Balkenplatz (Beam Square) – Gymnasium Josef-Preis-Allee

In 1998, when the Bundesschulzentrum Salzburg Nonntal was undergoing a renovation and extension, an artistic intervention designed by Meina Schellander (born 1946) was realised on the roof terrace atop the main gym hall.

Schellander’s piece consisted of four bright red, hollow beams made of glued laminated timber, lying horizontally on short steel tube legs of differing heights. Thanks to its vibrant colour, Beam Square created a perfect contrast to the simplicity of the flat roof.

The artistic concept included creating a space for leisure, relaxation and playful interaction. Students were invited to lie and sit on the beams, walk on them, and crawl under or jump over them. Thanks to their hollow nature, they also amplified sounds, inspiring the artist’s coining of the term “Balkofone” (“beamophones”).

At the same time, a second project developed by Schellander was realised for the school. Entitled DENKEN – GEHEN – LACHEN (THINK – WALK – LAUGH), it consisted of three digital displays mounted on the wall facing Hellbrunner Strasse and showing different groups of verbs. As part of Schellander’s participatory concept, the students were invited to program their own texts as a way of communicating their content to the outside world.

How Beam Square fits into the artist’s oeuvre only becomes clear at second glance. She has always explored hollowed-out forms in her art. This culminated in her juxtaposition of hollowed-out objects with negative forms and/or extracted masses in the 1970s. The desire to depict and explore “the core” – something that cannot truly be depicted – becomes visible. Schellander consistently pursued this early approach, which can be seen in her early Köpfe (Heads) and Findlinge (Boulders), until she started presenting her solutions in a different way from the late 1990s onwards. She no longer used pieces taken from nature, but rather presented a technically highly sophisticated art that became increasingly playful and light, and that was simpler on the surface and yet triggered numerous associations. Schellander also increasingly incorporated writing.

Her concepts for the school building in Salzburg align with this idea. The beams are hollow. The missing core can be temporarily replaced by noises, sounds or words. The visual heftiness of the beams is paradox in view of their empty interior. A play between the visible and the invisible occurs. Usually, we are familiar with seeing such wooden structures acting as load-bearing elements that offer stability. Schellander, however, allows sounds or spoken words to reverberate through them, thereby intuitively breaking through the heaviness.

She also breaks with the familiar by creating the impression that the huge beams have been randomly dropped on the roof. Some of them lie across others, and they are not regularly spaced.

Schellander has designed a large number of objects for public spaces. Some of them have broken through entire city squares by virtue of their sheer size and were intended to stimulate an awareness of time.

This expansion in the scale of Schellander’s art serves in part to make our human core – the origin of humankind, so to speak – clearly, almost painfully, tangible. She believes that the creative principle comes from anything that is original, and that we must therefore look for it there or return to it.

In addition, the dimensions of her art are often derived from the circumstances at the installation site in question. She is not interested in creating a mere ornament or decoration. Her approach often leads to massive formats that result in a sense of bewilderment. Beam Square, however, although monumental in size (70 x 45 x 1900–2500 cm), is not in any way disturbing, but rather the ideal intervention for the overall surroundings.

Because the themes she explores in her concepts are complex (with many notebooks testifying to her mental processes), Schellander’s art often remains incomprehensible. Resistance, in many forms, appears to be the motif of her work, which may also explain her less accessible pieces. It is only when we examine her attitudes towards historical figures, philosophies or current events and place them within the context of her oeuvre that we can truly understand her work.

Despite this characteristic of her work, Schellander designed Beam Square as a both aesthetically and contextually accessible project. It is a functioning synthesis of a large-scale format, elegant design of an open space, in combination with an awareness for the students’ needs. It turns the roof into a powerful spot for recharging, whether through meditative peacefulness or dynamic play. But the intention for art to promote a sense of community is also evident. In view of the increasing individualisation and solitariness within our society, this can also be seen as a kind of educational objective behind Schellander’s artistic ideas for the school: someone takes an action that requires recipients, and the joint action and perception allows the awareness of oneness to grow, regardless of the individuals’ different backgrounds.

After 25 years of being exposed to all kinds of weather, Beam Square needed to be dismantled for safety reasons.