Heimo Zobernig English
The works of HeimoZobernig (Mauthen, Austria 1958) became famous at the end of the eighties and brought the attention of the critics because of his elaborated intellectual reflection and his against-the-current spirit. Three decades later, after his participation in two consecutive editions of the Kassel Documenta, the work of Zobernig is represented in many public collections an in exhibitions in several European and American prestigious institutions. Last year, the MuseoNacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia in Madrid dedicated to him, in collaboration with the Kunsthaus Graz in Austria, an exhibition in which a good part of his works could be appreciated.
The different levels of meaning in the works of Zobernig, contrary to the linear development of modern periodisation, can be understood only from the plural and simultaneous perspective of postmodernism. It could be said that the work of HeimoZobernig inherits, in the same proportions, from the Modernism the rigour of Constructivism and the Dadaist subversion. The rigour is found in the systematic use of determined geometric forms, as well as some chromatic ranges (from the most radical monochromes to the repetition of the four-colours). This rigour can also be perceived in the obsessive repetition of some-two-dimensional formats, like the dimension of A4 paper applied to signs, catalogues or dimensions of a support, or in the exclusive use of aseptic Heletica in typography. At the same time, Zobernig includes in his works strange elements to that of the artistic object acting as some type of signs of a legitimate vocabulary. With irritating traps –like the narrative association of certain abstract compositions, the constant self-referential citations that the artist uses unexpectedly or the inclusion of extra-artistic objects-, Zobernig questions the pretension of universal validity of the avant-garde languages and ironically shows the “grand récit”of their discourse.
It is very difficult to make a synthesis of the work of Zobernig, because this is not developed following a linear route, which requires making constant retrocession to understand his discourse. The artist knows these risks, but does not give way and forces us to follow a sometimes disheartening route, because it requires that we repeatedly look back to understand it.
His first works, created at the beginnings of the eighties, were a critical view of the artistic environment of that period, dominated by the so-called “wild painting”, a style of painting that champion the material and gestural strength and a sort of primary expressivity. Zobernig created canvases of different sizes on which he reproduced geometric forms with plain inks and traces similar to pictograms or to capricious decorative forms. Far from recurring to theauratic “white cube” as an environment, the paintings were presented in a mottled group, similar to a cabinet of nineteenth-century curiosities, that way questioning the “essential” and sublime consideration of paintings.
We have to highlight the simultaneous existence of other works by the artist, like the sculptures he placed, this time yes, in a minimalist environment, objects that were easily confused with the base of a sculpture or with any type of transport box that somebody had left forgotten during the installation of the exhibition. Zobernig often recurred to this curtains of other extra-artistic elements, the main function of which is to highlight and preserve that artistic object, but also, and specifically, define what is and is not art. Fascinated by all types of “mise-en-scene”, Zobernig takes with these gestures an ironi look at the current consideration of the artistic object, that cannot be understood more outside of the institutional framework.
In this reflection about the relations of the extra-artistic elements as factors that affect the reception of art, Zobernig is also interested by the mechanisms of the phenomenon of contemporary art, organising from events (like the symposium of three days with the participation of specialists, an the corresponding publication as a document of these debates, held in Villa Arson , Nice in 1991) to the design of the furniture of symbolic spaces –scenarios for debates, press rooms…-of the X edition of Documenta (1997). Catalogue, typographies, colours and formats, display cabinets and curtains, but also symposiums, publications and creation of debate scenarios: all forming part of the discourse, which is “constructing” art and without which this latter would be invalidated.
Together with painting, objects and publications, in addition to his interventions in architecture, we have to mention another of the formal languages repeatedly used by Zobernig from his beginnings: the performance. One of the most significant performances that helps understanding his work is that entitled HeimoZobernigerklärtsienem Double, wie man eine Performance macht (HeimoZobernig explains to his double how to do a performance) that he directed and that was performed by the artists Lone Haugaard Madsen and Jakob Lena Knebl in the Museum ModernerKunstStiftung Ludwig Wien (MUMOK) of Vienna in 2008. The title seems to allude to the already historic action of Josep Beuys in which the artist, in his messianic function of transformer of consciences, explains to a hare the meaning of his pictures. The funny and absurd action is based on the conversation between the two artists (“Why have we come?”, “What do you think they expect of us?”, or “Is the artist going to come then?”, “Shouldn’t we be going?”, they ask each other). All that recalls the senselessness of the Beckett characters who are waiting for Godot. Then, what is a performance? Once again, as in all the works of HeimoZobernig, it is the art that thinks about itself and questions its own meaning, questioning its mechanisms and the functions attributed to it.
Translation: Nigel Greenwood
RevistaLápiz 283. February-March 2014