The Brooklyn Rail

DEC 22–JAN 23

All Issues
DEC 22–JAN 23 Issue
Art Books

Flurin Bisig’s Unformed Desire

A love letter to unformed desire

Stephan Kunz and Lynn Kost, Ed.
Flurin Bisig: Unformed Desire
(Snoeck, 2022)

​​Dear Unformed Desire…

I started this project thinking that I was going to write a book review of Unformed Desire, newly out by the Swiss artist Flurin Bisig. After going to the book launch at the International Studio & Curatorial Program (ISCP), I thought maybe this should be an art criticism piece, as Flurin opened his speech explaining that the book itself is a work of art and deserves its own pedestal (which he made, out of opaque plastique panels, for the book to rest on during the launch). But the more I work on it, contemplating the book, its materials, his talks, our conversations, and so forth, I start to realize that I am actually writing a love letter.

Almost immediately at the beginning of Unformed Desire is a sentence by the singer Bonnie “Prince” Billy: “And even if love were not what I wanted / Love would make love the thing most desired,” further hinting that “love letter” is indeed the closest proper genre to approach this work: it invites non-teleological emotional flows and interactions—motivated, yet unformed.

The first time I encountered the artifacts of Flurin’s making, I coined the terms ‘Patchwork Brâncuși’ and ‘Patchwork Constructivism.’ He liked them and we laughed together. Patchwork Brâncuși refers to works shown in images such as 59 and 60 in the book (which uses an index of numbers instead of artwork titles), in which monolithic sculptural objects in marble, reminiscent of Brâncuși’s, are partially covered with brown packing tape over some of the edges of the geometrical compositions. Such covering completely overturns the character of the works. An act of caring, of patching things up, it signifies the paradoxical fragility of the sharpness of the edges created by marble—a material associated with monumentality and eternity yet is at the same time quite breakable. In fact, such caring and patching resonates with the quality of marble, whose body transforms with environment and time, making it the desirable stone to depict carnal flesh. The gesture of taping also brings a quality of evanescence, as such protections could be adopted on the object’s journey towards some final staging safely in the museum setting.

Despite being installed as objects in museums on pedestals, the sculptures’ patchwork restages the museum as a construction site. Besides reminding viewers of the Russian avant-garde in terms of forms, compositions, and colors (similarly iconic as the Brâncuși monolithic marble pieces), the works emit the quality of patchiness, not only because of the construction-in-progress character, but also delivered by the humble materials of cardboard (instead of “monumental” as understood with marble) and unevenly applied paints with traces of the brush in the act of touching the body of the cardboards. The crumbling contours of geometries reveal the history of physical interactions through which they come into existence.

Lynn Kost, in the second of the two essays by the book’s editors, comments on the installation Goodbye 20th Century (2012): “it looks as if a bomb had gone off in a Proun Room by El Lissitzky.” To me, however, the Patchwork Constructivism presented here is something much less violent, confrontational, or monumental. It is affectionate caring work that assembles and prepares the parts while breathing with them with spaces and porosities demonstrated with uneven edges (just as that of the torn papers for his drawings), a process of constructing and cutting, similar to patching with the tapes. It is a gesture with loving atmosphere.

Then why does Flurin use the plinths and pedestals if the works are not about being monumental? Why put the book on a plinth during his talk? Even Brâncuși, with all his monumentality, worked to move away from the plinth. And what about Flurin’s other marble non-patchy monolithic sculptures without tape? On one hand, Kost’s comment on the work’s environmental and historical materiality might be helpful, that Flurin “is currently working on marble sculptures in very humble conditions.” On the other hand, the plinths are similarly humbly made, and as Flurin said during the ISCP book-launch, they serve to always connect the works to the ground. To be literally down-to-earth.

The book also includes illustrations throughout of artwork, architecture, and quotations by others, which Flurin gathered over the years while producing his own pieces. Together, they form an intricately connected whole. This gesture evokes the “artist gaze,” phrased by the book’s other editor, Stephan Kunz, in the first essay of the book. It is a trope similarly adopted by other architects and artists, such as the fellow Swiss Valerio Olgiati, with his famous Autobiographical Iconography (2011), composed of photos the architect took of other works and constructions as well as found images. The materials presented are considered reinvented, re-created by the “artist’s gaze,” acquiring new meanings and prompting novel inspirations.

This does not seem to be the case with Unformed Desire. Rather than claiming a prevalent and genius artist gaze, Flurin’s interweaving of images of his works with others’ renders everything as anonymous found objects that are always already there—in the sense that does not claim timeless eternity but instead, invisibility. Unlike Olgiati’s image inventory, which authorizes everything, Flurin’s de-authorizes everything. This is furthered by the fact that the pieces are presented in the book with minimum information: location, time, and other technical material details are compiled in the appendix “list of works.” The titles of many works are also organized numerically similarly as the images themselves, so you would have an info line in the “list of works” as: “259, 2018,” reminiscent of a document code in some archive, along with something like: “Pforzheim (D), 2012.”

Flipping through the pictures is like taking a mindless stroll with your heart light. Flurin beautifully reinvents Walter Benjamin’s thoughts on architecture, suggesting that he prefers to see architecture from the corner of his eyes while living with it.1 Similarly, the book invites lived messy folding after the folding of its envelope and the image of the folding on the cover, as well as in the pages. They build individual relationships and happenings with the bodies holding it, through multiple encounters and histories which might lead to meanings one day as side effects. In other words, the book is an architectural existence that is not to be interacted confrontationally, the meaning is formed collaboratively with the lived experience of the reader, instead of presenting formed meanings to be delivered top-down by the bookmaker. Hence, necessarily, the images come without words or explanations. There are no teleological agendas.

Kunz wrote “there are strong arguments in favor of calling this artist a sculptor.” For me, Flurin is not a sculptor, an artist, nor an author. He is just a guy, an ever tender open field (without oscillations), moving with unformed desire, curious to see how things turn out, with much love and care.

  1. Benjamin wrote that “buildings are received in a twofold manner: by use and by perception. Or better: tactilely and optically. Such reception cannot be understood in terms of the concentrated attention of a traveler before a famous building.” Benjamin then further elaborated on the contrast between “attention” and “habit” in accomplishing both tactile and optical reception. That they both occur more with architecture “spontaneously [with] the form of casual noticing, rather than attentive observation.” Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility: Second Version (1935-36),” The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility And Other Writings on Media, ed. Michael W. Jennings, Brigid Doherty, and Thomas Y. Levin, trans. Edmund Jephcott, Rodney Livingstone, Howard Eiland, and others (Cambridge, MA, London: The Belknap Press of Harvard university Press, 2008), 19-55, p. 40.


Ruo Jia

Ruo Jia is an architect/artist/theorist/historian/educator/activist based in New York City. She has a Ph.D. in Architectural History and Theory from Princeton University School of Architecture with an interdisciplinary humanities certificate from Media+Modernity, a M.Arch.II from Harvard University Graduate School of Design, and a M.Arch. and a B.Arch. from Southeast University School of Architecture.


The Brooklyn Rail

DEC 22–JAN 23

All Issues