The Campus as a Work of Art

Prototypes Department
October 1996 to February 1999

An artistic work in two parts with Christian Philipp Müller

What influence do architecture and aesthetics have on human behavior and memory? This question is the starting point of Christian Philipp Müller’s artistic project “The Campus as a Work of Art. Department Prototypes. An artistic work in two parts”. The central theme is the relationship between architecture, society and educational ideals, illustrated by the example of the University of Lüneburg. Starting from its external appearance, the overall layout and the underlying urbanistic, architectural, artistic and organizational structures, Müller examines its profile.

The first part of the project is designed as a comprehensive field study: Müller compares circa one hundred universities worldwide with the Lüneburg campus. Through overlaps, shifts and differences, peculiarities become visible, the image of a university that is developing a new self-image after moving to the site of the former Scharnhorst barracks on the outskirts of the city is condensed.

An important point of reference for Müller’s project is Thomas Jefferson’s ideal plan for the University of Virginia in 1817. As one of the first overall designs, it reflects the Enlightenment educational and social ideals of the time. Built in the seclusion of the wilderness on an open field - the campus - Virginia represents the model of a self-contained (ideal) community that places knowledge and education at its center: an appreciation echoed by the library’s central location.

Accordingly, Müller chose the library as the pivotal point in terms of content and form. On a total of one hundred silkscreens, he superimposed the site plan of the Lüneburg campus with that of another university; the libraries are always on top of each other. Printed in matte beige, the site plans of the comparative universities almost disappear under the offensively shiny red of the Lüneburg campus: this imprints itself on the memory of library visitors through consistent repetition.

The 15 categories into which the universities are divided also refer to the University of Lüneburg: to history, teaching content, urbanistic, architectural, artistic and organizational peculiarities. Through the serial hanging of the silkscreens and the observable deviations from one another, however, it also becomes clear that ideal-typical designs are modified in the course of history and overlaid by other ideas and materializations: They are part of an ultimately unfinishable process.

Müller creates a counterpoint to the strongly abstracted, almost minimalist formal language of the silkscreens as well as to their clearly structured hanging by means of the showcase in the foyer of the library. Remarkable original plans, architectural blueprints, brochures, self-representations, and postcards of universities can be found here, as well as photographs taken by the artist during his visits to university facilities: a hodgepodge of materials in a wide variety of aesthetic forms that is more reminiscent of the subjective logic of the chambers of curiosities in the 17th and 18th centuries than of the rational orders of the sciences, which are ultimately also followed by a university library.

The “Prototypes Department” approaches questions relating to the identification of the members of the university with their institution in a playful, experimental form. Inspiration was provided by “gift stores,” stores in which North American universities in particular offer for sale items of clothing and everyday objects imprinted with the institution’s lettering or logo. Recently, this marketing strategy has increasingly been used at German universities as well. It pursues various goals, university self-promotion as well as the generation of additional financial leeway or the creation of a sense of belonging among the members and users of the university.

Together with the project group, Christian Philipp Müller has set up a room in the entrance area of the computer center (building 7 on the university campus) that can be viewed from the outside and in which around 200 such items can be seen. These are prototypes; their respective imprints were developed as part of the project work: Each of the university’s four departments was assigned a typeface for symbolic characterization. The already existing logos and lettering of the various university institutions and student initiatives were modified by them. For cross-university organizational forms, a fifth typeface was also used, whose name “lvy League” alludes to the elite universities of the USA. A new creation of the artist is the university abbreviation “ULG”.

Only objects related to everyday life on the Lüneburg campus were selected. Ballpoint pens or mouse pads are represented as well as T-shirts, bicycle helmets, mugs, umbrellas and baby rompers. The color restriction of the design variants to white, black, red and beige, together with the furnishing of the room, creates the aesthetic connection of the “Prototypes Department” to the installation in the library. Distributed on shelves, countertop, showcase and pinboard, the arrangement of the individual unique pieces avoids the chic of a showroom. Rather, the impression conveyed is that of an open workshop.

A virtual showroom, on the other hand, is offered by the specially set-up website. Under the links “office,” “gifts” and “clothing,” users are invited to take a shopping tour on the Internet. But it remains window shopping; the suggested possibility of purchasing the objects as a sign of belonging cannot be realized. The strategy of making the desire for identification commercially viable is thus at stake.

Christian Philipp Müller, born in Switzerland in 1957, studied at the “F +F” in Zurich and at the Academy in Düsseldorf. Particularly noteworthy among his numerous solo exhibitions are “Fixed Values” at the Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels (1991/92), “Forgotten Future” at the Kunstverein in Munich (1992) and “What is near is yet so far - the construction of the Hamburg Art Mile” at the Kunstverein in Hamburg (1997). Müller was a participant in the 45th Venice Biennale in 1993 and in documenta X in Kassel in 1997.

Christian Philipp Müller kicked off the project “The Campus as a Work of Art” in the fall of 1996 with an introductory lecture. Together with the participants of a. In the following four semesters, Christian Philipp Müller developed both parts of the project together with the participants of a seminar led by Beatrice von Bismarck, Diethelm Stoller and Ulf Wuggenig. The group of students who worked with the artist on the “Prototype Department” also emerged from this seminar. It included Thorsten Clauszen, Jan Haack, Axel Köhne, Florian Kundt, Uwe Lewitzky, Karin, Prätorius and Annika Rieke. The website was created by Karin Händel, Wibke Larink and Marco Sigmann. Marc-Christian Rossig was responsible for the research on the university plans since the summer of 1997. In the fall of 1997, the cultural scientist Astrid Wege was invited to write the texts on the university categories.

The Internet group would like to thank Eleonore Wrobel, Stephan Michalik, Gunnar Tuschy and Andrew Sinn for their kind assistance.

Publication: Beatrice von Bismarck, Diethelm Stoller, Astrid Wege, Ulf Wuggenig (Hg.): Branding the Campus: Kunst, Architektur, Design, Identitätspolitik, Köln: Verlag der Buchhandlung Walter König, 2002.

The project was made possible by the Niedersächsische Gesellschaft für Landesentwicklung und Wohnungsbau m.b.H. (NILEG).