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"It’s not about Entertainment"

Thomas Schütte on the Blockhaus

On a visit to the Konrad Fischer Galerie in 2016, Rolf Fehlbaum discovered the model of a log cabin conceived by Thomas Schütte. Fascinated by the structure, Fehlbaum asked the artist if he could imagine a full-scale realisation of the project on the Vitra Campus. In 2018, the Blockhaus became the newest building on the company premises, forming a contrast to the architectural works by other figures. On the occasion of the official opening, the artist Thomas Schütte offered insights into his work.

The Blockhaus is a hybrid structure – both object and functional space – and the first architectural work on the Vitra Campus that was created by an artist. How does this project diverge from the approach and implementation of other buildings on the premises?

I think the main difference is that I didn’t have to fulfil any expectations. If someone orders a hotdog, I can bring him a steak. Or even just a bottle of water. I am not financially involved in the realisation of the project, so I don’t have an ego problem. And I don’t have a signature style. Basically, I’m presenting an idea, and most of the time the idea is realised in a way that is ten times better than expected. But you still never know. I have good friends who are architects, and they are happy when I can work with them, because then they have a completely free hand in the project’s implementation. Normally an architect can’t do very much, because the banks and financial backers make the decisions. But the main difference still lies in the fact that I am not bound by such constraints; I can define the task myself.

‘It was the most crooked, and the most unrealistic wooden bricolage that was amongst the choices. And I think the reason is, it’s so different from the other buildings that it makes some sense.’ Thomas Schütte, responding to a question from Rolf Fehlbaum, who discovered a model of the Blockhaus at a gallery and wanted to bring it to the Vitra Campus.

Why are you interested in making architectural models and exploring the structural organisation of space?

I studied in the Seventies, the grey, square Seventies. And all of our teachers were minimalists, or ZERO and conceptual artists, with the exception of Gerhard Richter. So we studied in a dead-end situation. Everything was finished – you couldn’t even go underground. It was the end of the story. My friends and I still adored this minimalism and conceptual art, but we immediately found a way out of this by playing around with minimal shapes and other forms to bring a story back into the discourse.

My girlfriend back then was studying stage design and had classes in a studio on the floor below us. We started to steal, more or less, the idea of building stages or models on a scale of 1:20, bringing stories back into this non-narrative art. This continuously developed, and to make it short, if I look back, thinking about the realised models of the last five or six years, nearly half of them are chapels or temples. It’s a religious thing. The idea is not entertainment, like an art fair. And it’s not commercial. I don’t charge anything for these buildings except warm food, a taxi and a hotel room. It’s about contemplation. For the same reason, you put a bench under a tree or under a roof: just to gaze at the sun or into the shadows. Just to be quiet and not constantly excited. The older I get, the more need I have for peace or for quietness than for action.

Along with scale models and maquettes, your oeuvre also encompasses figurative sculptures in various sizes. How does that fit together?

In my eyes, it’s not a big difference. After one day at an art fair – or sometimes even after three hours – you see everything is moving, flickering, getting shifted and pushed around. And if you do that for 20 years, even successfully, it gets to be dead boring. Everything is on wheels, and so I take every opportunity to make something that’s permanent.

Somebody recently asked me in an interview, ‘What about the shelters and bunkers you did in the early Eighties?’ They were made of telephone booths and plaster; I built models of shelters or of world war bunkers, because World War Three was nearly on the horizon. And I was happy to fool around in the workshop doing architectural models for 20 years or longer.

But suddenly, in between, there was the possibility to make a real building. And in the last years, about six or seven structures were realised, and another three during the current year. It’s always a surprise where you end up. At the end it’s so archaic: it has walls, a roof, benches, and some water to drink – means for survival. I think it’s a very nice counterpart to this booming art world ... it’s a dialogue, and this makes it fascinating.


Publication date: 26.7.2018
Images: Julien Lanoo