The week-long collaborative exhibition format Haus, which took place from September 21 to 27, 2020 in Vienna in a former residential building and car repair shop facing demolition, shows us what can be learned by living in a state of impermanence rather than in one of finality. A review by Inga Charlotte Thiele with photos by Marie Haefner.
It’s the end of September, the smell of autumn is already tickling our nostrils, and I’m on the U3 heading towards Vienna’s 11th district. I’m amazed that this year is already coming to an end; a year in which so much and so little has happened at the same time. My destination is the first edition of Haus, a new, non-commercial, communally organized exhibition format, hosted by Marie-Claire Gagnon, Fanny Hauser, Bruno Mokross, Julius Pristauz, Johanna Thorell and Edin Zenun, who all have roots in the independent art scene in Vienna. From September 21 to 27, 2020, the exhibition(s) found a temporary home in an abandoned house facing demolition. Artist-run exhibition spaces as well as solo presentations, collaborative exhibition formats and performative works were selected by an independent jury, with the Haus team also having one single vote as a group.
Not immediately recognizable from the outside, the building is located relatively inconspicuously at the railroad tracks, about 3 minutes by foot from the final stop, Simmering. Periphery, traffic, labor and industry, Vienna Central Cemetery. I stumble through the gate, my legs are shaky and my head foggy from too many glasses of wine I had the night before, the inside of my mask is smeared with lipstick. I am given a Monopoly house figurine made of wood, which marks my visitor number and which, to my regret, I have to return when leaving the property. In the courtyard, I encounter a group of loosely scattered, slightly disoriented people, standing around alone or in small groups, their gestures and postures not quite legible, a bit clumsy and somehow mentally absent. Maybe it’s just me, but something feels trippy, like the scattered disorder when leaving a night club at dawn. I recall an article I read recently that said how we are all socially awkward now (if we weren’t already). Keeping a distance, wearing a mask, disinfecting hands, not being able to recognize facial expressions. One nods hysterically, the other is secretly glad not to have to laugh artificially about the bad joke the other person made.
We start roaming the many winding and equally creepy-charming rooms of the property, which turns out to be more spacious than we expected. From the garden, we can watch Miriam Stoney sitting at her desk writing (the text made visible for us by a projection of the laptop screen on the wall) and dancing around the room on her own. Her live-written text performance »SILKY SOFT BIOMETRICS / what’s a brown girl got to do?« (2020) deals with procedures of digital ethics and data protection. After watching Miriam for some time, it becomes clear that she observes us viewers just as we observe her: by describing small gestures or the clothing of people standing in front of the window, the relationship between spectator and performer is confused. By emphasizing the processes and failures of artificial intelligence, i.e. errors in facial recognition, she dismantles the myth around emotional artificial intelligence as a purely computational technique (and therefore free of human input). We then watch her dance to the Beatles song »Happiness Is A Warm Gun«, a song that Pipilotti Rist had previously appropriated for her distorted dance video »I’m Not The Girl Who Misses Much« from 1986.
With September being the busiest month in Vienna’s art calendar (especially after the Corona-spring, which gave a whole new meaning to what the Zoomers call cancel culture), curated by marks the kick-off into a new art season, followed by the viennacontemporary and Parallel art fairs, resulting in a constant overload and overstimulation. Except for my visit to Simmering, I have decided to joyfully seclude myself from all the rest, being thankful to Corona for having at least killed off my social addiction (aka FOMO). Though, one lesson to be learned from all this could be: do less, better. With the desire to contribute to the Viennese art world with a new communal format, Haus could’ve easily become a place for people to day drink and party, and yes, it does suck that this isn’t possible right now. On the other hand, shifting the focus away from the same old parties, dinners and bar nights might be helpful to look soberly at what we actually want to do (even if we become disoriented or lose hope from time to time): art. Taking place at around the same time as the two Viennese art fairs, Haus doesn’t actively go into opposition but rather raises questions about the two established, profit-oriented events: who are you addressing and supporting in the end, what is the role of art fairs and galleries in times of COVID-19, why are less and less local galleries taking part in viennacontemporary and why do most of our friends exhibiting at the Parallel art fair look so desperate?
»Every revolutionary process begins as a place of refuge, an escapist fantasy, a beautiful image. And ends with the comforting realization that there is purpose in pleasure after all,« reads Albin Bergström’s companion text to his hay-chandeliers (»Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Baroque«, 2020) located in the basement. The large-sized sculptures speak of rather outdated upper class excesses. Mimicking objects that are supposed to light the room in splendid fashion, they stand in front of me right now, upside down, smelling of farmer’s market and horse stable. It is a humorous gesture that points out that individualistic moral constraints in response to hedonistic pleasures are not the solution to eradicate social and economic differences. There still lies a revolutionary potential in pleasure, after all, since it is often so closely tied to destruction. Surrounded by Laurids Oder’s series of event photos from the newnoize.net archive titled »So Free, It Knows No End« (2020), displayed in handmade wood and glass frames, the subcultures of the Austrian music scene from punk to the early 2000s meet with abandoned symbols of bourgeois chic in this damp and dark atmosphere, awakening gloomy desires accompanied by a touch of self-irony.
»You don’t look like someone broke up with you yesterday,« someone tells me in the Biergarten of Rüdigerhof later that evening over drinks. I laugh it off. This time, there’s no mask to hide my weary mouth.
Back at Haus, another day, the sun is shining again and I’m high on caffeine, ready for another exploration. Through the window of the former kitchen in one of the building’s in the back, I can see a life-sized photograph of the former owner Peter by Jacqueline Neubauer. Initiated by spouse, a curatorial project run by curator and writer Alexandra-Maria Toth, the room examines how a »house provides context for discussing the connections and disconnections of family, community, politics, work and human being.« The text on the window sill speaks of the trauma of having to leave behind a home that contains, amongst other things, Peter’s family history that spans across four generations. »My grandmother hid my mother and nineteen other women in this cellar from the Russian allies in the post-war period,« the text reads and thus places us visitors in the historical and personal interrelations of this house.
A home can be a body, the stomach, a location, someone else’s arms. It is a temporary, transitory and fragile space, one that can be oppressive, violent, exclusionary or protective.
In this moment of passage, on the verge of transitioning from present to past, the works take up – at times more directly, at others rather fleetingly – some of the former functions of the various rooms, blending in with their surroundings: the kitschy, peeling wallpaper, the meat hooks in the slaughter room, the varnished, rustic white and brown kitchen furniture. Rather than forcing a strict curatorial framework onto the entirety of the project, the different layers that are part of this house and its location are rather accessed by the various works and approaches themselves. For example, the textile works titled »RAD / Materials« by Hana Miletić, curated by Tom Engels, refer to Vienna’s geological situatedness, being deemed the »gate to the East,« as well as to the textile industry’s working and production conditions in Croatia since the 1990s – thus building a bridge between Simmering and Croatia by focusing on the local, predominantly working-class community.
Haus comes along with an institutional aspiration, but its lack of curatorial guidelines allows the different rooms to breathe. Narratives are spun rather freely, and I enjoy strolling around alone, taking time to read the thoughtful individual texts that accompany each constellation of works. Bruno offers me a popsicle from the fridge that digestivo and artist Pedro Herrero Ferràn produced in the kitchen. I feel like a girl with bruised knees standing on fragile ground – but I’m in good company, in a place full of hospitality: »The gourmand feels at home in the stomach,« I read in the text written for Pedro’s installation of sculptural works, that are integrated into the counter and cabinets like failed kitchen experiments: »Hands moving fast, the Gourmand indulges his pleasure in the glossiness of soap, melted gum, chewed plastic.«
When it starts raining the next day, Haus remains closed because the COVID protective measures might not be met. I like the thought of an exhibition that is only visible if the weather conditions allow for it. Let’s chill after the next thunderstorm, time isn’t real.
I type October into the search function of poetryfoundation.org, a ritual for the transition period between two seasons that I have established over the past few years. On page four, Marianne Boruch’s poem »Keats Is Coughing« (obviously) catches my attention. I read:
how can you
be in two places at once
when you’re not anywhere at all!