Distance is the opposite of closeness. The essentially distant object is the unapproachable one. Unapproachability is indeed
a major quality of the cult image. True to its nature, it remains “distant, however close it may be.” The closeness which one
may gain from its subject matter does not impair the distance which it retains in its appearance.
Walter Benjamin (1)
The fundamental characteristics of Futurist architecture will be impermanence and transience. Our houses will last less time than we do. Every generation must remake its own city anew.
Antonio Sant'Elia (2)
I've... seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I've watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser Gate. All those... moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. NEXUS-6 N6MAA10816 (3)
Here today, tomorrow’s yesterday
Daniel H. Wild
To what do we want to bid farewell? What would we like to forget? We often imagine history as a relentless passage of time and that which used to be modernity recedes ever further into a distance in danger of disappearing once and for all. Visions of yesterday that were driven by enlightenment zeal seem outdated today. Alleged utopian pyres in béton brut or weathering steel are disposed of to make way for new glass palaces. How we enjoy watching video clips of collapsing new buildings that are demolished with explosives in an efficient and timely manner. The Tannhauser Gate drawings by Alekos Hofstetter and Florian Göpfert undermine the necessity of a utopian nostalgia as an effective counterpart in the face of a de-radicalization of imagination and, with hefty artistic impudence to boot, they repurpose postwar modern buildings into timeless sites of worship. Nostalgia only appears as an ironic form of a standstill in their work and thus functions as another image of time, one in which the human figure and all hopes toward its realization have become superfluous.
With this perspective, Hofstetter and Göpfert also reference the destructive utopias in the imagination of the 20th century, where Stalinism became the logical consequence of modernity and futurism moved right along toward aestheticizing fascism. In doing so, in a considerably brazen manner no less, they suggest a direct connection to the aesthetics of the postwar and Cold War period. According to the two artists, this period is likewise marked by the superiority of material in a space devoid of humans. Material might excludes the individual human in favor of an abstract ideal of the socialist comrade or the social democratic citizen.
Consequently, this scheme unites the postwar buildings of the Federal Republic in Hannover with new housing in German Democratic Halle-Neustadt, the satellite cities of Paris with the working-class districts of Glasgow, and makes visible the parallels between the global promise of the United Nations and the arrogance of a planned capital in the highlands of Brazil. In the vision of Tannhauser Gate resides the overarching symbolic power of the quotidian postwar urban character, one in which the friendship among the peoples is implored at the Olympic Games in Sarajevo, while Drachenfels and Petersberg in the Seven Hills guard over the moderation of a Bonn Republic, just as we find nods toward titoist memorials for the Battle of the Sutjeska or the Monument to the Revolution in Podgari, to French vacation colonies, or to the revolving restaurant in the mountain world of Piz Gloria. The fact that this winter vacationers’ destination turned out to be a lair of Ernst Stavro Blofeld is of equal importance as the set design by Ken Adams in movies with a secret agent in Her Majesty’s service or the sentimental memory fragments of an android, created by the Tyrell Corporation, whose powers of imagination dwarf those of human individuals by far.
Once German workers were warned: “The Social Democratic Party wants to take away your villas in Ticino.” As it were, the brutalist new and remodeled buildings of the Tannhauser Gate, situated as they are in pseudo-romantic landscapes alongside the refuse of postmodern semiotics, are in all likelihood a clever ruse as well. Concrete. It depends on what you do with it, after all. Nevertheless, Alekos Hofstetter and Florian Göpfert are concerned with the conditioning of human sentience through architecture. Indeed, assertions of dominion and mechanisms of power also determine whether and to what degree architectural designs produce perplexities, confusion, and an overstrain of sensuousness. In a paradoxical manner, Hofstetter and Göpfert manage to bring back that which had faded into distance by way of rapture, while they provide, with analytical clarity, an important contribution to the long overdue social-aesthetic debate around the desolation that is bound to arise in the wake of the growing repression of modernity at the same time. Nothing less than the end of history was proclaimed at modernity’s coda and, in light of such declarations, the Tannhauser Gate drawings show us that the connection between architecture and claims to sovereignty and power structures are still relevant today.
After the end of history we find remnants of long-forgotten civilizations like explorers at the threshold in Jules Verne: The Mysterious Island, Machu Picchu, Tumak, or that which Benjamin once called the “anonymous toil” of contemporaries. The edifices in these distant, strange lands at the Tannhauser Gate insist on their right to existence and will fulfill all social democratic promises one day, just as the Wilhelminian fantasies of power in the 19th century found their monument in the Teutoburg Forest. They, too, once promised to bestow a meaningful tranquility, whereas here we are contemporary witnesses to a fleeting brutalism, resurrected from ruins and with a human face. The Tannhauser Gate admonishes that if this glimpse were to disappear, however, then our communal everyday environment would soon become part of a bygone future time, a time whose only hope had been for permission to keep waiting.
(1) Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”, in Illuminations: Essays and Reflections. Ed.
Hannah Arendt and trans. Harry Zohn. New York: Schocken Books, 1968.
(2) Antonio Sant'Elia (1888-1916), Manifesto dell’Architettura Futurista, Lacerba 2:15, Milano, 1914.
(3) The Tannhauser Gate is a fictitious place first mentioned in the film Blade Runner (Ridley Scott, USA 1982).