With the series »Vienna Art Spaces«, PW-Magazine offers insights into the dynamic landscape of contemporary art spaces in Vienna.
How would you define WAF Galerie? How do you find artists to work with and who is your audience?
Philipp Pess: I think WAF is neither a gallery nor an independent space in the traditional sense. Aside from the exhibitions, we plan other projects. A secret bar, for example!
Lisa Jäger: I would define WAF as a space for all sort of alien. We meet other people and learn from each other.
PP: Most of the time, we have an ongoing conversation with an artist, which eventually turns into a show. It happens quite naturally. And we certainly don’t want to show only the big names or the artists who are represented by galleries in Vienna.
LJ: This space has existed since the 1990s, so it has a long tradition. But we try to show the younger generation of artists – whether they are still studying, have recently graduated, or haven’t studied art at all. Also, we want WAF to be a space for all forms of definition of life. Starting with gender: we take care to equally present female and male artists and to display a queer-feminist mindset. I would like to add that all this is made possible with the support of the Federal Chancellery of the Republic of Austria (BKA) and the Cultural Department of the City of Vienna (MA 7).
Before WAF, the space at Schadekgasse 6-8 was known as Galerie Kunstbuero. Has there been a paradigm shift besides the change of name?
PP: We were invited by Amer Abbas to curate exhibitions here, which we started in September 2019 – at that time, the space was still called Galerie Kunstbuero. Because the name had been changed, the space could be perceived as something new. We’ve had various projects running in the space under different titles: WAF, AETHER, »KICK ON« shows. I think it is good to confuse everyone.
LJ: I think we need five more different names!
What is the concept of AETHER – and how does it differ from the other shows you organize at WAF?
LJ: AETHER’s program is more international. We wanted to create a discourse that goes beyond Vienna by mixing up international and Vienna-based artists working on similar topics. Our initial idea was to use this space, among other things, as a kind of artist residency.
PP: We plan to curate six AETHER shows, which will all be linked together like episodes of a series. It’s like growing mushrooms: first you have the seeds and the soil. And suddenly there’s a mushroom soup. So you have a narrative that outlines every exhibition, independently of the artists. But, of course, we invite artists to relate their works to these general conditions.
As an artist-run gallery, does WAF want to democratize the local art scene by creating an artist-for-and-by space?
PP: Yes. The art scene in Vienna is relatively small – you see the same faces everywhere – and it was important for us to try to break out of this bubble.
LJ: But obviously it is not a fully democratic space. In the end, we choose the works that make it into exhibitions. Maybe one way to make it more democratic was an open call we posted during the COVID-19 lockdown. I thought that an open call would be helpful for us to see new faces. We have received many contributions and looked through many portfolios that we wouldn’t have stumbled upon otherwise – there is a potential for future collaborations.
What do you think is the role of the University of Applied Arts and the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna in shaping today’s local art scene?
LJ: I have the feeling that it is hard to keep the students in school. It’s virtually empty: people use it to work in the studios, but it’s not a space for displaying one’s works. The scene of independent art spaces in Vienna is quite strong. Personally, I don’t feel that I have arrived at an art school, I’ve never felt like a real student. I came to Vienna and was immediately thrown into this scene and the practice of putting on own shows.
The open call you have mentioned for a so-called »window show« resulted in raúl i. lima pasting a cardboard »brick« wall onto WAF’s windows. There is a certain irony in creating a window display that obscures instead of showcasing. What is your take on humor as a tool of curation?
PP: In my own work I use humor to guide the viewer through the worlds I have built. It’s not easy to make something funny. It’s very important to be able to make jokes and not take yourself so seriously.
LJ: It was important for me that there was something analogue happening. I always prefer to go somewhere and see art myself rather than browse through online shows. Of course, we are also digital: we have a website. But I think the connection to real life has to remain.
We had to postpone an exhibition of Martine Heuser’s work, and she and I had an ongoing virtual conversation on Skype and FaceTime. Then she wrote a letter with her thoughts on the current situation, on the exhibition that would have happened if it wasn’t for the COVID-19 pandemic, and on her artwork – and we made an edition out of the letter and the virtual conversations and sent them as letters in envelopes. It was important that they were real letters, not emails. You even had to lick the envelopes to seal them, and I wondered whether that was even allowed nowadays.
Is there a direction you would like to take WAF in the future?
LJ: We want to go underground. And we will start an artists’ kitchen where we can have dinners together with the visitors. I like the idea of being able to talk about the works rather than chatting superficially over a glass of wine, as is usual at social events. I like social events, but I would also like to go further, to have a real dialogue where people talk about real things.
PP: We also plan to organize workshops. For example, slime workshop or Edible Growth workshops (Edible Growth is a project developed by food designer Chloé Rutzerveld in 2014 that explores the use of additive manufacturing technologies to create an edible ecosystem) – you plant the seeds, which are actually edible supplements – and you can also make small, pretty artworks out of them. So a lot is about eating and drinking.
LJ: But it is also a way to get closer to the artwork.