Every New Face
installation in semi-public space
Iduna high rise, Münster 1999
The Signal-Iduna building was the first 'high rise' in the center of Münster (1960/61). It has since been listed as a historical monument. At the time of installation, the office building housed several institutions, including the Iduna insurance company on the top floors and the Housing Office of the city of Münster on the lower floors. As a result, the elevators, nobly renovated in marble, were used by very different clientele, from insurance directors to homeless people.
On seven consecutive days, I installed six different short text excerpts as well as a concluding explanation in the two elevators. The excerpts were taken from an interview Djuna Barnes conducted in New York in 1913 with John F. Maguire, an Irish-born elevator operator, and published in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. The texts were hand-set in lead type in Helvetica semi-bold 20 point, printed on laid paper and mounted between two sheets of perspex attached to the elevator wall. On the last day, I spent seven hours in one of the elevators interviewing users about their perception and often very personal contextualization of the texts.
"Every new face - and there are a lot of them in the course of a day - confronts me with a new problem, and so I don't have a chance to get tired at all. The day is over before I know it, simply by taking an interest in my own kind ..."
"Now, instead of talking all the time about my profession, I would like to say a word about my convictions. My most unshakable concerns suicide. There is only one way to commit it - and that is by remaining alone ..."
"I got the job as an elevator operator after I hit the jackpot and got rid of all the money I had in the bank. I operated the elevator at City Hall for sixteen years, and the kind of elevators are the purest matchboxes, but still I never once hurt anyone. There was not the slightest scratch on the finger, not even an escape by a hair's breadth to make it a little more lively. Under my operation, the gondola remained sober, which is, after all, the only advisable state ..."
"You might think that if you're stuck in a cage all day, you'd end up with nothing but bars and prisons in your head, but the truth is, I'm so used to it that it's like residing in a feather bed; I'm as content as if I were sitting at home in my old rocking chair, dreaming of old Ireland with a pipe in my mouth ..."
Elevator users' comments:
"It was like the Advent calendar in the old days, like those little doors opening one at a day. When I went into the elevator in the morning, I was looking forward to it and wondering what kind of text would be there today."
"Well, the text about suicide, I thought that was nonsense, I've lived alone for 30 years now and I get along fine! Really!"
"Every new face, yes, that really applies here, I thought. Since the Housing Office moved in here, I don't know anyone in the elevator anymore, all new faces, and you have to get along with them first."
"The thing with the cage, you can tell he's done time before, right? He speaks from experience!"