Salzburg Austria: Playing With Queendom And Breaking Down Walls

Salzburg Austria: Playing With Queendom And Breaking Down Walls
The Museum Der Moderne in Salzburg cultivates an interdisciplinary dialogue between the arts – acting as a dynamic cultural forum at the heart of Europe, with international appeal and significance.


The Rules of Play

Play is a special way of experiencing the world – as a metaphor for social coexistence, and as a driver of cultural transformation, enjoyable activities help us to discover ourselves and our abilities. Playful contests based on social cooperation and competition simulate the ways in which systems operate, helping us to understand the rules of play and what it means to bend and break them.

The exhibition Playing Rules! centres on the themes of play in art. From nature and the body, to sport, media and communication – artists represent and explore various areas through the concept of play, transforming them through interaction and improvisation. Using the imagination to expand potential, play has the power to both reflect and subvert social norms and relationships.

In music and sport, the term ‘open score’ provides a framework within which performers can act with relative freedom. Open systems allow object and material, performer and observer to actively collaborate on the creation of something greater than the sum of its parts.

In the visual arts the open score becomes a compositional principle incorporating chance, variation and (re)combination, moments of interaction and participation, improvisation and experimentation, control and chaos. This also includes a sociopolitical aspect, inviting us to (re)consider how entrenched patterns, defined roles, and concrete hierarchies can be identified and broken open for aims such as greater equality and opportunity.

Marc Adrian (1930 – 2008, Vienna) is interested in perceptual phenomena: the relationship between space, time, movement, regularity and public participation. His Hinterglasmontagen (montages behind glass) – produced since 1955 – attested to the idea of an open artwork created solely through the interplay of object and observer. Geometrically abstract fields of colour ground and mounted behind industrialised glass, follow particular optical rules and must be viewed from different angles to be set in motion; Adrian described this active participation as the “optimal integration of the observer in the creation of the artwork.”

Similarly, Jürgen Klauke (1945, Kliding) is the protagonist and director of pictorial worlds spanning the melancholic and uncanny. Threaded through with a subtle self-irony, existential questions of transience, sexuality, identity, isolation, desire, and fear form the focus of his performances and precision choreographed photography series.

In Sonntagsneurosen (Sunday neuroses), Klauke interacts with a world of things that live a life of their own – walking sticks, tables, chairs, hats, and buckets are more than just props in a game of serious play. As active carriers of meaning that initiate a process of reflection on the “beautiful dissolution” of the subject in conflict with itself, Klauke emphasizes that “however much rumination there may be, the element of playfulness – not knowing exactly where one is going or how it’s going to end – reinvents the world over and over for oneself.”


Playing with Political Ecology

As an exploration of ecological systems and interactive processes, the history of art is closely connected to nature – having acted as a framework and source of inspiration for time immemorial. This relationship has changed over time, especially in light of changing societal and environmental conditions. By exploring the possibilities of the mutual dependence created by the multifaceted relationships between man, machine and mother nature, we heighten our awareness of our responsibility towards the environment, and encourage dialogue around this dynamic.

Themes such as climate change, biodiversity loss, and resource distribution define current cultural and political discourse. The Anthropocene – the proposed name for the geological epoch in which humanity has profoundly impacted life on Earth – underscores the need for a systematic rethink of our inter-relationship with the natural world.

In Angelika Lodere’s (1984, Feldbach) Untitled (Secession)metal and multicoloured sand (used in the metal casting process) constitute an experiment into formation, gravity, physical properties, environmental conditions and random processes. These sculptures – seemingly fragile yet simultaneously very present in their materiality, and always ephemeral – are a balancing act evocative of natural cycles, the individual components of which exist in a delicate equilibrium; “My sculptures try to capture moments that become pieces of evidence – I want to make vulnerability visible, something we otherwise don’t pay enough attention to, or perhaps can’t even see.”

In Hans Haacke’s (1936, Cologne) Condensation Cubewater condenses inside a transparent cube in an infinite cycle of dispersal and formation. Haacke compares these physical processes to living organisms within rigid social systems, reacting flexibly to environmental conditions and rules. The location where the droplets form and where they will flow is unpredictable: a metaphor for human freedom.

Play is frequently politicised and captured for idealogical purposes. Originally fictitious actions, scenarios, and conflicts are then brought to life and portray actual events. This applies to social, cultural and virtual / computer games. When ideologically charged, games can become an instrument of influence reaching deep into family life and the private sphere.

Sigalit Landau’s (1969, Jerusalem) video works show games that don’t represent specific idealogical interests, but which can be read as metaphors for territorial and religious conflicts; Focusing on different group dynamics, Three Men Hula (1999) shows performers that are united by a common goal, shifting their consciousness from “I” to “We”. Created in one of the world’s most contested regions, it explores a vision of peaceful coexistence.

In Azkelon (2011)this dynamic is reversed – the knife game in the sand turns the men into territorial rivals, the game’s outcome remains unpredictable and the situation is a stalemate. “Azkelon is a hybrid of Aza (Gaza) and Ashkelon. These neighbouring towns share a beach separated by a border, the Gaza strip is one of the most crowded areas in the world, populated mostly by refugees; Ashkelon was built by Jewish immigrants, mostly from North African and Arab countries. From my point of view, youth on both sides play this game. Where there is life, there is play: it is an agreement to simple rules and while they may win or lose in games, real interaction across this border is unfortunately unlikely.”

In Harun Farocki’s Serious Games (2009-2010)virtual reality is used both for military training and therapy. In this four part film series, the third part entitled Immersion, shows a “Virtual Iraq” immersion therapy workshop held in Fort Lewis, Washington. The aim of this intervention is to help soldiers process PTSD by reliving similar experiences within a supervised setting. At this workshop, a virtual ambush is simulated by civilian therapists from a company wanting to sell the programme to the army, but they recreate the situation so convincingly that it’s no longer clear whether the experience is real or not.


Llit Azoulay’s Queendom: Navigating Future Codes

Ilit Azoulay (1972 Tel Aviv) is an Israeli artist with Moroccan roots. By breaking with the traditional single-lens perspective of the camera and recomposing images based on extensive research data, Queendom interrogates the mechanisms of historiography, cultural appropriation and practices of empathy within narrative and visual storytelling processes.

Aiming to cast off the restrictions of linear masculine and national representations of the world, Azoulay opens up pathways to a connected Middle East where identities are fluid and complexity is valued. The Queendom, reigned by art, seems to have emerged from a total systems collapse. It is a rhizomatic realm branching to and from the future, where stories from different timelines and origins coalesce into an emergent whole.


Panoramic Photomontages

Panoramic photomontages – based on the archive of David Storm Rice (1913–1962), a scholar of medieval metal vessels of Islamic art – presents a symphony of fracture and healing, while an audio work fills the venue with sounds of a universal language, created in collaboration with the Palestinian healer Maisoun Karaman (1962 Haifa, IL).

Azoulay uses her digital craftwork to visualise the afterlife of images and their transformations, accentuating histories of appropriation and the missing links in their geographies of knowledge. The ten panels of Queendom are also supplemented by the inclusion of Ilit Azoulay’s personal, extensive archive, displaying a multi-cultural state of consciousness that embraces unity in diversity.


Breaking Down Walls

This exhibition considers a development (a spatial turn) where space, or rather the concept of space, has special status as a tool for analysis. The focus here is not only on static geometric space, but on space as a phenomenon designed, experienced, and coded by humans. This shift of meaning to a socially and culturally shaped construct has its roots not only in the increasing mobility of our society, but in forced migration, territorial and political conflicts, and changes in climate.

The experiential memory of contemporary witnesses contrasts with the cultural memory of societies – a strongly contested subject due to its significance for the formation of state identity. Monuments are an expression of collective memory that reflect the public presentation of history. Political monuments serve to legitimise power relations: they not only communicate messages and value systems but also play a role in anchoring and normalising them within society. In this way they are read less as objects, and more as a practice used to maintain power.

The breakup of the Eastern Bloc states and significant sociopolitical events, such as the protests of the Black Lives Matter movement, raise questions around who’s values and ideals are expressed in old and new monuments, by what right, and with what intent – inviting reflection on how we approach contested memorials. In this exhibition, artists address the processes of remembering and forgetting, showing how cultural heritage follows a dynamic informed by whatever version of the past is being advocated for by the present.

George Grosz (1893 – 1959, Berlin) volunteered for military service in 1914. However his initially positive and patriotic attitude was to change dramatically – in response to the propaganda campaign against wartime enemy Britain, he anglicised his name from Georg Groß to George Grosz. After the war ended, he pilloried the militarists and war profiteers with crude caricatures and documented the poverty and hardship of war returnees and invalids.

Renée Green (1959 Cleveland) addresses these entanglements of power, culture and identities with locations and narrations that are interwoven with her own biography. In the installation Begin Again, Begin Again (2015), she combines her own and found pictorial material and text in an arrangement revealing references to history and autobiography. Exploring connections between her situation as an artist with an Afro-American background and the US émigré architects Schindler and Wachsmann, she writes a chronology in the space that makes visible the consequences of colonialism, expulsion, and exile, and renders the past tangible in our present.


Out of Space

Is the vision of a city that offers all of its inhabitants opportunities for social participation and equal life chances nothing but a distant utopia? In the process of urban development, lower income families and individuals are increasingly forced out of their neighbourhoods and communities, resulting in a further restriction of opportunity. Those affected by marginalisation and poverty are particularly impacted by this social and physical exclusion. Critical of these developments, many works of art – in particular documentary photography – aim to uncover these injustices and advocate for sustainable and inclusive change.

At first glance, Martha Rosler’s (1945 NYC) photo-and-text installation looks like a portrait of the rundown NY neighbourhood of Bowery, an archetype of metropolitan homelessness. Rosler’s criticism however, is not aimed at social deprivation so much as documentary photography itself – which she sees as caught between hollow moral indignation and voyeurism. Her photographs depicting traces of drunkenness and poverty solicit the style of Sociocritical Realism, without depicting victims or tragic heroes. The parallel words make associations with “a poetry of drunkenness” from intoxication to self-destruction. Both systems – image and language – seem inadequate, “too powerless to grapple with reality.”

Exploring the impact of commercialisation on natural processes and relational dynamics, Sylvie Fleury’s (1961 Geneva) fibreglass mushrooms are sprayed with a deeply cosmic automobile paint, creating a unique, iridescent metal shimmer. Cars, their painting, and maintenance are known to play an important role in consumer behaviour – and in particular male posturing and commodity fetishism. Fleury’s “tuned” phallic mushrooms can be read as ironic commentaries on these types of status symbols.

Juxtaposed to this, in his drawings Günter Brus combines image and text into one unit. The seductive poetry of his pictures doesn’t obscure the fact that they spring from a defiant spirit resistant to any form of pseudomorality, and the repressive strategies of ideology and religion: “Better to shatter your own knee than to kneel before another” is written along the edge of the paper.

Any aesthetic experience of an artwork is tied to the place in which it is experienced. An artwork changes its environment by infusing it with meaning, while the environment influences the way in which the piece is received. Since the early 1970s, the emphasis has been on the white cube – the presentation of art in spaces with white walls. Reflecting on conventions and intervening in architectural conditions, expanded concepts of sculpture in particular reject the notion of artwork as a finished object.

This is replaced by the idea of art and life as a dynamic process experienced in space and time, relying on high levels of interactivity, regeneration and repurposing. In this sense, cross-media works and works including time-based audiovisual media become sculptural stagings. Space is a complex social fabric, ‘to have space’ means to reclaim identity, and to have the authority to act and make decisions. The appropriation of space is accompanied by the appropriation of power, participation and marginalisation.

Traditionally, life is divided into the spheres of political public life on the one hand, and (allegedly) unpolitical private and family life on the other. The former is primarily ascribed to men and the latter to women. Although gendered role patterns and the associated cultural definitions of ‘typically female’ and ‘typically male’ behaviours are increasingly being called into question, they continue to have great influence.

Contemporaneous with the revitalisation of the women’s movement and its demand for gender equality, artists since the 1970s have drawn attention to this issue: deconstructing the traditional requirements of the ‘ideal’ woman as the desirable wife, happy housewife, and caring mother all at once, it demands equal respect and participation in all areas of life. Simultaneously advocating for men, feminism (gender equality), challenges cultural clichés by integrating typically masculine and feminine binary norms into an inclusive spectrum that advocates for greater freedom of choice.

In Erwin Wurm’s (1954 Vienna) Suit from the Desperate Philosophers series – the absent philosopher and headless thinker is dressed in an elegant suit. Clothing forms the boundaries of the ego. It can be defined as a social shell that the individual uses to express themselves, while simultaneously being shaped by it. It also raises questions about the relationship between the inner and outer worlds, between self and external perceptions. The suit simulates Erwin’s corporeality, yet there is one thing that cannot be represented in this way: the thing that constitutes the thinker itself.