Annexation

Thursday, 27 November 2014, Federico Baronello with Christoph Meier and Ute Müller.

FBFederico Baronello When there is a crisis everybody tend to recover to the family structure in order to help each other. This explains why, to start up the initiative of Mini Things with this event number zero, we turned to interlocutors who are very familiar to us since they are represented – as, indeed, myself – by the collicaligreggi gallery. They are two artists from the Viennese scene, Ute Mueller and Chris Meier. Actually, the concept of Mini Things started from a discussion that began among some members of the gallery, essentially Gianluca, Chris and me. Conversation started from considerations on a critical essay published on the catalogue made for Chris exhibition at the Vienna Secession.

The title itself Social Forms – Sculpture in the Post-Fordist Era, referred to an entire generation of artists and intellectuals as highly representative of the economic and social model that has set up after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Neoliberalism. According to the author of the essay, Chris Bruckner, this generation is resembling a kind of dark version of the Richard Florida’s celebrative theories on innovation. Having to deal with progressive dismissal of social welfare, together with the financial credit reduction, this generation is strongly committed to the redefinition and structuration of new forms of social relationship. This essay, which I had found so interesting, was instead perceived quite negatively by my two interlocutors; for obvious reasons, as the contingent persistence of the economic crisis in Europe does not help to be optimistic! At the end, Gianluca, beside being very passionate, is a dealer and, as such, he has to show the bold optimism of the successful merchant. On the other hand Chris felt that this kind of materialistic interpretation could affect and may give a too much b/w look at his work. Actually, as a photographer I fit very well in a b/w look at things and signs and that may be something that relate very much the photographic practice to the semantic of writing. And, at least, we had to recognize that the essay did a good focus on a common feature between the three parties, who were, although in different ways, extremely willing and committed to the networking practices. Furthermore, what was most important was that this common feature reflected also on the formal language of the work itself (and also of how to run an exhibition space!).

Keep in mind while referring to the networking we don’t mean that need to connote artistic “movements” and “scenes” as “styles”, which is a habit of the very past, made to emulate the practices of the historical avant-gardes, that somehow had proved to be very useful for give a label to some groups of artists in order to place them on the market. A ploy which, however, seems so desperately obsolete, today. Indeed, the networking “language” does connotes neither stylistic nor the content expressed by the network members; yet it is the filigree through which a common space among them may be revealed as the condensation of a traffic intensity. In the case of Ute and Chris is, of course, easy to find a common space related to a kind of Viennese scene, but their networking strategy reached a density also when relating to the city of Catania. And perhaps it’s just by chance when the network functions as a model not just about the making of artistic production but, also, for the most intimate part of personal lives, such this may be the case for our guests, Ute and Chris. But this is how the paradigm works, networking contemplates also randomness and that may be the most peculiar difference from the rigid patterns of design and programming of the Taylorist model.

 

CMChristoph Meier You’ve said so far a lot of things, with a few of them I agree, with a few of them I disagree. You all must have the impression that the essay on my Secession catalogue is a look into a deep hole and that it gives a very depressive feeling. Actually, having the opportunity to do an exhibition in such a public space I basically forward that opportunity to Christoph Bruckner, an author who also things of himself as a theorist who wants to fill an empty page in art history. I just wanted to forward this opportunity to him. The issue basically represents the opinion of a single person, and this of course doesn’t mean I have his same opinion. But what he definitely did say, and what I agree with, is when he compared my artwork on the contemporary production of art with social structures. I myself I am working a bit against the idea of directional structured artistic productions, the kind you could call it one line of production when you start with an idea than you produce the work then there’s the interpretation of it, etc.

I think that in Vienna the art scene, also because it’s geographically very remote, it became a very reflective art scene also with a lot of initiatives which came from tradition. It used to be very geographically remote as it has been placed in this corner of the iron curtain, and out of this remoteness there was this tradition, maybe from the seventies/eighties, to again get be involved in the European scene. Based on this fact you can find a lot of institutions in Vienna, among them the Secession that is maybe the oldest artist run space, not only in Europe but maybe in the world. And maybe a youngest version of it is this art-zine Black Pages, which has been produced by Ute, Nick Oberthaler and me since 2009. So you can say in Vienna it is a bit of a situation where you are one of those who keep talking and talking or rather someday you start and decide to help the scene and the whole place to grow out of its remote corner. So one day we did decide to start this project and also to give, to people from abroad, the chance to be introduced to the local scene.

 

UMUte Müller The project is called Black Pages, we have been doing it for five years and have so far invited fifty-six artists. From the design it always looks like this [Ute shows samples of the zine to the public], the name of the artist on the cover. There are sixteen pages and we invite artists to do whatever they want to do and thereby add to a bigger conversation. As Christoph said we wanted to do something as artists, beside of our own production in the studio and this is also about starting a network with other people, sharing interests, agreements or disagreements…

CMC.M. The Secession in the end is the same. It was founded by Gustav Klimt in the 1897, and this may ring a bell in your heads… Klimt, together his best buddies, went to the emperor and asked for a space where they could be finally separated from the Viennese Kunstlerhauses since they disagreed with the ongoing tendencies. The emperor, Kaiser Franz Joseph, was open enough to just let them take the place, build the house and never ask for rent. Maybe it was from the 1980s that the Secession tried to refocus to become an international institution again. Yet, still now it has the same structure, it is a artist association, which has a committee a board of eighteen people who still make their decisions without any political influence from the outside. For example, Gustav Klimt paint his Beethoven Frieze, which is now paying 50% of the bills; the house is still independent from politics and market tendencies. The Frieze and the building itself, they attract many tourists, besides also people from the art world who come to see the contemporary art shows, it is the combination of the two values what basically pays the bills. Klimt and his friends did a very good job. Still in Vienna, especially after this ongoing crisis when private institutions have to close their doors, Secession is still a fixed monument in this scene, holding it together.

 

FBF.B. Yes, today we did discuss about this topic, how we could compare the Viennese scene with here in Sicily. Beside the activity with the gallery here in Catania you had this summer residency in a small village on the Nebrodi, in front of the Thyrrenian, Ficarra. Mauro Cappotto is an artist living in Ficarra, he wanted to underline that, during the mid-1900, this small village was also home of the poet and aristocrat Lucio Piccolo, also relative with Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa author of the famous novel The Leopard. So, Mauro’s idea was to take this aristocratic palace, owned by the poet Lucio Piccolo, and to do a museum out of it, collecting all the artistic works that came out of an art residency program he started to organize. The name of the museum is La stanza della seta (The Silk Room), quoting a lyric from Lucio Piccolo.

OK then, three artists from the collicaligreggi were invited to do this residency this summer, Ute, Christoph and Nicola Pecoraro – he’s also here although he acts as he’s not [laugh], they’re all part of this Viennese network. Well, I don’t know if it was because the get influenced by the volcano Etna, Chris and Nic wanted to forge some alluminium cans into sculptures. [one of the results is shown in the space next door] They seemed to have really clear idea what to do in Ficarra. Also Ute, although she wanted to have her atelier inside the building, the Stanza della seta. And my interpretation is that for a Viennese artist must be wonderful in the summertime to have the chance to work in a very big atelier where you can choose working inside or outside on the terrace. And this reminds me this very Sicilian heritage that of the traditional “Grand Tour” of European intellectuals attracted by the Mediterranean island, the south of Italy, in order to reconnect with the (Greek and Latin) origins of the European culture.

 

UMU.M. It was a really great experience in Ficarra, to be able to do this residency, but in general we travel really a lot and moving is something normal for us. So, there was not this romantic desire to go south to discover our southern roots! [laugh] But what is interesting, especially for Ficarra, is that it is such a small environment. It is not like in a big city, where you have many kinds of spaces, workshops. In Ficarra you are really reduced to your basics, you have to rethink the way of how you produce and what you want to do. At the same time it is not a kind of practice we have, where you just work from one project to the next, in the sense that you go to place and say “I go there for a few weeks and then i have a finished product”. The great thing about the whole thing was that we didn’t go there to finish something but that we got space and time to work on your own practice. This is also something we were talking about before about the Secession in Vienna – it is a space that offers artists a great opportunity to work on their practices and I think, on a little scale, we also try to give a same opportunity with the Black Pages, to enable something, whatever the outcome might be. It is not that we have a concept or the wish to make a round thing out of something, or a definite statement, rather the project’ statement is in the process itself.

 

CMC.M. And that’s maybe the moment when you can make it the same out of the Secession, the Black Pages, the residency in Ficarra. It’s always like you give the opportunity on one thing but what is far more important is that you give an healthy and passionate surrounding for those you invite. In the case of Ficarra, I mean in the residency in Vienna people don’t usually take time to listen to you, to see your work, in Ficarra everybody is still, kind of healthy. That’s the point when we can get back to this text we started our discussion, the social forms, and maybe this is why I consider it still a positive text because implicates the positive side of the society. You should all come to the opening on Saturday at the collicaligreggi gallery! Ciao!*

* Ciao! being the title of the group show at the collicaligreggi where Chris, Ute, Nicola and Federico participated among others.

Above, Christoph Meier Untitled (Discotheque), 2009. Steel, electrical components, neon, lacquer. Variable dimensions. Courtesy galleria collicaligreggi.

In depth

The Secession’s catalog with Christoph Bruckner text

Wien Secession

Black Pages

Stanza della Seta, Ficarra

The artist-run-space according To Robert Hughes