They say that Nic Hess has already lived in Mexico, in Tibet, in Amsterdam, in Berlin. Hes is currently living in Zurich. This has had a profound Influence on him, they say. And it may very well be true. It may all be true – or not. Invented dreams are, after all, just as real as the ones we dream.
And suddenly we are not quite sure anymore whether it really was Mexico or Tibet, or whether we remember rightly. Maybe at some point we thought how nice it would be if it really had been Mexico. And suddenly we are quite positive that it must have been, because real is also what we want to be real.
In Spring 1999, Nic Hess created „Durchbruch“ (Breakthrough) with Kerim Seiler at the Kunsthalle St. Gallen. In this project the two artists reacted to the fact that a new room will soon be added to the Kunsthalle.
Thus, the title of the exhibition, „Breakthrough“ refers to the ordinary business of getting from one room to another. Metaphorically, it adresses the link between two different artistic idioms and strategies.
Hess and Seiler aimed at a collaborative effort (the first and only to the date), in which the processes essential to that effort would be programmatically and dynamically integratedin the project. They explored the various stages involved planning the exhibition, both in terms of process and in the form of autonomous modules. Starting with a „Construction Headquarters“ in which Nic Hess and Kerim Seiler toyed,not without irony, with the set pieces and cliches of the construction industry- helmets, drafting tables, samples of building materials, cases of beer- an exhibition evolved over a number of weeks that showed an almost fairy-tale array of fantasy spaces. A meadowlisting on top of a wooden construction, as if it had lost ist footing, dominated the first room; the second plunged viewers into a sauna landscape of planking, arranged in such a way that one could still peer between the planks at the walls of the exhibition space behind them.
Towards the rear of the sauna, there was a little pond with goldfish and benches nearby for visitors to sit on. A bit of greenery could be seen poking through the planks. Oriental-looking ornaments were jigsawed out of the wall dividing the two rooms. The light coming from the powerful greenhouse illumination suspended above the meadowsent a yellowish glow into the sauna through the jigsawed shapes.
Desires. Fantasies. Illusions. For a brief moment, they were reality.
Art in the nineties apparently places particular emphasis on the link between the repeatedly reinvented worlds of the imagination and the liberating banality of life. Landscapes of experience give free rein to all the Anachronistic eventualities of feelings and thoughts. Even „normal“ life has begun to make artists wonder and ask why normality itself seems to be the source of so much trouble. With great and serious concentration but none of the danger, they want to play the „what if...“ game we so often play in our minds.
In „Breakthrough,“ for example, this game also addresses the ambivalence of our relationship to nature and naturalness. The meadow consisting of „genuine“ so-called grass bricks is both real and unreal. It is no longer part of what we ordinarily call „nature“ but rather constituts ist own nature space, which is artificial as well. Using set pieces, such as emblems taken from the real world, Hess and Seiler show an image of a meadow that resembles a piece of mutant reality: beautiful and cruel at once. The surprising effect of then entering the sauna landscape is disturbing but also liberating because contradictionary sensations collide and redefine concepts of what is genuine or real-and, of course, their opposite. We find ourselves in a staged scenario that makes no bones about ist artificiality and that appaears to be an authentic slice of reality despite the staged effect. The question whether the staging is actually the „real thing“ and the visitor possibly the mutant is much part of the game as the decision to just sit back and enjoy....
When Nic Hess includes logos, emblems, signs and images from various fields, cultures and worlds of experience in his collage-like installations,
he also triggers a variety of associations. Diversion is coupled with the symbolic, fantasy with the surreal, and altogether we are confronted with a picture in which beams of light graze a number of cultures, like looking out of a car window in a road movie. In the quest for understanding and finding one’s way in the world, Hess resorts to a process of enchantment. In order to comprehend, he creates spaces of fantasy. We’re inclined to assume that these spaces come from various worlds but actually they all come from a single world which we are constantly rediscovering. And it is a world we ultimately suspect of being everything we would so like to be ourselves.
In the final analysis it may be true, after all, that Nic Hess has already lived in Mexico, Tibet, amsterdam and Berlin. What a comfort that we will never really know.
Cahiers d'Artiste, PRO HELVETIA 1999