Air is the working material of Hans Hemmert. He fills balloons with air and then places them within a space so that they develop sculptural qualities. Hans Hemmert sees his work as that of a sculptor, not in the traditional sense, but with regard to the interaction with space. He admits he was always interested in the voids in the sculptures of Henry Moore, and the spatial casts by the British artist Rachel Whiteread are not totally dissimilar to his work. Hemmert differentiates three kinds of approach to the space. Firstly, he creates large yellow balloons which are conceived as sculptures.
Untitled 1998, Latexballoon/Air/Museum, Centro Galego de Arte Contemporanea CGAC, Santiago de Compostella, © Hans Hemmert / Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2017
Then he squeezes the balloon in-between the architectural elements of the space, so that the balloon deforms and its bulging volume undergoes a controlled, intentional, sculptural structuring, so that architecture and sculpture appear in relationship to one another – the space redefines itself in the contest between the volumes.
Blick von hinten: Ohne Titel 1998, Latexballoon/Air/Museum, Centro Galego de Arte Contemporanea CGAC, Santiago de Compostella, © Hans Hemmert / Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2017
Another way in which Hans Hemmert deals with the space is to get inside a balloon that he has inflated and placed in a location of his everyday life. It could be his living room, his studio or his car. All the items that are within the architectural space yet outside the latex skin of the balloon stand out in precise detail: in his car, for example, the sunroof, the dashboard, the mounts at the sides for the safety belts and the door handles, right through to the lock buttons on the doors. The latex “shell” replicates the outside space like a 360° relief. Hemmert documents his time within the “inflated” spaces with large-format backlit photographs that give a strong impression of the hermetic and virtually sterile atmosphere of these interiors. In the photographs, the journey of the artist within this hermetic space of stillness and isolation evokes an aura of remoteness, of the extraordinary and of the no longer unambiguously identifiable.
On the Way, 1996, © Hans Hemmert / Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2017
A third way of tackling the space is demonstrated by Hans Hemmert in brief performance-like appearances, which he documents in videos and photographs. Wedged into a small, egg-shaped yellow balloon (with a small volume of air) the artist undertakes everyday activities: he carries a beer crate, sits in a chair, climbs a ladder or rides a scooter. These activities are recorded in photographs which document not only the special relationship between the art form of sculpture and the space. Even more clearly – and in a slightly different way – the relationship between sculpture and space is revealed when the artist dances to disco music within one of these yellow balloons.
o.T. (Yellow Sculpture fitting to Vespa), 1998, © Hans Hemmert / Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2017
All these “balloon artworks” tackle the theme of the surface, the thin, vulnerable membrane between the individual and the outside world. No matter how much they would like to participate in the internal view of the balloon sculptures, the observer remains shut out. The real surface and photographs of the interiors are what we see. The boundary between inside and outside is, as the artist conceives it, the most important element of our visible world. The possibility of looking behind the smooth and gleaming surface is the preserve of the artist alone.
In the Studio, 1997, © Hans Hemmert / Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2017
However, this privilege of the artist, to penetrate the interior of the space, comes at a price. He can only stay in the balloons for a relatively short time, because the breathable air in them rapidly runs out, so he voluntarily enters into existential borderline situations. He also pays for his time in the balloon with the loss of contact with the outside world. So, although the items from the outside world are molded in the thin latex skin, they deny him use. Therefore, the artist, although he is in his balloon and at the same time in his studio, cannot work there, because he cannot grasp the outside objects; he can sit in his “balloonized” car, but he cannot drive it – and he can move within the small balloons, even pick up some objects, but only with outside help.
At the sight of the helpless attempts by the man within the small balloon to maybe ride a scooter or even just drink a beer, the strange aura-like mood conveyed by the interior photographs of the large balloons becomes laughable, and his helplessness in dealing with the circumstances of the world increase exponentially, when “dressed” with a small balloon the artist slides into one of the large balloon spaces to stay there, enveloped in a double “cocoon”, invisible, but also blind.
‘It’s reasonable to understand this image as a paradigmatic depiction of the proverbial “cocooning”, which the postmodern human embraces in the face of an increasingly uncontrollable outside world,’ said Thomas Wulffen of this phenomenon. ‘Thus one withdraws into one’s own four walls, one’s own cocoon, and lets the world be the world.’