Under the title "Kakteenhaus / Cactus House", Simon Starling transforms the exhibition space of Portikus into a greenhouse. A heating system developed for the installation raises the room temperature accordingly. This heating system consists of a Volvo engine. The vehicle itself, which stands in the back of Portikus, is connected to the engine via the necessary conduits such as petrol tube, radiator hoses, exhaust pipe and electrical wiring. The engine is started from inside the automobile. All connections to the engine are merely extended in a way so that the heat released across the distance is passed on to the space. Using this principle, ideal conditions are created in the exhibition space to temporarily accommodate a large cactus, which prior to the start of the exhibition travelled from southern Spain to Frankfurt in precisely this red Volvo.

Simon Starling tells stories with his works. Time and again, he displays widely encompassing interconnections between places, objects, cultural and historical facts. Starling himself takes on the role of a literary narrator who never reveals the point of the story directly, but rather takes the long route or chooses a detour in order to then represent a network of relations in an often absurd reduction.

The starting-point of his exhibition at Portikus is the Andalusian Tabernas Desert, located about 30 kilometres north of Almería. The almost 12,000-hectare-large and constantly spreading expanse between the mountains of Los Lilabres and Alhamilla is considered Europe's only true desert. Its history is characterised by numerous attempts to make it cultivatable. In the 60s and 70s, the area was an ideal location for shooting westerns and became extremely well-known on account of Sergio Leone's so-called spaghetti westerns. Three film studios that today mainly serve as tourist attractions bear witness to this era. Cactuses, which actually do not belong to Europe's vegetation, but which since the 15th century were brought home by Spanish conquistadores as popular presents, were imported for the scenery of films such as "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" and nowadays belong to the landscape of the Tabernas Desert. While in the past only a few oases allowed for growing tropical fruits, in the last decades the large-scale cultivation of vegetables, fruits and flowers under huge plastic tarpaulins has been established. The produce is profitably exported to northern Europe. The wasteful irrigation of seedlings and plants in this infertile region and the lowering of the groundwater table caused by this, however, have led to an alarming expansion of the desert. At the same time, the Tabernas Desert with its more than 3,000 hours of sunshine a year is home to the most important European solar energy research centre, the Plataforma Solar de Almería. In co-operation with the Deutsche Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt (German Aerospace Centre) the profitability of exporting solar energy to Germany is currently being assessed. In addition, the Plataforma Solar operates a large desalinization plant for sea water serving agriculture.

With his installation at Portikus, Simon Starling succeeds in addressing all these different aspects of the Tabernas Desert in the contradictory relationship between an automobile engine and a cactus. The desert is nature's most recent ecosystem, and the cactus counts as the youngest and most economical plant the flora has brought forth. The combustion engine, on the other hand, which after over a hundred years is still utilised by the automobile industry, is characterised by enormous inefficiency. Only around thirty percent of the combusted resources are transformed into kinetic energy - the rest is released as heat. In the exhibition "Kakteenhaus", the cactus finds its life-saving counterpart precisely in the automobile engine with its waste of energy. In addition, the journey of the cactus from Texas or Arizona to Spain and from there finally inside the Volvo to Frankfurt can be interpreted as a metaphor of a society that aims at making everything possible everywhere, be it the scenery for a western in Almería, agriculture under plastic tarpaulins or the Tabernas desalinization plant.

Simon Starling (* 1967) lives and works in Glasgow.

The exhibition is supported by the Kulturstiftung der Deutschen Bank as well as The British Council and the Alfred Ritter GmbH & Co. KG.