Robert Walser Museum, Hans Ulrich Obrist

Hans Ulrich Obrist, Robert Walser Museum [Museu Robert Walser], 1992-97. Projecto de curadoria.



Hans-Ulrich Obrist, catalogue text for Johannesburg Biennial 1997

“At certain times I have preferred walking that is to say walking with my
feet to talking that is to say walking with my mouth — but in the end it
is the same thing. ” (Serge Daney in Perseverance )

I. Robert and Karl Walser

>From early childhood onwards there was a fruitful exchange between Robert
and Karl Walser, the painter and illustrator. Both decided at an early age
to become artists. Their mostly autodidactic cultural education runs
parallel — the two brothers shared the same books and exchanged ideas.
When Robert decided to move to Berlin in the middle of the first decade of
this century, his brother, who already lived there, introduced him to Bruno
Cassirer, who would later be the publisher of Robert’s first books.

As Echte and Meier have shown, the exchange between the writer and the
painter was reciprocal. During the Berlin years, the brothers’ oeuvre was
deeply interwoven. Karl illustrated several of Robert’s publications
(Fritz Kochers Aufsaetze, 1904; Geschwister Tanner, 1907; Gedichte, 1908;
Der Gehuelfe, 1908; Poetenleben, 1918; and Seeland, 1919). The complex
interrelations between text and image are subject matter for Robert
Walser’s text, “Leben eines Dichters, Wandverzierungen von Karl Walser”
(“A Poet’s Life: Frescoes by Karl Walser”) particularly at the very


II. Robert Walser through space and time

Robert Walser created his work at the edge of its disapearence.
His disjunctive narratives showed fragments and details no longer bound
to a fixed point of view. Walser’s walking eye, or walking vision, created
a presence for this subjects which is perceived as an in-between space.

There certainly is a link to Michel de Certeau who aimed at gooing beyond
dichotomies of inside and outside, of place and non-place

De Certeau defined space as practised place, a kind of mobile crossing
which can occur through the movement of walking.
Through the movement of walking De Certeau trasforms similarly to Robert
Walser, the abstract geometry of a place into the experience of space.
“L’Espace serait au lieu ce que devient le mot quand il est PARLE-
c’est a dire quand il est saisi dans l’ambuiguite d’une effectuation.”

Walser’s and de Certeau’s perception of the state of moving/walking leads
us to the travelling eye of film:

As I don’t admire too much the concept of bravery, I am always in need of
transition from one point to another. And I am happy to find via my body
and through the experience of walking, the passer-by: passing from one
nowhere point to another. Fellini’s genius is that he never films a
courageous act without showing the before and after sequences… He
conceives of this films with a walker’s logic. The walker is someone who
accepts the idea that an event has always already begun… This sense of
lack of rootedness is so strong, in the experience of the traveller/pick-
up artist/walker that it protects him. It is a feeling that often weighs
lightly, and which writers have somewhat more articulately described —
see, for example, Robert Walser or Rimbaud… 1

Giorgio Agamben attributes something of a “limbo nature” to what I call
the Walserian “in-between-space”. He defines this “limbo space” as
periphery, situated beyond loss and salvation, beyond any redemption —
a space of nothingness.
In discussion artists have frequently compared this fragmentary fields of
Walser to suprematic phenomenons which leads us to Rem Koolhaas who in his
book-object S,M,L,XL evokes questions of the posturban state of pervasive
urbanization, where the city only exists in non-stable configurations
which are in permanent trasformation. Koolhaas shows Atalanta as an example
“Atlanta does not have the classical symptoms ofthe city, it is not
dense,it is a sparse, thin carpet of habitation, kind of superematic
composition of little fields.Atlanta is not a city…it is a landscape..its
basic formlessness is generated by the highway system…”
Koolhaas also talks about the non distinction between centre and periphery
in terms of Atlanta shifting “so quickly and so completely that the
centre?edge opposition is no longer the point. There is no centre,
therefore there is no periphery…Atlanta is like LA , but LA is always
urban;Atlanta sometimes posturban…a new aesthetic operated in Atlanta:the
random juxtaposition of entities that have nothing in common but their
coexistence……if the centre no longer exists, it follows that there is
no longer a periphery either. The death of the first implies the
evaporation of the second. Now ALL is city, a new pervasiveness that
includes landscape,park,industry,rust belt,parking lot,housing tract,
single family house,desert,airport,beach,river,ski slope,even downtown…”

During the act of writing, Walser elaborates on the accessory; seeming
digressions in the text are accompanied by an urge to re-establish ties
which indirectly lead the reader to resume his or her involvement with the
protagonist (the catchword is participatory text), to follow up with his or
her own narrative sequence. The reader does at least half of the work.

Walser’s late manuscripts, the conceptual “microscripts,” render the act
of writing, as well as the act of reading, difficult. According to Werner
Morlang, “this external particularity also corresponds to the formal
components of Walser’s prose in his last works, to his unrestrained
accumulation of ideas and of associations which let a concept be asserted
more by the casual end of a sheet than by the strictness of a formal rule”.



“If there is art, it is where we expect it least.” (Robert Musil)

“Man kann mit Wirshaeusern nicht frueh genug anfangen.” (Robert Walser)

“tout est entre” ( Jean-Luc Godard)

“… n’etre qu’entre…” (Camille Bryen, “Jepeinsje”)

In May of 1992, I founded the Robert Walser Museum as a museum on the move
with the starting point at the Hotel Krone in Gais (Appenzell,
Switzerland). The migratory Museum consists first of all of a small
,movable vitrine . The idea was to establish a non-monumental, modest, and
very discreet museum , an elastic institution which can permanently
question its own definitions and parameters and which is less dependant on
static hardware than big structures. The museum in in permanent
transformation and tries to avoid “routine” . Every exhibition should be
like the first time.

Mark Harman describes Walser’s productive life as a tale of four cities:
Zurich, 1896-1905; Berlin until 1913; Biel, 1913-21; and Bern, 1921-29.
On different occasions, Walser also raised the possibility of going to
Paris — “Intentions of travelling to Paris traverse me gently” — a plan
which he ever realized. When Walser’s legal and spiritual guardian, Carl
Seelig, asked him later about Paris, Walser answered, “never”. Catherine
Sauvat analyzes the nature of Walser’s Paris dreams as resignation after
his Berlin experience, which he considered a failure, oscillating with
ironic self-deprecating remarks. In “Gazettes Parisiennes”, for example,
Walser substitutes reading local magazines for actually travelling to
Paris. His preference for imaginary and fictitious travelling relates
Walser to the American artist Joseph Cornell, whose often tiny boxes take
us on an extensive fictitious European Grand Tour. Cornell never left the
American continent…. Cornell leads us to “Emily Dickinsons travels.
>From the first letter she wrote she told her correspondants she didn’t go
out, she didn’t want to go out, and she did not come to visit them.
Dickinson stayed home, insistently. Locking herselve into her attic room,
she invented another form of travel of travels and went places.
Dickinson’s invention was multiplication…..(Roni Horn in To Place,
Pooling Waters 1994)

In coexistence with the vitrine (showcase) and its exhibitions the
restaurant and hotel continue their regular activities. The exhibtions
are a detournement of an existing situation, a supplement , a parallel
activity, a shift.
The Robert Walser Museum ( Marcel Broodthaers as daily practice ?) tries
to transgress the borderline between the important and the unimportant,
between centre and periphery.
Broodthaers described the advantage of the newly defined and non-official
museum to have the potential to simultaneously be a) an artistic parody of
political event, and b) a political parody of artistic events.
Official museums are often the right context for exhibititons. Exhibitions
which take place in other contexts and outer museum spaces trigger
energies with what is happening in museums and vice versa.

Hans Ulrich Obrist

Hans Ulrich Obrist (Weinfelden, Suíça, 1968) curador…


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