Jochen Mura has called one of his Workgroups “Homework”. It involves smaller wall-mounted objects constructed of cardboard that act as standard houses with affluently glazed façades. The serial, monotonous rendition of the fronts shows little originality or creative intent and characterizes rather contemporary buildings of average, as opposed to unusual, architecture. Their mere aspect reveals that these models are not really suited for use as proposals for model buildings, particularly since they are neither three dimensional nor can they be circumnavigated by the spectator. The small, compact house sculptures do not work in a stable manner but are suspended in a condition between construction and deconstruction. What blights a city, however, can also win aesthetically in terms of sculptural form and therefore contribute as an art object. By reposing the question of what defines a “Model”, Mura gains a special appeal.
Just as with other wall objects, the houses are contained in display cases or showcases: wall boxes made from wood and acrylic glass; thus to a certain extent the large merges into the small, architecture is packed into cardboard, into an embedded area, creating distance. A display case protects and hides an article from access and places it at the same time in the context of the exhibition. The meaning of a display case worked particularly well with Mura’s installation “Rational” in the Aachen city centre in 2006. Here it had been issued with three residential complexes in a shop display, suspended on diagonal wooden feet. The sculptures were reminiscent of buildings in the International Style. They were illuminated and provided a view straight into the inner spaces in places where the window raster threatened to become ruinous. Passers-by saw the actual architecture in the glass of the showcase reflected as an echo of that, which was manifested by the model buildings; reality permeates the imaginary. This installation alone proves that Mura is less inclined to practice a superficial criticism of today's lack of a real building culture. Rather, he defines the factual subtlety in the sense that he captures specific building-constructional characteristics, emphasizes them in pictorial metaphors and holds them in a stage. Through this, they depart from their original function in a most diversified manner. Mura’s entire production of objects and photos convey strongly how his work arises from the attentive observation of our urban environment. The artist takes in conglomerates of forms and materials; citations from reality. He stores his impressions and captures on camera the recurring peculiarities that shape the image of our cities. Ultimately, distorted forms in various ways exemplify mundane banalities.
The photography plays an important role in Mura’s works, because it shows which details of reality are caught in his detective-like gaze. They mainly consist of defects, cracks and incompatible connections of figures, materials and colours. By arranging photos in pairs after comparable criteria such as stairway handrails, foot castings, holes, shadows etc, he directs attention to the known and the neglected, in order to gain from both nuances of the absurd. Comparable to the photography of Reinhard Matz, exposing the Cologne facades, Mura collects the curiosities of the normal as his visual and cognitive basis in order to process them thematically. However, he does not use the photos as direct models.1) Rather he interprets this waywardness with the camera as a recuperative counterweight to his actual homework - with which we have come full circle to the initially addressed object series.
However, just the title “homework” is symptomatic of Mura’s conceptions, as the term is in fact ambiguous in the German language since it can also mean giving up one’s home. If it points out on the one hand that necessary constructional work is lined up, then it can mean on the other that a house is to be abandoned, possibly even that its destruction is planned. This meaning swings, content-wise, between positive and negative and defines Mura’s artistic intention while preventing the understandable impulse to interpret his work unambiguously. This term outlines an ambivalent dimension, set between decline and reconstruction, which includes the temporal before and after. If one refers to the further titles of the works or groups of works such as “multi-storey buildings”, “implants”, “supply shafts” “or “structural disturbances”, then it becomes clear that they address all technical-social conditions and problems of present-day housing and town construction. This enables them to be the focus of the work. In addition, all titles are enigmatic, supplying criteria, which suggest first of all an intellectual play; they encapsulate in linguistic form the essence of his work. Beyond that, however, the titles are about ambiguity and discrepancy, which hover between fiction and reality, between abstraction and the metaphorical. The special meanings of the titles are inherent to the respective works.
Mura’s wall objects, which he summarizes under the term “supply shafts”, are made of simple cardboard, contrasting with modern, commercial and predominantly public buildings that are industrially produced from resistant materials. In its rudimentary expansion, each functional connection is missing. This distinguishes them fundamentally from the enormous, metallic, minimalistic space sculptures of Charlotte Posenenske. The acrylic glass that seals off the openings transforms these installations into peep-boxes. As the viewer comes closer, attracted by such a body, and tries to look into the box from the front or side, he takes on an active role. But the effort is futile; he will not be “supplied” with what he needs. The view has been adjusted, ensuring that curious observer or voyeur is thrown back into a different plane. He is back on his own to investigate the object in its distorted and anarchistic yet sculpturally precise shape. This is particularly true for some pieces within this series of works which, by using multilayered glass fronts and sculptural excrescences, separates the original meaning so radically that it comes across rather as hermaphroditic between technical equipment and small-scaled quirky buildings.
Reality always supplies material for reflection. “Die Vorräume” (the anterooms) orient themselves unambiguously towards the makeshift canopies equipped with coloured glass; the ones that are often placed incoherently in front of unspectacular homes. Converted into small wall objects they become inaccessible treasure boxes. Their unveiling, of all things, is what appreciates the quirky construction of urban environments and which also confirms their aesthetic value in terms of an art product. One finds this humorous, or at least laconic, undertone in all of his works, which prevents any attempt to moralise his art.
Mura successfully creates distance to an actual model by using completely different methods. The most obvious one, of course, is that with which he transforms large-scale architecture into the smaller format of a sculpture. The meaning of the display case in this connection has already been addressed. Irritation, however, can also be caused by the very simple action of tilting an object. Several “multi-storey buildings”, which possibly orient themselves towards the anonymous, stairways of blocks of flats observable from the outside, mutate. Placed horizontally next to each other they become train wagons and placed diagonally across the room pose a barrier. Stacked on top of one another, comparable buildings turn into multi-storey buildings and really live up to their name. Nevertheless, the ambiguity is redeemed in the “double floor” within the construction. In line with the title, within both multilevel installations movement in space and time counteracts the point of building-stability. Concerning the balance between stability and instability, particular importance is given to the relation between glass and openings in Mura’s work. Coloured acrylic glass closes the surface of a body and moves it into the proximity of a two-dimensional, constructional image. Openings, however, paradoxically stress the three-dimensionality of an object, although the blanks emphasise the fragile and unstable.
Mura tested this play between surface and area in various nuances. In “Entanglements” (2008) he pushed two inner room segments into each other in such a way that the inside simultaneously took over the role of the outside. With “Implant“ (2005) the walls of the actual area are completely blocked by cardboard plates: only by looking through peep-boxes at window height can one see the animated outside world. Between the inside and outside Mura moved an additional model house. The observation slit reveals a view into a scenario, in which the real and the constructed overlap. While in this work the walls are covered from the inside and are thus invisible, the “facing bricks” predominantly hide the outside walls. In architecture there are various methods by which a material can be imitated deceptively by another or used as a facing, hiding or protecting the lower layer. Mura’s work involving brick cladding exposes this swindle. They mix up measurements and entangle the viewer in an unsolvable plot of actual space and backdrop, of seeing and imagining, of appearance and being. Two ceiling-high chimneys emerge as mock-ups. Unlike Per Kirkeby’s brick buildings they lack any functionality. The black roof gables actually prevent even an imagined smoke outlet. They hinder the passage and stand in each other’s way. The columns shift between being absolute works of art, design products and architectural links. All of their characteristics affect them as interference factors, whereby the tiny bases at the foot of the columns parody these disturbing manoeuvres. In their own right the bases and roof gables have put their stamp on the title “Headboard”. Proportions, reliance on boundaries and even the distinction between interior and exterior have been blurred.
Consulting Vilém Flusser, who doubts that the house in its traditional shape and function will survive: “At present roof, walls, windows and doors are no longer operational, which explains why we are beginning to feel homeless. I am afraid this is why we have to start designing novel houses. The ideal house… it only exist in fairy tales. Material and immaterial cables have perforated it like an Emmental cheese: through the roof comes the aerial, through the wall the telephone wire; instead of a window there is a TV screen and where there was a door there is a garage with a car. The ideal house has become a mere ruin with the wind of communication blowing through its cracks. It has turned into nothing but shabby patchwork. What is called for is fresh architecture. Architects have to stop thinking geographically and start thinking topologically; depart from the notion of a house being an artificial cave and start thinking it in the curvature of interpersonal relations.” Flusser also pleads for “an inventive house as the encapsulated node of the interpersonal network.”
Mura’s two and three-dimensional metaphors show us a little of these cracks and changes. The print graphics of the “Shimmer” series can also be assigned to the facing in the broad meaning of that word. Parts of the installation that are coated in silver-leaf conceal the original detail. His transfer-prints are digitally retouched images from the illustration book “Die deutsche Wohnung” (the German Dwelling) by the art historian Walter Müller-Wulckow.3) With these works Mura makes his way on the field between two and three-dimensional planes. By use of the collage pieces the existing interior, which had been banned to two-dimensional pictorial level, gains back some object-like character, thus creating a complex network of model and copy. In the graphics, the actual spatial setting reciprocates with that of the photo and the relief. Furthermore, the silver layer is reflective and opens up the space to the onlooker who is situated in a completely different spatial setting. Mura used an important reference from documentary photography as a principal focus of his work. The four photo volumes about “architecture 1900-1929 in Germany”, published in the series “Blauen Bücher” between 1929 and 1932 are, according to the authors of a later edition, “the most comprehensive and above all most versatile photo collection of the 1920’s architecture in Germany by a period contemporary.” “Astonishing is Mueller Wulckow’s openness and the knowingly tolerated contradictions, who’s collector’s inquisitiveness and sense for quality have shielded him from any form of dogmatisation.” This characterisation similarly applies to the work of Jochen Mura.
1) Reinhard Matz, Fassade.Köln, Architektur Strassen Oeffentlichkeit, Köln 2005
2) Vilém Flusser, Von der Freiheit des Migranten, Einsprüche gegen den Nationalismus, Leck, Bollmann 1994, S. 67/68
3) Walter Müller-Wulckow, Die deutsche Wohnung, Königstein i.Taunus und Leipzig, 1932