TYPES TO FIND ONE'S WAY
We are trying to explain to a foreigner who has asked the way how he can get to where he wants to or we are explaining to an acquaintance the somewhat complicated way to our new apartment which can be reached through a courtyard or we are recommending an excellent restaurant near Place de la Bastille to a friend who's flying to Paris. In all those cases the person will be able to find the place he/she is looking for more easily if we draw a simply plan. You usually draw on what is at hand - on envelopes, paper napkins, cardboard. This sign language is easy to understand: outlines of buildings are framed and hatched, circles stand for trees, lines symbolize the edges of sidewalks and roadsides. Nearly everybody who asked and who wants to reach his destination will be able to understand these graphic abstractions and know how to use this sketch. Drawn from memory these drawings are not true scale. The trees and the width of roads give an approximate scale, but the distances are not guaranteed. You must pay attention to corners and protections of buildings, to entries and trees. They are sketches that needn't last long, little aid-memories, they also help to assure ourself that you have described the way correctly.
Karl-Heinz Klopf has recorded his memory of places, of phases of his life in that sign language. His signs are mostly painted in white on dark fond, with visible brushstrokes on removeable stencils, nevertheless the contours stand out sharply. Contrary to above mentioned sketches, white forms the figures, light means "volume" whereas dark stands for "surroundings". It is the negative of a normal plan, the reversal of a black plan which is used in city planning.
The discs that stand for the trees prevent us from seeing a white courtyard surrounded by dark buildings. Also these white lines that mark the edges of sidewalks and parking lots help us to recognize that it is a sketch of a plan.
These pictograms of spatial memory are painted on plastic-coated tarpaulin which is of greenish-greyish-brown colour. This colour is made from leftover of paints. The manufacturer mixes all the left-over-paints at the end of the year and from that they produce an amount of tarpaulin which is used for hoods, tents, etc…—a reasonable, economic and useful procedure. The colour of the product is a kind of camouflage paint, because it contains all kinds of colours that could go with anything: unobtrusive, casual, indifferent. This greenish-greyish-brown is an ideal basis; because it is so arbitrary it can be compared with envelopes, napkins and cardboard. The material of tarpaulin is not valuable in itself; it is its genuine averageness that in a time that is extremely filled with signs gains value.
The usual feature of those tarpaulins is, however, left behind through further measures. They don't lie around limpy with wavy edges, but they are stretched over strong frames so that the signs also run over the edges. Thus the plans have become objects and are lying in front of our feet like flat parcels – almost like game boards which could be filled with counters. But as the plans are used as a "wrapping material", they are shifted out of the focus of perception to the edge and they become casual again. This casualness makes the lateral approach and roaming of one's thoughts definitely easier.
The flat parcels are lying together in loose order, each has become a body, a "volume", the floor of the studio in between split up into lanes and small squares becomes a "hollow space". Thus the gathered places of memory form an imaginary district of a town; each spatial/temporal phase is tied to a parcel, which becomes a block of a building in the city of remembrance, in these surroundings. The sketch on the surface serves like a head word on an index card as a clue to find the contents in a flight of thought.
For Karl-Heinz Klopf, who—contrary to most observers—knows and has experienced the reality behind the signs, there is an exact chronological order of the places. This order corresponds with the course of his way up to now and with the fixed points between his travels. For the unprepared observer, however, the typified presentation offers an approach to his/her own biography.
These are not the landmarks of capitals that have become signs that are known from picture postcards (in other works by Karl-Heinz Klopf they are concealed with slightly transparent white paper so that they are hardly recognizable). What is more the sections of urban residential areas freeze into types because of their casualness which can point to numerous similar places in numerous cities and villages: the square farmhouse on top of a flat hill, the development house of the 60's, the corner house of the late 19th century, the school building of the 50's, etc. . . It is not the individuality of biographes that is evoked, but their relationship. The apparent singularity of the young man who has grown up in the nuclear family is modified by the obscurity of the typified pictorial representation. Usually every observer recognizes a different place, but through the common feeling of apparent recognition the subjects approach one another and discover the same in other. On the other hand the obscurity of the types allows every observer to occupy him/herself with himself and thus to reflect upon his singularity.
Obviously it is the unprecise that makes us think more deeply. Such site plans—that's our experience—stand for a place and the intentional casualness of its pictorial representation form the humus, for the specific which can be created in our heads if we look at these works for a longer time.
Published in: Karl-Heinz Klopf – Planen. Wien: Wiener Secession, 1993.