hans schabus

Hans Schabus, Europahaven, Rotterdam, 17 June 2009, 2009.

Hans Schabus, Europahaven, Rotterdam, 17 June 2009, 2009. Courtesy of the artist.

On Wednesday 17 June 2009, in the port of Rotterdam, Hans Schabus added a new chapter to his ongoing series of ‘arrival photos’ of the sailboat Forlorn. His work was shown on a billboard along the road to Maasvlakte (Europaweg) and was furthermore published in the form of a postcard.
In the new image Europahaven, Port of Rotterdam, 14 June 2009, the sailor navigates towards the huge container terminals of the port of Rotterdam and a vast container vessel. It is an image of a simple boat with a lonely man at the helm, sailing towards the area which will become the new entrance to Maasvlakte 2. It stands in stark contrast to the overwhelming manifestation of modern sea trade. Despite the speed, scale and efficiency of the port, the image seems to indicate that on a human scale, the vast maritime area remains a vulnerable and mythologically rich territory.
The Forlorn dates from 2002 and is a wooden-hulled ‘Optimist’ class sailing dinghy designed for a crew of one; in fact it is intended for children. The project of the ‘arrival photographs’ started with Western (2002), a film in which we see Schabus navigating through the sewers of his native Vienna in the self-built boat. It is a one-way trip through a sinister labyrinth, a dark and obscure underground world. The film makes reference to Orson Welles’ 1949 film The Third Man; at the film’s climax, Harry Lime flees from the authorities through the same sewers.
Since then, the Forlorn has emerged into the light to undertake an unexplained and pitifully lonely global journey, in which its single sailor is seen apparently arriving for the first time at different locations. First to a very foggy New York, a city which evoked a more radiant promised land for those many immigrants who arrived there by sea. Then onwards to Frankfurt am Main, Germany; Lake Constance, Bregenz, Austria; and Venice, Italy. The existential journey comprises a seemingly endless quest or escape, a migration voyage seen only at moments of hope and promise in making safe landfall. Will the migrant receive a warm or hostile reception when arriving at a new territory?

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The making of

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The sculptures and interventions of Hans Schabus (1970 Watschig, Austria) often refer directly to his mental and physical surroundings, particularly to his studio and to what lies directly under our feet, or even in the sewers of Viennna. His work embraces ecological cycles of construction, destruction and renewal – elements that were present in the 2004 exhibition at Kunsthaus Bregenz, where the artist transformed the entire building into a complex and convoluted architectonic and mental path of discovery. The show was a depiction of the train journeys undertaken by the artist between his studio and the exhibition venue. Together with videos of these train journeys through the landscape during the preparations, the exhibition also included tunnel sections from the Arlberg railway line.
Hans Schabus gained international recognition when he represented Austria at the 2005 Venice Biennale with the project The Last Land, whereby he created a maze inside a ‘mountain’ that completely covered the pavilion building.
In 2006 he produced the ‘Book of Ballast’ (commissioned by the 2006 Liverpool Biennial), in which he explored a mostly forgotten sea connection between Liverpool and the US city of Savannah. Schabus also documented numerous stones which made their way as ballast on ships to ports on the east coast of America, where they were put to use to pave streets and build houses.