Absent Traces: Jurgen Mayer and the Saturated SurfacePosted: 13 October 2009
Among the things that so fascinate me about the work of German architect and designer Jurgen Mayer is his obsession with the data protection patterns we all find within secure mail from our banks, our employers and government agencies. His recent monograph contained a scattering of reproduced envelopes, inserted as chapter dividers but also as reminders of Mayer’s preoccupation. But why don’t these willfully decorative and saturated surfaces somehow make their way into his architectural design? Why are all his walls so blank?
The answer might be that Mayer uses the security pattern as a gambit, a metaphorical security device for his design process. He obfuscates the willfulness and specificity of his forms with data protection patterns, covering his tracks by saturating shape with color.
Mayer’s forms are a registration of absent forces, forces he feels no need to map or describe. Instead of the explanations and justifications (i.e. diagrams) that so obsess his European and American contemporaries, he prefers to have a signature and stick with it, ignoring or remaining intentionally naive to the need for clarification. His designs retain an element of mystery – a mystique – that enables them to overcome specificity and look almost universal or transportable, something out of science fiction or the future.
Another of Mayer’s preoccupations is the use of thermosensitive materials, a concept repeated in most all his gallery installations over the past decade. Similar to the data protection pattern, one could see these disappearing traces as metaphors for the way Mayer works. The traces of his design process have a life span, they don’t matter after a given period, at which time the thing itself takes precedence. The ends exceed the means.
Together these two preoccupations serve as purifying filters for Mayer to act within a discipline too concerned with means and not enough with ends. Diagrams and narratives of design have become unnecessary encumbrances for Mayer, and these material preoccupations betray a subconscious intent. He speaks of data protection as “a text without meaning,” but that Eisenmanian phrase must merely be a hangover from Mayer’s education. The patterns and traces in his design work insulate him from the theoretical and linguistic concerns of the previous generation, and demonstrate what makes him distinct from other contemporary designers.