water & architecture : Cato Jans Gallery

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Exhibition Text

Lest a false impression be given, Susa Templin does not hate cities. Sure, she resents their strict adherence to linearity and containment, but this does not compel her to move out to the country in search of open spaces. And though her work is informed by a distinctly utopian outlook, she is not seeking total revolution and has no current plans to sabotage skyscrapers or municipal services. On the contrary, she wants to improve upon what is already in place, allowing the urban environment to remain intact, albeit with a few important modifications.
Templin's primary weapon against geometry is water. Liquid counteracts gravity's earthbound hegemony and provides a level of freedom for bodies used to feeling heavy and depleted at the end of the day. Lately Templin has been tooling around Manhattan, attempting to locate the elusive and scarce open-air swimming pools that offer a measure of hope for the metropolis-she refers to them as "negative architecture." She managed to capture a bird's-eye view of one from the high-rise apartment of a friend in the Upper East Side. The close proximity of the pool to FDR Drive was just the corrective she was seeking in answer to the vexing question of how to make urban living more livable. It is in the soothing presence of water that she identifies an alternative means of transportation- imagine the luxury of swimming to work- and a way of mediating the harsh tones of the cityscape.
In order to envision a more healthy public atmosphere, Templin makes use of a highly flexible system of collage, consisting primarily of photographs, simply rendered drawings and brief texts. In recent installations, images and notes of varying size have been taped or pinned directly to the wall, unframed and lacking any pretense of traditional presentation standards. The groupings resemble a studio planning session rather than a finished, well-ordered display of discrete objects. One can ponder them as individual proposals for change, while taken together they form a many-sided look at what life might be like were we less constrained by the trappings of civilization.
Templin manipulates the medium of photography in a distinctly sculptural manner-she cuts and pastes, re-photographs, dismantles and combines in her ongoing quest to tinker with reality. During this multi-phase process the camera becomes less a passive tool for the recording of objects or events than an active element in a broad program of potential transformation. The urge to play and experiment with a given set of materials could thus be seen to reflect a more profound desire to shape the parameters of her existence, to align her formal practice with the need for a more accommodating habitat.
Many of the images were obtained while submerged in water, often shot from an angle that places fragments of the artist's body into the picture. Virtually absent, however, is a glimpse of Templin above the shoulders. Instead, we see portions of torso, flailing arms and foreshortened legs-the perspective is that of a subaqueous world seen through the eyes of the photographer. The emphasis on her physical presence provides the viewer with an invitation to share in Templin's fantasy, to be an accomplice in her vision for a present-day Atlantis.
Gregory Williams
from "Susa Templin - 3 feet 6 inches deep"
Catalog Design by Alex Gloor, New York
Text by Gregory Williams, New York
Images by Susa Templin, New York
Dölling & Galitz Verlag 1999

a joint publication by:
EXPO 2000, Hannover; Aubase Gallery New York and Galerie Cato Jans, Hamburg

ISBN 3-933374-45-6

ArtForum Review: Susa Templin--Der Raum

The history of mankind is manifest in its architecture--houses, temples, streets, markets, parks, and graves. It is a story that is continually being built, seen, and told anew.
With her recent exhibition, "3 Feet 6 Inches Deep," Susa Templin contributes her own chapter to this narrative with a watery vision of the city.
Templin's photo collages, small models, and fleeting sketches propose a Manhattan filled with water. This seems appropriate on one level, because her work itself might be described as fluid, osmotic, and dynamic, all qualities that she imagines for the architecture of the future--as such titles as "City-Proposals", "Space available", and "Underwater" make clear.
"Fluid architecture" is a utopian aesthetic that for the moment finds expression principally in video art and at times, allusively, in real buildings.
In Templin's work, fluidity becomes a material reality, as water is converted into an architectural element of equal value to the static components, cement sidewalks, brick buildings of New York neighborhoods.
Although the work was not included in the show, Templin's 1998 drawing, "A pool is negative-architecture", might be seen as explanatory of its underlying logic: Templin's primary interest appears to be in bright blue swimming pools, their four cornered spaces lifted out of the ground and placed upright in urban settings.
Sometimes full, sometimes waterless, these pools are found in numerous collages; even empty, in their contrast to the surrounding buildings, they form metaphoric collecting pools for a new architecture.
In other collages of the city, Templin inserts a fragment of an image of pool-water on which she has sketched a rectangular prism. These blue transparent boxes sit at intersections or rise out of the construction sites between skyscrapers. Bubbles from an untraceable source have formed on their surfaces.
Hermetically sealed yet seemingly boundless, Templin's idiosyncratic "fountains" are typical of her work, an integral part of her amusing visual attempts to bring the element of water into the city via sketches and architectural models.
Visitors were invited to experience what it might be like to actually move through fluid architecture with "Room", 1999, an underwater photographic image printed on five strips of Mylar that covered an entire wall of the gallery.
The sputtering bubbles in blue water transformed the exhibition space into a virtual aquarium, while a foot dangling in the water seemed to suggest a kind of grounded weightlessness--a state that might ideally take place more in thought and perception than in reality.
Wolf Jahn
Translated from German by Elizabeth Felicella
ARTFORUM, November 1999 (p 152)