Begun in 2004, Josef Bernhardt’s series of works Warten auf Vögel (Waiting for Birds), which has grown to comprise twelve parts in the meantime, consists of nesting boxes for birds of different sizes, numbers, and configurations installed in the urban realm. There can be no doubt that the boxes built on a one-to-one scale, which are mounted on poles, satisfy the demands of hole-nesting birds such as tits and common starlings. Whether the birds will actually build their nests there remains uncertain, however: The nesting boxes’ tightly packed arrangement on a drawing board grid (eighteen times eighteen = three hundred and twenty-four boxes in the case of Warten auf Vögel VII, 2010) and their traffic-intense surroundings lend the installation a high degree of hemeroby. But who knows? Nature still being superior to man in terms of adaptability—might not some creatures nest there after all considering that there are no genuine hollow trunks to be found far and wide?
Which creatures, though? It is a fact that the numbers of native breeding birds in agrarian landscapes across Europe have declined by fifty percent between 1980 and 2009 and that every eighth species of bird is endangered. This is why Warten auf Vögel will assume Godotesque proportions rather than give fresh impetus to “the principle of hope.”
Josef Bernhardt’s installations do not resemble fence posts for the protection of birds—their share of ironic ingredients is ostensibly too substantial for that. The artist rather relies on a well-measured dose of apparently rational and regular substances on the one hand and obviously emotionally irregular components on the other in order to visualize the ultimately fatal absurdity of how Anthropocene man deals with nature.
Occasionally, the artist even makes the civilization-historically profoundly riven relationship between man and animal (exemplarily represented in this instance by the bird, a particularly intelligent creature, as we all know) directly “graspable” by inverting their positions, so to speak: Only five nesting boxes, yet magnified ten times, were thus installed for Warten auf Vögel VI – innen und außen (2010, housing estate OASE22, Vienna). While three of these boxes waited for birds at a dizzy height, two boxes were positioned on a base on the ground and furnished with doors so that its inhabitants as well as visitors to the place could enter. Having stepped inside the nesting box, one could look outside through an entrance hole at eye level, not only taking the bird’s position but also adopting its view. Such a nesting box was also exhibited in the Ludwig Museum in Budapest in 2014.
Warten auf Vögel IV again retains man’s role as an outside observer and grants him, as such, a lot of time. For unlike its merely temporary predecessor projects Warten auf Vögel III (installed on the then KÖR Skulpturenplatz of the Kunsthalle Wien in spring 2008) and Warten auf Vögel VIII (Budapest, Art on Lake, 2011), Warten auf Vögel IV was given a permanent location in Vienna’s 3rd district. The fact that the Vienna Municipal Department of Cultural Affairs will take care of the maintenance and preservation of the lasting artistic intervention in public space nourishes expectations that tourists from all over the world will descend on Josef Bernhardt‘s Warten auf Vögel IV, should no birds turn up.
Text: Lucas Gehrmann, 2017
Corner Erdbergstraße/Kundmanngasse 30, 1030 Vienna