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[text] Daniel Roth


Daniel Roth

by Dörte Zbikowski

Daniel Roth's images appear familiar and yet somehow strange. His work consists of drawings on paper, wooden panels or walls, photographs, objects and videos. In exhibitions, Roth combines them to form complex installations, whisking the viewer off into his own fantasy world. At the same time, these edifices and landscapes, which are usually empty but in fact are meant to be inhabited have something recognizable about them. Roth's motifs are based on real surroundings which he furnishes with his own stories. The fundamental notion of filling up landscapes with concrete, so that all buildings were covered, the notion of drilling corridors, for example to get from one building to the next, and of consequently having to investigate one's environment from a different perspective is something Roth developed in 1997, and it forms the link between his cycles of images.

Cycle for cycle, Daniel Roth provides access to individual buildings. Many remain hidden. Fictitious maps showing fictitious locations named with real names precede the cycles, indicating where Roth has exposed access routes. In this way he is able to link regions that are geographically wide apart. The viewer follows him by joining together the individual images to create a complex narrative. And since the drawings and photographs within one cycle can never be more than excerpts from this trip to the inner world, Roth complements them with his own texts. The texts have a linking function but they also reference things that are not visible in the drawings.

Thus, in the cycle entitled Das linke Bein des Offiziers (The Officer's Left Leg) for example, which includes the exhibits in our exhibition, Roth tells the story of Dr. Hanomak. We do not know who this figure is, all we are told is that he devotes himself "to his pipes ... for days on end." He is an observer and consequently sets the viewer an example. At the same time, Roth describes the observer's route as if it were a detective story. [1] Roth evokes a multitude of associations, for example with the adventures in action films or with time machines, [2] but refuses to commit either himself or the viewer. His texts are brief references which, just like his pictures, arouse our curiosity rather than answering questions.

Roth sees the concrete surface as a reservoir. Underground labyrinths connect the places in his narratives in time and space. Conventional standards, limitations, definitions no longer apply and are replaced by new ways of perceiving space. The old world is preserved in our memories. The concrete covering reality conceals the familiar view. It is a metaphor for a conclusion. The exploration of the buried world along these corridors, on the other hand, is a metaphor for disclosure and for embarking upon a new form of perception. The corridors form the access route or, to put it another way, the escape route. We already know what the world looks like when it disappears beneath a protective layer of snow. But whereas the winter snow melts again, Daniel Roth has designed a vision whereby the world remains permanently covered. Consequently, his project is associated with feelings of threat. Perhaps it would also be legitimate to think about those familiar visions about the end of the world. But despite such thoughts, we can see Roth's concept in a positive light, for his subterranean world remains inhabited. And his corridors offer outsiders the chance of a new beginning, too.

The motif of the tunnel evokes a multitude of associations. Tunnels are corridors to the unknown and uncertain. They are transitions from one sphere to another. And at the end of a gloomy road the darkness gives way to a ray of hope. [3] Tunnels can also represent social criticism. In tunnels, we can only follow predetermined paths. They do not always lead to a goal. In Daniel Roth's case they are entrances, allowing the viewer to escape from reality into the inexhaustible world of fiction.

The buildings in Daniel Roth's landscapes are fortresses, architectures of surveillance and masonry dams. Why is it that the buildings that remain visible are those which serve to allow people to control others or the forces of nature and to use the latter for their own purposes? Telescopes and windows allow the situation to be monitored. Moveable camouflaging caps cover the ends of the telescopes. In the cycle entitled Das linke Bein des Offiziers, specially designed for an exhibition at the Kunsthaus Glarus, Daniel Roth references the landscape in the three valleys Walensee, Zürichsee and Linth-Tal/Glarus. His concept submerges the valleys in water. The photos show subterranean tunnel systems with ladders indicating that people can access them. They were taken on a visit to the now defunct but still high security military installation leading deep into the mountain near the adjacent town of Näfels. In Daniel Roth's work real tunnels leading into the mountain mutate into the kind of corridors that could be drilled into concrete. The results of Roth's research into historical events at one location are integrated into the narrative, and reality is presented in such a way that it could also be fiction. The reality on the photos and the fiction in the drawings become intertwined. Some of the drawings bear the title of real locations, it then transpires that they too are connecting links between reality and fiction.

Roth designs his imaginary world in pencil with the precision of an architectural draftsman. Delicate contour lines suffice. Hints suffice such as traces of habitation. This leaves enough scope for what is "in between", for the viewer to make his own discoveries and fill the rooms with his own imagination. Roth consequently gives no indications of the objects' color or the materials they are made of, but leaves it to the viewer to fill in these details for himself. When Roth complements the works belonging to the cycle with a mural, as is the case in our exhibition, another level comes into play. The mural is so delicately drawn that it looks like a projection and it disappears or reappears depending on viewpoint. In purely physical terms, too, the mural recedes behind the framed works. It has a different presence.

Daniel Roth's corridors call to mind Bruce Nauman's designs for subterranean rooms, shafts, tunnels. [4] Nauman initially ran the gamut of drawings, later producing small-scale models and sculptures. These are sculptures that reach deep into the earth and are intended to be walked on. The corridors mutate from triangles to rectangles or from rectangles to round shapes, they cannot always be looked into and appear to merge into unfathomable systems. Often these are subterranean dead-end streets. The relationships between inside and outside, left and right, top and bottom begin to crumble. They are models of situations of uncertainty. Nauman designed them intending to realize them at a later date, but this has not yet occurred.

Like Bruce Nauman's designs, Daniel Roth's visions are disturbing, vertiginous spatial situations, for Roth's work also affects not only our optical sense, but also our sense of direction. Sometimes we see the outside of his buildings, at others Roth shows us a view of the interior. With Roth, the viewer penetrates the submerged world. However, the latter can never completely uncover the secret of this subterranean, inhabited world, however assiduously he follows the artist from one scene to the next, looks through the telescope with him or searches for some means of slipping though to the next room. [5] This imaginary journey remains mysterious.

1 Cf. the phrase »to see the light at the end of the tunnel.« ^

2 E.g. Bruce Nauman, »Dead End Tunnel Folded in Four Arms with Common Walls«, 1980, Kunstmuseum St. Gallen, Schmid collection. ^

3 One such means of slipping through is the real peep-hole belonging to the cupboard in the Untitled (Weller Volker) cycle, 1998-9, which is on show in Schramberg in the Black Forest. (cf. escape_space. Raumkonzepte mit Fotografien, Zeichnungen, Modellen und Video, ed. Ursula Frohne and Christian Katti, exhib. cat., Ursula Blickle Foundation, Kraichtal 2000, pp. 82-5. ^

4 »Daniel Roth. Das linke Bein des Offiziers«, exhib. cat., Kunsthaus Glarus 2000, p. 22. ^

5 Cf. Beatrix Ruf, »Regisseur paralleler Welten«, in: Daniel Roth. Das linke Bein des Offiziers, exhib. cat., Kunsthaus Glarus 2000, p. 47. ^



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