Hans Schabus
A bridge over troubled water, underneath a ramp towards the harbour and behind a wall of a canal (a passage)

October 27, 2017

After a period of residency in the city, the Viennese artist inaugurates a new specific project that is carried out during a week with 5 young artists resident in Tuscany selected by an open call: Andisheh Bagherzadeh, Simone Palmaccio, Giulio Saverio Rossi, Gabriele Germano Gamurro, Eleonora Rotolo participate in Schabus’ workshop that is centered on the practice of the place, to the possible and practicable, to the idea of ​​performative social sculpture, to the investigation of a present made of new and necessary social aggregations.

”A bridge over troubled water, underneath a ramp towards the harbor and behind a wall of a canal (a passage)” is born, the title of an intervention that is articulated starting from an architectural element, the bridge, specifically “the bridge of customs ”hidden by the overpass that crosses the general warehouse, where the association Carico Massimo is based.

The bridge as a link and junction of a city surrounded by the sea and crossed by bridges that connect the center to its edges, the sea, to the land, determining drifts and landings.

photos: Nattan Guzmán (installation views)
Juan Pablo Macías (process)

Eva Brioschi

A bridge over troubled water, underneath a ramp towards the harbour and behind a wall of a canal (a passage)

I consider the work of Hans Schabus emblematic of what it means to do art today. I believe that one of the peculiarities of art is that it produces thought and induces people to reflect. As a matter of fact, art offers unexpected points of view, shakes our interpretative certainties and stimulates our aesthetic sense. However, if art were just a thought, Hans may as well have written few essays in order to collect his considerations, his doubts, his questions. Instead, Hans is an artist, not a philosopher, and his mind, when he thinks, creates images and experiences.

When Hans Schabus creates, he often starts from a specific context, or a place where
he was invited for an exhibition, or a country that welcomed him to stay or a project born from a critical issue of a territory which does not need to be beautiful or picturesque, or with an important and resonant story, but it is usually never free of conflicts and contradictions. This is how Hans arrived in Livorno in autumn 2017, invited by Carico Massimo to hold a workshop with five young Italian artists.

Carico Massimo is an independent space, founded in 2012 by a group of artists and curators, located in the former general warehouse, at Livorno’s Port. Carico Massimo is, to put it in the words of its founders, “a human collective that produces art, while giving a meeting place for different artistic economies. An independent production space interested in creating new stories about the present. A human collective that produces art from different materials, speeds and temperatures.”

At Carico Massimo I met women and men who live and feed on art every day, who take away this difficult, uncomfortable, derelict space from the salt coming from the sea and from the Libeccio that erodes everything, rusts, crumbles even the most solid of materials and challenges the temper of the strongest.

In order to create this workshop, Hans spent a period in the city with few selected young
artists (Andisheh Bagherzadeh, Gabriele Gaburro, Simone Palmaccio, Giulio Rossi and Eleonora Rotolo). He did not know Livorno well and he remained –as it often and unexpectedly happens – fascinated and intrigued. The process of knowing the city occurred in an empirical and wandering manner, without neglecting the culinary tradition that represents one of its most sincere and profound cultural identities, and for which the members of this collective have a strong respect and a faithful care –turning inaugurations or fund raising events into top-level culinary evenings.

In his wanderings, Hans was attracted by a place hidden, neglected, useless because unserviceable, almost buried by the overpass over Carico Massimo: an old bridge dated back to the end of the XIX century, known as “della Dogana”.

Entering the gate that leads to the former general warehouse, and walking along the dirt
road that crosses them, it is possible to reach the last plot of land that houses Carico Massimo. Further beyond, there is a blind wall and one of the city canals flowing just behind it. Above the canal, there is the viaduct, which is a sort of backstage for a small bridge. Watching it, you will probably ask yourselves who put it there, and for what purpose: the bridge was there before the overpass and remained trapped by this colossus
that crowns it like a heavy, frills-free canopy.

Livorno is a web of bridges and moats, crowned here and there by bastions, designed to reclaim the land from the sea and use the canals as ways of communication. Due to its very active port, Livorno was heavily bombed during World War II, its streets underwent reconstruction and new ones were built after the conflict: the overpass is part of the post-war projects.

Looking at this bridge, Hans must have asked himself some questions and, while seeking the answers with his “disciples”, he realized with them a peripatetic project, made of steps and thoughts.

After having reconstructed the story of the bridge through the consultation of documents found at the State Archives of Livorno, they crossed it, exploring that circular path that leaves the space of Carico Massimo, descends the escalator –an escalator in the literal sense of the term because the ladder is equipped with wheels– enters the back of the courtyard, takes the walkway, runs through it and goes down again to get back to the
starting point.

From this path, Hans shot a video with his Iphone, without any additional editing, as a live
documentation of an action that testifies the existence of this mysterious bridge and the
“rough sea” that surrounds it. The route of this journey is, as a matter of fact, dotted with objects of different nature, construction materials, scraps and various hardware pieces. All these things metaphorically represent the turbulent waters from which the project takes its name. It is as if the bridge was a place from where to tame chaos, a safe point of view to try and give sense to the disorder. The materials that laid piled up, abandoned, or temporarily parked along the path, were collected and transported to the entrance
of Carico Massimo by Schabus and his students in an anti-clockwise walk and then deposited inside, in clockwise order. The idea was to mimic, between the exterior and the interior, the layout of a mechanical gear, ideally drawing an elongated eight, similar to the symbol of infinity.

This cluster of various objects was included in a “reversible and borrowed” installation, a sort of grid, where they were divided by type, composition, shape, colour, thus highlighting the classificatory taste that characterizes much of the contemporary conceptual art. Wooden beams, iron pipes and plastic pipes, wire nets, bricks, plastic hoppers in different colours, cement bags, buckets, pallets were arranged in an attempt to give them an apparent order, combining them with some mysterious pieces like the door of an old sewing machine, two ancient steelyards, a jute bag full of coffee beans, another
full of cloves, a box containing cinnamon, remains of commercial exchanges that for some reason were interrupted.

Among these objects, one was subtracted from the “sea of rough waters”. It is what remains of the plastic seat of a broken chair. It has become the second materially “produced” work –because everything else was put back where it was originally found– and kept by Hans as a footnote on the project, a reminder of the entropy of this open and closed system, constant and continuous.

So as to complete the set of residual works at the workshop there is a black and white photograph that depicts the bridge seen from its highest point. It was found, as we said, under another bridge, that same viaduct that overhangs it.

In a sense the photography can be read as the testimony of a physical absence, of an emptiness of the senses caused by the deprivation of human presence.

The whole project forms a metaphor to my eyes, a game of mirrors, where the bridge becomes the deck of an ancient vessel, materials and waste are the stormy sea, the artist is the commander who tries, strong of his experience, to bring ashore his crew –the five young artists– teaching them a lesson about life, giving them a new look on things, and the memory of a small adventure in a short journey.

The journey is an important element for Hans Schabus. When I think about him, I imagine him standing at the top of an alpine summit, looking over the horizon, just like Friedrich’s wanderer, with his hair dishevelled by the wind that blows on a sea of romantic mist. The sturm und drangwe experience today is made up of mostly inner storms and largely conservative impulses. In the same way, the artist’s journeys can be more like introspective descents, rather than discoveries of unknown lands. Journey around my room, by Xavier de Maistre, comes to my mind, where the 42 chapters of the book represent the number
of days of confinement the author had to suffer due to a conviction for duel, during his stay in Turin. In those days of forced enclosure he never left his armchair and, dragging it far and wide across the room, described furniture, recalled memories, and had a dialogue with himself, between his soul and his body. A journey made in between the wake and dream, never leaving his room.

For his major exhibition, at Vienna Secession 2003, Schabus transported his “room” into the exhibition space. The artist’s studio was replicated within the museum space, but made accessible only by completing a path of discovery through the service areas of the building. The main access to the halls had been blocked, so the visitor was forced to give up his orientation habits and to be guided on a discovery journey “of the abyss”, whose counterpoint was the neon that dominated the dome of the Secession. In golden letters, above the famous motto “Der Zeit ihre Kunst, der Kunst ihre Freiheit” (at every age its art, to art its freedom), was the work ASTRONAUT, that connected the infinite space with the finite space of the museum, of the studio. Ideally, a circular path was completed, that led the viewer from the outside to the inside and vice-versa, involving the whole space, from the chthonian dimension to the hyperuranic one, from the physical to the purely mental one.

The artist is a space traveller who knows no boundaries, but he is also a wandering pilgrim. The pilgrim historically and literally is the one who goes per agro, walking through unknown territories outside the city walls. He is a stranger who approaches an unknown community, often perceived as bizarre and different (people are strange when you’re a stranger, faces look ugly when you’re alone, op. cit.), he leads his explorations through paths that are not always known, beaten by everyone. This is the reason why sometimes the pilgrim comes to forgotten sites, takes the wrong way, gets lost and discovers unexpected places.

The work of art often ends up being the story of a journey, of a discovery, of an encounter, of a path, which can even be just the crossing of “a bridge over troubled waters, under a ramp towards the port and behind the wall of a canal, a passage“…

A bridge over troubled water, underneath a ramp towards…
Hans Schabus


A laboratory, an exhibition and a publication
by Carico Massimo
Text: Eva Brioschi
Eleonora Borghese
Editorial coordination
Alessandra Poggianti
Graphic Design
Dorothea Brunialti
Images: Hans Schabus, Juan Pablo Macías, Nattan Guzmán,
Federico Cavallini, Pisa State Archives, Livorno State Archives
Printed by Media Print, Livorno (Italy)
February, 2019

ISBN 978-888-32032-07-9