Coming from a background in architecture, now working as an artist, Alexander Opper's work interrogates and exposes not only the complexities but also the possibilities of liminal space. He exploits the overlaps of, and slippages between, art and architecture, destabilising and deterritorialising the politics of both fields in the process. Working in this less defined space lets him cut through the conventional, comfortable, and normative tendencies of the two disciplines. This allows him to give expression to the difficult, suppressed, overlooked, and marginalised aspects of everyday life, aspects he constantly seeks out.
Through his work, he is able to prompt connections and tensions that are not necessarily possible within the stricter disciplinary confines of architecture and art. Being alert to the conceptual possibilities afforded him by working in zones between art and architecture, he is able to produce artistic responses that question and challenge – often through a mode of institutional critique – the status quo of current material, spatial, social, economic, and cultural phenomena.
Much of Opper's artistic drive is informed by his lived experience of two historically divided cities. The first of these is Berlin (1995-2005) and the second, Johannesburg, where he has lived and worked since 2006. He continues to move between and draw inspiration from both these cities. It was in Berlin that he completed a politically loaded Master’s in architecture at the University of the Arts (UdK) in 2001. This work represents a pivotal moment for his later artistic practice. The Master’s served as the first palpable manifestation of a working method he refers to as Undoing Architecture. To contextualise what is meant by this: his thesis, The Matter of the Castle (Schloß als Materie), suggested a symbolically and materially inclusive and progressive interpretation and translation of the centuries-old seat of the German monarchy, the Berliner Schloß. By contrast, the site today houses – in the form of the recently completed Humboldt Forum – the regressive, Disneyfied and awkward copy of Berlin’s former Castle. The structure of the original castle was damaged in WW2 and subsequently razed from the site in 1950 by the newly formed GDR government of East Germany and its capital, East Berlin.
He refers to his design strategy at the time as an entropic interpretation and translation of matter. This project represents the birthing of the conceptual approach of Undoing Architecture which has guided his artistic production since and has resulted in a substantial body of work presented in South Africa and further afield.
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