Text Domenico de Chirico, solo exhibition Metro Galerie Burster, 2019
Bram Braam’s work seems to overflow due to a remarkable tangible complexity in the material variety of his works and therefore in what precedes the creative act itself. The concept of Utopia turns out to be the fundamental interpretative key that allows one to gain a broader understanding of Braam’s work and somehow untangle the threads that make up the stratification of his works. The word Utopia etymologically derives from the ū = ‘non’ and tópos = ‘place’ and therefore has the the
hidden meaning of non-place. This non-place is an impossible place, an imaginary architecture, a vision which points in the direction of a non-futuristic future.
Braam deals with this concept in a circular way through a vortex of reinvented materials, found objects, assembled furniture, rags of city walls, and almost any element can be exemplary of a constructivist historicity understood not only in relation to building but also in semantic terms.
Architecture, for Braam, can be found in the buildings of Le Corbusier, in abandoned buildings, and in the graphic signs left by a person passing by. It is the historicity of the environmental evolution that Braam prefers to focus upon.
But in this vortex of signs that finds completeness in the creation of large sculptures, in which each constituent element is never randomly chosen, it is possible to highlight two trajectories that are indefinitely covered by the term mentioned above: Utopia. These are two lines that are not rectilinear, curved or curved again, and that deal with pairs such as new and old, real and false, natural and artificial, original and remodeled, construction and destruction. Through his works Bram
Braam addresses Utopia both as an environmental utopia with a functionalist and constructivist mold that characterized 20th century modernism and as a non-place utopia. It is a fairly complicated dialectic in which what is identified as a possible place with its own recognizable identity becomes non-place as soon as the possibility of its being or of its lasting decay. At the same time we are witnessing the awareness of the non-place as the only place possible.
The coexistence of different architectural styles, of maps that correspond to several political periods, of signs that define the experience of an urban or civilized environment – is it even possible to find one that is completely virgin, without residues of humanity? Of elements that highlight the mixture of different styles, sanctioning them with the impossibility to find a beginning and declaring the absolute intertwining of one with the other, are at the base of this non-place place whose complex stratification is always re- proposed differently from the work of Braam.
This stratification, this overlap that actually presents itself as a chronological plot, finds a powerful explanation in the artist’s wall works. It is about real walls, parts of cities where the calmness of becoming is tangible, the fascination of non-place as place, the absence of abuse and therefore the presence of a quietness made up of voices from the past and the present that have always and forever looked at a hypothetical future in a utopian way; coming to terms with a real utopia made of rubble and scratched walls.
Text Yasmijn Jarram, solo exhibition Welcome to the real world, galerie Frank Taal, 2016
Visual artist Bram Braam (NL, 1980) deals with architecture and the constant evolution of our daily surroundings. Apart from his photos, collages and assemblages Bram focusses on sculptural works of a subtle or –juxtaposing– monumental scale. Many influences can be found in these works: the American minimalism of Donald Judd and Sol LeWitt, the utopian thinking of architects as Le Corbusier, yet also the modernism of Bauhaus and De Stijl. In his work the schematic clarity of the Dutch landscape meets with the raw, urban chaos of Braam’s place of residence Berlin.
Braam looks at public space through the eyes of a sculptor. He photographs the unsigned ‘non-spaces’ in the city, or especially the urban areas where the old and new meet. In Braam’s studio these concrete observations are transformed into abstract artworks; balancing between the formal and the narrative. The grey area between coincidence and control, between nature and culture continues to be questioned. When is something considered original and ‘real’ and when is it carefully constructed? Nowadays artificiality is omnipresent: from Photshop to plastic surgery, from virtual reality to hologram. It comes to no surprise that Braam is fascinated by the concept of ‘hyperreality’ by philosopher Jean Baudrillard (1929-2007). With this term Baudrillard refers to an artificial, improved version of the everyday actuality where it is barely possible to distinguish between reality and illusion.
In his solo exhibition Welcome to the real world Braam aims to gather these different actualities. This is among others reflected in the distinctive mix of artificial and found materials. The exterior of the site-specific installation Black White consists of weathered black plates that are used in construction for the pouring of concrete – a phase between planning and execution. Meanwhile, the interior of the installation shows a structure of glossy glass plates and white surfaces. The various displayed stones are merely partially authentic: the fluorescent orange segments are plastic 3D prints. In the assemblage Horor Vacui Braam combines his unpolished construction plates with traces of vandalism, gentrification and decay, in combination with high gloss Plexiglas.
The photo series Accidental Visions shows locations in Berlin where unintentionally artistic references to modernism have emerged: ragged layers of paint in just slightly deviating colours are applied on walls full of graffiti. Braam completes the composition with an added layer of tightly painted colour shapes. A comparable contrast underlies the installation The different possibilities of a truth, where a raw street object is placed alongside a stylized shape. In Braam’s public research into shape and material he does not only expose the artistic process but also the speed at which the public space of a metropolitan city such as Berlin is constantly transforming. Here, the heterogeneity of Braam’s place of residence finds its mirror image in the (literal) layering of his work.
Text Nadim Samman & Anja Henckel, solo exhibition Modern Mutants, galerie Burster 2016
The formal reductions of Holland’s De Stijl would reverberate throughout the history of the twentieth century, crossing oceans to effect movements such as American Minimalism and international currents in architecture. For a Dutch artist concerned with the built environment, such as Braam, the modernist legacy looms large. In previous projects such as City of Tomorrow he worked through the tactile and volumetric poetry of failed urban planning experiments – the dead ends of utopian reduction, rather than so many promised clean slates. Through a series of compelling sculptures, installations and wall reliefs, his ouevre has spoken by splicing together ‘poor’ modern vernaculars to address the wrack of good architectural intentions on the shores of lived experience.With this new body of work Braam’s focus has shifted, from imperfect figures of total design to messy ground. From the skein of built control – the masterplan, with its centripital organization – to neglected fringes. Also, to centrifugal fallout: wastelands, junkspace and street furniture; milestones on the pathway between environmental rationalization and entropy. Specifically, Braam’s new works address Berlin – his home – as a mutable cityscape, hovering between the forms inherited from its exceptional history, its planned future development, and its remaining pockets of undefined character. In a work such as Coordinating traces Berlin, a photo-grid depicting sections of various walls encrusted with wear and grafitti, the artist foregrounds memories inscribed upon the built environment. Elsewhere, in a photo of a brownfield site occupied by an empty billboard, he seems concerned with the possibilities that may emerge from unclaimed spaces. What will be written next on the face of this city?
Braam’s new artistic offerings are also hybrid objects. As If contains a found stone that has been sawn in two; one half replaced by a three-dimensional printed copy of itself. Such an object might be said to fulfill philosopher Noel Carroll’s definition of the monstrous. It is a ‘category violation’; a mutant plastic-mineral. But Braam’s agenda is not to cast perjorative stones. This item, like other recent works, is offered as a metonym for what he considers the ‘hyperreal’ condition of the contemporary metropole. Indeed, his gestures respond to the loosening of reductive strictures ushered in by postmodernism, as well as the laissez-faire eclecticism of contemporary urban design where image and structure are fused – in billboards, facade as screen or photograph, cladding and more. Another part of this multi-object artwork consists of wall-mounted plexiglass panels, bearing printed images depicting parts of a sculpture. The source material – the sculpture – is located nearby, placed on the gallery floor. Through this choreography of elements, distributed across media, As If endeavours to pick apart the hybrid or hyperreal municipal condition – marshalling forms that flatten three-dimensional source material into two-dimensions, and which volumize image conditions.
The prevalence of plexiglass in the works is loaded. It is the ultimate ‘look but don’t touch’ material. One fingerprint, or the lightest overlay of dust, and its pristine surface is sullied. No amount of right angles is a bulwark against the profanation of a smudge. The nullility of Donald Judd’s minimalism – ventured as the cousin of transcendence – needs constant tending in order to be maintained. In Immateriality Within the Effects of Time Braam’s eye for the vernacular fate of modern(ist) materials is again put to work: Plexiglass as a protective layer, a tool for preservation out in the ‘real’ world beyond the white cube. The work consists of a rusting square metal plate, its paint flaking and corroded away in places, that has been wall-mounted. Recovered from a wastesite by the artist, part of it is overlaid with a plexi panel – a section of which bares a printed hue that refers to the original colour of the metal plate. Braam’s aesthetic gesture serves to highlight the now profaned design concept for the object, while supplying it with a defensive token. Like other works in this exhibition, here Braam stages the uneasy tension between a plan and its realization; between map and territory.
Through his sculptural borrowing of heterogeneous materials and stylistic traces Braam presents the audience with compressions of architectural time – past, present and possibilty, rubbing up against one another. His works press the question of where revaluation and reuse are most appropriate, and where damnatio memoriae (condemnation of memory) is perhaps better applied. The latter was a practice utilized by the ancient Egyptians and Romans to destroy any tangible link to the legacy of historical periods with problematic reputations. In the fields of architecture and design today, the future of communal life and collective memory rests in answers to this question.
 The term hyperreal is a key concept outlined by the philosopher Jean Baudrillard.
Text Silke Wittig, (N.B.K.) Neuer Berliner Kunstverein
In his sculptural installations Bram Braam combines various media such as photography, screen printing and film. His works range from large-scale site-specific installations to small-scale sculptures. The experience of time and space are recurring elements of his work, which deals with the architecture of the 20th century and forms of modernist design. Braam is inspired by the approaches of the New Objectivity, functionalism and constructivism. He particularly devotes himself to the idea of utopia, to Le Corbusier, and architects of the De Stijl movement. In his projects, invariably he also addresses the failure of utopias in architecture. He critically examines how social control mechanisms manifest themselves in architectural planning. To this end, he investigates various places and buildings, and with a variety of means of expression transforms his observations in his site-specific spatial works. The idea of shaping the environment through architecture and planning is a central aspect in this. In the installation City of Tomorrow (2014), Braam analyzes the town center of Cumbernauld, near Glasgow in Scotland, a planned city founded in 1956, and translates his impressions and experiences in the face of this failed experiment of visionary social architecture into a space-filling architectural sculpture. His spatial designs are reminiscent of ventilation shafts, stairs and hallways. Integrated video clips and seemingly claustrophobic cabins and fixtures give an oppressive impression of the dilapidated architectural landscape. In his new work Transition of Structures (2014), Braam explores Berlin, the place where he lives and works. He collects photographic views and sketches of eye-catching buildings and places in Berlin that to him illustrate the transformation of the city. He puts together the photos into a collage, in layers and like pieces of a puzzle, and connects them with various building materials such as glass and concrete. Here too, the focus is on the urban landscape as a manmade environment; spatial and material experience is transferred through his sculpture, from the urban into the exhibition space.
Text by Judith Vrancken, solo presentation, city of tomorrow 2016
The more one looks at Bram Braam’s disturbance of architectural logic in his work, the more it refuses to fix and, instead, begins to incorporate other zones and territorialities. How long is now? City of tomorrow shows several recent works by the artist that lay bare his multi-disciplinary practice and approach.
The vast project City of Tomorrow (2013) – for which Braam received a Mondriaan foundation research grant to perform research on location – centralizes around the failed Scottish utopia of Cumbernauld. It incorporates found footage of images and video’s, sculptural installations and a site-specific installation, planning to be constructed at IMPORT PROJECTS in Berlin later this year.
Built in 1954, Cumbernauld meant to solve the population overspill in the industrial city of Glasgow. As a visionary alternative to the middle class with an emphasis on a separation of people and cars through the use of underpasses, pedestrian footbridges as well as segregated footpaths, it was considered a key moment in post-war architecture. However, the plan failed spectacularly, leaving residents and even visitors frustrated with the design. Today, Cumbernauld is a ruin of modernity, a retro-futuristic spaceship in Glasgow suburbia and for Braam exemplary of modernism’s defeat to depolarize architecture as a reflection of modern society as well as an attempt to transform it.
This is a main thread throughout all of the artist’s work: How are (architectural) visions of the past still living in the present? What can we learn form (failed) modernist thinking and how does it inform our choices today? For Braam, this starts quite literally with his Dutch background, and in particular the construction of the traditional Dutch landscape but also his acquaintance with movements like De Stijl and Bauhaus that share a controlled manufacturability. These elements combined served as the initial fertile soil for his artistic practice. Though his newer work evolves more around the city of Berlin – which is his current place of residence – Braam still focuses on the “makability” of society through architecture and city planning where what is nature and what is natural are conflicting motives. Essentially, Braam’s practice of thinking and working all revolve around an opposing attitude towards old and new, fantasy and reality but also linear series of past, present and future.
This has led Braam to actively hunt for materials usually found in more descaying areas, the outskirts of cities or places that used to be thriving but have now been abandoned, just like Cumbernauld. He incorporates these discrepancies in a specific use of material that interchanges between old and new, found and rough, new and polished. In works like In between (2013) and A finite slice of infinite space (2014) this discrepancy evokes another layer: it seems as if one is simultaneously both inside and outside the work. The boundary lines which should determine the limits of the piece, according to the classical notion of inside/outside, perform a double duty here. However, the only possibility to contemplate Braam‘s constructions is from the outside. And as a viewer you constantly shift back and forth in these two undecidable positions. Colomn #2 is built from stacked plaster cubes – a common material used to make quick (temporary) alterations in spaces – that are locked in between the floor and ceiling. As a play on gravity the column seemingly serves as a supporting beam, however, it is in fact so fragile that the slightest push could make it to collapse at any
time. With that notion, Colomn #2 captures the fragility of architecture that for a large part is based on risk and lack of control once it becomes common territory.