A box of colour on the rooftop of the Main Change building in Joburg’s Maboneng Precinct, is not an apartment or even a bar, but a “functionalised sculpture” conceptualised and realised by Swiss artist Kerim Seiler.
Titled Relay (Situationist Space Program), the structure was inspired by Situationist International, the European political and artistic movement of the 1950s and 1960s. In reaction to the “isms” that came before it, this revolutionary movement believed there was nothing left to produce in art that was stronger than a real-life situation.
Kerim is especially influenced by the movement’s theory of dérive, which believes structures have psychogeographical contours that discourage entry and exit in certain zones. An artist can use the theory to create “in and out points” in a work and so direct new and authentic experiences. Relay, says Kerim, is a modern-day dérive materialised in the form of a two-storey dwelling that will be used by people from around the world as a space to revel in unexpected situations.
Kerim came across the rooftop in 2010 while working on Nomadic Structures, a project in which he built temporary structures around the country with the help of friend Gregor Metzger. One of the locations was a rooftop in the Maboneng Precinct. “I met the developer, Jonathan Liebman, and loved his rooftops. I asked if I could buy one, but Jonathan said that rather than selling me one, he would trade it for art. This was a unique notion, and I proposed we build the artwork on a rooftop,” says Kerim.
Supported by the Swiss Art Council, Pro Helvetia, Kerim started worked on the Relay sculpture in late 2010. It’s made from a steel frame clad in brightly coloured pine slats. The actual construction of the building, which Kerim considers the performative element of the artwork, was a dérive in itself he says. “The building evolved constantly. I drew the plans after I had completed it, so the plans are more like a diary of the performance.”
Already a functioning dwelling, Relay has a bathroom, kitchen, sleeping area and deck. It’s only missing some comfort furnishings, which Kerim is building in the same style and colour palette as the building.
Kerim’s works have one thing in common: colour. “I used to stick to a very rigid colour system that used only primary and secondary colours. I was very theoretical about my use of colour,” he says. But after completing a project at the Museum Tinguely in Basel, Switzerland, he has branched out into more varied colour compositions. “This is the second colour composition I came up with. I think the green, silver and magenta are very European,” he says, “but I don’t want to impose this idea on the viewers, although I have a feeling that they would probably agree. It’s a subsequent dialogue.”
Relay has already had a few guests. Hubert Klumpner and Alfredo Brillembourg from the interdisciplinary design practice Urban Think Tank recently visited. And while Kerim was still working on the structure, he hosted an open house every Wednesday. “I also held a masked ball,” he says. “The cool crowd was there and they all wanted to move in immediately.” But, once complete, Kerim and Jonathan hope Relay will be inhibited by “specialists”, in particular highly skilled people who live routine lives that need an injection of spontaneity.
Kerim is now in the process of negotiating a site for an identical sculpture on another continent. He says the plans for Relay are available to anyone. “Whoever’s interested just needs to contact me to discuss the structure and ensure it will be used in the intended artistic way.”