At first glance these new works on paper seem to depict a range of science-fiction scenarios; closer inspection, however, reveals an ‘inter-textual’ approach, in which references to icons of visionary architecture establish a dialogue among contemporary and imagined spatial motifs. Ravens’ fantastic worlds establish a spectacular lexicon where excessive conurbations construct a set of disorientating hyper-relations between space and society.
Rather than a sexy, streamlined vision of cyber-architecture populated by replicants and robots, such as one might find in 1950s depictions of the future, we find a dense tableau of spatial hierarchies and characters. Besides, a legacy of ‘sleek futurism’ and ‘continuous space’ can already be found in the built work of contemporary architectural practitioners such as Zaha Hadid, Rem Koolhaas, and in the kitschy excess of Graft Architects.
The classic expression of a slick, ferro-concrete future is pictured for example in the 1991 science-fiction film, Aeon Flux, shot in Berlin. Here we find the Bauhaus Archive portrayed as a futurist apartment complex, while other scenes take place at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt and the Berlin Velodrom. Ravens’ sense of space is far more challenging and can also be related in some way to the failures and fascinations of Berlin’s complex cityscape, where he resides. I imagine Potsdamer Platz or a sunken Hauptbahnhof set on the Wannsee or the Dutch Embassy and Scharoun’s Philharmonie overlooking the sandstone ruins of Görlitzer Park. But Ravens’ visions are much more extravagant, culling from a broad and unexpected range of references. Amidst vast layers of floating planes and enormous enclosures, we spy structures inspired by Bruno Taut’s Alpine Architecture, Antonio Sant‘Elia, and even Russian Constructivism among other quotations such as floating bronzed glass cages in homage to the (shamefully dismantled) Palast der Republik. But we can also spot the hyper-consumerism of Las Vegas, PoMo fantasies faced in pink granite, and the endless grids and tower-blocks of beehive living among this visionary tendency. And, while giant rectangular space frames vanishing to the horizon hint at metaphysical worlds, there are also winks to filmic fantasy, such as the gyroscopic ‘time machine’ seen in the Jodie Foster vehicle, Contact, framed by a giant sun shape.
The matrix of relations not only involves structures that evoke fantastic, visionary, or supermodern narratives but also includes references to contemporary art. In „Ordinary Day“ (2007), “Brownie” the mascot giraffe of Dokumenta 12 becomes a series of decorative chimeras overlooking an urban canyon, where a kind of Mayan style structure floats on a raised island, while multiple superstructures arch in the background. By making the giraffe explicitly ornamental, Ravens questions the fate of Friedl’s taxidermied animal as ‘poster child’ whose image adorns bus stops and billboards across Germany. Spectacle counters spectacle in the title work, “Im Jahr der Giraffe” (2007), as other over-exposed (and overproduced) artworks like Cosima von Bonin’s Kraken are left stranded next to contorted Dubai-like constructions beside a canal that reflects an elaborately crowned tower.
I am reminded of the Canadian artist, Eleanor Bond, whose paintings share a bird’s-eye vantage over large urban complexes. Bond also mixes urban and landscape scenarios in fictional assemblages that question existing social relations. For example, in “Rock Climbers Meet with Naturalists on the Residential Parkade”, Bond visualizes a vertical parking lot/apartment tower designed as a rocky cliff. In Ravens’ watercolours, mega-structures often encircle large lagoons or are divided by shimmering canals; deep river valleys sit among layers of topography that combine natural and built features in ambiguous ways. The landscape is not merely a passive background, but a complex matrix of interactions between space and society. Many scenes are framed by endless roof structures that extend an artificial sky. ‘Landscape’ becomes a vast expanse of communal architectural aspirations, where citizens aimlessly coalesce, clash, or wander amidst a hierarchy of detail that constructs a classic yet exaggerated montage of perspectival composition, which uses a sophisticated sequence of layers between background and foreground. These images draw emotional impact from contrast between a transformation of picturesque values and a vision of hyper-modernity. Just as the future does not seem to be much more than nostalgia these days, the delicate washes and fine brushwork portray hyper-modern collections of fantastic structures with an uncharacteristic beauty and subtlety. The sublime and the banal are equally interchangeable in these sprawling utopic/dystopic visions. Anchored in a highly articulate yet ambiguous depth, an atmospheric yet overwhelming melancholy serves to fixate an almost-eclipsed idealism. Ahh … El Lisitzky’s Wolkenbügel at twilight…
„Im Jahr der Giraffe“
Barbara Wien, Galerie und Buchhandlung
Thomas Ravens, 2007 (© Courtesy Barbara Wien, Berlin)