Every Day Has Its Song, essay contribution
Dieter Roth and Björn Roth - Islands at Hangar Bicocca
Curated by Vicente Todolí
November 5, 2013 – February 9, 2014

Every Day Has Its Song 

Witty in its precise inversion—a 19-by-40-foot readymade cut from the site of artistic process and production—the turned upright stance of Dieter Roth and Björn Roth’s The Floor I (Studio-floor from Mosfellsbaer, Iceland), 1973—1992, is also a reflective and accepting gesture, stained with the pathos and release of time. Paint drip, splatter, and glue ridges pock and pool the surface. Holes gape where beams once stood, brown and green paint trace the roughhewn outline of now absent desks, shelves, tables, and stacks of material. A mangled relic excised from the time and place of composition, The Floor I is pulled from underfoot in order to re-orient the viewer to Dieter Roth’s world of obsessive arrangement and constant reconfiguring. And yet it is also a testament to the residual, dormant, and unconscious—a support surface transformed into an outsized image that literally catches the spill, shape, and color of life lived.

Dieter Roth / Björn Roth, The Floor I (Studio-floor from Mosfellsbaer, Iceland), 1973—1992, wood, paint. Courtesy of Hauser & Wirth.

Dieter Roth / Björn Roth, The Floor I (Studio-floor from Mosfellsbaer, Iceland), 1973-1992, wood, paint. Installation view Holderbank, 1992. Photo: Christian Kurz & Alexander Troehler.

First displayed in 1992 at the back of a defunct industrial hall of the Holderbank AG cement works in central Switzerland, The Floor I initially served as a kind of backdrop and setting, propped up on its side to form part of an installation framework for a layered, overall display of works culled from multiple decades. Integrated into what was Dieter Roth’s first major survey-like exhibition since the end of the 1970s, the transposition of the very ground of artistic composition into the place of a sculptural work of art belies a turn in Roth’s late work toward self-interpretation and contextualization. While not held at a major institution, the Holderbank installation—with an idiosyncratic wall display and the studio floor together framing a maelstrom of sculpture, projection, painting, and installation works—attracted attention and renewed interest in Roth in Switzerland and beyond, further promoting Roth’s insistence upon his oeuvre as constantly up for revision, alteration, and extension. Along with a concurrent monographic issue of the Swiss journal Du: Die Zeitschrift der Kultur, and the founding of the Dieter Roth Foundation the year prior, the 1992 exhibition and inclusion of The Floor I reflects the artist’s own increased emphasis upon narrativizing energy, place, and biography in his late exhibition strategies.

Dieter Roth / Björn Roth, The Floor II (Studio-floor from Mosfellsbaer, Iceland), 1977–1998, Wood, paint. Photo: Jens Kirchner.

A solitary chair faced The Floor I within the Holderbank installation, accompanied by a kiosk-like structure displaying Roth’s book designs and publication projects. Allowing a viewer to sit and peruse Roth’s voluminous print output, from early constructivist-influenced works through to special editions and the fittingly titled artists’ magazine Zeitschrift für Alles (“Review for Everything”, 1975-87), the studio floor loomed behind with a very different conceptualizing of imprint. Indeed, The Floor I itself is a kind of dual review: a seemingly whimsical cut from one vantage point that becomes a blunt surgical encounter with daily work and the depletion of self from another. In direct dialog with Roth’s final framing of life and work, Solo Szenen (“Solo Scenes”), 1997-98, the studio floor gesture is erected and repeated with The Floor II (Studio-floor from Mosfellsbaer, Iceland), 1977—1998, a twinning, elegiac companion cut to the same proportions as The Floor I but bearing different scars and charm, with more painterly, apparitional layers and stains.

Dieter Roth / Björn Roth, The Floor I (Studio-floor from Mosfellsbaer, Iceland), 1973–1992, Wood, paint, 572 x 1200.5 x 7.5 cm / 225 1/4 x 472 5/8 x 3 in, Installation view, Art Cologne, Cologne, Germany, 2012. Photo: Jens Kirchner.

Even as Roth increasingly “surveys” himself in late works, the retrospective gaze implied by the studio floors and other late works is elongated and inflected with beginnings, captured in the dated specificity of the titling. For, it is there in the Mosfellsbaer studio by the sea—trundling about before a splayed open sky on the west coast of Iceland, facing a volcano and passing ships—where Roth begins to fully propound and attempt a practice that denies quality as a foremost criterion. As with Flacher Abfall (“Flat Waste”), also begun in the mid-1970s, Roth allows himself to collect and catalog food packaging and daily scraps into the picturing of his work, tethering studio to travel, refuse to exhibition, body to archive, and daily song to name. Roth says in an interview describing the inclusive urge of that year: “Every slip of paper is touching, … everything, every dumb plastic bag for sliced pumpernickel: somebody designed it… Every day sings a little song, there are themes in a way, of cities, and then you see the trips, by airplane, you can see—well I can see at least all of that when I leaf through the binders.”(1)

Not unlike the binder pages or the Tischmatten (“table mats”) works that Roth dates back to beginning in the same period, The Floor I and II bring the terrain below—the “hidden rot” of the consuming work surface as Roth liked to quip—into the picture plane of the allegorical tableau. From the dirty bouquets of the mats and the trinket melancholy of Flat Waste to the coarse elegance of the floors, the song of everyday builds up over years in Roth’s divinatory allowances, awaiting removal, a sudden transfer upright, a re-reading of the world.

—Fionn Meade


(1) Dieter Roth in an interview with Irmelin Leeber-Hossmann, in: Barbara Wien (ed.), Gesammelte Interviews, Berlin 2002, p.10.

Copryright Fionn Meade unless otherwise stated