Oskar Schlemmer's Explorations of Body, Space and Image

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German artist Oskar Schlemmer had a lifelong obsession with the intersection between the human body, space, and the image. Best known for his explorations of the altered body in space in the Triadic Ballets, Schlemmer inverted the space/body/image relationship in his less known metal installation at Adolf Rading’s Haus Rabe (1930) in Zwenkau, Germany. The Triadic Ballets probe the dimensions and limitations of the human physical body by encasing it in oddly inhibiting costumes that simultaneously exaggerate features of body parts while constricting movement. At the same time, the ballets test the costumed body’s relationship to, and its ability to occupy and move through space. As Schlemmer said, the ballet tests “both the laws of the body and the laws of space.” The images presented to the audience are frontal theatrical views framed by the stage’s proscenium. In contrast, Schlemmer’s installation for Haus Rabe consists of figurative wall installations and abstract geometric paintings on all six surfaces of the room. He made several metal pieces - an enormous copper profile looking towards a diagonally arranged, doll-like wire figure holding an even smaller plate metal figure in its left hand, that are hung on the walls of the main living space. Schlemmer was fascinated by the doll, which he saw as an abstraction of the human figure and he was experimenting with ways to use the image of the body to animate space. Parts of the floor are bright red, cobalt blue, and black rectangles; the ceiling is beige bisected by two white lines of differing widths; a section of the wall over the alcove features a semicircle that is part white stripes and part black situated off centre between two black rectangles suspended just above; inside the most private part of the room one wall is bright red while a rounded red form oozes across the ceiling. It is as if Schlemmer had folded pieces of an abstract painting inward in order to contain space. Schlemmer aimed to “reach a new form of abstraction via the specification of architects, which involve not painting as such but compositions in material adapted to the given situation.” The painted surfaces transform the room into a performance space. Unlike the formal stage on which the Triadic Ballets were performed, this is an informal setting for domestic dramas, what Marcia Feuerstein calls, “Architecture as performing art.” Schlemmer’s metallic pieces are witnesses to the action, images of the idealized and mechanized body as well as reminders that the house is the realm and sanctuary of the body.
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