Urban Collages (unrealized)


An odd scene: buildings project here and there out of a gigantic field of palms. Churches, apartment buildings, office towers, and squares leave their mark on the center of urban life and the urban system of reference. Like autonomous islands, they seem to float in a jungle ocean. Open lanes create connecting paths, allowing movement from one island to the next. Nature and architecture combine to form a literal urban-land-scape. “Being in one place, and yet somewhere else in thought – mobile phones and the World Wide Web seem to strengthen this tendency,” said Bert Theis about his Urban Collages. Continuing: “M’ambo, designed for Munich’s city center, assumes that the development of communications technology and the accompanying decrease in the necessity of moving simultaneously op up unforeseen possibilities for redesigning public space. It’s possible to once again imagine a more intense, more sensual life”.

During the past ten years, (mostly western) industrial societies of the passing twentieth century succeeded in making the transition to a twenty-first century information society in a surprisingly smooth manner. Yet this transition went only completely unremarked by psychologists, social critics, and sociologists. Cell phones and the Internet both symbolized and realized this development. However, it has obviously become more difficult for individuals in the fast-flowing river of what is still ordinary daily life, first of all, to escape the problem of being accessible and hence available. Secondly, it has also become more difficult to recapture one’s private life (which has in the meantime become public). This is yet another reason why Bert Theis has taken on the task of creating free spaces, voids, unoccupied pedestals, so that the hurried passerby may make use of them, becoming a casual flaneur.

Another example of the Urban Collages is the Twin Towers in Milan, entitled Isola Project (Milano), in a jungle-like context which suddenly makes them seem less brutal, less violent. They are ornamented with a spiral staircase on their left, which the artist has turned intop a large flowerpot. However, as in his other collages, Bert Theis has also added these free spaces, these voids, to Isola Project (Milano), in the shape of white surfaces that actually do offer a possible alternative living space. In M’ambo, however, these empty spots are represented by a jungle of palms covering more than half of the Munich’s downtown, inviting inhabitants to enjoy other pursuits after the day’s work, uncontrolled unregimented, free of social demands: “It’s possible to once again imagine a more intense, more sensual life.”

Since at least the early sixteenth century, when Thomas More published his Utopia, docta spes “understood hope,” as Ernst Block called it, has been challenging artists and writers to create a horizon of hope beyond the objective, all-too-trivial demands of reality. In contemporary art there are many examples of these utopias, which, interestingly enough, always refer to people in large cities, in metropolises. At the end of the nineteen-seventies, Louise Bourgeois dreamed up an accessible architectural sculpture – an upside-down, gigantic mass entitled The World is a Theater an We Each Have a Role, because, as the artist wrote, “the metaphor is, each of us is the center of our universe.” Just a few years earlier, in 1975, Hans Haacke developed a project for the parliament builing in Bonn: Niemandsland, a circular surface with a circumference of thirty meters. “The territory marked out here will have the status of an independent enclave governed by international law, in which no nation will have the status of an independent enclave governed by International law, in which no nation will have sovereignty and the laws of no nation will be valid,” wrote the artist in his concept. Furthermore, “the neighboring state (the Bundesrepublik of its successor) will regard any act carried out in this no-man’s-land as not having occurred, juristically speacking.” Certainly the German bureaucracy’s fear of this utopia and the considerable risks attached to it – the notion of a living anarchy – hindered the realization of this project.

This anarchistic aspect also exists in Bert Theis’s Urban Collages, which visually and architecturally construct a fantasy of human life in total freedom – at least for a more or less short moment. The collages transfer this dream in a concrete, imaginable way to the existing plans of Munich and Milan. These collages represent a utopia and will remain utopian. Nevertheless, the viewer and potential user of this city cannot escape fantasy, freedom, dreams, wishes, and visions, for reality and virtuality have unpredictable intersections and meeting points …

Florian Matzner, 2003

in: Bert Theis, Some Works, Hatje Cantz ed, Ostfildern-Ruit, Germany
Isbn 3-7757-9104-3