In common with many artists in the International 06 exhibition, Hans Schabus (b. 1970, Watschig, Austria) works by undertaking painstaking personal research into the context for his commission, the end result being an appropriation by the artist of the circumstances with which he is faced. The viewer is then presented with an amalgam – in the form of a sculpture, film, installation or intervention – of the experience of the artist's personal journey and the documented or recreated history of the place.
This process makes an art of irony and detachment impossible: we have to accept a world founded on beliefs, or we will take nothing from the experience. For Schabus, the work of art is an instrument for thinking, certainly, but also for emotional and physical/aesthetic exercise. In attempting to take hold of these instruments, we automatically lay out a structure for the way in which we experience the world.
The way offered to us by Schabus normally involves a journey or exploration of some kind, and, despite the grandeur of a project such as his transformation of the Austrian Pavilion in the 2005 Venice Biennale into a mountain, is personal and meditative in kind rather than spectacular and collective.
Hans Schabus is fascinated by the spaces through which we travel.His piece for International 06 entitled Log Book of Ballast (2006) retraced a mostly forgotten journey: that made by countless stones used as ballast on ships sailing from Liverpool to America’s east coast. Once in America, no longer needed as ballast, the stones became raw material with which to build houses and pave streets. Schabus’s log recounted the story backwards, recording the artist’s own journey to retrieve some ballast stones and return them to their point of origin. In bringing the stones ‘home’, however, Schabus also gave us the opportunity to encounter the literal bedrock of a city now itself in the process of being rebuilt.
Stones may not immediately appear the most natural of travellers, and yet they owe their form and existence to a slow journey, borne on glaciers from mountainside to river mouth. Used as ballast, the stones held meaning for ship owners only during the moments between departure and arrival. Abandoned on arrival, they would no longer anticipate space to be filled with tradeable goods, but create and define new space, providing the raw material with which to build houses and pave streets. River Street, the oldest street in one of America’s first planned cities, Savannah, is aptly named, since it is paved with stones from the Mersey.
In bringing these foundlings home, Schabus at once mades the stones visible at their point of origin, and returned them to their natural hidden state beneath the river. Log Book (2006) invited us to undertake a journey to encounter the bedrock of a city in the process of being rebuilt.
Log Book of Ballast, 2006
Publication documenting artist's intervention
Commissioned by Liverpool Biennial 2006
Northwest regional Development Agency
The National Lottery through Arts Council England
Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation
Esmée Fairbairn Foundation