Thomas Baumann


Artistic strategies in the works of Thomas Baumann for dismantling hierarchies

Thomas Baumann’s works present mechanical processes that serve to dismantle hierarchies that exist between material components and functions. Baumann reflects on the divergence between the industrial and post-industrial age, and between Fordist and post-Fordist manufacturing processes by questioning how traditional perceptions of time have changed with regard to mechanical production. In his works, Baumann deconstructs the precision manufacturing techniques that have come to define mechanical processes since the industrial revolution in the 19th century, in order to detach the individual objects from their actual functions and assign them new ones.

In his work “Untitled”, he uses discarded industrial clocks from schools, offices and train stations as a symbol for individuals’ changing understanding of space and time in the post-industrial era. Whether square or round, Baumann strips away all but the modernistic shape of the clocks, removing the mechanism and display, and breaking the glass. This appears like an act of destruction, but the glass is in fact cracked with great precision – a reference to the clocks’ former purpose. The glass is broken meticulously in order to obtain specific fractures, ranging from rough broken pieces to small, bullet-hole-like perforations. In doing this, Baumann also examines the history of the past century in a diachronic manner, representing its conflicts in the form of breaks.
While Fordism stood for the standardised mass production of consumer goods using highly specialised, mono-functional machinery, post-Fordism moves towards product differentiation and increasing efficiency by having most of the component parts produced outside the factory – in other words, by outsourcing production processes. Baumann addresses the shift from precisely defined manufacturing processes to greater flexibility and individualisation of labour in post-Fordism in his work “The Big Why”. Here, the artist uses the mechanism of a clock that, as an installation, resembles an oversized metronome. However, the time units are not standardised, and instead depend solely on how gravity pulls the weight of the string. Baumann thus creates a representation of the dehierarchisation of time as the measure of work in post-industrial and post-Fordist societies.

This difficulty in achieving a high degree of precision is also discernable in his “plotter pictures”. These feature stripes and fields of colour that have been applied to the canvas by an automated airbrush, and this unpredictable method often results in streaks of colour and running paint. Here, Baumann withdraws his physical signature from the act of painting and instead defines it by using the automatic apparatus. The lack of precision in the automatic application of colours in turn reminds viewers of the human touch and the fact that work processes cannot always be precisely calculated.

Baumann also examines this artistic element and the automatic application of colour using a time and light-controlled mechanism in his work “Light Carpet”. Here, he creates a contrast with the static nature of colour on a canvas by putting colour into motion using a suspended column made of neon tubes. A machine controls the colour gradient and colour changes to increase the precision of the process.

By juxtaposing various works dealing with time and machinery, Baumann conceptually addresses overlaps and changes in post-industrial societies where “smart solutions” make our private and professional lives easier but also create new problems.

Walter Seidl
(English translation: Mandana Taban)