prevent us from seeing the links between great fortunes and great crimes.

THE ECONOMIC CRISIS that unleashed social, economic, and political chaos in Greece is clearly reflected in the urban space of Athens. Owners have abandoned their buildings for any number of reasons--because they can no longer afford the property taxes, for example, or because tenants can no longer pay their rent. The buildings are left to themselves and the inevitable process of deterioration begins. Real estate speculators have long since taken advantage of the situation, purchasing countless properties in Athens and elsewhere in Greece in hopes of profiting from these dire circumstances.

Building as unowned property, my work for Documenta 14 in Athens, operates against this aspect of disaster capitalism. I'll be converting a building's legal status, so that the property will be recognized as unowned, and the project consists of all the activities--from research to bureaucratic interactions to the processing and notarization of official documents--involved in that effort. When we began, it was unclear whether the project was legally possible. We weren't sure whether any code of law, either in Greece or internationally, recognized the concept of a genuinely ownerless building or piece of real estate. The work is an attempt to use the law, as a proper language, to produce, or rather to reproduce, something that doesn't exist. And we've succeeded. The Migros Museum fur Gegenwartskunst in Zurich has agreed to purchase this artwork, so that I can purchase the building and the plot I selected for the project, and the legal issues have been resolved.

The building is a two-story stone structure built in the late 1920s, located behind Plateia Amerikis [America Square], in an area known for its typically Athenian Neoclassical-revival buildings. …

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