Building on the work of Viennese Actionism pioneer Günther Brus, the Austrian Cultural Forum New York’s group exhibition explores the meaning of freedom in contemporary art and society through the work of four emerging Austrian artists and collectives.
The Austrian Cultural Forum New York has announced its spring exhibition, Freedom will have been an episode,March 6—May 31, 2020, with an opening preview on March 5, 7-9pm.Developed in cooperation with Universalmuseum Joanneum (Graz, Austria), the group show contemplates on the creeping social upheaval that has taken place in recent years. Following in the footsteps of pioneering Austrian painter, performance artist, experimental filmmaker, and writer Günther Brus (born 1938), four emerging artists and collectives from Austria have developed new site-specific installations that engage with what freedom means today in art and society.
In the 1960s, when Günther Brus co-founded the seminal avant-garde art movement Viennese Actionism and challenged Austrian society with his taboo-breaking performances, freedom was considered a precious commodity that had to be defended against any form of restriction. In the last decades, these hard-won freedoms have been increasingly undermined by the economy of hedonism and the efficiency of neo-liberalism. People are no longer disciplined by force and violence but are galvanized into self-optimization. This “technology of the self,” in the words of Michel Foucault, is nothing but an efficient form of domination and exploitation. Freedom has become a form of coercion, argues philosopher Byung-Chul Han, whose book Psychopolitics: Neoliberalism and New Technologies of Power (2017) inspired the title of this exhibition.
Society and art have changed considerably in the decades since Brus started his “actions.” For Freedom will have been an episode, curator Roman Grabner contrasts Brus’s works with new artistic voices from Austria that challenge the norm and explore what it means today to break free from convention and defy the system, to be a foreign body in society and to analyze its power structures.
While in his work Günter Brus has focused primarily on the human body and the way people are categorized and standardized since the 1960s, Josef Wurm (born 1984) intertwines the anatomy of the human body with the topography of maps. His paintings are social critiques that penetrate into the very innermost, the entrails of human co-existence, and the anatomy of social orders, reaching the rudimentary elements that constitute the body and writing, and thereby codify reality.
Evamaria Schaller’s (born 1980) performances react to specific locations. She deploys her own body in a space where it is neither expected nor wanted and thus represents an affront to the system of order and control. Her latest work engages with genetics, digital data processing, and biotechnologies to question the physical limits of freedom.
Artist duo Eva Pichler (born 1981) and Gerhard Pichler (born 1980) examine the subtle normalizations of everyday life in their art. As zweintopf they develop installations thematizing methods of controlling and influencing others. Their work Fencing IV combines so-called cattle trainers – electrified metal bars meant to prompt animals to excrete their manure at specific places – to construct a large installation that fills the exhibition space like a minimalist grid.
Marleen Leitner (born 1986) and Michael Schitnig (born 1986) of studio ASYNCHROME are constantly engaged with the individual in an era of social upheaval. Influenced by Michel Foucault’s work on developing means to describe the mechanisms and structures in power within the social body, studio ASYNCHROME, through their drawings, observe and reflect on the present socio-political situation based on the algorithms of manipulation.
In his curatorial statement, Roman Grabner sums up the premise of the show: “If the media are corrupted by the economy, if critical thought is equated with corrosive conduct and if political engagement no longer takes place because it is incompatible with social media, then we are heading towards the ‘brave new world’ and freedom will indeed have been an episode.”
Artists on view: Günter Brus, Evamaria Schaller, studio ASYNCHROME, Josef Wurm, zweintopf
Curated by Roman Grabner of BRUSEUM Graz, Austria
Austrian Cultural Forum New York
11 East 52nd St. (btw. 5th & Madison)
New York, NY 10022
Partners: Neue Galerie Graz/BRUSEUM, Universalmuseum Joanneum
Supported by Land Steiermark