press release

On March 6, 2006, the Austrian Cultural Forum will open SWITCHING WORLDS: DESIRES AND IDENTITIES. This group exhibition, on view through April 15, exposes issues of identity in a transatlantic context against the background of the digital revolution. Taking the desires, dreams, hopes, concerns, and anxieties of Austrian artists who live and work in New York City as point of departure, it comments on global civilization and its margins and explores what it means to be human in the digital era. Examining how it feels to be European in America, the show illustrates the tensions between a history-obsessed European context and the increasingly illusionary "free spirit" of America.

SWITCHING WORLDS covers a broad range of media and presents artists who although not necessarily associated with a critique of digital ubiquity bear witness to the fact that its influence has infiltrated almost every artist's daily life. In the resulting wide and open spectrum of artistic practices, Erwin Redl, one of the preeminent light artists of the younger generation, marks one pole. Reflecting upon the condition of making art after the "digital experience," Redl's light installation Fade II creates a space of constantly shifting realities that is experienced as a second skin, our social skin. On the surface, Redl seems to be the most American of the artists exhibited, and yet there are hints of European complexity radiating from his work. If his art is devoid of humans, it gains its emotional impact from the contemplative interplay with the viewer. Kurt Hentschlager's work, too, requires total immersion, but it does so in totally different wa ys. His audiovisual installation Karma challenges the beholder head on by playing with "dead" video game characters that have been reanimated post-mortem, giving them a disturbing feel of "real" human life and death. The artist not only raises issues of control but explores the grey areas of emotional access - our changing perception of what constitutes a fellow living being with whom we can feel empathy.

If Hentschlager dramatizes the potential impact of video games on the human condition, Stefan Sagmeister/Ralph Ammer aim to bridge the gap between digital technology and the Real Life human body. Making viewers physically interact with a digitized learning experience, their fragile installation serves as a metaphor for the vulnerability of the maxim and the effort to perpetuate it. A multiple approach linking physical experience and digitized content is presented by Ursula Endlicher: Her multimedia installation depicting the Amazons, in their American and European incarnations, is based on non-public performance art and results in a figurative visualization of grammatical structures of the Web's data representations. She reinforces the link between body and digital data by requiring viewers to sit on a contraption that functions as a mouse to command the cursor, thereby redirecting attention from the eyes and hands - our normal tools for working with the compute r - towards the center of the body.

Maria Petschnig's paintings are based on a form of private performance art. Attaching tight strings around almost naked body parts, she has found a systematic tool of physical deformation that sparks her artistic imagination and demonstrates that human fantasy can surpass the most sophisticated blob architecture and design software. What remains is the disturbing thought that deformation - distorted physical presence, buildings, and design objects alike - may already be the rule rather than the exception. The staged aspect is equally relevant in Iris Klein's photographs. But instead of her own body, she uses a self-made female life-sized doll as a canvas for projection. With her eerily beautiful black and white photographic prints she creates emotive dream-like mood images that subtly transport her observations on female roles and the sentimental desire for identity in an anonymous world.

Reflections are at the core of Heinz Lechner's work. He loves to create them in his respective living situations, and it appears to make quite a difference if the photographs are taken in a Viennese apartment or a house in Florida. His meticulously composed triptychs are only at first glance empty. Subtle change within themselves and the absence of humans create an immense urge to project life into those spaces, reflecting the individual beholder's desires and anxieties. Nin Brudermann is obsessed with recreating hidden identities. She also loves spinning tales. Evidence she found in the basement of the building in New York where she lived is the point of departure for Aurelio Z., an investigation collage that reveals encounters and sub-encounters, including a meeting between the artist and Louise Bourgeois. For Brudermann, moments only exist in hindsight, though "truth" is stuck within the moment, making for an intriguing paradox.

Rainer Ganahl and Hannes Priesch are at the conceptual pole of the exhibition's spectrum. Reflecting Ganahl's focus on cultural borderlines, on tensions between origin and destination, on emigration and immigration, the learning of foreign languages has been at the center of his art practice for nearly 15 years. Ganahl's video series Basic Feelings and Basic Conflicts touch on humor, absurdity, and paranoia, whereas Homeland Security I-V points to the dangers of digital data mining and endless profiling. Priesch's painting with a biblical text (Numbers 31) shows three vertical text blocks: war and its justification, religion as ritual of purification, and war-booty and its glorification. Priesch did not alter the texts; they are presented to us without commentary. It is entirely up to the beholder to explore Numbers 31 as a manifestation of underlying principles of Western society that can be found in current political conflict s and mass entertainment such as video games.

SWITCHING WORLDS is curated by Christoph Thun-Hohenstein, director of the Austrian Cultural Forum New York. It continues ACF's focus on the relationships between individualism and society, society and economy, economy and media as well as media and lifestyle in the digital age.

An exhibition catalogue including artist statements, an essay by Christoph Thun-Hohenstein, and a fictional fantasy ("Overture") will be published in conjunction with the exhibition.


only in german

Kurator: Christoph Thun-Hohenstein

mit Nin Brudermann, Ursula Endlicher, Rainer Ganahl, Kurt Hentschlager, Iris Klein, Heinz Lechner, Maria Petschnig, Hannes Priesch, Erwin Redl, Stefan Sagmeister / Ralph Ammer