No Easy Places: At This Moment in Vienna...
What follows is an excerpt of a May 1999 conversation between the philosopher Michael Eng and myself in the wake of my exhibition Between and Including at the Vienna Secession.1 At the time, Eng and I were both living and working in Vienna, and we had questions about our relation to Vienna and also thoughts on the then-current war in Kosovo. This excerpt grew out of reflections on exile, work, and the possibility of engaged relations with the places we manage to somehow inhabit.
As I write this in Vienna exactly one year later, discussions in European newspapers and the public sphere in general focus on the inclusion of the far right Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ) in the Austrian government. Once again, to those of us who wish to critically address these changes, it appears that engagement is required. As a result, the positions taken now are much more charged. Now is a time to reckon with a repressed but reemerging Nazi past, to recognize a burgeoning diversified population, and to consider how Austria’s inclusion in the European Union (EU) can jibe with the democratic ideals that the EU espouses. Austrians and others must finally acknowledge and come to terms with these tensions of the past and present before Austria can emerge as a society in which all inhabitants are respectfully understood as participants in its making. In addition, the fears expressed by other EU countries toward the political turn in Austria reflect an awareness of the emergence of the radical right in their own regions. Immigrant and poor populations become the scapegoat to rally plans for urban renewal, as well as conservative populist sentiments.
Since beginning work on Between and Including, various events throughout the world—and specifically in the places I inhabit—have influenced my thinking and perception. In addition to the conservative coalition that formed as a result of the 1999 Austrian elections, other influential events have been the demonstrations against the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank in Seattle, London, and Washington, D.C., during 1999 and 2000. Such major political actions affect the ways in which we can now think of the political responsibilities of “global artists.” The heightened awareness of the social inequities that arise from institutions such as the IMF and the World Bank, along with the effects these institutions have on vast numbers of people in different parts of the world, is one more indicator of how we are linked. The effect on artists is especially significant, considering that corporations sponsor most art galleries, museums, and the like. Government sponsorship, such as that previously supplied by the NEA (National Endowment for the Arts), is in overall decline, while private sponsorship has filled some of the gaps. This cultural trimming is usually desired by private corporations to increase their cultural capital and to deflect public attention from more insidious dealings. In Globalization and Its Discontents, Saskia Sassen notes the interrelation between global artists and these tendencies: “There has been growing recognition of the formation of an international professional class of workers and of highly internationalized environments due to the presence of foreign firms and personnel, the formation of global markets in the arts, and the international circulation of high culture.”2
The images in this photoessay are from works I have produced that relate to my discussion with Eng. Many of these images were part of Between and Including. For this exhibit, I converted the Secession exhibition space into a maze. Within the maze, one could encounter a combination of works produced between 1996 and 1999—here, for the first time, presented in relation to each other. This work included Some Chance Operations, a continuing work first shown at Galleria Emi Fontana in Milan (1998) and altered and expanded for this exhibition;3 Partially Buried in Three Parts, first shown at the Kwangju Biennale in Korea (1997); Flow, first presented in Fribourg, Switzerland (1996); Tracing Lusitania: Excerpts from an Imagined Prototype, an ongoing project begun in 1991 that had not been previously exhibited; and Video Collection, a collection of videos made between 1991 to 1999 (some had been included in prior installations and others were independent videos). In conjunction with the exhibition, I organized a film series with the same title to resonate with the exhibition.
Michael Eng: Just very quickly, I wanted to return to our discussion of the archive and the arch¯e as an ordering principle. You made reference earlier to oikos (place), and I think it’s worthwhile to reflect on how it relates to the domus (home) as it shows up in Jean-François Lyotard’s essay, “Domus and the Megalopolis,” for example.4 As a question concerning the possibility of work (as archive or as an object in general) and inhabiting, this connection seems highly relevant. For Lyotard, the domus names a relation to nature as physis, a fluid and dynamic notion of nature as opposed to the more static natura. The maintenance associated with the domus is rhythmic, making possible both a dynamic culture and a memory in flux. So memory, as a form of domestication, falls under the regime of dwelling. Opposed to this regime of the domus is the megalopolis, a form of living that is not dwelling and whose maintenance is one of stasis and sedition. If there is a form of memory that is proper to the megalopolis, then this is the archive, a purely economic relation to language and to the domus. The archive is something that Lyotard identifies as another memory, as a memory that’s economic to the extent that it’s collected for utility, to the extent that it orders by reducing. For Lyotard, the megalopolis gives dwelling over to tourism and vacation. It’s in this sense that I would want to speak of what travel and exile as forms of inhabiting could mean. I raise this not to discuss this text so strongly, but more to link it to some of the things that have been coming up in our conversations. We’ve discussed the possibility of a manner of engaging memory that would be other than collecting. Furthermore, as I understand it, there’s a memory other than the memory of collecting—an other memory, if you will—that’s at stake in your work, generally, and especially in the Secession installation.
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- This excerpt is from a longer conversation and letter exchange published in my book Between and Including (Vienna: Vienna Secession, 2000). The exhibit ran from 10 February to 14 April 1999.
- Saskia Sassen, Globalization and Its Discontents (New York: New Press, 1998), xxxvi, n. 11.