February 7, 2011  |  Artists, Collection & Exhibitions
Stück Natur: The Microenvironment-in-a-Jar Siren

Haus-Rucker & Co. Stück Natur (Piece of Nature). 1971–73

When you spend a lot of time around objects, you find that some objects continue to unfold with every new encounter while other objects do not. I was charmed from the start by Haus-Rucker & Co.’s Stück Natur (Piece of Nature), a microenvironment in a preserving jar, but didn’t expect it to continue to draw me back in.

It’s a small jar with a little dirt, moss, mini trees, and mini huts—not exactly a masterpiece of architectural model making, so you might think the engaging surprise and wonder of it would be short-lived. You’d be wrong. As it turns out, Stück Natur is one of those objects that never gets boring.

When you peer into the jar you see a little world big with possibilities. You might easily predict what’s going to be on the other side, but you don’t bother and instead you fall into wondering what might be there. I know because I’ve seen the other side, but still I always get caught up thinking there might be, could be, a wonderful surprise behind the mini trees and hut; a little beach, or sea, a cliff, some little out buildings or little people, or maybe some little wild animals. I won’t spoil it by telling you what’s around the back, but it wouldn’t matter if I did. Stück Natur is like a little architectural siren; you’ll look even if you already know.

Also appealing are its contradicting elements, such as the whole world-in-a-jar play on scale and the idea of preserving a moment of the natural wilderness landscape in time—which then becomes still life and perhaps even stilted and artificial.

Haus-Rucker & Co. was founded in Vienna in 1967 by Laurids Ortner, Gunter Zamp Kelp, and Klaus Pinter. It was a time when artists, designers, and architects concerned themselves with Utopian schemes, and were busy defining a new spatial consciousness. Sensory perception experiments were like mother’s milk to this new generation of visionary cultural thinkers. They experimented with space and environment, technology, and materiology, and sought to re-define the structures of living: individually, socially, and politically.

Haus-Rucker & Co. Flyhead, Viewatomiser, and Drizzler, Environmental Transformers, helmets to isolate the wearer from the outside world. 1968

The Haus-Rucker & Co. projects included installations and happenings, disposable and inflatable structures, and wearable life support devices like the Mindexpander/Flyhead Helmet, which is currently on view at MoMA in the exhibition Shaping Modernity: Design 1880–1980.

The Stück Natur model, made in a series of 25, was originally produced for a 1973 art fair in Cologne, Germany. It’s currently on view in Building Collections: Recent Acquisitions of Architecture, an installation of selected models and drawings recently acquired by the Museum’s Department of Architecture and Design.