Hubbard / Birchler

Teresa Hubbard & Alexander Birchler, Professors of Art at The European Graduate School / EGS.

BIOGRAPHY

Hubbard/Birchler are the artists Teresa Hubbard (b. 1965), born in Dublin, Ireland, and Alexander Birchler (b. 1962), born in Baden, Switzerland. Working in video, photography, sculpture, installation and performance, they began their collaboration in 1990 during their graduate studies at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, Halifax (where they subsequently graduated with MFA degrees in 1992). Throughout their careers they have lived and worked in Europe and North America. Between 2004 and 2012 they were both graduate faculty members at Milton Avery Graduate School of the Arts, Bard College, in New York. Currently they are based in Austin, Texas where they maintain their studio and Hubbard holds the William and Bettye Nowlin Endowed Professorship in Photography in the Department of Art and Art History at the University of Texas at Austin.


Having collaborated for the majority of their lives as practicing artists, they have spoken of their working practice as a third entity: “Our work becomes almost like our third persona because we collaborate. So, we always try to find a place for that persona—this third place where we both have the same investment in terms of relation or attachment, or dis-attachment. Because we felt that, in places where one of us is much more “there” than the other, it was always difficult because one person was less integrated than the other one, and that created an imbalance. And it’s always been the work that we produce in a place that’s part of the process of putting down roots—integration is maybe too strong a word—but just a kind of dialogue with the place.”[1]


Their “multidimensional practice” has been described by Jordan Amirkhani as “a practice that reclaims the utopian impulses of collaboration articulated by the early-20th-century avant-garde, in which work and aesthetic engagement resonate with collective forms of social and political action. Oscillating between individual and shared experience, visual encounters, and aesthetic labor, Hubbard/Birchler move seamlessly between the objective and the subjective in order to recognize the powerful role that the cinema can have in the imagining of new possibilities.”[2] This distinctive characteristic is well reflected in their photo series “Filmstills” (Filmstills I, 2000; Filmstills II, 2002; Filmstills, The End, 2010–11), portraying the facades of movie theaters, and also in their most recent solo exhibition: Sound Speed Marker, a trilogy of three films that were shown at the Blaffer Art Museum, Houston (2014/2015), the Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin (2014), and Ballroom Marfa (2014).


The first of the trilogy, Grand Paris Texas (commissioned by the Modern Art Museum Fort Worth, 2009, 54 minutes) connects “three seminal movies of the southwest: Wim Wenders's Paris, Texas (1984), Bruce Bereford's Tender Mercies (1983), and King Baggot's classic silent film, Tumbleweeds (1925),” and “interweaves the physical and social space of a dead cinema, a forgotten song and the inhabitants of a small town. The Grand, a long abandoned movie theater in downtown Paris, serves as the main protagonist in a narrative that explores Paris as a meta-location constructed through celluloid and soundtrack.”[3]


Movie Mountain (Méliès), (2011, 24 minute loop), the second film in the trilogy, “explores the residue of cinema and social terrain around the site of a mountain in the Chihuahua Desert in West Texas named Movie Mountain.” Over the course of the project, and the film, the two artists “uncovered a peculiar possible relationship between Movie Mountain and Gaston Méliès, the lesser known brother and business partner of the famous filmmaker George Méliès.”[4]


The last of the trilogy, Giant (commissioned by Ballroom Marfa; 2014, 30 minutes), focuses on the abandoned set of the infamous Hollywood film of the same name. Hubbard/Birchler’s Giant “interweaves signs of life and vistas of a decaying movie set built outside of Marfa: the Reata mansion from the 1956 Warner Bros. film Giant starring Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson and James Dean. After filming was completed the three-sided facade was left behind in the landscape. Hubbard/Birchler explore the skeletal remains of the set as seasons change, day turns to night and parts of the structure swing and fall off. Scenes of a film crew recording the current conditions are juxtaposed with a Warner Bros. office in 1955, where a secretary types up the location contract for the motion picture that has yet to be created.”[5]


Another more recent video installation is The Year without a Summer (2008), commissioned by the Liverpool International Biennial and supported by the Burger Collection, Switzerland and Hong Kong. It is an 18 minute loop shot in Room 18 at the National Portrait Gallery in London. The piece “depicts two groups of female British students sketching and reading in this room. One group is seated in front of the portrait of the Mary Wollstonecraft portrait and the other group is seated in front of Mary Shelley, and the scenes are played out parallel to each other, in 2 juxtaposed projections.” It is a “direct reference to the proximity and distance of these portraits in Room 18 and specifically to the year of 1816, when Northern Europe, Canada and the American northeast experienced severe, unprecedented cold and stormy weather”— in the summer of the same year, “while vacationing in Switzerland, the inclimate weather forced Mary Shelley, Percy Shelley, Lord Byron and their friends to stay mostly indoors. It was during this summer that Mary Shelley began to write, Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus.”[6]


Night Shift (2006, 8 minute, 24 second loop), a video commissioned by Art 21 Inc., New York, which premiered on PBS television in 2005, “revolves around the space of sleep and sleeplessness. Each scene uses the same setting—the interior and exterior of a police car at night—and begins when one officer brings a cup of coffee for the other. Using recurring and non-recurring characters, interrelated dialogue and ambient sound, the scenarios evoke themes of control, memory, longing, humor and loss. The nocturnal scenes in Night Shift suggest a world surrounding the older police officer, in which external signs might actually exist only in his imagination, as interior dialogues playing out inside his restless mind.”[7]


Whether their work simply suggests a story or carries one close to fruition, it, in Birchler’s words, “always comes down to telling a story. For us, constructing a narrative most often involves the process of physically building a space. We build spaces that suggest psychological tension, where there is a slippage between inside and outside, past and present.”[8] This slippage is heightened in House with Pool (2004, 20 minute, 39 second loop), “a suspenseful narrative loop where the viewer encounters a visual reordering of space that constitutes the emotional inside as physical outside and vice versa. The piano composition played by both women [in the film] creates an all-encompassing soundtrack, contributing to the work's mysterious mise-en scêne.”[9]


Hubbard and Birchler have exhibited widely. Most recent solo exhibitions, in addition to the aforementioned Sound Speed Marker, include: Eight, Eighteen, Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York (2014), Linda Pace Foundation, San Antonio (2013); Teresa Hubbard / Alexander Birchler, Saint Louis Art Museum / Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York / Lora Reynolds Gallery, Austin (2011/2012); and No Room to Answer Aargauer Kunsthaus, Aarau / Württembergischer Kunstverein Stuttgart / Modern Art Museum of Forth Worth (2008/2009).


Among many prominent solo and group exhibitions Hubbard/Birchler have exhibited in: Framing Desire: Photography and Video, Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth (2015); Unlooped Kino, Works from the Goetz Collection, Manifesta 10, St. Petersburg (2014); Go-Betweens: The World Seen through Children, Mori Museum, Tokyo / Nagoya City Museum, Nagoya (2014); Sanft entrückt. Kinder wie im Traum, Kunsthaus Zürich (2013); Kino der Kunst, Pinakothek der Moderne / Schaustelle, Munich (2013); 4x2. Four premiers:2 screenings, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte, Reina Sofia Museum, Madrid (2010); Berger + Berger, A Prefabricated Movie Theater, Works from the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection,Venice Biennial, 12th International Architecture Exhibition, Venice (2010); The Cinema Effect: Illusion, Reality, and the Moving Image, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington D.C. (2008); L'oeil écran ou la nouvelle image / The Screen Eye or The New Image, Casino Luxembourg, Forum d'art Contemporain, Luxembourg (2007); The World is a Stage, Mori Art Museum, Tokyo (2005); Single Wide, Whitney Museum of American Art at Altria, New York (2004); Video dreams: between the cinematic and theatrical, Kunsthaus Graz (2004); Out of Place: Contemporary Art and the Architectural Uncanny, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago (2002); Werk Raum 1, Hamburger Bahnhof Museum of Contemporary Art, Berlin (2000); and in the exhibition dAPERTutto at the 48th Venice Biennial (1999).


Among many awards and prizes, Hubbard/Birchler have been honored with the Harpo Foundation Award (Los Angeles, 2006), the Swiss Art Award (Federal Office of Culture, Switzerland, 1997 and 1999), and the Manor Art Prize (Museum of Contemporary Art, Basel, Switzerland, 1996). Their work is held in various collections, among them the Museum of Contemporary Art (Los Angeles); Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden at the Smithsonian (Washington D. C.); Kunsthaus Zurich, Kunstmuseum Basel; Yokohama Museum of Art (Japan); Pinakothek der Moderne (Munich); Art Gallery of Western Australia (Perth); the Centre for Photography, University of Salamanca; International Centre for Photography (New York); Israel Museum (Jerusalem); Staedel Museum (Frankfurt); and Thyssen-Bornemisza Contemporary Art Foundation (Vienna). They are represented by Tanya Bonakdar Gallery (New York), Galerie Bob van Orsouw (Zürich), Galerie Barbara Thumm (Berlin), Galerie Vera Munro (Hamburg), and Lora Reynolds Gallery (Austin).



[1] http://www.pbs.org/art21/texts/hubbard-birchler/interview-hubbard-birchler-place-and-persona

[2] Jordan Amirkhani, "Teresa Hubbard/Alexander Birchler: Sound Speed Marker at the Blaffer Art Museum," in Daily Serving: An International Publication for Contemporary Art, June 10, 2015, http://dailyserving.com/2015/06/teresa-hubbardalexander-birchler-sound-speed-marker-at-blaffer-art-museum/; last accessed July 3, 2015

[3] http://www.hubbardbirchler.net/works/grandparistexas/

[4] http://www.hubbardbirchler.net/works/melies/

[5] http://www.e-flux.com/announcements/teresa-hubbard -and-alexander-birchler/

[6] http://www.hubbardbirchler.net/works/yearwithoutasummer/

[7] http://www.hubbardbirchler.net/works/nightshift/

[8] "Alexander Birchler in conversation with Martin Hentschel," in Martin Hentschel (ed.), Wide Walls (Bielefeld: Kerber Verlag, 2001), p. 77; quoted in Konrad Bitterli, "Floating Images–Enigmatic Narratives: Recent Videos by Hubbard / Birchler," Parkett No. 65 (September 2000).

[9] http://www.hubbardbirchler.net/works/housewithpool/