Nebenräume The Spaces of the Self
The German term Raum means space, but also room. It indicates, therefore, spaces that may be open as well as closed, real and imaginary, physical and metaphysical. Each kind of space, however, implies the concept of border, of limits if not barriers, against which we stumble, accidentally or trying to overcome them. On the other hand, space implies also passages, entrances and thresholds. Thus it is space with its limitations and openings, which dictates/determines the geometry of our movements and, consequently, of our relationships. Intersections, curves, parallels, tangents and demarcations trace our way and indicate indispensable signposts.
Nebenräume instead refer to some sort of subcategory, minor rooms next to the major ones, usually built by man for non-official functions, but by no means less important. A minor room is not meant for an observing and sentencing public, but rather as a somewhat separated and secondary, yet highly functional place, where an unconditioned self may feel free from social pressure and the need to perform a role. It is a place of abandon; no eyes are watching and judging the scene. For this reason Peter Demetz considers his Nebenräume as spaces of and for the Self, spaces for contemplation and reflection, as the numerous mirrors in his works suggest, where the I is no longer conditioned by outside forces, though not necessarily free from its own internalised conditioning. These environments may be dwelled in by a single person or shared with friends and lovers or with perfect strangers to whom one is bound by a common activity or intention.
In short, these minor rooms shut off the public and their viewing, but it is exactly there, where Peter Demetz points us to; curious spectators, whose natural inclination to invade and being nosy is slowed down by his stern, if not mathematical formalism and the elegant simplicity of the materials used. But what exactly does he show us or let us see?
Austere architectures open to masterfully illuminated spaces, where common people perform the essential and well-disciplined choreography of relational routine. Small boxes, made entirely of lime-tree wood without any decorative or consolatory embellishments, expose three-dimensional pictures of high dramatic and poetic impact. People who meet, look and smile at each other, who turn around and separate again. They’ve still got something to say or they’ve got nothing to say anymore.
Like an ever-present art director who acts behind the scenes, stage lighting is an extremely important factor, which creates atmosphere and emphasis by pervading what can be seen or leaving in the dark what may only be guessed at. Every situation remains in a state of suspense, full of emotional energy and thus open to all possibilities. Similar to instant photographs they capture a particular moment, the revealing an instant of a situation, which seems to be out of time, because its coordinates are missing. We don’t understand if we are still at the beginning or already at the end of a story of which all we know is but a single fragment.
This chronological uncertainty creates the impression that, at any moment, something terrible might happen, something out of control, a deep conflict for example, or a special moment turning into utter indifference, a possibly close encounter following the downward curve of separation instead. Missed occasions, illusions and delusions of lovers, brief outlooks on different landscapes and new horizons. Quite normal things, business as usual. Things that don’t worry us, because, distracted as we are, we don’t perceive ordinary life as much more than an endless string of banal occupations rather than an inextinguishable source of dramatic events. In the works of Peter Demetz instead, the ordinary assumes an air of haunting mystery, emphasized by the changing point of view of the scene, thus rendering visible what otherwise would remain hidden away or suddenly hiding what just a moment ago was before our eyes. We may even be induced to a creative effort, imagining what simply is beyond our reach of visible perception.
Playing with our consolidated certainties the artist captures what is extraordinary in the ordinary, confers poetical tension to the simple gesture and, by doing so, evokes the high complexity of life with all its unknown and variable factors. In front of his theatrical show-boxes with the curtain raised, Demetz forces us to change position and thus also point of view, in order to see more and to see better. Thus, what we see, as well as what we perceive as missing, recalls our own experience; inside and outside slide into one another, creating the awareness that each moment may transform itself into an epiphany. The perspective outlook guides our view towards a dialectic exchange between observation and self-analysis, marking the start and arrival of every relationship.