“This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap; the being a force of Nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.”
George Bernhard Shaw
Wendy & Jim (AT), Lilli Thießen (DE/AT), Alexander Ruthner (AT), Leni Michl (AT), Hanna Putz (AT), Cho Delat? (RU), Franz Cserni (AT), Michael Bühler-Rose (US), and Hans Bellmer (DE) celebrate and question the quest and even existence of happiness as a human condition. The artistic directors of VIENNAFAIR The New Contemporary Vita Zaman and Christina Steinbrecher-Pfandt curated this exhibition by juxtaposing a younger generation of artists with historical or more established artistic positions that address the question of happiness – or the lack of it – as a driving force in life. “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness” is a well-known phrase in the United States Declaration of Independence – the answers remain up to the viewer.
Leni Michl (b. 1983, Austria) creates joyful, humorous, and sometimes deadly serious collages, photographs, sculptures, and installations that reveal our society’s desires, fears, and obsessions, through a vivid and eye-catching visual language that refers to advertising and graphic design.
Michael Bühler-Rose’s (b. 1980, US) “Evil Eye Removal Kit” plays off the Hindu tradition of warding away inauspicious and evil elements from people and objects through a variety of rituals. For those collectors at VIENNAFAIR who are interested in warding away the envious glances and gossipy glimpses of others and retaining the purity of your newly collected art object, Bühler-Rose – drawing from his background as a practicing Hindu priest – offers special kits that contain instructions and ritual paraphernalia. The visitor can buy the remedy against the lack of luck for 25 EUR at the fair.
Hanna Putz (b. 1987, Austria) photographs young mothers and their babies in a state of extreme intimacy and vulnerability. She aims to create a feeling of closeness without exposing anyone. The mother, solely focused on her child, is oblivious to the camera’s presence and not concerned about “posing” for it. Composition and color are of great importance to Putz, adding a layer of anonymity to her subjects by transforming them into sculptural forms. Her work could be interpreted as asking poignant feminist questions about what it means to be a mother and the impact of contemporary Western consumerist society on this fundamental act of humanity.
A self-taught painter Franz Cserni (b. 1939, Austria) is based in Fehring, Styria and art for him is an integral part of slow and local, yet enriched daily life. With his prolific body of paintings Cserni documents his inner experiences and spiritual states with unexpected intensity and authenticity. His several bodies of work are very diverse and span through numerous key points of the history of painting. In his painting, he draws on existential themes – what it means to be human, to die, to be with other people, embrace life with all its aspects of happiness and beauty as well as suffering and loss. The artist thinks of his art practice not just as a cultural production but as a journey through life and self discovery, lonely yet committed confrontation with oneself and human existence.
Chto Delat? (What is to be done?) was founded in early 2003 in St. Petersburg by a working group of artists, critics, philosophers, and writers from St. Petersburg, Moscow, and Nizhny Novgorod with the goal of merging political theory, art, and activism. Chto delat? sees itself as a self-organized platform for cultural workers who politicize their “knowledge production” through reflections and redefinitions of an engaged autonomy for cultural practice today.
Lilli Thiessen (b. 1984) is a German artist who lives and works in Vienna. Her work is interweaved with pop culture, irony, and first laughter. She deconstructs known patterns and critically questions image languages and the power relations manifested within them. Taking the painting medium as starting point she constantly bursts its borders and expands the fatigued discourse around painting in a celebration of the pictorial, on the one hand, and the material, on the other. Hence, she expands the realm of painting toward that of the sculptural and redefines painterly and ornamental traces, combining them with collages in new ways, following yet subverting traditions of abstract painting.
In the paintings of Alexander Ruthner (b. 1982, Austria) genre and style overlap: the representational and the abstract converge; image, texture, and pattern have equal space. A polyglot image-maker from the social networking generation, his approach to painting thrives on the multimedia spectacle of the everyday but on occasion unsuspectedly points to the more spiritual microcosm of the contemporary psyche. At first glance, his paintings lack a main protagonist, but after a while the viewer finds him or herself in the mind-bending universe of ghosts, cigarette butts, pills, and happy Mickey Mouse fairies inside a never-ending field of grass. With a flair for unusual graphic juxtapositions, his do-it-yourself publications encompass catalogs, zines, poetry, and the biannual Eine magazine. Central in his painting is the distillation and quotation of disparate imagery that he makes his own. Working like an editor of fictionalized diaries, he culls all that is pop culture (including digital media), all the while nodding to historical painting’s structural underpinnings related to anatomy and composition (Bellini to Max Ernst and David Hockney).
The artist and designer duo Wendy & Jim (founded in 1992, Austria) aka Helga Ruthner and Hermann Fankhauser will present a sculpture that hosts an esoteric scent: “The teepee is a sculpture, a room; as part of a collectively cherished childhood memory it invites you to enter and partake in the action. The teepee becomes an exhibition within an exhibition, a dressing room.”
The German-born Surrealist Hans Bellmer (1902-1975) devoted his artistic career to creating sexualized images of the female body – distorted, dismembered, or menaced in sinister scenarios. Bellmer’s photographs, drawings, and etchings were powered by erotomania as well as a desire for revenge, suffering, and the safety of the womb. The artist styled himself as the quintessential Oedipal son, an avant-garde artist in perpetual rebellion. After World War II Bellmer concentrated on meticulous drawings and prints, many of which illustrated erotic texts by the Marquis de Sade, Charles Baudelaire, and Georges Bataille.
The curators would like to thank BCBB GmbH Austria for their generous advice and support.