Olaf Metzel:
Free Guts

In 1982, a lot of gas stations were closed or abandoned due to rising gasoline prices, which in turn were due to the oil crisis. Here one always remembers the automobile-free Sunday. Nowadays, when freeways are barricaded, it’s because of miners.

Back then I had an offer to exhibit at Kunstraum München, and it seemed logical to turn a gas station into a sculpture. The search for an appropriate object took somewhat longer. In the process, I learned a lot about mineral oil companies, about landlords and tenants, and also about the role of municipal authorities. The "Tankstelle Landsberger Straße 193 (B2)" proved suitable, and we talked about a drive-in exhibition. In its three rooms I concentrated on sale, repair, and car washing. As usual with exhibition preparations, time was short, and I had to work nights as well. This way very interesting, for as it turned out, in those days the arterial street Landsberger Straße, i.e. the Bundesstraße 2 (a federal highway), was also frequented by streetwalkers. So there were conversations about the work, and an audience already before the opening. As with later projects, reactions were varied. I still remember the way a Munich newspaper formulated it: "... erected a sculpture at a gas station". Today the site is occupied by government-subsidized housing.

An example of the use of familiar street objects was the work "13.4.1981" (April 13, 1981) created for "Skulpturenboulevard" in Berlin in 1987. It consisted of an ensemble of police barricades wedged together as well as a shopping cart, with a total height of 12 m. In order to emphasize the limited period of installation, the sculpture was weighted only with cement blocks. Its location was the street intersection at the corner of Joachimstaler Platz and Kurfürstendamm.

On a Sunday evening in April, 1981, 200 shop windows on Kurfürstendamm were shattered in a spontaneous demonstration. The violence was in reaction to a hoax launched by the media shortly before the elections.

The press with its headlines is part and parcel of the "Skulpturenboulevard". And when those headlines refer to the place where sculptures are to be set up, it seems logical to make the headline-making and obviously recurring event the subject of the sculpture and the date its title. The (predictably) vehement reaction of the press was part of the spectacle, since the work was about manipulation by the media. In the Tagesspiegel, for example, art critic Heinz Ohff wrote that the work was a garbage heap and that therefore the culture pages were not obligated to cover it. Ephraim Kishon published an announcement stating that he was a trained metal sculptor and therefore qualified to recognize scrap when he saw it, namely the project I realized on Kurfürstendamm. Applause for his opinion was certain; I think he then went on to hawk his newly published book.

In spite of this, the sculpture was also received positively by the population. it became the central meeting place for demonstrations, it rained flyers during the census boycott, at the Tour de France it served as a tribune, and the police themselves thought about the barricades in a different way. The conclusion was unambiguous: away with it. In a TV broadcast with Thomas Gottschalk, the then Mayor Diepgen promised to have the garbage heap cleared away if he was reelected. In 1988, the sculpture was dismantled.

Since then, reconstruction has increasingly become a topic of discussion. Maybe not in East Berlin, since - as architectural critic Wolfgang Kil remarked before the advisory committee on art - it is, after all, West-art, and in general he knew the Vietnam war only from television.

Another element of urban furniture that cannot be imagined away are bicycle racks. They exist in every variation. In front of public buildings they are ubiquitous.

In a place approached on foot or in a service vehicle, a bicycle rack is superfluous. This describes the idea for a sculpture set up in 1996 in front of the Deutscher Bundestag in Bonn. It takes over the function of the parliamentary delegates as representatives of the people and visualizes it with an everyday object: a bicycle rack on the square.

Normally, bike racks are set up in a straight line. Here, they assume the form of an upside down piece of a cone, with individual segments joined into a circle and inverted. Chains, wound around the steel pipes at irregular intervals, underline the transience of the arrangement.

Freed from its usual function, the bicycle rack gives rise to new and unusual meanings and ways of seeing; the title is "Meistdeutigkeit" (multivocality; after Elias Canetti).

In the pedestrian zone "Ludgeristraße (gegenüber von McDonald’s)" in Münster, a bicycle rack is already present, as well as several litter bins, dispensing machines, and the usual street lamps. The latter are to be supplemented by an additional one - but this time with a whipping post. What is lacking, however, are the places to sit that are found elsewhere in the pedestrian zone. Steel seating units are available in pink, blue, violet, orange, white, and green; in each case, twelve seats form a ring. These round seating groups are to be stacked in and against each other in varying color sequences up to a height of ca. 6 m.

"Erst reacts, dann links, dann immer gerade aus" (First right, then left, then straight ahead), a 50-meter-long double row of freeway crash barriers mounted over each other and along eight concrete pillars at eye level and bathed in yellow light - part of the Freizeitpark 1996 in the Kunstbau of the Lenbachhaus in Munich. The Belgian freeway, lighted by night, was to be the greatest Land Art project - viewed from outer space. "Fahrn, fahrn, fahrn auf der Autobahn" (Kraftwerk) or "Things act, people happen" (Bruno Lader); in any case without boredom no aggression. Sooner or later comes the crash - fascinating, both on account of the high speed and because expensive material is destroyed. Roads and traffic are a place for unloading aggressions.

In the "Parkhaus Bremer Platz, Ebene 4" is the top parking deck, covered only on the entry and exit ramps. You can reach it by car for a charge of DM 1 (not including the charge for parking) or by stairs or elevator. A sign says that the car-park is suggested by the automobile club. The turns can be taken well. The circling up and down movements give a subdued impression of the spatiality. The self dynamic of these turns can be seen very well in the car chases of the movie "Blues Brothers". There it was emphasized by the spiral architecture of the Marina Towers in Chicago and the popular orgies of destruction. This acoustic installation is based on a crash test. In it, a vehicle is pulled against the wall by a steel rope. The noises during the test, from ignition to crash, are to be broadcast in Dolby-Surround-System triggered by sensors. The location for the proposed project is the covered parking space next to the exit ramp and stairwell. The loudspeakers are arranged under the roof, over a distance of 20 m. The parking places in this area should remain empty. The sounds from the real crash will be mixed in the studio, and recorded onto CD. Illustrated here is a computer animation simulating a crash test in this location.

Every city has its pedestrian zones; they define the image of the downtown area. Hence the many parking garages for parking as well; how long these spaces will remain public, who they will mutate into giant shopping centers, is a question of time. The furnishing process continues. Innumerable catalogs display the options available in "attractively designed and sturdy", i.e. indestructible, secondary architecture. And of course there are helpful customer service representatives as well. The service industry is everywhere. Public employees’ jobs are made easier and we are familiarized with the concept of design. The only thing different from designer furniture is the price - these are cheaper. Münster, too, has its pedestrian zones and parking lots. That’s why I proposed two projects: "Ludgeristraße (gegenüber von McDonald’s) and Parkhaus Bremer Platz, Ebene 4".