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Absalon in Berlin

The Institute for Contemporary Art in Berlin holds its first comprehensive solo exhibition by Israeli artist Absalon

Far from being considered utopian, Absalon’s pieces have been always linked to elementary and existential questions as their real purpose was to question essential human activities and the spaces they needed to take place in. Strictly geometrical and ascetic, always in white colour, his works represent living units longing for purifying one’s life.

After giving shape to such a prolific oeuvre in only six years, lots of questions today still cannot be answered due to the early of the artist in 1993. We spoke to Susanne Pfeffer, curator of KW Institute for Contemporary Art in Berlin, who has been working on the Absalon exhibition for the last two years.

Dazed Digital: Why was Absalon chosen to have this solo exhibition?
Susanne Pfeffer: Absalon is a very important artist who despite of his great influence on artists of a younger generation is still too little known. I wanted the exhibition to really illuminate his concepts and formal aesthetics and make apparent the relationships between his different bodies of works.

DD: Which pieces can be found on the exhibition?
Susanne Pfeffer: Some of Absalon’s works have been destroyed or are lost—all in all we show most of the works that still exist. As there is no foundation administering his artistic estate there was a lot of actual research to be done. The exhibition now gathers examples from almost all of his series: the prototypes of “Cellules” (1992), works from “Propositions d’habitation” (1989–92), the installation “Dispositions” (1990), and previously unseen models, drawings, paintings and video works.

DD: What is the relation between his works and his early passion for Philosophy?
Susanne Pfeffer: Apparently Absalon has engaged with philosophy, we know little about that period; but this interest and the fact of his confinement on a beach South of Tel Aviv after leaving the army seem to go hand in hand. Although this period of hippie life is not to be seen in his later work, when he reduced his art to basic forms and pure white. However, in the way he talked about his work, it becomes clear that Absalon despite of his young age has thought a lot about his life. Furthermore, his whole work reflects the relationship between the individual and the society.

DD: Is there a real influence Le Corbusier or Bauhaus left on the way Absalon conceived his pieces?
Susanne Pfeffer: Surely Absalon has been familiar with the Bauhaus architecture. In Paris he spent some time living in Villa Lipchitz built by Le Corbusier; so he definitely was aware of his architecture. However, I would claim that the actual development of his forms comes from Absalon’s desire to radically influence his actions as his own author, rather than from architectural history. As a starting point he took the question of how to live as an individual in the society and which form this could take—a question that also interested the architects you mention. For me, Absalon was less an architect or a sculptor than a conceptual artist.

DD: Cellules, his largest project and also the central one of the exhibition, is actually a quite practical idea, nothing utopian or sculpture-related as one may think on a first impression.
Susanne Pfeffer: That is right. It almost seems to be manifestation of Absalon’s will to change his personal life to the uttermost consequences. “Cellules (Prototypes)” were meant to be positioned in the public space of six international cities for Absalon himself to live in them. So, they would have been heterotopic spaces giving form to the tension of individualized, ascetic and contemplative spaces in a social environment. Absalon wanted to confront his physical existence with the “corpus” of society “to live the social”, as he put it. Although the Cellules are very functional and provide a kitchen, a bath, a desk and a bed, they are at the same time dysfunctional. They are very physical. Based on the artist’s own height of 1.90 m, they are thoroughly planned to be very narrow, hereby making him sensate his body all the time. On the other hand they are to be seen as mental spaces, because due to their whiteness and their reduced interior Absalon would be totally thrown back on his own.