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The Extraordinary Case of a Red Couch

Updated on April 21, 2013

What is a couch? Is it a word that signifies comfort? Or is it a necessary material object for an urban house? Is a couch a place where we only sit and watch TV and sometimes we even take a nap? Is it only a place where we used to host our fellow couchsurfers? Everyone could have answered yes to all of these hypothetical questions. A couch is certainly all of these things. However, a couch can be something else as well; a couch can be a metaphor. At least this is what it is for Horst Wackerbarth. The German born artist has managed to narrate a story with a couch that… ardently travels; a red couch to be precise.

Born in 1950 in Fritzlar, Horst Wackerbarth is a photographer and video artist. Along with his career as a fashion and portrait photographer he became worldwide known for his project titled “The Red Couch”. What started back in 1979 as another photography project along with his colleague Kevin Clarke, it rather became a remarkable event of worldwide interest. The project is already thirty-three years old and it grew so much attention that it really grew big! Some facts: the red couch has traveled in 33 countries and more than 600 people have been interviewed while enjoying its comfort.

In case you wonder what kind of a couch it is and if it's comfortable enough, well, all I can say is that it isn't the most classy you can find; otherwise, they wouldn't have given it to the lions!

To return to the subject, before this huge success, a book was published back in 1983 titled “The Red Couch – A Portrait of America” which was critically acclaimed almost immediately. This is how the journey managed to leave the American borders and expand all over the world. Wackerbarth exhibited in America and Germany of course but also in Florence, London, Milan. His project also made it to the screen. A TV-series was produced, in total 21 episodes, which was awarded a number of international awards. In 2003 he published the book “The Red Couch - A Portrait of Europe” and between 2004 and 2007 he exhibited in a number of European cities, Brussels, Copenhagen and Moscow among others. Finally, and to add to all these, in 1997 the Universal Couch Foundation was funded, a project designed to promote dialogue and universal values.

This was his original intention after all; replying to the hypothetical question “why a sofa?” Wackerbarth states that a couch leaving his surroundings is transformed from an object of comfort and pleasure into something entirely different, “a new image emerges” as he says. Out of context the couch loses its meaning and acquires a new one. As the time passes and the red couch continues its journey, people might wonder: “where is it now?” Or, “who is sitting on it?” And this is when a new universal meaning appears.

Michail Gorbatschow
Michail Gorbatschow

Apart from all these that could sound a bit superficial to some, Wackerbarth’s art project is indeed unique, and the fact that it came to be that popular only fueled his vision. His intentions were fulfilled; on his red couch sat people from all walks of life (from rich and famous like Steve Jobbs or even Michail Gorbatschow to ordinary people of the world), demonstrating in that way that his couch was indeed a universal vehicle, carrying personal stories and spreading an equalitarian attitude. Whoever sat on that couch had to answer to the very same questions; these answers would form a “Gallery of Mankind” as himself put it. Wackerbarth intended to create a mosaic of people that in appearances didn’t share anything in common; nevertheless, in reality they were all sharing the single fact that they’re all part of the same world.

Steve Jobbs
Steve Jobbs

His work is an anthropology of our times, perplexed and demanding as they are. Horst Wackerbarth is a man of our times as his work is eventually representative of our era; an era that seeks methodically for documentation and searches passionately for a globalised, universal, and commonly shared meaning. It is an era whereas people are craving for visual representations of everyday life and this is what Wackerbarth offers to them: dreams made of an a everyday object.

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    • Mama Kim 8 profile image

      Sasha Kim 4 years ago

      Very interesting art hub! I would have never known and some of it is very appealing. Thanks for sharing. Voting and pinning

    • Mike Robbers profile image
      Author

      Mike Robbers 4 years ago from London

      Glad you liked it..

    • SkeetyD profile image

      SkeetyD 4 years ago from Barbados

      Excellent subject matter. The travels of the red couch was a truly revolutionary idea. Voted up!

    • ChristyWrites profile image

      Christy Birmingham 4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Wow, I had not heard of this project but I certainly think it is a neat one. While people look different we really are all connected by threads (like couch threads!). Vote up and sharing too.

    • suzettenaples profile image

      Suzette Walker suzettetaos 4 years ago from Taos, NM

      I must be living in a cave - I had not heard of the red couch project or the artist. This is fascinating. I loved the video and the artist. I like the idea and metaphor for this traveling art project. I'd love to know what questions he asks each person - you mentioned they are the same ones. In this global society, I guess this red couch is one thing that brings us all together. I admire him for his ingenuity and creativity. Thanks for and interesting and informative article.

    • Mike Robbers profile image
      Author

      Mike Robbers 4 years ago from London

      'Couch threads'... i liked this christy :)

      @ suzettenaples

      These are the questions!

      What makes life livable for you?

      What makes life unliveable for you?

      What is your definition of happiness?

      What is your definition of unhappiness?

      What was the most interesting thing that ever happened to you?

      What was the worst thing that ever happened to you?

      What was the worst thing that you ever did?

      What is your biggest fear?

      What do you wish for most?

      What or who would you most like to be?

      What is your definition of work?

      What does love mean to you? (Friends, family, same sex, opposite sex)

      What kind of importance do you attach to other living beings?

      What or who do you believe created the universe?

      What is your expectation after death?

    • midget38 profile image

      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      A metaphor for creativity and universality. That's what the red couch is.

      Thanks for sharing this lovely piece of artistic imagery!

    • Ryem profile image

      Ryem 4 years ago from Maryland

      This was a very interesting hub to read. Voted up.

    • Jools99 profile image

      Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK

      What an interesting concept - the lions look like they decimated it. The idea of us believing it to be a thing of comfort is a philosophical idea right? And then the change of context makes it something else altogether. I loved the photos, works of art in themselves.

    • profile image

      grrr 4 years ago

      Amazing!

    • suzettenaples profile image

      Suzette Walker suzettetaos 4 years ago from Taos, NM

      Thanks Mike - interesting!

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 4 years ago

      How fascinating a hub topic! I like the red couch idea and have heard of the book. Jobs certainly made a good point in his pose! Thanks for the history lesson.

    • Mike Robbers profile image
      Author

      Mike Robbers 4 years ago from London

      @midget 38

      Indeed, it is a beautiful metaphor from creativity.

      @ Ryem

      Thank you Ryem, glad you enjoyed the reading.

      @Jools99

      yes, i also think the artist wanted to tell a story by the photos themselves.

    • Mike Robbers profile image
      Author

      Mike Robbers 4 years ago from London

      @ grr, suzettenaples

      Thank you for your interest on my hub.

      @teaches12345

      I also think Jobs made a point; he looks really confident as well, no wonder he managed all these...

    • Vinaya Ghimire profile image

      Vinaya Ghimire 4 years ago from Nepal

      Mike,

      I had never heard of Horst Wackerbarth. Thanks for sharing artist's bio and featuring his works.

    • Mike Robbers profile image
      Author

      Mike Robbers 4 years ago from London

      @ Vinaya

      I'm glad you it caught your attention. I surely think that this art project is worth it...

    • ishwaryaa22 profile image

      Ishwaryaa Dhandapani 4 years ago from Chennai, India

      An engaging hub! I have not heard of this unique concept or this photographer before till now thanks to you! Well-done!

      Thanks for SHARING. Useful & Interesting. Voted up

    • Mike Robbers profile image
      Author

      Mike Robbers 4 years ago from London

      I'm glad you liked it ishwaryaa22! It is a very imaginatice and quite unique art project I think.

    • AudreyHowitt profile image

      Audrey Howitt 4 years ago from California

      What a wonderful article! What a wonderful idea! Thank you!! I think you made my day!

    • Sunshine625 profile image

      Linda Bilyeu 4 years ago from Orlando, FL

      Hi Mike, I'll never look at a couch the same way again. Especially a red one! Intertesting concept and awesome hub!

    • CrisSp profile image

      CrisSp 4 years ago from Sky Is The Limit Adventure

      Wow! This is a very interesting read! I've heard of the red couch and of Horst Wackerbarth but didn't really know much about it until now.

      The video is awesome. Reminds me of my trip to the African Lion Safari where I've experienced seeing these beautiful creatures face-to-face and they were running wild and free...I was in the glass cage, in case you were wondering. Lol! In a big coach bus and the animals were roaming free.

      Voted up and interesting. I enjoyed this read and will be sharing the creativity and the knowledge. Thanks.

    • Mike Robbers profile image
      Author

      Mike Robbers 4 years ago from London

      @Audrey

      Thanks a lot, i was fascinated as well when i first read about the subject :)

      @Sunhsine

      Thanks and good luck for tonight :) (Elections Day!) In a few hours we will know...

    • Mike Robbers profile image
      Author

      Mike Robbers 4 years ago from London

      @ChrisSp

      Hey chris, you know you made me jealous with your lions experience!! It sounds like a lifetime experience... Having so close the King of the jungle on his natural habitat... wow..

      Thanks fro sharing and I'm glad you found it interesting and all!

      Have a nice day :)

    • Cathy Fidelibus profile image

      Ms. Immortal 4 years ago from NJ

      Fascinating idea to ask the same simple, yet provocative questions to people of different social, political and religious views from all over the world; the couch being the one thing they all had in common.

    • Mike Robbers profile image
      Author

      Mike Robbers 4 years ago from London

      Quite interesting yes, I do find his idea simple but to the point! Thanks for your comment Cathy..

    • Shinkicker profile image

      Shinkicker 3 years ago from Scotland

      I love this Mike, it appeals to my surreal tastes. Such a simple idea but hugely effective in imagery and meaning.

      Thanks for writing this interesting Hub.

      Voted up and shared on Facebook

    • Mike Robbers profile image
      Author

      Mike Robbers 3 years ago from London

      @Shinkicker: So glad you enjoyed it! :) I thank you for your appreciation and also for the vote and for sharing!

    • colorfulone profile image

      Susie Lehto 3 years ago from Minnesota

      One of the most enjoyable posts I have had the pleasure of.

    • Mike Robbers profile image
      Author

      Mike Robbers 3 years ago from London

      @colorfulone

      Glad you liked my hub and thanks for stopping by and commenting!

    • Faith Reaper profile image

      Faith Reaper 3 years ago from southern USA

      Fascinating Mike! I have never heard of the red couch project. Thank you for writing about Horst Wackerbarth and sharing all about his work. Awesome video.

      Up and more and sharing

      Blessings, Faith Reaper

    • Mike Robbers profile image
      Author

      Mike Robbers 3 years ago from London

      Thank you so much Faith for your beautiful and kind words, so happy that you liked it!!

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