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Andreas Bunte, ‘Architecture of the spectacle’, 2009, ink, photographs, computer, prints, postcards, on wooden board

In his exhibition Kuenstliche Paradiese Andreas Bunte engages with the current fetishisation of archive material in an unencumbered and direct way. Paradoxically, in this simplicity, the complex sociological networks related to his subject matter, the social history of architectural structures, builds a cohesive body of interrelated works. ‘Konvolut S’, (all works 2009), a minority wall-based work on show, features a quotation by Walter Benjamin taken from his writings on art nouveau. In native German the work hangs like a hackneyed institutional sign—an apt inclusion for a show that invests in the notion of institutional archival display, as well as a symbolic gesture toward Bunte’s starting point for the work.

The artist’s unusual but rigorous investigation of late 19th and early 20th century iron architectural structures is apparent in his austere DIY aesthetic, and it is most significant in the MDF display boards that hang on wooden frames that snake through the two gallery spaces. With the work encompassing this unique display method Bunte underlines the pedagogical undertones of the constructions. On four of the these display boards, selections of black and white images are tacked up, forming a collection of architectural plans and documentation that depict various iron architectural structures—the Eiffel Tower, Crystal Palace and the Forth Rail Bridge all feature in grainy archive reproductions.

Bunte’s knowledge of the subjects is no doubt concise, but his presentations on these screens appear intentionally amateurish and temporary, suggesting he has an esoteric interest in these structures. He does, however, clearly embody the optimism of the industrial revolution, which imbues his works with a sense of wonderment, even in its understated and recontextualised condition.

There are clear comparisons between the iron skeletal structures in the images and the white frame installation on which they hang. These boards feels like temporary constructions that capture the aspirational significance of these existing architectural monuments, an essence that is missing from their contemporary histories. Such is the case in Bunte’s three black and white 16mm works ‘Film 1 (Maison Horta)’, ‘Film 2 (Eisenbauten)’ and ‘Film 3 (Stimmen aus Strom)’, all of which commemorate architectural and sociological themes. Victor Horta, whose architectural practice is attributed to the introduction of art nouveau in architecture, is featured among the images on the display boards, and his interiors are the focus of ‘Film 1 (Maison Horta)’. These organic art nouveau interiors provide a humanising hand to the industrialisation of the materials that are common to Bunte’s interests.

Andreas Bunte, installation view
Andreas Bunte, installation view

His use of 16mm film is sensitive in these instances, and perhaps one of the most appropriate amidst the abundance of artists working in the media. Each projection sits comfortably within the bounds of his chosen predated subject matter. Also featuring among the collection of images are reproductions of the first radio mast, which links to ‘Film 3 (Stimmen aus Strom)’, a film which features a contemporary re-enactment of the first human voice radio broadcast in 1906 from the US by Canadian engineer Reginald Fessenden. In this piece Bunte uses the 16mm film to its full capacity, addressing the nostalgic connotations of the material, but avoiding the obvious clichés by situating it within a body of contextual material.

On top of the dream-like interiors captured in ‘Film 1 (Maison Horta)’, ‘Film 2 (Eisenbauten)’ provides a further link between the humanising subjects and aesthetics that are the focus of Bunte’s works. Recorded on film are drawings and pages from books that document ‘iron buildings’ in a variety of archived publications. In this work the reproductions that Bunte has tacked up in the gallery are give a dislocated origin. The artist reveals pages from books and research images that are of a similar provenance to his facsimile counterparts, animating them with the flickering film.

Bunte’s delicate presentation refines the sociological aspects of a period in history that has been archived for its engineering and industrial advances. By highlighting the links between art nouveau and constructions (associated with travel or spectacle and the industrial revolution), his idiosyncratic archive impregnates the entire collection of works with intimate details and revalued significance.

Steven Cairns is co-editor of MAP