Mind Fuck Building

As a native New Yorker I’m used to getting lost in my mind, or losing my mind. You can’t live here without endless fantasies about burst pipes, offensive art, making rent, or whether your husband will ever urinate next to Baryshnikov again. One thing you can count on though: physical orientation. The grid: it can mess with your madness, create a menacing sense of clarity, but you can always find your way (West Village and boroughs excepted).

Christoph Buchel, (without title), 2001. Exhibition at Maccarone Inc. New York. Dimensions: variable. Photos: Christoph Buchel. Image courtesy the artist and Maccarone Gallery, New York.

No wonder Christoph Büchel’s way-losing untitled installation at Maccarone, Inc. (2001), the gallery’s first, was so sensorially spectacular. It began with a disappearance. After signing a waiver produced by a bathroom attendant with an overflowing ashtray, the patrons ahead of us entered a small tenement bathroom and disappeared, even though there was no perceivable exit—or was there? Could they have gone through the small jagged hole punched into the sheetrock wall above the bathtub? Yes. It was a sharp, uncomfortable negotiation that felt like we were going into Büchel’s head. The other side was a nightmare, a dreamscape: a schoolroom with a tilted ceiling that forced art–goers to nearly crawl at the low end, toward a chalkboard for a tiny, disappearing teacher. Next up: the windowless bunker of some recluse whose playing radio signaled his imminent arrival. His portable toilet served as a ladder to a ping-pong table hidden in the two and a half foot tall crawl space above. We got lost several times—once out on the fire escape. Even the rainy roof we were approaching on a pull down ladder turned out to be a faux gable room buried within a room—including plastic pipe and rain. Sensorial expectations were thwarted. Somewhere in the building lurked deranged hermits, miniature teachers, and misshapen table tennis players. There was nothing to rely on, not even uptown and downtown. I couldn’t help wondering: would I ever get back out again?


Madeline Schwartzman

Madeline Schwartzman is the author of See Yourself Sensing: Redefining Human Perception, Black Dog Publishing, London (2011). She teaches design and video production at Barnard College and Parsons: The New School for Design. She recently completed her first novel.