Based on their shared interest in site-specific exhibition situations outside the White Cube and the fluid relationship of human, object, and nature, the artists Eva Engelbert and Katrin Hornek invited nine fellow artists—Barbara Kapusta/Noële Ody, Ludwig Kittinger, Ralo Mayer, Klaus Schafler, Susanne Schuda, Eva Seiler, Ekaterina Shapiro-Obermair, and Johanna Tinzl—to develop works for temporary setup in a patch of forest in the Vienna Woods.
The selected exhibition site near the Jubiläumswarte observation tower is not only part of a local recreation area on the outskirts of Vienna’s 16th district but also of a global network. Nominated in 2005, the Vienna Woods are a UNESCO biosphere reserve, which by definition makes them a model region for research to implement sustainable development at the ecological, economic, and social levels. A particular focus is on the human as an element of the biosphere. The human also is a formative factor in geology which distinguishes earth ages in terms of the sedimentation of strata in the ground. According to Nobel laureate and atmospheric chemist Paul Crutzen and biologist Eugene F. Stoermer, a new period has dawned, the “Anthropocene,” the era of human-made effects. Humanity has irreversibly transformed the ecosystem of the earth and has indeed become a geological factor. Man and nature are thus reunited and maybe rethought as one.
A temporary exhibition project, MISSION W was conceived as an experimental setup to respond to the mutual permeation of the naturally grown and the constructed, the controllable and the uncertain, of geo-engineering and climate change—a mission into the forest to investigate complex political, social, and historical interferences. The questions arising in this context were about framings and boundaries between nature and culture but also about the mutual effects produced within such a system with different materials such as palms of hands, treetops, a temporary woodland clearing project, brain hemispheres, and computer mice all interacting.
The approaches taken by the participant artists were in part formal and in part conceptual. Some works changed their location, melted away, or were eaten by animals. Others referred to objects or structures found on site such as information panels, sitting benches, or the underground Nazi combat command post for Vienna, commonly called “Schirach Bunker” after the former Nazi Gauleiter of Vienna. Aside from historical points of reference, experiments in hermetically sealed self-sufficient ecosystems—like the American Biosphere 2 and the Soviet BIOS-3—also played a role.
Klaus Schafler followed up on those two experiments, erecting a construction sign to announce the fictitious building of a research station which would use geo-engineering to test life in artificial biospheres.
Ralo Mayer put up a plastic-wrapped block of frozen Viennese mountain spring water whose behavior was informed by changing weather conditions.
Ekaterina Shapiro-Obermair used three sculptural displays and an Internet video to invoke the association of a topographically similar place outside the Vienna Woods, Gorki Leninskiye near Moscow, the place of Lenin’s death.
Johanna Tinzl pointed visitors to the remains of the “Schirach Bunker,” invisible on the surface, in her audio play entitled Positionsmeldung (Position Report). The central signal of the cuckoo call is what the former “Ostmark Air Raid Alert Center” had in common with today’s natural reserve.
Inspired by Henry Moore’s sculpture on front of the UNESCO headquarters in Paris, created with the collaboration of the Paris rain, Katrin Hornek observed in Wolke (Nephele) (Cloud [Nephele]) the morphological formation processes induced by the biosphere of the Vienna Woods.
Ludwig Kittinger’s mobile pavilion was an open space in space and a home base to the artist who, in the setup phase, kept grinding down a dead tree until it was dispersed in all directions as wood dust.
Eva Engelbert’s piece was a sculptural artifact informed by her exploration of the Nazi past of the site. In an act between destruction, recycling, and (theoretical) reactivation, the artist latched on to the invisible ruins of the “Schirach Bunker.”
Susanne Schuda conceived a totem between modern self-construction and a pastiche of mystified nature and psychologized biochemistry. Fictitious diary excerpts provided the basis for association chains of text and image collages.
Barbara Kapusta and Noële Ody created two objects that talked to, and were made for, one another—two materials that were able to tell viewers stories of bodies, of movements, of presence and absence.
Based on her interest in phyllomancy, the art of divination from the rustling and movement of trees and leaves, Eva Seiler designed an oracle object.
The MISSION W exhibition was accompanied by an extensive events program, for which contributions were made by artists Marlene Hausegger, Sabina Holzer/Jack Hauser, and Emanuel Mauthe, by scientists Herbert Hoi, Erwin Riess, and Alexandra Wieshaider, and by theoreticians Heather Davis/Claudia Slanar and Raimar Stange.
Biosphere Reserve Vienna Woods, 1160 Wien
Eva Engelbert, Katrin Hornek, Barbara Kapusta/Noële Ody, Ludwig Kittinger, Ralo Mayer, Klaus Schafler, Susanne Schuda, Eva Seiler, Ekaterina Shapiro-Obermair, Johanna Tinzl
Concept and project management
Eva Engelbert, Katrin Hornek
Federal Chancellery of the Republic of Austria, MA 7 – Municipal Department for Cultural Affairs, District of Ottakring