becoming unreal​

2021, Mixed media video installation, consisting of 4K video, 14‘38“, color, sound, plexiglass, digital print on Alu-Dibond, 150 × 100cm, objects

“As global forms are articulated in specific situations – or territorialized in assemblages – they define new material, collective, and discursive relationships.” Stephen J. Collier/ Aihwa Ong

The twilit foyer opens onto a glass curtain wall with a geometric design that lets in the evening light. Another view through the space is provided by two reticulated and tapered windows that control the flow of air and light. Yet another view of the facade from the inside reveals narrow vertical bands of light with geometric ornamentation on the broadened side wings. In between are details of unique aspects of the architecture, which the camera slowly approaches. In longer shots, it pans over the interior and exterior surfaces of striking buildings. What they have in common is the absence of life. Devoid of people, silent and with an aura of sublimity, these scenes are captured by the camera. Only an almost imperceptible drone sound—slowly rising to a crescendo, becoming more bell-like and somber, conveying a quiet unease—accompanies the images, which change from distinctive interiors to the opaque, semi-transparent yet mirror-smooth facades of skyscrapers.

The first few minutes of Viktor Brim’s video work Becoming Unreal (2021), created during his residency in Istanbul, capture recent architectural and construction projects in the metropolis on the Bosporus, including modern mosques, the new Istanbul Airport, and hotel buildings. In the sequences that follow, it becomes apparent that real buildings are being alternated with digitally constructed spaces, and this perception creates moments of sudden change: for example, between the existing hotel corridor with a view of the city and the fabricated hotel room, complete with a television screen displaying high-rise projects as well as an animated video about escape routes in the event of an emergency. In the spacious foyer, with light screens in the wall paneling and recognizable surface textures—seemingly surreal in its built perfection—it is only the symmetrically arranged potted palms with clearly visible shadows and the incidence of light from an imaginary mountain landscape in the background that indicate that the room is a digital construct.

Futuristische Deckendetails leiten zu modernistischen Miniaturmodellarchitekturen über, die vor einem in der Software Blender gebauten Bergpanorama mit Wolken und Nebel schweben. Das Wahrzeichen des Flughafens wirkt mit signifikantem Leucht-Tower fast verloren vor dem düsteren und dramatisch inszenierten Berghintergrund. Das Modellieren neuer Bauten driftet hier in eine hyperreale, abstrahierte Welt in luftigen Höhen ab. Sie wirkt wie eine Projektionsfolie, vor der die enthobenen Architekturen als signature buildings freigestellt sind. Das Kippen ins Hyperreale dieser Planungen verwendet Viktor Brim subtil und zugleich markant, da seine Bildsprache mit der sich wiederholenden Rhetorik und Ästhetik von digitalen Imagefilmen wie auch modularisierten Bauszenarien spielt. Sie legen ihr Augenmerk auf die Investitionen in neue Prestigeobjekte oder Spekulationsblasen ganzer Viertel, die in großer Geschwindigkeit Städte transformieren wie auch gentrifizieren, das heißt vor allem die Immobilienpreise steigen lassen und oftmals soziale Aspekte außer Acht lassen. Dabei interessiert sich der Künstler für die global operierenden, ökonomischen und kapitalistischen Prozesse in ihrer Komplexität, wie sie Collier und Ong mit der Studie zu Assemblagen als Schauplätze der technologischen, politischen, und wertschöpfenden Veränderung problematisiert haben. Sein Projekt hat, wie er im Gespräch berichtet, mit dem megalomanischen Infrastrukturprojekt des von Nicolas Grimshaw gebauten Istanbuler Flughafens begonnen. Dies wurde bezeichnenderweise als „Moschee der Mobilität“ bezeichnet und deutet damit auf die neoliberale, hyperkapitalistische Unterschiedlosigkeit der Bauten hin – ob Hotels oder Gotteshäuser – einzig die durch Form oder Ornament erzeugte Wiedererkennbarkeit zählt hier, wie Viktor Brim dies mit Becoming Unreal als visuelles Essay auf den Punkt bringt.

In his analysis of late capitalism and postmodernism back in the 1980s, the Marxist philosopher Fredric Jameson examined these increasingly rapid processes of production and exploitation. He identified a close connection between aesthetic design, architecture, and economics, in so far as the mechanisms of allocation, expansion, and value creation in construction are progressively becoming part of a global economy that visibly and virtually generates transformation processes in built space. As documented by the empty spaces, presented free of human intervention, this development moves away from the subject toward quasi “inconceivable hyperspaces,” increasing in both dimensions and abstraction, as they are presented in Brim’s digitally constructed architectural designs.

This is demonstrated in both the real and the futuristically animated images: the spherical form of an abandoned square with striking wall ornamentation in the evening light, or the floating dots of light from the ceiling fixture in the great hall of an imposing mosque with arched windows eventually transition from an enigmatic space with a white, shuttered portal to a serpentine, mirror-smooth honeycomb structure that opens onto a piazza. Its perforated, white domed roof reveals refractions of light with a uniformly blue sky and is faintly reminiscent of Jean Nouvel’s multi-billion Louvre Abu Dhabi project, with its layered structural steel dome and design using premium materials and techniques. Investment in such an architectural project functions as an asset, and as the sociologist Saskia Sassen has pointed out, it transforms the city, as many of these acquisitions can be used for speculation. The value of these buildings, as well as the digital technologies associated with them, are stimulating and transforming the global financial flows that exist independently of their local contexts.

Viktor Brim is concerned with this exact Global Financial Centers Index, which rates similar large-scale infrastructural projects according to certain criteria that allow cities to become global market leaders. Not only does his video work Becoming Unreal visually and emphatically demonstrate this complex and rapid transformation into something intangible and unreal, he also expands it into a spatial installation. At Walzwerk Null, the video is projected onto a free-floating pane of glass, while two photographic works on the opposite end wall and side wall each portray the model views shown in the film. The potted plant from the digitally constructed virtual environment casts its shadow into the exhibition space and simultaneously raises the question of where we as viewers are situated: Are we not already in the middle of this hybrid urban reality?

Lilian Haberer

becoming unreal