On creating a site-sensitive archive<>collection

Written by Cristina Vasilescu
A text on Kristin Wenzel’s work Re-collection

One hundred sixty four pieces of old architectural stucco ornaments, some dating over hundred years old, found mostly in Bucharest as well as other cities in Romania, have been inhabiting the flat of Kristin Wenzel for almost two years now. Consider a small gesso lion head pigmented with a dark reddish colour recovered from a building in Bucharest. Or a fragment of a falling-down frieze of intertwined wine-leaves found in the back of the Athenaeum Palace. Or an entire piece from a decorative knee brace found in the Armenească Quarter.

Disparate in shape, architectural style and time, these fragments of building ornaments coagulate a model of artistic practice as an idiosyncratic archival process. Drawn to her interest in architecture as a cultural symbol, as well as a space for encounter, Wenzel’s investigation of the ruined stucco decoration elements started with curious strolls in the city of Bucharest. Embodying the Situationist practice of “psychogeography”, a wander through a (public) space driven by contingency and desire rather than by reason and rule, Kristin’s forensic gaze identifies and, consequently, gleans the ruined pieces that are available at her hand and mind. Her engagement with peculiar public spaces and “non-places1” is not a new focus in her artistic practice and this current archival project is a continuation of a long series of projects that tackle transformation processes in relation to architecture. Growing up in the eastern part of Germany, Kristin paid close attention to the socialist architecture that slowly started to disappear after the ‘90s. Her patterns of perception have been developing around things that are left behind, forgotten or about to disappear. “Even as modernity erases traces of history, it also produces “points of suspension” that expose its uneven development or, rather, its uneven devolution into so many ruins2”. For Kristin these spots are the realities of the public space, mainly special and overlooked architectures such as: vitrines, kiosks, street lamps, fountains, façade ornaments and  advertising columns, an unusual blend of the uncanny and the everyday.

Kristin’s strong desire to grow her collection of ruins has a deep root into the practice of archival art.
She collects.
She creates and produces this archive.
She becomes the archivist.
It is as layered as the histories entailed by the pieces of ornaments that she collects.
It is site-sensitivity.

Her process to preserve these gesso, irregular bits of ruined ornaments in her domestic environment creates not only a sense of nostalgia, but through an alarming gesture it renders a level of potentiality that is yet to find differing ramifications. As beautifully depicted by Hal Foster on Tacita Dean’s work: “in a sense, all of these archival objects serve as found arks of lost moments in which the here-and-now of the work functions as a possible portal between an unfinished past and a reopened future3”.

The modernist utopia fails under the artist’s eyes as well as the others’. Kristin works with that failure in seeking to analyse, measure and document it so that might in turn be converted into states of being and beginning. Both an archive and a collection, this is a vernacular starting point for other possibilities of working with and around it. Recollection becomes a research and visual tool in order to address the precarious cultural heritage in Bucharest by both raising awareness and preserving it. Through
the process of collecting all these stucco elements she produces an archive of the various layers and chapters of the architecture in Bucharest. Having started to create this archive<>collection with a series of walks in the city, explorations of the ruined
architecture, reflections and mappings based on her own artistic impetus, Kristin’s work has transitioned into an apparatus whereby the production of knowledge, the tools of learning and the unforeseen potentialities co-exist and cross-contaminate.

The intimate space of this site-sensitive archive<>collection is the artist’s studio – a flat itself located within a ‘30s Art Deco building of Bucharest. What better locus for its ramification?

1 Term coined by Marc Augé in his book Non places
2 Foster, Hal, Bad New Days – Art, Criticism, Emergency, (London: Verso Books, 2015), p.52
3 Foster, Hal, Bad New Days – Art, Criticism, Emergency, (London: Verso Books, 2015), p.46