The swimming pool is a darling of post-war Modernism: a public institution linked to the promise that everyone has a right to free time. Private pools, in contrast, are symbols of status: leisure temples in the basements and gardens of bungalows.
During the post-war Wirtschaftswunder of West Germany, people did not simply enjoy recreational activities at the pool, they perfected their bodies, displaying their wealth or simply diving under their peers. Ideas of leisure and diversion, of limpid water surfaces and of blue transparency, mark an escape from everyday life. Yet the concept of leisure today, as in the past, diffuses nature, combining both temporal and emotional elements of action.
The exhibition SPLASH BACK at the Laura Mars Gallery looks to the phenomenon of the swimming pool to question to relevance of post-war Modernism and postmodern architecture (in the context of its progressive disappearance from contemporary environments) in post-postmodern lighting conditions and reflections. As we seek to determine today’s distance from this post-war modernity, we put ourselves in a vulnerable position of loss. The swimming pool is used by our participating artists as a kind of associative melting pot, a “pool of differences.” Thus the complexity, fragmentation, discontinuity, and fragility of the very term modernity become the theme of the exhibition.
In the 1970s, David Hockney painted his swimming pool scene A Bigger Splash, a view of a pool with springboard and accompanying splash before a California bungalow. Hockney depicts the moment of splashing into water, yet we see neither the just-submerged figure or a naturalistic splash—it is a false reality of false natural conditions. The work is a symbol of ambivalence, standing for both the prosperity and the weariness of post-war American society, whose complacency has led to the loss of its “drive.”
Apart from this key work by Hockney, Mike Nichols’ 1967 film The Graduate is also an important reference point to the theme of the swimming pool, with its iconic underwater sequence of Dustin Hoffman’s submerged boredom. The pool becomes a sign of (un)happiness, marking a hazy diffused space. The same applies in John Cheever’s 1964 short story “The Swimmer” and its accompanying 1968 film: after Neddy Merrill (played in the film by Burt Lancaster) has eagerly swum the “Lucinda River” of suburban pools, he stands confused in front of his abandoned house.
Text: Alekos Hofstetter assisted by Daniel Wild / Translation: Alexander Swanson
Bettina Allamoda’s work begins with analyses of the politics and visibility of popular cultural phenomena such as fashion, art, and architecture. In her Spandex Studies, she examines how bodies and bodily forms are mediated and transmits them into sculpture and collage, giving them a form of a paradigmatic, abstracted, yet ultimately concrete spatial-temporal experience. The thematization of the body in architectural space as well as elasticity/torsion are also key themes in Allamoda’s work. In her investigations of the mediation of history and its documentation (an archaeology of the present) crossing different discursive fields, Allamoda reflects on the implications of current events and scattered media images, consistently questioning anew the social role and function of art.
In his ongoing series of drawings TANNHÄUSER TOR, Alekos Hofstetter transforms post-war modern buildings into utopian places of worship. Contemporary images of TANNHÄUSER TOR allude to no brutalist nostalgia; rather, Hofstetter constructs a new distanced viewer through the abstraction of modernist buildings, allowing us to reevaluate post-war modernity. Concrete—it depends on what you make of it. Paradoxically, Hofstetter retrieves on the path to rapture that which had slipped away into the distance, providing an important artistic analysis of the long-overdue socio-aesthetic discourse on the desolation that accompanies the progressive repression of modernity.
The architect and city planner has been running a joint office with Susanne Schamp since 1992. Schmalöer has dealt with the typology of private swimming pools since the early 1990s—not as an architect, but as a documentarian. Together with the photographers Ralf Dördelmann, Angela Elbing, Chiara Nardini, Detlef Podehl, Christoph Scholz, and Stefan Schwabe, Schmalöer brought together a photograph collection of swimming pools from the 1950s, 60s, and 70s—many of which no longer exist—in the publication Swimming in Money: Swimming Pools of the German Wirtschaftswunder, making the images accessible to the public. Although the images in the book are beautiful, one can also view them as senseless documents of the pursuit of prosperity: as lovely as they are, they mark the beginning of a certain decline. Indeed, decay and transience reside at the heart of the instant of photography.
Christine Weber’s work addresses depictions of modernity in film. She paints abstracted film stills, reminding the viewer that her images reproduce states of cinematic reflexivity. Just like her film reference material, Weber’s pictures present representations of illusions. Yet it is through this “film picture” that the viewer can place a new representation in relation to a certain memory of film. Memory itself, then, becomes an invention, a creative process. Weber’s pictorial reduction in her paintings creates surprisingly new perspectives on scenographic arrangement, addressing the unstable distinction between “only imagined” and “actually existing.”
Ina Weber Ina Weber’s work concern the architectural heritage of our cities, which once stood for beginnings, but is now outdated. These post-war structures, such as pedestrian furniture, bus shelters, and swimming pools tell us about the time of their creation and the values of their builders and users. Weber uses this architecture in her work. The once-proud testimonies of a forward-looking and hopeful society are reborn as concrete sculptures. To note the themes and motifs of her sculptures requires an irritating focus of the gaze which takes our environment for granted.