With the series »Vienna Art Spaces«, PW-Magazine offers insights into the dynamic landscape of contemporary art spaces in Vienna.
The co-founders of Significant Other, Laura Amann – curator, architect, and as of late part of the WHW (What, How & for Whom) curatorial team at the Kunsthalle Wien – and the curator and critic Jen Kratochvil discuss the alliance of art and architecture, accessibility, and the steps from the exhibition space into the public space.
Significant Other (SO) positions itself as a discursive platform. What characterizes a discursive space and how does the discursivity become visible in your work?
When we started to discuss what SO could be, it was quickly clear that we wanted to operate at a faster pace than larger institutions, reacting to challenges and urgencies at hand, at the same time slower than usual independent spaces, meaning less improvised and with a certain dramaturgy – with all advantages and disadvantages this might entail. The discursive aspects, we think, happen at different levels, paces and in different shapes – the main one being the actual collaboration with the artists, but also other institutions, which usually entails a processual exchange over a longer period and a site-specific new commission. Another important discursive aspect for us has been the approach to see what we can get out of architectural thinking and theory within the contemporary art context and vice versa and lastly we’ve tried to sneak in smaller curatorial experiments, mainly conducted through our writing – all in all things that we feel are only possible at this specific scale and situation. So there is a certain structural discursivity but of course also one within the content – if you look at the artists we’ve worked with, they usually have heavily research-based practices and their shows at SO allowed them to open up or continue another chapter in their critical thinking - be it Wendelien van Oldenborgh de- and reconstructing a cinematic machine, Haris Epaminonda creating a conceptual link to her Secession show which happened at the same time or Celine Condorelli using her show literally as a testing ground and maquette for an upcoming large scale commission in public space – while at the same time all these shows followed a red thread defined by moments where art and architecture meet.
SO mediates between visual arts and public space – what possibilities can such a juxtaposition open up? What is the idea behind the SOSO initiative?
Already the name of the space itself foreshadows various forms of close relationships, both figuratively and literally, be it the relation between contemporary art and public space as you mentioned, between art and architecture, between the respective scenes of Vienna and Prague, between the invited artists and us and most importantly the context and audience. The attempt to mediate between visual arts and public space comes from a place to see where the potentials of the unholy marriage of art and architecture are, possible answers being: the conceptual potential of site-specificity, the power of a certain immediacy, ideas of accessibility and low threshold and a completely different public as well as discussion around it. Our presence in public space usually starts with little things. For instance by making all the shows for the most part accessible just by mere looking through the window – reacting to the impossibility for instance to have actual opening hours but also catering to other audiences that would not go into a gallery but are nonetheless curious, by activating the parking spot with a so-called »parklet« which neighbors and passers-by have been using during summer as a place for leisure while reconquering space within the city usually reserved for cars – regardless of whether one is interested in art. Our most wholesome step into public space was a festival m3 / Art in Space that we were invited to curate in Prague during the summer of 2018 where we tried to explore the very question of what public space could mean for a city overrun by tourism and temporary inhabitants through a series of new site-specific works of a group of international artists.
SOSO (Significant Other’s Significant Others) in this sense is mostly meant as an extension of our approach to test ways of collaborating. After mediating cooperations between artists of different contexts and collaborations with large institutions we felt we had already established a certain profile and wanted to be more generous in offering our space and infrastructure to other initiatives, project spaces or projects we highly appreciate that either do not have a space of their own or would otherwise probably not be accessible to a Viennese audience but are still even if more vaguely connected to our core interests as was for example the case with »Haus der Matsubara« – which is an antique shop run by Soshiro Matsubara on Instagram and as part of SOSO materialized for the period of two weeks in Vienna, also launching a publication and hosting a solo show by Kazuna Taguchi.
Laura, apart from being a curator, you are also an architect. How does your architectural practice inform your curatorial decisions?
For me the roles of curator and architect are in many ways very close to each other: you act as a connecting node between a multitude of others – a midwife if you will – taking care of conceptual issues, production, implementation, funding, communication, execution and mediation. Also questions of space are so central within contemporary art – in a very literal and humane scale within the exhibition space – something I greatly admire in artists is their sensitive and poetic attitude towards space – and also on a larger and political scale as a societal concern entangled with all other discourses no matter if you are dealing with monuments in public space during national socialism, or the first Bauhaus trained woman architect, nation-building through architectural styles or the treatment of cultural legacy in war-torn contexts. And on a more conceptual level I always find there is a lot of freshness and surprise to be found at the fringes of disciplines or in processes of transplanting, exporting or misusing strategies or ideas from one milieu in another.
SO operates in cycles, within which the projects have a specific focus. Why did you choose such a format?
This decision for sure relates to a dual understanding of our programming that wants to be open enough to be able to react and accommodate projects as we see fit without a predefined duration, yet still committed to the idea of conceptual interconnectedness as a framework: this way a relatively organic pace has evolved. Meaning that all the shows presented so far related to either those preceding or following them. The first cycle focused on the idea to reconstruct a bridge between Austrian and Czech art scenes, then followed by a cycle called Politics of Space, exploring the potential of architecture functioning as a discursive space – this cycle actually is still ongoing as we always felt there were still artists or projects that could enrich and enhance the cycle and it had simply not yet exhausted itself. Nonetheless, we think there is already an itch to think about what could come next or after.
What are your outlooks for SO?
This is actually a question that we have vowed to answer in the course of this year. Especially because our professional lives have changed considerably lately. Laura’s new engagement at Kunsthalle Wien as part of WHW’s curatorial team and Jen’s ties to the Film Academy in Prague and Kunsthalle Rudolfinum are forcing us to rethink how it would best make sense to keep Significant Other going. Apart from these more personal reasons, it will be crucial to position ourselves, especially in a post-corona world which hopefully will shift modes of operations and urgencies. That said, we are both highly motivated to keep SO active – but we see several viable scenarios. We never wanted to fall into the trap of senselessly producing one exhibition after the other, so this may be a good point to either experiment with the format of output, to focus more on SO as a platform and give up on its physical component for a while, or share it with others as is intended through SOSO.
There is a recent history of total failure of action after several crises of the last decade, be it the financial crash in 2008 or even 9/11. After both »world-changing« events the reactions seemed to focus rather on keeping the status quo of a system that has time and again shown how fragile it is – that the promise of self-regulation capitalism stood for always failed – and that those who are being bailed out are the same that make their fortunes on the back and exploitation of others. This crisis is so close to all of us - that it seems impossible to already formulate a sensible critique or course of action – but it is clear that the question regarding the outlooks of a meaningful continuation of SO has certainly gained a very different dimension.