Stephan Mörsch | Occupation | Marta Museum - Herford

Stephan Mörsch – Occupation
8 May - 1 August 2010

The exhibition “Occupation” staged by Marta Herford is the biggest solo show by Berlin artist Stephan Mörsch (born in 1974 in Aachen) – and also his very first exhibition at a museum. 
Stephan Mörsch, who attaches equal importance to Germany and Turkey in his life and for many years has travelled extensively in the Middle East, reflects in his works the various places he has visited.For example, interiors and exteriors as well as urban and rural locations emerge from the darkness in his graphite drawings. In the tradition of film noir, his long sequences of images conjure up scenes which are disturbing or melancholic. Although the powerful expanses of space in his urban views, highway journeys and interiors are often reminiscent of a camera angle or even computer games, the artist deliberately refrains from aiding the eye with a camera to capture his impressions of space. Adopting the style of early travelogues, he consciously uses the technique of drawing to intensively study places. Like snapshots he captures spontaneous impressions in swift outlines before painstakingly working on the details. Individual sections blur into the vagueness of remembered observations or the camera shake of fleeting travel reports. 

 However, Mörsch does not draw foreign, exotic worlds, preferring instead everyday or peripheral locations: motorways, the beach at Calais, street scenes in Istanbul, Hamburg or Berlin, and even the idyllic town of Quedlinburg. Like shadows of memory, the artist arranges his exquisite drawings to create a curious cosmos. The different atmospheres with their undertow suggest physical movement and continuous travel, culminating in the enigmatic graphite surface of the dynamic lines. Although Stephan Mörsch’s sculptures partly deal with the same content, unlike the vague drawings they are accurate 1:10 reproductions of real buildings. Seemingly inconsequential forms of architecture such as raised hides, beach huts, air-raid shelters and allotment buildings bring home the principles of the simple buildings which increasingly shape our everyday life outside the realm of professional designs. 
In the exhibition, Stephan Mörsch is for the first time presenting two models of mosques based on the structures used in American army camps where soldiers are trained for missions in Iraq or Afghanistan. The buildings are immediately recognisable from afar as mosques thanks to pronounced details such as the crescent moon, minaret and dome. Yet on closer inspection, the buildings merely turn out to be stereotypical mock-ups. 

For example, the minaret has been built out of oil drums for training exercises while the simple wooden structures somewhere between an American suburban house and Disneyworld merge curiously with Oriental architecture. The row of red and white wooden huts comprises reconstructions of Lebanese guard houses. In the Lebanon, every checkpoint builds its own guardhouse. What all the different de–signs have in common is the use of the colours of the Lebanese flag and the national symbol of the cedar on the façades. The long row made up of variations of what is basically the same small hut embodies the shared determination of different interest groups to create a nationstate. Allotments in Germany date back to the nineteenth century. They were used not only for recreation by the urban population but also as a source of fruit and vegetables in times of shortages. Mörsch’s models of allotment buildings based on examples from Quedlinburg in the region of Saxony-Anhalt in eastern Germany continued to grow organically over the years. Whereas the basic structures consist of the simple, solid materials available before German reunification, the later structures can be seen to be typical products sold ‘off the shelf’ at DIY stores. In stark contrast to the highly structured organisation of allotment gardeners in associations, these proliferating buildings reflect a clear need by owners to shape their own private space and to mark out their territory. Stephan Mörsch focuses attention on his model-making activities with his decorative wells of the type found in German front gardens. These non-functional garden decorations based on historical castle wells reveal the romantic yearning of homeowners. The widespread need to create a second idyllic world in miniature is ironically undermined by the decision to hang them in rows. The beach at Calais in northern France with its numerous bunkers was deemed the Atlantic Wall designed to protect the area from British invasion. Following the war, the bunkers sometimes served as platforms for simple wooden beach huts. The group of small white and blue huts epitomises the recurring culture of entertainment at these places in times of peace. Despite their simple structure, the wooden buildings feature some ingenious architectural details. Apart from their bright colours, in particular the pitched roofs and the windows with their original shapes make the small huts seem surprisingly modern. Positioned on wooden steles which become increasingly exposed as the sand is eroded, the huts often have to be accessed by outdoor steps. In the recent past, these huts have occasionally been used as hiding places for refugees on their way to England – as a result of which some of them were burned down. Moreover, a few years ago further repairs to the beach huts were officially prohibited, prompting them to disappear from memory. “Otopark” is based on the situation concerning car parks in Turkey.

Car park operators entangled in Mafia-like structures aggressively occupy both public and private areas to expand their economic interests. As a result, more parking space is created at the cost of personal outdoor space. Sometimes reinforced huts made out of corrugated iron or concrete develop which are parasitically annexed to existing structures and have become a recurring feature of the urban environment. The hides come from Hürtgen Forest near Aachen, the artist’s hometown. The models, which are shown as a group for the first time in this exhibition, demonstrate the different ways in which these raised hides are built. Even if certain shared structural features can be made out, the details of the platform and the different interior furnishings testify to individual subtleties. The same forest also used to contain one-man bunkers. These curious buildings were used in World War II to protect one or two people during air raids. Now almost completely disappeared, a few have been preserved as listed buildings. As accurate reproductions, Stephan Mörsch’s models don’t just demonstrate the structures of peripheral architecture but also develop an atmospheric denseness. Half-open doors and windows grant a glimpse inside shady interiors. And the scale of 1:10 enables visitors to enter the empty shells of abandoned buildings, revive them – and hence occupy our space inside them. The juxtaposition of architect-designed houses and creative DIY, of icons and improvised shelters that confront us everywhere begs the question of whether the DIY store, the new dictate of form, is replacing modernistic traditions. Are official and private construction drifting farther apart? Who do certain spaces be–long to – and who controls them? 

The exhibition ‘Occupation’ uses drawings and models by Stephan Mörsch to tackle these questions by examining diferent ways in which land is explored, conquered and occupied.  Stephan Mörsch studied from 1994–96 at Maastricht Academy of Art and from 1996–98 at Hamburg University of Fine Arts, including under Bogomir Ecker, Gunter Reski, Alexander Roob and Pia Stadtbäumer. He has received several financial awards, including “New Talents” from Art Cologne (2005), the “Hamburg Working Scholarship for Fine Art” (2006), the travel grant “Transfer Turkey – North Rhine-Westphalia” (2006/07) and funding from art foundation Stiftung Kunstfonds (2009). In 2005 Stephan Mörsch headed a workshop on the course of further study entitled “” at Nuremberg Academy of Fine Art under Arno Brandlhuber, while in 2006 he taught at Nuremberg as a visiting professor. Stephan Mörsch lives and works in Berlin.Friederike Fast.