Navigating and exploring the domains and disciplines of architecture, design and interior design, the human experiences of building, dwelling and living, with the ideologies and products of architectural modernism as a kind of investigative nodal point, Anna Kleberg has in her photographic and aesthetic practice consistently forwarded a two-way gaze regarding the relations between signifier and signified. In fact, Kleberg demonstrates a keen interest in layers or cycles of representation, moving from building to photograph, actual object to scale model to photograph of scale model, from replica to original, image to object, real thing to copy, representation to the represented. Kleberg’s approach is dual or two-way, in the sense that her actions in decoding the processes of representation constantly changes direction – from world to image, from image to world, from object to its representation and back to object, from simulacra to that which is simulated and back to simulacra, or, as there sometimes are up to three generations of representation: from thing to model to image of model to … Actually, the photography of Anna Kleberg often generates a kind of subtly destabilizing or even contradictory gaze, referencing things or objects that are not as they seem, undoing our confidence in that most solid of all human creations – the building, the house or, even, the dwelling, the home. Moreover, her work highlights the powers of representation to create, modify and transform worlds of all sorts. Phrased more concretely, while Anna Kleberg reports on vernacular or public actualities, on the building as model or on models for buildings, she is often pulling the carpet from beneath the viewer’s feet. In Kleberg’s praxis, both perception and representation turn out to be hazardous endeavours. There is no Archimedean point where representation stops and the world begins or where the object exists wholly onto itself. And in case you would be bringing with you any preconceived or premeditated notions of reality, Kleberg is pleased to have them upturned or demolished.
Throughout an extended sequence of projects, Kleberg has charted imaginative and exceptional paths through modern and contemporary architecture and design, cross-referencing issues of dwelling, inhabiting, living, building, constructing with issues of representing, imaging, picturing, narrating. One might even suggest that, in addition to the epistemological thickets of representation, there is at the foundation of all of Kleberg’s work the Heideggerian1 question: What is it that turns building (bauen) into dwelling (wohnen)? How is dwelling made possible?
Each project of Kleberg, often serial in character, is carried out with both grand formal precision and conceptual clarity. Often, however, the clearly outlined formal aesthetics of each series is joined by a specific representational property that subtly will jar or disturb any simplistic mimetic reading or too easy consumption of Kleberg’s photographs. Less interested in illusion or delusion than in the observation and production of encrusted realities and nested representations, Kleberg typically fixes or freezes certain parameters, such as a consistent and unfailing frontality or fixed image format regardless of the size of the photographic motifs in question, thus allowing other properties and parameters to fluctuate, making for example scale difficult to ascertain. Even if repetition and reduction is a reoccurring formula and artistic strategy, a photographic series of Kleberg is in the end always more complexly articulated than its first glance appearance.
A number of projects have turned Kleberg’s camera towards the scale model, the miniature house, the imitation or the copy building. The photographic series No 1 – 8 renders tableaux from Legoland, the Danish entertainment park; scenarios from its model village that includes models of landmarks and scenes from around the world made from millions of Lego bricks. However, Kleberg’s photographs tend to select a generic, vaguely Western, but seemingly fictive (in the sense of carrying few direct references, using for example invented brand names) urban culture, slightly quixotic, somewhat idealistic and sort of more or less middle-class – rather than the actual replicas of famous buildings (such as The Golden Pagoda). The photographs are equally aimed at this simulated miniature world and its visual properties and at exploring the sort of cultural framework targeted by the Legoland tableaux. World Park consists of frontal photographs of individual buildings – isolated from each other and the environment by Kleberg’s persistent camera – from a park in Dubai, where “typical” houses of particular nations/ethnic cultures have been “reconstructed”. Here the model house tends to infer a “type”, even “stereotype”, rather than referencing particular individual buildings. Indeed, this collection of unlived houses, dead architecture in a sense, turn out imposingly mute in Kleberg’s photographs; the supposed multitude of architectural styles turn out strangely homogeneous and uniform, as if the method of building or aesthetic approach overrules particular references. The fact that each house, whatever its origin, is framed by the same semi-tropic vegetation makes the imagery even more surreal, generating yet another productive fracture or friction between original and model. Similarly, The Dutch Model, involves images of the well-known Madurodam miniature park in Holland, which consists of 1:25 scale models, constructed with remarkable detail and often fully functional, of both famous and ordinary buildings or other architectural entities such as water dam locks, from Dutch architectural history. The identical treatment of all buildings, regardless of fame or prestige, suggests a kind of fantasy society, especially given the fact that the Madurodam miniature park has engaged in such political play as choosing its own mayor, etc. A lesson in architectural history turns into social and political dreamwork. The use of black & white and colour in this series is yet another distancing device, emphasizing the play between model and reality, artifice and illusion. As is Kleberg’s use of the same picture format regardless of actual model building size, meaning that one-story residential houses are rendered the same size as Amsterdam’s Nieuwe Kerk, the Holland-American line terminal building in Rotterdam or – as in Kleberg’s photograph – the main terminal hall at Schiphol airport. Scale is in fact consistently impossible to entertain in Kleberg’s photographs. As the model approaches but never reaches the real building, the image of the model sustains a peculiar temporal effect: does the model supersede or precede what it models? Does the model actually refer to anything? And is not the “real building” always already a model, a representation, an image?
Developed in parallel, the series of model parks, are juxtaposed with projects concerning “real” buildings. Bungalow Heaven, an actual housing development in Pasadena, California, comprising – exclusively – bungalow-type buildings built in the early twentieth century, is photographed by Kleberg in a series of images repeating her frontal formula. Again, the emphasis is on the individual house, pictured in isolation from its surroundings, filling most of the picture area, up to the frame. And again, the photography of Kleberg focuses traces of human life, marks of activity, but does not involve actual people or people’s actions at all. Her photographs are evacuated, emptied of people and events. In addition, seemingly overcast light conditions underscores a certain sense of a-temporality or timelessness (yes, it is possible to reference the Bechers here, through their tireless inventory of industrial architecture, especially given the consistent formal qualities of Kleberg, yet the Becher typology differs greatly from Kleberg’s eclectic and pointed selection of modernist housing, most clearly through the representational problematics addressed by Kleberg and by the Heideggerian dimension in her quest). And is that not the bungalow? A kind of modernist but a-historical type of housing? To be erected anywhere, in a grand new beginning, where history, the past and tradition may be ignored? In fact, Kleberg maintains throughout her work a curious and obliquely fascinated eye upon certain utopian aspects of modernism and modernist architecture. It is however not primarily a modernism of grand vision and gesture; rather a vernacular, modest, even bland modernism, edged between consumerism and standardization. Even when turning to Le Corbusier, which Kleberg does in several recent works, Kleberg does not address major projects, but to a never realized Algiers high-rise or to Le Corbusier’s Cabanon leisure home built for himself.
Like Bungalow Heaven, the series Enfamiljshus (One Family Houses) takes a similar, but somehow more sinister look at single- or two-storey family houses, almost identical, in Swedish suburbs, built during the years of large-scale welfare projects, aimed towards a similarly utopian society-ideal. Photographed in a bleak winter light, snow covering outdoor summer furniture left behind, reflections in the windows making the insides more or less inaccessible, with a photographic language emphasizing uniformity as well as human absence; these photographs, together with Bungalow Heaven, might identify zero-points of modernist architecture. What was the model or architectural plan that generated these houses? Is dwelling at all possible here or is this a dead-end path in response to Heidegger’s question?
After all, the two suggested groups of works – imaging models, miniatures, copies as in World Park, The Dutch Model or No 1 – 8, or imaging actual sites of living architecture (in the sense of houses being occupied and inhabited) as in Bungalow Heaven or Enfamiljshus (One Family Houses) – might not be so easily differentiated. In testing the model’s capacity to embody or impersonate the thing itself, and in casting the thing itself as image, as ideology, as model, Kleberg is clearly not subscribing to such a bipolar approach (which is further certified by works not addressed in this essay, where desire and consumption takes the lead – as in Bilar (Cars) or Inc.). Her typology of particular aspects of the modern does suggest that neither the landmark building, the grand narrative, nor the vernacular enterprise, the everyday stories satisfy the quest for real dwelling (which is a dwelling not only concerned with the home). Locating modern architecture as both consumption and necessity, fantasy and reality, tourist entertainment and everyday chore, Kleberg’s indications of collapse, failure or misapprehension (the bungalow did age after all and the grand social scheme did not resolve all human conflicts and the idea of a world architecture proved counterproductive) are perhaps in the end the remaining options or possibilities. Here, then, in the interstices between the real (always already an image) and its image (producing the real), lies the future.
1Martin Heidegger, Bauen Wohnen Denken (1951), Gesamtausgabe, Band 7, Vorträge und Aufsätze, Vittorio Klostermann, 2000.
Martin Heidegger, Poetry, Language and Thought,,trans. A. Hofstadter (New York: Harper and Row, 1971).