No Black Forest cottages here, only washed concrete: How Frankfurt artist Guido Zimmermann came upon “the thing with the cuckoo clocks.”
by Florian Heilmeyer | 5/3/2017

It was pure chance that Guido Zimmermann came upon the thing with the cuckoo clocks. Some years ago, when he was a graffiti artist, he was invited to a character jam. The event was being held on Ben-Gurion-Ring in the Frankfurt district of Nieder-Eschbach, in one of the city’s 1970s high-rise residential estates with a particularly bad reputation. Zimmermann spontaneously created an image there with the teenagers that combined the surrounding prefab tower blocks with a few romantic landscape elements – and with a “gangsta cuckoo,” as Zimmermann calls it, alluding to the idyll associated with the Black Forest cuckoo clock, but in the pocket version. The bizarre combination struck such a chord that the idea stuck, and Zimmermann, who otherwise produces sculptures and large murals, thought about how to take it to the next level.

By way of experiment he bought a cuckoo clock and converted it into a modern building. The other artists in his shared studio were impressed: “It was then that I realized that something happens in everyone’s head right away,” says Zimmermann. “Everyone immediately started talking about buildings in their home regions. And even as a child I was interested in my surroundings and in architecture, and that is what stirred in me.”

First, Zimmermann built complex individual works, dismantling the original cuckoo clock until he reached the clockwork. In order to become a clock, the buildings had to impress Zimmermann as architectural structures, as well as fascinate him with their story – and they had to fit the existing clockwork. It is not without reason that he has hitherto focused on very famous brutalist structures: “I tend to be interested in the architecture that others find ugly. And as cuckoo clocks, the buildings must of course also offer a certain contrast to the Black Forest.”

Thus Glenkerry House in London by Ernö Goldfinger and Marcel Breuer’s hotel protruding over a steep slope in the French ski resort of Flaine have now become Zimmermann clocks. The artist is working on the AfE-Turm, the Frankfurt university skyscraper that was demolished in 2014, and could also imagine as cuckoo clocks the buildings of the infamous American post-War development Pruitt-Igoe, demolished as of 1972 not long after its completion. “I’ve looked at buildings all over the world and have now amassed a pretty large archive with templates, photos and newspaper articles,” he notes.

For now however, he has presented his “Berlin Edition”: five structurally identical apartment blocks with small balconies and the cuckoo coming out of the front door. “The Berlin blocks were an experiment. I wanted to finally get away from the highly complex individual works. Glenkerry House, for example, even has lighting, and it takes a few days to build something like that.” For his “Berlin Edition” he uses Chinese cuckoo clocks with a plastic casing and electronic movement. “They are more flexible to fit, require less maintenance and are also cheaper.”

The workshop now also boasts a CNC machine for processing the wood, meaning that theoretically Zimmermann could really get production going on a large scale: “Demand is already very high in fact, although I haven’t really started marketing them yet. Maybe I should hire two people to complete the orders. But when push comes to shove I am a painter and am looking forward to the summer. I have jobs lined up for large murals all over Germany, and moreover the crowdfunding is wrapped up for the ‘Museum on the Street’ in Frankfurt – and I’ll need lots of time for that soon too.”

Sozialer Wohnungsbau für Kuckucke: Das Glenkerry House in London von Ernö Goldfinger.

Of course, Guido Zimmermann could not have known that this “thing with the cuckoo clocks” would take off the way it has. Nonetheless, he already has an idea for his next project in the series: “The Mainfeld estate in Frankfurt, that’d be great. It’s a series of really ugly washed-concrete apartment blocks, and perhaps to moderate the ugliness somewhat they have made the balconies brightly colored.” Zimmermann has to laugh. These are precisely the kinds of buildings he looks for in order to transform them into cuckoo clocks.

Ob der Kuckuck in der neuen Heimat glücklich ist? Jedenfalls ruft er wie zuvor. Oder kommt er dabei etwa nur seiner Pflicht nach?