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Photo by Jennifer Gelardo, Flavio Palasciano, Laura Wagner
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Abdul Sharif Baruwa, Eco Adventure Park. Photo by Jennifer Gelardo, Flavio Palasciano, Laura Wagner
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Laura Wagner, Diamond Dreams. Photo by Jennifer Gelardo, Flavio Palasciano, Laura Wagner
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Brishty Alam, Ebi Ichaaa! Uni Ichaaa! Toro Ichaaa!, 2019. Photo by Jennifer Gelardo, Flavio Palasciano, Laura Wagner

Stafett on Borrowing Styles and Site Specificity

September 12, 2019
Text by Pia-Marie Remmers
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Photo by Jennifer Gelardo, Flavio Palasciano, Laura Wagner

Stafett, that is Minda Andrén, Alexander Jackson Wyatt, Flavio Palasciano and Jennifer Gelardo. Last Sunday they invited a couple of artists to present their works in a company park in Vienna’s 2nd district. We asked them who they are, what they did where and why.

First off, can you quickly introduce Stafett and your collaborative curatorial project Mirage.

Stafett is the Swedish word for relay race. We came up with it at the time of the first exhibition we put up together, 2016 at Mes Meufs project space in Museumsquartier. It felt suiting to capture our modus of interaction and production. From the start we were interested in “borrowing” each others techniques and styles and really let each other influence one another. In a way this is reminiscent of a baton being passed from one runner to the other. We are walking a thin line of letting go of the concept of identification in one’s artistic expression while at the same time finding ourselves. This is why we are reluctant to call this effort that of a collective, but working group doesn’t sound quite right either.

Mirage came up as a rather spontaneous thing. The first event evolved around scheming a small art walk in the 4th district of Vienna. At the time we were often in that district because some of us were living there and wanted to challenge it’s prerogative of being a quite neighbourhood. At first we approached acquaintances that lived in the area and asked if they were willing to open up their spaces to a public in order to activate the area. It all snowballed to including 40 artists in 15 locations and being partially funded by the city. You could say that we facilitated the means for people to get to know each other.

This evolved to the second mirage, in the following year, where we invited 13 artists to each do something with inflatable boats. Our initial goal of inserting the event into the Freizeiwelt of the Alte Donau got us stuck with some problems with permits and government offices which led us to change the location to the Donau Insel. This circumstance gave us the chance to stronger reflect on the public space and what the agency of an individual might be.

The focus of mirage is to implement art works into spaces that have both public and private characteristics and to broach the issues that come with that. So far this is sort of happening is planned in advance but pops up only through the course of one day a year. That way mirage is a transient curatorial project for Stafett, were its really about creating a charged situation.

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Abdul Sharif Baruwa, Eco Adventure Park. Photo by Jennifer Gelardo, Flavio Palasciano, Laura Wagner

Gallery Georg Kargl invited you to do an exhibition at their space Permanent. You used this opportunity to actually occupy the space and you planned to use it as a studio over the summer. How did this turn out?

Gallery Kargl has been inviting different off-spaces throughout the year to inhabit the space Permanent, as a way of taking an active role in getting to know the myriad of initiatives in Vienna. As the term already implies, the setting is quite the opposite of what our efforts usually go into. We are not an off-space so we wanted to take a different approach to the invitation. We were happy about the attention that the endorsement of the gallery promised, since our curatorial practice had been mostly under the radar, but we were offered to use the space at Schleifmühlgasse over the summer break, which is not a very lucrative time to be active in the city’s art scene.

Before this, the only time we had a common working space together as a group was when we were able to rent an extra studio to prepare the second iteration of mirage in 2017, and now it made sense to use the entire summer slot to prepare an event for the beginning of the season, in September, again. We had been talking about doing a third mirage for some time before this but it never really clicked with either finding a location or having time between our individual practices and work.

Our first intention was to function within an office-setting and it felt a bit like setting up agent moulders UFO research office. Unlike before, we decided to not have any individual works of ours in mirage. We wouldn’t need a studio space, we thought, rather an office where we could focus on programming. Since we would inhabit Permanent for over two months it felt good to create the possibility for things to change and evolve over time. Going from where you first move in and only have an empty desk to when you cramp the desk way too much, making a failed modification and then deciding to get rid of it completely and just do all of your work from a bean bag in a corner, planning the next office party while watching youtube videos. This way the space turned out to be more of a showroom than actually being used as Stafett’s office. The moment were we really enjoy the exchange lies in the installation practice and the spacial arrangement of things. It is our form of communication. This way the space became somewhat of a exquisite corpse sketch of what an office and a storefront can look like.

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Laura Wagner, Diamond Dreams. Photo by Jennifer Gelardo, Flavio Palasciano, Laura Wagner

For Mirage 3 you decided to present the works of 15 artists in a public space. Where do you see the link between these artists and Stafett? How does this inform the framework of the exhibition?

It’s been a very slow brew to plan this event, and a lot of the artists are people that we have been wanting to work with for some time but hadn’t found the right circumstances until now. Since the beginning of the year we exchanged ideas, to find out our current common interests for spaces and topics. When we started seeing the reoccurring subject of our talks revolving around the corporate urban space, a blurry area were privat and public come together in an uncanny way, we started scouting for locations.

Our curatorial practice is more about providing the artists with a framework that they in turn can react to freely. Of course we have reasons for deciding on who to invite but it is always necessary to leave things open as to how things will actually turn out. It’s a fairly loose format from our end but where things really come together is through our conversations with the artists, possible owners of a site, the discussions with the locals and the very practical hurdles like transport, a quick build up and the weather. You see, the Viertel Zwei, the district that we ended up using as this year’s exhibition space, is in fact not a public space, as one one might assume. It is a privately owned businesses campus that utilises contemporary desires of lifestyle. We used this highly coded and controlled urban plot as a backdrop for the happening.

To give you an idea of how the things may come together in such an event, look at the contrast of the painted wine and cocktail glasses from Charlotte Gash, with very personal thoughts written on them directed towards the individual. In turn Sharif Abdul Baruwa invested himself into developing an installation which includes political and demonstrative slogans directed towards Unilever, who has their office in the area. Others were more interested to find a way to form their existing work into that environment, such as Effe Minelli who, during our field trip to Italy this summer, handed over one of his tiger paws to us (yes, the office team went on a trip to Italy this summer). More than the artists having a specific link, they compliment each other in showing different ways and thoughts about being a person in a corporate world. In a strong reaction to this Mitchel Cumming offered to buy us a round of drinks, since he knew we always invite the guests and participants to a bar after a mirage. We were asked to quote Andrea Frazer’s “If we are always already serving…”.

With the investment to set up a mirage we try to breach the sense of a territorial reality but we try to not impose too much on the artists and let them react to the frame we provide in their own way. We don’t think of ourselves as curators. Mirage, in that way, can be understood as a setting for a relay race enfolding between all participants of this one day show.

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Brishty Alam, Ebi Ichaaa! Uni Ichaaa! Toro Ichaaa!, 2019. Photo by Jennifer Gelardo, Flavio Palasciano, Laura Wagner

The place that you decided to use for the exhibition is not only interesting under its present condition, particularly as a place for urban living within late capitalism, but its history of its different uses is also complex. Could you tell us something about the different developments of that specific terrain?

Each of us has their own take when it comes to places such as Viertel Zwei, and we found different interests in working there. It’s a very curious format of urban development, that they are now pushing all over Vienna, like the Erste Campus at Hauptbahnhof or behind Praterstern, but certainly is present on a worldwide scale and is formatted always in a very standardised way. In this case the complex was built on parts of the grounds of the 1873 World Fair, which extended through a good part of the Prater and counted a number of buildings built for the occasion or built shortly after as a consequence of the event of the fair. Most of it burned down in 1937 and a lot of that ground is managed by the city and real estate companies today. There are a lot of expenses for the city to keep these grounds public, and a lot of interests for companies to develop on it, which is how “urban concepts” are born.

The grounds of Viertel Zwei look like a pleasant public square but it is managed privately entirely; its structure relates to the idea of a neighbourhood, with living areas, cafes and restaurants, shops, a fitness center, and a hotel, which bridges to the other aspect of the area being a corporate park, where a number of multinationals have offices. Once you are aware of that it really changes the way you act in the space, and thats where we were interested in developing this project.

»Mirage 3« with works by Brishty Alam, Connie Anthes, Abdul Sharif Baruwa, Mitchel Cumming, INGRID, Charlotte Gash, Jojo Gronostay, Laura Hatting, Alexandra Karpilovski, Johanna Kotlaris, Effe Minelli, Wendell Seitz, Daniel Stubenvoll, Saskia Te Nicklin, and Laura Wagner took place on September 1, 2019 at Stella-Klein-Löw-Weg 8, 1020 Vienna.

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PW-Magazine is a bilingual online magazine for contemporary culture.