Born in 1966 in Basel and best known for his conceptual projects and large-scale installations, the work of Christoph Büchel repeatedly manipulates and exploits the perceived power of the social and legal contract, subverting the relationship between artist and audience while insisting on a more active political role for both. Often appropriating mass media sources such as the Internet, printed political pamphlets and everyday household objects, his complex installations immerse his audience in scenarios that are often physically demanding and psychologically unsettling. Cramped tunnels, claustrophobic chambers and frequent dead-ends induce feelings of panic and paranoia. In this sense, his works are explicitly political, exploring the unstable relationship between security and internment, placing visitors in the brutally contradictory roles of victim and voyeur, and referring to new forms of propaganda in an era of mediated war.
At Büchel’s 2005 installation Hole at the Kunsthalle Basel, gallery visitors were forced through small rooms connected by constricted passageways and steep ladders. Inside these fraught spaces, the chilling sight of a suicide caught on surveillance camera was juxtaposed with a psychotherapist’s consulting room and the remnants of a bombed out Swiss bus. The frozen rooms that form the basis of such works as ‘The House of Friction (Pumpwork Heimat)’ (2002) offer spaces of oppressive cold, where preservation borders on the brink of obsolescence. Experiencing such charged spaces is usually a solitary task, though this private experience becomes the means by which collective tensions and traumas might be unearthed.