curated by_vienna 2017
curated by_vienna 2017
by Max L. Feldman
Since 2009, the curated by_vienna festival has supported collaborations between Vienna galleries and international curators and, despite organiser Vienna Business Agency’s aim of strengthening Vienna’s business prestige, it works like a “gallery crawl” with visitors roaming the city drunk on art, ideas and complimentary wine. 2017’s curators at twenty-one participating galleries approach the theme of “language in contemporary art” under the title “image/reads/text”, considering the relation between speech, writing and images in the digital age.
Art historian Sabeth Buchmann’s introductory text traces contemporary art’s various “turns” (linguistic, pictorial, the flurry of new materialisms), rightly criticising the schism between image, object and materiality on the one hand, and language, text and sign on the other. In short: computers have transformed our lives, challenging what counts as “technical” or “human”, demanding our response to the permeability of natural and artificial materials, living speech and motionless written signs, and digitalisation’s new threats and artistic possibilities.
"In short: computers have transformed our lives, demanding our response to the permeability of natural and artificial materials..."
The curators provide diverse persectives on the theme. Hans-Jürgen Hafner & Gunter Reski at Krobath, like Adrian Notz at Knoll Galerie, place the reading demands on the viewer, covering every speck of wall space in textual images: Krobath’s in eclectic, materially diverse pieces by some 40 artists, looking like an online image catalogue; Knoll’s in Carlos Amorales’s twenty-piece work Learn to Fuck Yourself (2017), vulgar medieval tapestry-style drawings complementing the decadent collage fantasies of Russian collective AES+F jamming fantastic creatures next to sensual fleshy digital collages.
At Galerie Crone, Paul Feigelfeld’s show emphasises the relation between technology and text, images and the cold mechanical techniques that produced them, juxtaposing memories of an earlier, more tactile phase of mechanised work in Joseph Beuys’s Nur noch 2190 Tage bis zum Ende des Kapitalismus (Denkmaschine) (1981) – a glass box containing a wooden drawer and a pile of punch type office paper covered in incomprehensible code – with Ignácio Uriate’s Period 1(-8) (2014), a photographic study of the periodicity and difference of typewriter typographies, delicate mounds of punched paper that look like medical studies of cracked pills, burn holes, or blemished skin.
"vulgar medieval tapestry-style drawings complementing the decadent collage fantasies of Russian collective AES+F"
Uriate continues the methods of Hanne Darboven, whose strangely beautiful O.T. (Skizze zu: 1. Plan Drehung 1+2+3+4+) (c.1968) frames a piece of checked paper covered in five neatly proportioned columns of mechanically repeated words or numbers ("drei", "fünf", "sieben", "neun", "elf") in elegant cursive, as if automation were some secret lovers’ code. Similarly, Uri Aran’s curious drawings at Christine König are surrounded by carefully arranged rusted bronze cooking ornaments that look like they were recently recovered from an archaeological dig.
Elsewhere, permeability takes on a spatial dimension. The entrance to Meyer Kainer’s main gallery space, filled with Philippe Parreno’s fish-shaped-balloon installation, requires passing through Ahmet Ögüt’s timely The Swinging Doors, Turkey Edition (2009): two transparent polycarbonate riot shields on hinges attached to opposite sides of a narrow wall passage, turning what looks like wild-west swinging saloon doors into an exercise in passing police checkpoints, guilty absorbing art’s unjustifiable extravagance in the face of real police brutality.
At Gabriele Senn, permeability comes from Michael Riedel’s adaptation of Joseph Kosuth’s meta-textual conceit One and Three Chairs. Uniting Riedel’s previous versions in Moscow, Bern, and London, he turns it into a globally shifting set of signifiers (chairs, dictionary definitions, framed statements about the work), complicating the reading process. At Galerie Nathalie Halgand, Ethan Hayes-Chute gives us a cosier version of permeability: his assemblages of forgotten found objects – battered books, magazine clippings and ephemera, piled together in wooden structures – are like secret hideaways for memories, personal treasures or time capsules from the lost analogue world.
"it sounds like the ritualised chants of a witches’ coven using a “post-poetic” vocabulary"
The most impressive thing at this year’s festival comes from enigmatic German collective Studio for Propositional Cinema’s contributions at Croy Nielsen. Curator Laura McLean-Ferris’s exhibition “The Forecast” responds to the injuries sustained by language itself in the “post-truth” era, comparing the public sphere to the climate, shaped by language and the weather respectively. Studio for Propositional Cinema make experimental poetry from the formal language and graphic design of bureaucracy, charging what look like bleak prescription, health insurance, or residency forms with a new edifying force. When performed as a script, read aloud by three women standing in different corners of the gallery’s main room and illuminated by the light of other works as Vienna’s Ringstrasse darkens, it sounds like the ritualised chants of a witches’ coven using a “post-poetic” vocabulary. The engaging, conceptually flexible script makes this particular performance’s link to the current politically regressive trend of esotericism and occultism – suggesting ennui, not liberation – ultimately forgivable.
Deconstruction has long been contemporary art’s officially sanctioned reading technique, in galleries and art schools alike. If this is at first makes the theme of language seem unambitious, since we already know the long history of privileging speech over writing, the red dawn of automation makes reconsidering the relations between speech, image and writing utterly imperative. These exhibitions are worthwhile contributions to that incipient and ongoing debate.
15.9. – 14.10.2017
MAX L. FELDMAN is a writer based in Vienna.