Welcome to the real world

Solo exhibition Bram Braam @ Frank Taal Rotterdam

21.10.2016 – 26.11.2016

Yasmijn Jarram, curator and art critic

(translation: Jesse Voetman – Donald Schenkel)

Visual artist Bram Braam (NL, 1980) is captivated by the makeability of our daily surroundings. Apart from his photos, collages and assemblages Bram focusses on sculptural works of a subtle or –juxtaposing– monumental scale. Many influences can be found in these works: the American minimalism of Donald Judd and Sol LeWitt, the utopian thinking of architects as Le Corbusier, yet also the modernism of Bauhaus and De Stijl. In his work the schematic clarity of the Dutch landscape meets with the raw, urban chaos of Braam’s place of residence Berlin.

Braam looks at public space through the eyes of a sculptor. He photographs the unsigned ‘non-spaces’ in the city, or especially the urban areas where the old and new meet. In Braam’s studio these concrete observations are transformed into abstract artworks; balancing between the formal and the narrative. The grey area between coincidence and control, between nature and culture continues to be questioned. When is something considered original and ‘real’ and when is it carefully constructed? Nowadays artificiality is omnipresent: from Photshop to plastic surgery, from virtual reality to hologram. It comes to no surprise that Braam is fascinated by the concept of ‘hyperreality’ by philosopher Jean Baudrillard (1929-2007). With this term Baudrillard refers to an artificial, improved version of the everyday actuality where it is barely possible to distinguish between reality and illusion.

In his solo exhibition Welcome to the real world Braam aims to gather these different actualities. This is among others reflected in the distinctive mix of artificial and found materials. The exterior of the site-specific installation Black White consists of weathered black plates that are used in construction for the pouring of concrete – a phase between planning and execution. Meanwhile, the interior of the installation shows a structure of glossy glass plates and white surfaces. The various displayed stones are merely partially authentic: the fluorescent orange segments are plastic 3D prints. In the assemblage Horor Vacui Braam combines his unpolished construction plates with traces of vandalism, gentrification and decay, in combination with high gloss Plexiglas.

The photo series Accidental Visions shows locations in Berlin where unintentionally artistic references to modernism have emerged: ragged layers of paint in just slightly deviating colours are applied on walls full of graffiti. Braam completes the composition with an added layer of tightly painted colour shapes. A comparable contrast underlies the installation The different possibilities of a truth, where a raw street object is placed alongside a stylized shape. In Braam’s public research into shape and material he does not only expose the artistic process but also the speed at which the public space of a metropolitan city such as Berlin is constantly transforming. Here, the heterogeneity of Braam’s place of residence finds its mirror image in the (literal) layering of his work.

Modern Mutants

Anja Henckel, Nadim Samman

The formal reductions of Holland’s De Stijl would reverberate throughout the history of the twentieth century, crossing oceans to effect movements such as American Minimalism and international currents in architecture. For a Dutch artist concerned with the built environment, such as Braam, the modernist legacy looms large. In previous projects such as City of Tomorrow he worked through the tactile and volumetric poetry of failed urban planning experiments – the dead ends of utopian reduction, rather than so many promised clean slates. Through a series of compelling sculptures, installations and wall reliefs, his ouevre has spoken by splicing together ‘poor’ modern vernaculars to address the wrack of good architectural intentions on the shores of lived experience.

With this new body of work Braam’s focus has shifted, from imperfect figures of total design to messy ground. From the skein of built control – the masterplan, with its centripital organization – to neglected fringes. Also, to centrifugal fallout: wastelands, junkspace and street furniture; milestones on the pathway between environmental rationalization and entropy. Specifically, Braam’s new works address Berlin – his home – as a mutable cityscape, hovering between the forms inherited from its exceptional history, its planned future development, and its remaining pockets of undefined character. In a work such as Coordinating traces Berlin, a photo-grid depicting sections of various walls encrusted with wear and grafitti, the artist foregrounds memories inscribed upon the built environment. Elsewhere, in a photo of a brownfield site occupied by an empty billboard, he seems concerned with the possibilities that may emerge from unclaimed spaces. What will be written next on the face of this city?

Braam’s new artistic offerings are also hybrid objects. As If contains a found stone that has been sawn in two; one half replaced by a three-dimensional printed copy of itself. Such an object might be said to fulfill philosopher Noel Carroll’s definition of the monstrous. It is a ‘category violation’; a mutant plastic-mineral. But Braam’s agenda is not to cast perjorative stones. This item, like other recent works, is offered as a metonym for what he considers the ‘hyperreal’ condition of the contemporary metropole.[1] Indeed, his gestures respond to the loosening of reductive strictures ushered in by postmodernism, as well as the laissez-faire eclecticism of contemporary urban design where image and structure are fused – in billboards, facade as screen or photograph, cladding and more. Another part of this multi-object artwork consists of wall-mounted plexiglass panels, bearing printed images depicting parts of a sculpture. The source material – the sculpture – is located nearby, placed on the gallery floor. Through this choreography of elements, distributed across media, As If endeavours to pick apart the hybrid or hyperreal municipal condition – marshalling forms that flatten three-dimensional source material into two-dimensions, and which volumize image conditions.

The prevalence of plexiglass in the works is loaded. It is the ultimate ‘look but don’t touch’ material. One fingerprint, or the lightest overlay of dust, and its pristine surface is sullied. No amount of right angles is a bulwark against the profanation of a smudge. The nullility of Donald Judd’s minimalism – ventured as the cousin of transcendence – needs constant tending in order to be maintained. In Immateriality Within the Effects of Time Braam’s eye for the vernacular fate of modern(ist) materials is again put to work: Plexiglass as a protective layer, a tool for preservation out in the ‘real’ world beyond the white cube. The work consists of a rusting square metal plate, its paint flaking and corroded away in places, that has been wall-mounted. Recovered from a wastesite by the artist, part of it is overlaid with a plexi panel – a section of which bares a printed hue that refers to the original colour of the metal plate. Braam’s aesthetic gesture serves to highlight the now profaned design concept for the object, while supplying it with a defensive token. Like other works in this exhibition, here Braam stages the uneasy tension between a plan and its realization; between map and territory.

Through his sculptural borrowing of heterogeneous materials and stylistic traces Braam presents the audience with compressions of architectural time – past, present and possibilty, rubbing up against one another. His works press the question of where revaluation and reuse are most appropriate, and where damnatio memoriae (condemnation of memory) is perhaps better applied. The latter was a practice utilized by the ancient Egyptians and Romans to destroy any tangible link to the legacy of historical periods with problematic reputations. In the fields of architecture and design today, the future of communal life and collective memory rests in answers to this question.

[1] The term hyperreal is a key concept outlined by the philosopher Jean Baudrillard.

Text by Silke Wittig, Head of Communication and Public Program (N.B.K.) Neuer Berliner Kunstverein

In his sculptural installations Bram Braam combines various media such as photography, screen printing and film. His works range from large-scale site-specific installations to small-scale sculptures. The experience of time and space are recurring elements of his work, which deals with the architecture of the 20th century and forms of modernist design. Braam is inspired by the approaches of the New Objectivity, functionalism and constructivism. He particularly devotes himself to the idea of utopia, to Le Corbusier, and architects of the De Stijl movement. In his projects, invariably he also addresses the failure of utopias in architecture. He critically examines how social control mechanisms manifest themselves in architectural planning. To this end, he investigates various places and buildings, and with a variety of means of expression transforms his observations in his site-specific spatial works. The idea of shaping the environment through architecture and planning is a central aspect in this. In the installation City of Tomorrow (2014), Braam analyzes the town center of Cumbernauld, near Glasgow in Scotland, a planned city founded in 1956, and translates his impressions and experiences in the face of this failed experiment of visionary social architecture into a space-filling architectural sculpture. His spatial designs are reminiscent of ventilation shafts, stairs and hallways. Integrated video clips and seemingly claustrophobic cabins and fixtures give an oppressive impression of the dilapidated architectural landscape. In his new work Transition of Structures (2014), Braam explores Berlin, the place where he lives and works. He collects photographic views and sketches of eye-catching buildings and places in Berlin that to him illustrate the transformation of the city. He puts together the photos into a collage, in layers and like pieces of a puzzle, and connects them with various building materials such as glass and concrete. Here too, the focus is on the urban landscape as a manmade environment; spatial and material experience is transferred through his sculpture, from the urban into the exhibition space.

21-11-2014 review by Matthias Philipp, www.derive-berlin.blogspot.de

Der niederländische Künstler Bram Braam (*1980) zeigt in den Räumen des Berliner Projektraums Import Projects eine raumgreifenden Installation, in der er uns mitnimmt auf seinen Streifzug durch eine vergangene Zukunft. Die verschachtelte Installation mit dem Titel „City of Tomorrow“, die sofort an ein architektonisches Raumgefüge denken lässt, in dem Gänge, Treppenläufe, Lüftungsschächte und Versorgungsrohre über mehrere Raumebenen hinweg ineinander greifen, nimmt Bezug auf die gebaute Utopie einer vergangenen Moderne in der schottischen Stadt Cumbernauld.

Seine Erzählung beginnt bereits beim Betreten der Installation. Der verschachtelte Raum, gebaut aus alten, wiederverwerteten Rigips- und MDF-Platten, deren Wasserflecken und Spuren des Gebrauchs deutlich sichtbar sind, fordert den Besucher auf, sich in die Struktur hineinzubegeben. Zu sehen sind darin zwei geloopte Videosequenzen. Braam bedient sich in ihnen der situationistischen Aneignungs- und Bewegungsstrategie des Dérive – dem ziellosen Umherschweifen abseits ausgetretener Pfade – um so den Einfluss der architektonischen Strukturen auf die Wahrnehmung zu erkunden. In der Tat wird der Betrachter in die Perspektive eines Umherschreitenden versetzt, der sich plötzlich in eine ineinandergeschachteltes System von Wegen gesetzt sieht. Auf menschenlosen mäandernden Gänge und scheinbar endlos verzweigten Versorgungswegen schreitet er das Innere des Gebäudes der Cumbernaulder New Town ab. Starr nach vorne gerichtet folgt der durch die architektonische Begrenzung der Installation sowie die Kamerafassung beschränkte Blick der Laufrichtung des Künstlers, dessen Führung der Kamera weder einen Blick nach rechts noch nach links erlaubt. Sein langsamer Schritt scheint zielgerichtet, und so folgen wir dem Künstler auf seiner Dérive durch menschenleere Gänge, in denen sich verschlossene Türen in endloser Wiederholung aneinanderreihen, durch Gänge ohne natürliches Licht, die uns die Tageszeit vergessen lassen, steigen mit ihm Treppenhäuser hinauf und übertreten verglaste Brücken, die meterhoch über der Straße einzelne Gebäude miteinander verknüpfen. Schnell stellt sich ein Gefühl der Isolation und Orientierungslosigkeit ein, sich in den immergleichen Gängen und der verschachtelten Gebäudestruktur zu verlieren, in der Trivialität der Wiederholung unterzugehen. In verlassenen Gängen, in denen Eimer die einsickernden Wassertropfen an undichten Stellen auffangen und sich die Farbe von den Wänden löst, werden so die planerischen Fehlstellen ebenso erfahrbar wie die bautechnischen Mängel der visionären Gebäude. Braam, dessen bewusst langsames Abschreiten der eingetretenen Laufwege der Bewohner die Methode des Dérive verkehrt, entwirft so eine psychogeografisches Karte der architektonischen Umgebung. Sein eingeschränkt und abwechslungslos scheinendes Umherschweifen legt die funktionalisierten Strukturen der Gebäude offen, welche die Bewohner in eine eintönige Umgebung einzwängen. Der beschränkte Blick im Video wie in der Installation erscheint hier analog zu einer starren Architektur, die in ihrem Extrem weder Raum für das Individuum noch Raum für Fantasie lässt. Braam eignet sich die Methoden der Nachkriegsmoderne an und analysiert auf seinem Streifzug das Zukunftsbild einer Moderne aus der Prämisse ihres Scheiterns heraus. Cumbernaulds New Town sieht er als exemplarisches Beispiel für einen “in between state” zwischen Erhaltung, Demolierung und dem Vermögen, die Vorstellungen der modernistischen Utopie wieder aufleben zu lassen.

Denn die schottische Stadt Cumbernauld verkörpert das Experiment einer visionären modernistischen Architektur, die in den Nachkriegsjahren das Zukunftsbild der „neuen Stadt“ in Beton gießt. So gilt es, sich die stadtplanerischen Konzeptionen der 1960er Jahre zu vergegenwärtigen und ihre Auswirkungen auf Leben und Wohnen in unserer Moderne zu überprüfen. Auf Grundlage der Charta von Athen, die 1933 auf dem Congrès Internationauxd’Architecture Moderne beschlossen wurde und bis weit in die Nachkriegszeit die städtebauliche Diskussion und Entwicklung bestimmte, sollte der Neubau einer kompletten Stadt den steigenden Wohnbedarf in der Nähe der schottischen Großstadt Glasgow decken. In Anlehnung an Corbusiers “Radiant City”, in der verschiedene Bedarfs- und Aktivitätszonen die Stadt einteilen und der automobile Verkehr streng von Fußgängerwegen getrennt wird, durchzieht eine mehrspurige Straße den Cumbernaulder Stadtbezirk. Fußgängerbrücken überspannen die Straße, von der Wohnstraßen ohne Gehwege abzweigen, während die Bewohner sich den Fußweg zu ihren Häusern durch labyrinthartige Wege in den dahinter liegenden Grünanlagen bahnen müssen. Bestimmt aber wird die Stadt von ihrer Megastruktur im Zentrum, die mit dem herkömmlichen zellularen Muster von Nachbarschaften bricht (1). Auch dieser mehrstöckige, von dem britischen Architekten Geoffrey Copcutt entworfene Gebäudekomplex, der sich über eine Länge von mehr als 800 Metern erstreckt, steht auf Stelen und befolgt damit die strikte Trennung von Automobil und Fußgängern. Von den ebenerdigen Parkplätzen unter der Megastruktur führen Treppen und Aufzüge in ihr Inneres, in dem sich sämtliche wirtschaftliche, gesundheitliche und gesellschaftliche Einrichtungen befinden, die für eine komplette Stadt benötigt werden: neben Geschäften, Ärzten, Restaurants, Büros und Penthouses auch Unterhaltungs- und Sporteinrichtungen sowie eine technische Schule. Obwohl nur zwei von fünf Bauphasen abgeschlossen wurden, steht der utopistische Radikalraum synonym für die ganze gemeinschaftliche Stadt (2).

Während in den Anfangsjahren noch mehrere tausend Fachbesucher pro Jahr in die fünftgrößte schottische Stadt kamen, um das neue Prinzip demokratischen Bauens zu studieren, begannen die Bewohner in den Folgejahren die Auswirkungen politischer Fehlentscheidungen, wie das aufweichen des gesamtgestalterischen Konzepts und dessen nur teilweise Umsetzung, sowie die baulichen Fehlplanungen wie das verwirrende Wegesystem der Megastruktur zu spüren. Heute zieht es die Bewohner in die nördlicheren Stadtviertel, in denen Wohnen, wirtschaftliches und soziales Leben wieder näher aneinandergerückt sind und so das rigide Ordnungsschema der Bauideale aus den 1960er Jahren aufheben.

Was bleibt also von dieser gebauten Utopie, von dem einst visionären Zukunftsbild einer Stadt? Wie können wir die Ideale einer Zeit an unsere Gegenwart anpassen? Wie können wir aus der Gegenwart heraus, die Idee von Zukunft gestalten? Wie schon der situationistische Vordenker Gilles Ivain in seinem 1953 verfassten „Formulary for a New Urbanism“ bemerkte, „[will the architecture of tomorrow be] a means of modifying present conceptions of time and space. It will be both a means of knowledge and a means of action.” Und genau darin liegt die Chance, die auch verfehlte Konzeptionen für die Zukunft bieten: an eine gesellschaftliche Vision anzuschließen und das Potenzial von Architektur voll auszuschöpfen.


Text by Judith Vrancken

The more one looks at Bram Braam’s disturbance of architectural logic in his work, the more it refuses to fix and, instead, begins to incorporate other zones and territorialities. How long is now? City of tomorrow shows several recent works by the artist that lay bare his multi-disciplinary practice and approach.

The vast project City of Tomorrow (2013) – for which Braam received a Mondriaan foundation research grant to perform research on location – centralizes around the failed Scottish utopia of Cumbernauld. It incorporates found footage of images and video’s, sculptural installations and a site-specific installation, planning to be constructed at IMPORT PROJECTS in Berlin later this year.

Built in 1954, Cumbernauld meant to solve the population overspill in the industrial city of Glasgow. As a visionary alternative to the middle class with an emphasis on a separation of people and cars through the use of underpasses, pedestrian footbridges as well as segregated footpaths, it was considered a key moment in post-war architecture. However, the plan failed spectacularly, leaving residents and even visitors frustrated with the design. Today, Cumbernauld is a ruin of modernity, a retro-futuristic spaceship in Glasgow suburbia and for Braam exemplary of modernism’s defeat to depolarize architecture as a reflection of modern society as well as an attempt to transform it.

This is a main thread throughout all of the artist’s work: How are (architectural) visions of the past still living in the present? What can we learn form (failed) modernist thinking and how does it inform our choices today? For Braam, this starts quite literally with his Dutch background, and in particular the construction of the traditional Dutch landscape but also his acquaintance with movements like De Stijl and Bauhaus that share a controlled manufacturability. These elements combined served as the initial fertile soil for his artistic practice. Though his newer work evolves more around the city of Berlin – which is his current place of residence – Braam still focuses on the “makability” of society through architecture and city planning where what is nature and what is natural are conflicting motives. Essentially, Braam’s practice of thinking and working all revolve around an opposing attitude towards old and new, fantasy and reality but also linear series of past, present and future.

This has led Braam to actively hunt for materials usually found in more descaying areas, the outskirts of cities or places that used to be thriving but have now been abandoned, just like Cumbernauld. He incorporates these discrepancies in a specific use of material that interchanges between old and new, found and rough, new and polished. In works like In between (2013) and A finite slice of infinite space (2014) this discrepancy evokes another layer: it seems as if one is simultaneously both inside and outside the work. The boundary lines which should determine the limits of the piece, according to the classical notion of inside/outside, perform a double duty here. However, the only possibility to contemplate Braam‘s constructions is from the outside. And as a viewer you constantly shift back and forth in these two undecidable positions. Colomn #2 is built from stacked plaster cubes – a common material used to make quick (temporary) alterations in spaces – that are locked in between the floor and ceiling. As a play on gravity the column seemingly serves as a supporting beam, however, it is in fact so fragile that the slightest push could make it to collapse at any

time. With that notion, Colomn #2 captures the fragility of architecture that for a large part is based on risk and lack of control once it becomes common territory.

Text about the work from Bram Braam by Paulina Olszewska

An important key to understanding the idea of creating art by Bram Braam, whose artistic attitude links to sculpture practice, is the specific form of his final installation.

The Netherlands, the artist’s place of birth, has a strong impact on his professional practice, especially in the construction of the traditional Dutch landscape, which in reality was created by human forces. To understand this situation better, Braam reaches for a claim made by Next Nature collective: “Nature made the world but mankind made the Netherlands”.

Reaching to the primary coexistence between nature and human being, Braam observes the surroundings and then transfers his reflection into a closed form of an installation.

He uses a contrast of Nature and Culture to destroy our general definition of what is natural (which claims to be real) and what is cultural (which claims be created). Turning to these motives, the artist asks himself, as well as the recipients, if we can already predict the idea of our future while in the present.

Exploring subjects connected to nature, Braam wonders in which category it could be analysed nowadays, how it changes and what kind of impact it has on culture. And in the inverse: does culture have the power to influence nature?

Or maybe the division between them does not suit the reality anymore, and there is need to create a new perception?

To reach future, Braam turns to the past and goes back to the utopian idea in post-war era architecture. Present knowledge of the final result of the experiment started by Modernism gives Braam the opportunity to explore this unfinished project and a hope for a new type of living which was brought within. Through his works, the artist tries to analyse those aspects where philosophical assumptions failed, and interrogates the process of perception of the architecture itself. During the progress of making installations, he searches for this moment when an optimistic vision has been replaced by a cynical comment. For this reason he does not explore well- known monuments of modern utopia. To answer the question why the project of Modernism ended as a fiasco, Braam reaches those places somewhere far away from the main discourse, in which modern ideas were preserved in an architectural form.

Apart from concentrating on subject of the modernism, Braam turns also to the architecture itself. The artist’s realization of architecture, existing as an object right here and right now, becomes a medium and a tool for further experiments for the artist as well.

Inspired Gordon Matta Clark, he treats architectural constructions in a similar way. In his installations, the potential of destruction has been changed into a creative process which leads to new forms and new beginnings. Opening architecture to the new dimension and exposing hidden materials let the artist to overcome limits of already settled forms and give him the opportunity to play with the established rules. Thus what before was considered as only a hidden construction element is now exposed.

Braam consequently follows his ideas, broadens them to the new contexts and inspirations in such a mode so they all together seem to create a continuous journey. From the past through the present to the future.