Puddles lie on the floor of the exhibition space. A seeming paradox, for how can a liquid agglomeration, caused by the weather, something which would normally adapt to the surface it falls on, ‘lie’, let alone lie in a dry enclosed space?
Since 2010, Mirja Busch has been creating such apparently realistic objects based on a photographic archive she has put together to explore the reflection, shape and colour of puddles. She thus transforms something familiar, ephemeral and basically shapeless into a fixed and exhibitable form. Once in the exhibition space, the clouds, kerbsides or brick walls reflected in a puddle lose their real referents. The puddle’s resin coating and edging counteracts the trompe‑l’œil effect, revealing its crafted nature. What remains is an abstract and formed surface.
Through their constant engagement with flat forms and surfaces, Mirja Busch’s objects are crossovers, oscillating between two and three dimensions and thus opening up unexpected illusionary spaces. The presentation of her works often involves various spatial levels, reflecting the direct exhibition context and questioning in ever new ways the actual boundaries of the sculptural objects. Thus Mirja Busch’s work poses not only the ontological question of what a sculptural object is, but also the question of when and, most importantly, how it is perceived in its specific context and how the observer relates and behaves towards it. These questions become even more relevant given the closeness her objects seek to other artistic disciplines, especially photography and painting, and even to non-artistic objects.
In her work Mirja Busch consciously draws on the heritage of Minimal Art, while simultaneously breaking away from it to arrive at her own material and formal language. In contrast to historical Minimal Art, nothing in her objects is what it pretends to be: belying their appearance, they are not made of firm industrially produced materials, but of soft materials such as cardboard, elastic fabrics and/or plastic. They are used to shape simple, often organic forms that may lie on the floor, fill up corners (o.T. (Wolke), 2009⁄2011), lean on the wall (M2 (Schwarzes Loch), 2011) or project themselves at waist height into the space with a floating effect (o.T. (Schweben), 2006).
Mirja Busch’s objects ‘snuggle’ into space, entering into a literally symbiotic relationship with that space, without renouncing their object status. Thus they connote references to Carl André’s floor works or to Robert Morris’ Corner and Felt Pieces and make it impossible to view them detached from their situational context. As the parenthesis in the titles of her otherwise untitled works suggest (which mostly contain references to abstract concepts and forms of existence), they embody no concretely nameable objects but rather open up a space for associative mind games.
The oval holes in the flattened work o.T. (Flächen) from 2006, which lies on the floor covered with a white swimsuit fabric, are ‘completed’ from within through the texture and colour of the floor, while their borders are simultaneously blurred towards the outside by apparent shadows. These ‘shadows’ (which are incorporated at precise spots on the surface and are made by dark cloth underlying the swimsuit cover) play with the presence or absence of external objects potentially obstructing direct light on these spots. The work thus produces an imaginary multistable figure. The holes appear as the positive side, while the white flat objects become the surrounding space. At the same time, while the shadows refer to a possible light source in the exhibition space, their placement, and the lack of correspondence with the actual lighting situation can serve as a source of confusion.
This play with confusion is taken further in the work o.T. (about space) from 2010, in which the viewer’s perspective is laid out in the construction of the object, thus allowing a technique familiar from painting to enter into this sculptural work. The flat object, hanging from a nail and slightly separated from the wall, narrows towards the top. The side facing the viewer is covered by deceptive blue-turquoise, PVC-made but realistic looking tiles, which are ‘wrongly’ cut for the corresponding ideal angle on the object. The mirrored bottom side of o.T. (about space) internalizes the exhibition context, so that, optically, the work loses volume, while extending itself through the mirroring effect into the whole exhibition space and thereby questioning its material boundaries. One might also be startled by the hanging of the work, as if it were a painting: a construction with actual tiles would be impossible due to its weight. As a result of the mirroring effect, it nevertheless seems weightless. Thus it is the perspective itself that, with a subtle ironic reference to painting, is hung here ‘on a nail’.
Apart from these objects intentionally made for the exhibition space, outdoor spaces and the displacements they involve, mediated by serial photography and video, play an increasingly central role in Mirja Busch’s artworks. With the exception of the aforementioned puddles, the main settings for these works have been Bolivia’s salt desert and the extensive snowy landscapes of the Chilean Andes. The white cube, still the standard in today’s exhibition practice, is thus displaced into the outdoor space, although its architectural boundaries dissipate in the depth of the landscape. Besides abstract elements, one encounters figures attired in coloured costumes in geometrical forms, sharply contrasting with the white background (Triangle and Cactus, 2010; Diamantes, 2009). Even when the image sequences suggest a narrative with changes in the ‘represented’ constellations, no causal connection among the figures or a reference to a context outside the images can be recognized. Due to the lack of perspective and elements of spatial orientation, any sense of proportionality among the figures, and in relation to the environment, goes missing. The real space inscribed in photographic and moving images thus shifts towards a two-dimensional plane – not very different from what occurs with the puddles. Especially in Mirja Busch’s photographs of thrown coloured fabric and its coloured shadows (o.T. (Schnee), 2009), as well as in the black-and-white compositions of abstract forms (cheer up, 2010), a strongly performative sculptural practice based on contrasts of colour and form that simultaneously remind us of pictorical compositions becomes apparent.
Mirja Busch’s works do not merely imitate familiar everyday objects through form and materials, nor do they represent familiar geometrical forms with costumes. More significantly, the different artistic media themselves begin to imitate each other’s properties and effects, thus blurring their boundaries. This boundary dissolution is facilitated by the systematic reduction of the background and/or the materials used to the colour white – normally associated with purity and emptiness. Thus, the individual objects appear not just to be detached from references to an outside, but also seem to be abstractions of themselves. At first glance, this could misleadingly prompt an assumption of a tendency towards aestheticisation, which would run contrary to the endeavours of historic Minimalism. However, on closer consideration of the objects’ material constitution and display forms, it rapidly becomes evident that they literally and figuratively play with the white cube aestheticisation effect and unveil it in a self-reflexive twist.