Square Tubes [Series D] 1967 is a construction set comprised of six different hollow forms made from galvanised sheet steel. The elements resemble the industrial materials used to form ventilation pipes. These basic components can be combined to create any number of configurations, each unit having a standard opening with a protruding edge that allows them to be bolted together. The number of unit parts incorporated in each iteration of the work is not defined, meaning that they can be fashioned to fit a space, or continued indefinitely. The concept allows a curator or buyer to assemble and change the installation according to his or her own criteria, relinquishing some of the artist’s creative autonomy to others.
The six elements can be presented standing, lying, hanging or in series. The galvanised steel used in this and other works by Posenenske reflect the increased visibility of industrial materials and methods in architecture and artwork in this period. Yet the robust fabric also meant that arrangements could be displayed beyond the gallery setting. Posenenske photographed various configurations situated in train stations, airports, factories, and other industrial environments. She considered changes to the surface of the materials as welcome – the notations made by craftspeople, graffiti, fingerprints, or weathering were important, representing the passage of time and therefore gesture to the object’s existence in the world.
The artist produced a similar prototype titled Square Tubes [Series DW] 1968 shortly after conceiving of the prototype for this work. This construction set differed in that two pieces were removed from the sequence and the steel was exchanged for corrugated cardboard. Burkhard Brunn, executor of the artist’s estate, has suggested that with this development Posenenske sought to encourage the audience’s contribution to the construction of the artwork, eliminating the need for technicians and skilled craftsmen to fabricate the piece (see Wiehager 2009, p.76).
In 1968 Posenenske published a statement in Art International in which she makes reference to the reproducibility of her works and her desire for the concept and ownership of the piece to be accessible:
I make series
because I do not want to make individual pieces for individuals,
in order to have elements combinable within a system,
in order to make something that is repeatable, objective,
and because it is economical.
The series can be prototypes for mass-production.
They are less and less recognisable as ‘works of art.’
The objects are intended to represent anything other than what they are.
(Posenenske 1968, p.50.)
Variability, participation and cooperation are important to the reception of Posenenske’s artistic oeuvre. The sculptural aspects of communication and cooperative usability can be seen in analogy to Posenenske’s radical democratic approach and the discussions of her time about the necessity of social change.
While other artists of the period were working in multiples, limited to a finite edition, Posenenske worked in series, removing any limitations and paralleling the process of industrial production. For Posenenske the ‘series’ referred to a succession of versions following the same principle, as well as the infinite reproducibility of the archetype and the multiple presentation of the same type of model. The reconstructions are not based on the object itself, but on the concept. Posenenske offered the reconstructions commercially at their material cost. Reconstructions authorised by the artist’s estate are not replicas, and they are outwardly identical to the original prototype. The impassive involvement of the artist in this manner undermines the claim for originality and exclusivity associated with one-of-a-kind objects as well as the subsequent market prices. Only the certificate differentiates these unsigned artworks from other commodity objects.
In an event held in Frankfurt in 1967, variation and repetition were not just proposed, but actively staged as assistants continually rearranged the constituent pieces of Square Tubes [Series DW], creating perpetually changing structures.
Charlotte Posenenske, ‘Statement’, Art International, no.5, May 1968, p.50.
Renate Wiehager (ed.), Charlotte Posenenske, 1930–1985, Berlin 2009.
Charlotte Posenenske/Peter Roehr: The Same Thing Another Way/Always the Same Thing, exhibition catalogue, Kunsthaus Wiesbaden, Wiesbaden 2012.