Coffee Rings Included: Ina Weber’s Installation “Welcome to the Club” at the ibc.
The ibc in Frankfurt, which Deutsche Bank moved into in the spring of 2004, is a functional and transparent building. Around a thousand people work here in 30,000 square meters of office space in an ambience of glass, steel, natural stone, and concrete. At the same time, an extraordinary selection of art can be found at Theodor-Heuss-Allee, one of the most visionary worldwide.
The series “Art at the ibc” introduces the artists participating in the project together with their works. We’re beginning with Ina Weber, whose installation “Welcome to the Club” implants the traditional atmosphere of an English gentlemen’s club into the large open office space of the present day.
Sometimes, only a brief moment of contemplation is required to perceive just how things have become in everyday life. Even if it’s no longer the dining car one visits on the Intercity train, but rather the “board bistro,” while a kiosk in the lobby of an office complex carries the name of “coffee corner” and a small seating arrangement is transformed into a “lounge,” the appearance of modernity and exclusivity nonetheless carries an aftertaste of the profane. While everywhere between New York and Singapore uniform shopping malls, coffeehouse franchises, and flagship stores are springing up out of the ground, their “original” interiors can’t conceal the fact that globalized culture is increasingly bringing forth nearly identical modules of design and architecture. In a fast-paced society, a longing for inner peace, belonging, and a connection to place and people is increasingly being met by mass-produced surrogates of coziness: in the upholstered furniture of Starbucks, the midsummer-night festivals of Ikea, or the reading sections at Barnes & Noble.
A quiet corner, initially reminiscent of such commercial models, was also set up in the large office space of the ibc in Frankfurt. In the midst of transparent think tanks, file cabinets, and computer screens, Ina Weber’s installation Welcome to the Club exudes an atmosphere of the respectable. Outwardly adapted to the cool, functional look of its surroundings, a modified version of a classic English membership club lies concealed behind the tinted panes of a raised glass box. While the pedestal is covered in simple corrugated metal on the outside, the room’s interior is paneled in fine American walnut. The club is furnished with heavy leather chairs, an artificial chimney, a small library, reading lamps, and antiquities. The mixture between new and old, personal and anonymous lends the ambience an entirely individual character. Instead of a representative, stylish environment or corporate identity, Weber presents us with an interplay of unusual details that somehow seem out of context: hand-sewn pillows, chimney tiles decorated with ants and spotted salamanders, or a selection of books the Berlin artist compiled while perusing used book stores and on the recommendation of friends. All of the books in the club, ranging from the complete volumes of Hessian Cuisine through Maupassant and on to the autobiography of Beate Uhse, bear an ex libris stamp Weber created especially for the work.
“When I began thinking about what I should do for a large office space, I didn’t come up with very much at first,” Weber recalls, who herself once worked in the headquarters of a large London-based credit card company. “And precisely BECAUSE I know all that, BECAUSE I know how that is, all I could think about were the coffee stains on the rugs. And then I thought about it some more, and then, finally, a kind of design criticism grew out of it.” The pattern of stylized, abstract coffee rings she worked into the carpeting should also be understood in this sense. While annoying stains could otherwise normally disturb the design’s flawless appearance, Weber deliberately integrated this everyday evidence of use into her work.
The artist conceived her supposed “gentlemen’s club” as a model for investigating “this strange area between the public and private spheres.” In Weber’s work, one literally stumbles over phenomena ironically commenting on peculiarities in the design of public and private spaces. Thus, in the large, transparent office space, there’s almost no way to find any privacy: everything is open, everything passes you by, everyone sees everyone else. The faceless high-tech environment of the office suggests mobility, efficiency, and tasteful functionalism. This is contrasted, however, by the less-than-cool needs of the people who work there. Evidence of this can be seen in the toy figures found in children’s chocolate eggs, postcards, photographs, posters, and stuffed animals with which people try to make themselves a little bit at home in an anonymous environment – and to set a few individual accents.
Without becoming sentimental, Ina Weber’s work of art takes these needs and yearnings of the staff seriously. She’s interested in anything but lamenting a decay in values and utopian visions or conjuring up past sentiments of exclusivity and elitism. Everyone is “welcome,” and anyone who enters the club immediately becomes a member. In contrast to the pseudo-nostalgic atmosphere of a Starbucks Cafe, Weber’s room doesn’t try to veil the fact that it’s an artificial construction comprised of various elements borrowed and quoted from different sources and lacking a natural history. With subliminal wit, Welcome to the Club shows how difficult it is to locate oneself in a society determined by mobility, to still have authentic experiences. Because to pause, to linger, to take the time to tarry without purpose or to pursue unusual thoughts or fleeting impressions – these are all freedoms running counter to the tempo that’s generally in demand.