Mask Communication

How a group of blindfolded artists got by with a little help from some friends.

The Austrian art collective Gelitin at work on Blind Sculpture, 2010.


A web of bamboo poles and rubber bands, adorned with an orange boxing glove, a green balloon, and spools of thread in shades of aquamarine, was taking shape at Greene Naftali Gallery in Chelsea. The installation was called Blind Sculpture, because the artists who were working on it were blindfolded.

But the makers of this sculpture, the Austrian art collective Gelitin, weren’t working completely in the dark. In a series of performances over a ten-day period, Gelitin received help from a selection of un-blindfolded friends, including Cecily Brown, Tom Sachs, and Urs Fischer.

Casey Spooner, half of the electro-pop band Fischerspooner, assisted at the fourth performance. “We are the sculpture in a way,” he said. He was fetching supplies for Wolfgang Gantner, who, clad in long johns and a red sleep mask, was moving gingerly around the gallery, feeling his way with his hands. “You realize when you’re doing actions, it’s a blurry line between performance and sculpture,” Spooner said.

Spooner tore up some strips of fabric for Gantner. “Are these the same length?” Gantner asked. “Yes,” Spooner answered, before trotting off to get Gantner a stapler. Spooner also made sure his blindfolded partner didn’t cut himself while sawing and drilling.

Gelitin’s members—Gantner, Ali Janka, Florian Reither, and Tobias Urban—all met at summer camp in 1978. The group is known for attention-grabbing, whimsical art events. In their 2005 piece Tantamounter 24/7, at Leo Koenig in New York, the artists spent a week inside a wooden box creating, with various art materials, “duplicates” of items submitted by the public.

For this Blind Sculptureperformance, Gelitin’s members dressed in costumes that were in some instances quite scanty—Janka’s sweatpants had a gaping hole in the rear. They were wearing sleep masks as blindfolds; Urban had stitched bunny ears on his.

Even blindfolded, the artists appeared to act deliberately as they placed globs of papier-míché and strips of gauzy fabric on the structure they were building. Daphane Park, a painter and performance artist, sat with some 40 others watching from wooden bleachers. She described the scene as a “very organized playland,” adding, “Obviously, there’s some kind of internal vision going on.”

“Sure we have an idea of what we want,” Gantner said. “You can feel it and touch it. It’s all about ideas and energy. I’m creating my own reality.” That reality became trickier to navigate as the installation grew. At one point, Spooner—wearing black cargo pants and four-inch red heels—was ripping pink tulle into strips when he got tangled in the material, caught a heel in the cuff of his pants, and nearly fell over. “I feel like I’m in a Buster Keatonfilm,” he said.

Just before Spooner’s session ended, the lights dimmed and someone brought out a cake for the musician’s 40th birthday. Unaware that everyone’s attention had shifted, the Gelitin artists continued working until prompted to sing. “Who wants cake?” Spooner called out, offering pieces of a dome-shaped confection filled with chocolate mousse. Reither, still blindfolded, shouted to Spooner from across the room, “You look much younger!”

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