in: KunstVerein Ahlen e.V. (Ed.). Martin Schmid: Abriss. Ahlen: 2005. p. 8 - 13

"Démolution d'un mur"

DEMOLITION Martin Schmid has work to do. Knocking down a wall means knocking down a wall. Before that, it's all just talk: the doctor saying you'll be just fine after the operation. So it must be done. Knocking down a wall is work. The wall didn't just up and leave from the middle of the Ahlen Gallery. Someone has to have done it. And the wall isn't just gone, it's been destroyed, now just rubble in a landfill, a souvenir chunk on someone's windowsill, dirt on someone's shoes.

Saturday January 8, 2005, 8:00 p.m.. We know what's supposed to happen but we're not sure what's actually going to happen. The work hasn't been done yet. The area surrounding the wall has been covered with plastic tarps as though the rooms were being painted, forming a central work zone that overlaps the two halves of the gallery space. Wires are being cut; then, more substantial precautions; earplugs distributed to the observers; finally the sledgehammer strikes, dents the plaster, fine cracks appearing. Chips of stone fly off, a hole appears, a spot with ragged edges where soon the wall's innards begin oozing out, a breach that eats into the wall and finally devours it. The beat of the hammer shatters the bricks in a barrage of explosions. A dusty, noisy inferno, but at the same time, a subtle choreography of efficiency, two hands in perfect coordination.

Again and again the activity creates new spatial configurations, then just as quickly breaks them up. A continually changing scenario, shifting zones of tactical manoeuvres, workers, materials, documentation, curiosity. Rubble piles up, growing into a landscape of debris between the architectures of the protective railings, before being carried off. A dynamic interplay of materials like the necessities between planning and improvisation. Obstructions stand in the way, surprises and questions arise. For the most part, instinctive actions solve the problem, sometimes quick consultations, instructions; occasionally, expert advice from onlookers.

Then at some point the wall is no longer a wall, and only the steel door frame is left standing. A sign that marks the division between 'this side' and 'the other side' of the former wall. A device that enables you to look through. A temporary installation that, shattered in a blaze of sparks, then pulled down, ends up in pieces in the dumpster. Remnants protruding from the floor are chiseled away, finishing touches on the scars where the wall met the floor, the ceiling joists, and the side walls.

The protective railings are now gone, the remains of the wall carried off, the room swept, but the finest particles still cling in the hair. The deafening noises, the hammering and screeching, disappear along with the rubble. The plastic tarps fall quietly, freed from the duct tape that held them up, first one, then another, allowing an unobstructed view of a space that wasn't there before. The observers size it up, sound it out, pace out the dimensions, appraise, discuss. The floor is washed, the room emptied, then photographed, and finally vacated. An electrical short that got its start when the power was cut off unexpectedly joins the dying spectacle.

The intervention lasted about five hours from start to finish. In and out, more like outpatient surgery than anything else. For visitors who only saw the 'before' and the 'after', it must be like coming out of anaesthesia.

PROFESSIONALS Martin Schmid didn't do this all by himself. There were professionals on the job, people who know what they are doing. In delegating the hands-on work to others, the artist has entered new territory. He is taking things one step further while remaining within the context of his earlier work.

He has always done things with his own hands. Armed with his tools, he has altered his surroundings, sanded down magazine covers, tatooed walls with a drill, sometimes crudely drawing, writing, sometimes outlining precisely contoured designs, or digging constellations of craters of varying depths. A man of action. A worker or, more precisely, what used to be called a wright.

Martin Schmid devises new techniques, reinterpreting tools and using them for unintended purposes. Instead of drawing with a pencil, he uses a drill. Instead of erasing images, of cutting or pasting paper, he sands off fine layers of ink from pictures.

Always with a clear goal in mind: the optimum result from the materials. His work must be situated, brought into a space, must find its own place, scratch surfaces and penetrate things, whether a lifestyle magazine or a house. Martin Schmid breaks down the resistance of things. He is forceful, radical, with no concern for collateral damage. Each grab of a tool is only worthwhile if it puts him closer to his goal.

It's not about the action, even if the observer feels childlike curiosity about the how. Martin Schmid has always been able to describe his work with striking pithiness. Here in Ahlen he discloses: I contracted ExKern from Münster to demolish the wall. Just as the logic of his techniques always arises from the goal of bringing his ideas to fruition, necessity dictated that he hand this job over to professionals.

They know what they are doing, and they enrich the work with their repetoire of effective solutions. Each step, each gesture contains an inherent beauty that arises from the demands of the situation, nothing more, nothing less. The form gets its precision from the continual abandonment of form. Better than any artist could ever do alone.

For Schmid to tear down the wall himself would have led to the misapprehension that this was a happening, or a case of crude symbolism. The gallery freed from its restraints is the artwork, but its realization has all the qualities of a happening.

DISAPPEAR AND REMAIN Now the work is physically outside the room, behind and beneath the surface that until now had defined the dimensions of the gallery. There isn't a single object that wasn't there before the work was done. It was wrested from the given situation. With the patching up and plastering and painting over, the filling of holes, all trace will soon be erased.

Once the demolition scar that marks the moment between before and after is professionally removed, the work will still be there. It will continue to exist, invisibly. Still present in its absence.

Every artist that works here in the future will no longer be able to work in the two half-spaces. They are gone; there is only the new space, the space where the columns are freed from their contraints, where the sense of the two zones isn't dispelled, but rather integrated. A space set in motion by the slight bend in one wall. A room that clarifies its relationship to the building and orients itself as a body in the urban texture. And, it is hoped, the city too will rediscover the gallery.

The decision to create this new space required the courage to take irreversible steps. The courage to dare to do something whose worth is manifest only in the doing, and not before. The Art Society had to bring itself to do this, had to be convinced; permissions had to be obtained. Doubts were expressed; pros and cons debated with uncommon intensity. In doing so, the Ahlen Art Society got Martin Schmid's most radical work to date, and opened up spaces.

Jan Rinke January 2005
translation: Richard Karty