Radical Cells: Absalon’s Machines for Living

In the Thomas Bernhard novel, Correction (Alfred A Knopf, 1979), the character Roithamer obsessively plans and builds a home for his beloved sister in the middle of the Kobernausser Forest in Austria. When the structure, referred to as “the Cone” throughout the novel, is presented to his sister, she suddenly dies. The extraordinary chain of events at the centre of this book dramatizes the psychological and physical effects of architecture in the extreme. It is this intensely personal, active dimension of spatial form that the Israeli artist Absalon (born Meir Eshel, 1964-1993) employed in his work, “Cellules,” 1992, where he examined the materiality of everyday existence.

By the time of his premature death at the age of 28, Absalon had been working for at least five years engaging a distinct vocabulary characterized by strict arrangements of geometric forms. Over the incredibly short span of his artistic career, a minimalist strategy for sculpture developed into a series of habitable enclosures that culminated in his radical life project: the six “Cellules.” The cells were conceived as personal living units that would have enabled him to live in the six cities that were important to him. The spatial configuration of each unit ranged in size from merely four square metres to eight square metres and reflected his impression of each host city. To be installed in Paris, Zurich, New York, Tel Aviv, Frankfurt/Main and Tokyo, the cell interiors were precisely designed around the dimensions of the artist’s own body, allowing for the absolute minimum in accommodation. A comprehensive overview of Absalon’s work at KW Institute for Contemporary Art, Berlin (November 28, 2010 to March 6, 2011), presented his remarkably consistent production, even more remarkable for his young age. It contextualized the “Cellules” with earlier sculpture and video that overall attained a powerful clarity. Curated by Susanne Pfeffer, the exhibition displayed all six cell prototypes together, revealing the obsessive detail that animates this epic project with equally obsessive attention.


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Above image: Absalon, *Cellule No. 5 (Prototype), 1992, (Frankfurt/Main), wood, cardboard, white dispersion paint, fabrics, neon tubes, 400 x 240 cm diametre. Installation view KW Institute for Contemporary Art, 2010. Collection of Kunstmuseum Liechtenstein, Veduz. Photograph: dreusch.loman. Exhibition copy. Images courtesy the KW Institute for Contemporary Art, Berlin.*

Volume 31, Number 1: Willem de Kooning

This article originally appeared in Border Crossings #121, published February 2012.

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