Submission
Group Show

ETABLISSEMENT D’EN FACE

with: Christoph Meier, Gijs Milius, Ute Müller, Robert Schwarz, Lukas Stopczynski, Harald Thys, Margot Vanheusden, Etienne Wynants, et al.


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Administration, Procrastination, Conversion: An Office in Brussels (Belgium)
Thoughts on a project by Christoph Meier, Ute Müller, Lukas Stopczynski
and Robert Schwarz

Text by Martin Germann

From the 1960s onwards, the office as a metaphor took on a central position in art
discourse, not only in that Benjamin Buchloh spoke of the “aesthetics of
administration”: the rhetoric of mathematics, numbers, files and other administrative
materials became the focus of conceptual artistic creation, preferably by white men,
as a critical appropriation. Joseph Beuys implanted a real office at Documenta 5
(1972), for “direct democracy”. In any case, it became clear that the exhibition space
as a container is just as little neutral as the unbroken alpine white of global art space
and museum walls suggesting its innocence, but that is another story.
Through further exploration of the often cited “context” – and vice versa – acts of
organisation and planning that precede artistic expressions and productions
successively became the focus of creation itself – which, according to the rule of
alternating fashions, reached new heights in the 1990s; in Vienna, the keywords
“Depot” or ” Wochenklausur ” should be mentioned. And the founding members of
Etablissement d’en Face were undoubtedly aware of this fact when they opened their
space 30 years ago in 1991, even though the pragmatically and cleverly chosen
name (Etablissement d’en Face = space opposite) wants to convey the idea of an
outside – a position that has long seemed difficult to impossible to take from the realm
of art.
Where, if anywhere, could such an “outside” still be located? But slowly. Christoph
Meier, Ute Müller, Lukas Stopczynski and Robert Schwarz were guests at
Etablissement d’en face for a summer in autumn 2017, when they installed the third
version of their replica Loos-Bar, entitled “Strookoffer” and escalated in many
respects, in the basement of the current space opposite BOZAR in Brussels. For
three months, work was always done there at night, “underground”, in retrospect a
social place that has made it into Brussels’ hazy collective memory. As artists, Meier,
Müller, Stopczynski and Schwarz were also interested in presenting in exhibition
spaces above, something that has so far been denied despite many discussions in
the office from where the programme planning is controlled.
So for the time being, the only thing left for the artists to do was to better understand
this office and how it works. From here, the plan developed to mirror it sculpturally,
which also corresponds to a continuation of their scaling works of the Loos Bar. This
applies, for example, to the extra-modernist furniture designed by Harald Thys, which
defies descriptive adjectives, but also to the things that have accumulated in this

place over the years: artworks, books, plants, countless things – resinous, lived-
through, dusty things, real “stuff” according to Heidegger, which seem increasingly

lost in the touchscreen world. In the office of Etablissement d’en face, stuff includes
computer technology. While processor speeds have doubled every year for the last
30 years, here they once upgraded from the 186 to the 386 processor and, to
counteract this step, proportionally halved the response speed to emails and
messages, if they can enter the office at all through the 14.4 modem.
As in any institution, the dominant systems of power are also reflected in the design:
the centrally draped leather visitor’s chair, within which visitors are nestled in the
centre, as if out of sight of the operators, during often hours-long discussions full of
pauses, jokes, monologues and red wine. The complete title of Benjamin Buchloh’s
text mentioned at the beginning is “From the Aesthetics of Administration to the
Critique of the Institution” – and the content of the second part of the title has
degenerated into a numb routine in the current art business. Institutional critique at
the heart of this Brussels institution, on the other hand, is achieved by slowing
everything down to a standstill, by vaporising economies of attention, indeed, by
making this office “la part de l’ombre”, where – to finally quote Georges Bataille – a
“shadow side that is part of our self, a space out of control, outside geography, time
and moralistic codes” is formulated. This outside finally materialises with the inside of
the office of Etablissement d’en face, Brussels, which outside Brussels, mirrored in
Vienna, again poses the question of what an exhibition can be and achieve.