Roman Signer [Switzerland]

Heufieber (Hay Fever)

location: gate of a hall, over a canal (entrance only with a Narracje guide)

In the Swiss tradition of the “engineer artist” (e.g. Jean Tinguely, Fischli & Weiss), Roman Signer marries science and showmanship in “action sculptures” that push everyday materials into explosive new readings. Putting a Fluxus spin on the scientific method, he translates exuberant, but carefully mapped experiments into works that are less about products, and more about the process of their making. His career as an artist follows a similarly eccentric trajectory, moving from occupations as an architect’s draughtsman, a radio engineer apprentice, and a pressure cooker producer, to his current forays in film, photo, sculpture and installation. Accruing affinities to land, process and performance art along the way – yet holding allegiances to none – Signer continues to place nature and technology into an uneasy, but all the more necessary co-existence. Describing his practice as both game and gamble, he eschews theory and intellectualization in favor of raw intuition and playful investigation. The subsequent experiments are often conducted outdoors and recorded on film: tracing the captivating path of explosions, collisions and the literal projection of objects through space. The concurrent relationship between material and duration also factors into his purview, sculpting the passage of time like a malleable medium. The objects he employs articulate this motion as well, turning everything from umbrellas and boots to bicycles, kayaks and model helicopters into tragic-comic avatars of the human condition. In concert with (and often challenging) the natural forces of water, gravity and wind, Signer engineers a surreal laboratory in, and out of the everyday.

As the realities of agriculture and environment are increasingly pushed outside the urban experience, the notion of “hay fever” speaks to our arm’s length aversion to nature in its most “natural” state. Kept at a distance to retain its desirability, we prize a nature that – like that of man – is pruned of its inherent wildness. The room in which Signer conducts his Heufieber suggests this protective bubble: painted in an off-white and bearing no furnishings outside the simple green chair in which the artist sits. In grey shirt, black slacks and sandals he is dressed simply as he reads a book tellingly titled “The Conciliation of Nature.” Signer is in turn as tranquil and unassuming as his milky surroundings, apart from the ominous gasmask he also wears. Its purpose is initially unclear until the escalating mechanical whir in the room reveals itself: blasting a geyser of hay into the domestic chamber like an erupting oil well hitting paydirt. Evoking an accelerated water cycle bringing rain back to earth, the hay hits the ceiling and sprays across the room: covering the floor like the interior of a barn – quickly and progressively turning residential to rural. Signer’s gasmask helps him survive the onslaught, at the same time that it suggests the unsettling metaphors of a mushroom cloud, nuclear fallout, and the domesticated normalcy of war. In this case the aggressor appears to be nature reclaiming its domain and overthrowing the advance of so-called “progress” – showering the monochromatic grayscale of both Signer and his space with green, gold and brown. The hay-strewn aftermath leaves metaphors to accumulate and foment, suggestive of both evolutionary regression (and a return to a more animalistic nature), as well as the socialist utopia that Karl Marx promised when the exploitative nature of industry was overcome. In this more holistic space of human and environmental nature, we would all have the time and capacity to read leisurely in the fields.

The centuries-long march of the Industrial Revolution thereby comes to a halt in this allegorical space, erasing our continual efforts to keep the weeds at bay, and nature from reclaiming its domain. In this site, upon a rusting white gate and the proliferating vegetation that grows up through the cracks of an industry in decline, there could be no more fitting a setting to consider this coup than the Gdansk Shipyard. Suffering through its own spell of “hay fever,” there is something sublime in the sight of nature penetrating the armor of the machine, filling its abandoned warehouses, and overtaking its ruins. Like Signer’s explosive geyser of hay, the ghosts of this earth rise again: reflecting the agrarian practices that once dominated this land. With speed and force, in terms that have tragically become all too familiar in this country, these displaced spirits speak in a language of war, invasion and assimilation.