Serge Spitzer at Zoobrücke, Cologne, Germany (2000)

R. J. Preece
artdesigncafé - art | 15 September 2009
This review first appeared in Sculpture magazine, 20(9), page 75 in 2001.

Serge Spitzer at Zoobrücke, Cologne

Why simply drive over a bridge when you can walk right through it? This was the viewer’s starting point for Serge Spitzer’s site-specific installation zoobrücke (2000). After climbing stairs, viewers— wearing hard-hats— embarked on an art pilgrimage, progressing endlessly along a maintenance walkway through the interior spaces of one of the segmented steel hulls supporting the zoo bridge’s structure, 597 meters in length. As we walked through, a dramatic one-point perspective of repeating horizontal and vertical beams could be seen in the distance, while the sinister sounds of traffic hitting the bridge’s extension joints echoed. This staging was brilliant, and discovering the intervention (thousands of Cologne beer glasses) became an event, but the installation runs the risk of making a big deal out of a found object/ interior. Surely bridge engineers and maintenance crews wouldn’t be as fascinated as this “naive” viewer. The industrial design was beautiful and infinite, with occasional prison-like gratings acting as miniature windows onto the art and the Rhine flowing below, while the sounds of six lanes of traffic rumbled by with curious vibrations.

The multitude of glasses traditionally used to serve the local beer highlighted parts of the bridge’s structure, creating magnificent focal points and giving variety to the industrial segments. The placement of the glasses helped to define the space. Glasses were arranged on several, comparatively short, parallel horizontal beams in vertically emphasized segments. Cathedral-like manipulations were involved; it was like marveling at the details in the verticality of St. Peters, here rendered in glass, shining, reflecting, and glistening. Some glasses were clinging against each other while others were smashed on the floor, creating a sense of the fragility of both the material and the viewer.

Later, a second focal point emerged, consisting of glasses distributed between beams on the floor, initially seen from a dramatic higher vantage point where two sections joined. Amidst the echoes and vibrations, many of the glasses had tipped and the mass created the illusion of an abstract wave in freeze-frame. At the bridge’s end, the final viewing point was equally well staged. Viewed from underneath the span between the two steel hulls, a final textbook one-point perspective view signaled completion of the pilgrimage.

Conjuring a myriad of associations, the effect was both contemplative and humbling, spiritual with a threat of the sinister. Overall, zoobrücke sparks discussions about its language of space, containment, and intervention; various layers of motion (the traffic, the viewer, the glasses); interior and exterior sound; the art/travel/religious pilgrimage; and the manipulation of found and integrated objects.

zoobrücke received funding from the City of Cologne, and the beer glasses, afterwards slated for recycling, were donated by Cologne Breweries. Involved in site-specific installations for 20 years, Serge Spitzer has previously undertaken other industrially oriented interventions at Documenta (1987), DG Bank in Hannover (1990), and the Lyon Biennial (1997), investigating an elevator shaft, a conveyor belt, and an enormous post system. Spitzer was also included in the 1997 biennial in Kwangju and the 1999 Venice Biennale.