17 03 07

A veto!

To the memory of Birgit Jürgenssen

Elisabeth Steger

Some background information to the text
"Birgit Jürgenssen or Body Art against the Semiotics of Capital" 
written by Peter Weibel (1)

Birgit Jürgenssen ( 1949 - 2003 )*, an Austrian artist and one of my teachers, acted quite friendly against me. I do remember it well, in 1989 we met first. Birgit created a wise ritual: all the new students who had been put up into the class of professor Arnulf Rainer at the academy of fine arts in Vienna, in which Birgit Jürgenssen had have a teaching profession, have been photographed by her in these first days of a new period in our lives. Afterwards she placed the polaroid- portraits on one wall of the teachers room, so everyone of us could have an overview of all class members, and could get known to each others faces.
Let me tell you about another meeting which I remember rather clearly, ten years later. In the meantime I had finished my studies, but sometimes came back "home" to "my" school for looking after news or information or friends or simply for doing my email-correspondences on one of the computers which were available also for former students. We met in this computer room, the so-called cage, and even a few days before I had come back from a travel to Switzerland, where I had visited the 7th International Performance Conference (2) in the Kunsthaus of Glarus. And Birgit especially enjoyed my narrations about a performance of Esther Ferrer which I had seen there with great pleasure. She shared this pleasure: The Spanish body artist Ferrer counted loudly all the viewers in the audience of her performance pointing her finger at every single one, she stood up on a platform and put her shirts down and wrote on her chest the word "performance" with a black marker, showing the outcome to all who are able to read: performance is written on my body" (22)

( With Alain Badiou we could say that Esther Ferrer made our situation visible through counting on everybody who was present, made perceptible an ontological situation through the poetry of the body ). Birgit Jürgenssen was very enterprising and asked me then about doing a project together. Well, this idea of a collaborative project of Birgit Jürgenssen and Elisabeth Steger never became real.  My inner situation was similiar to the outer mirror, the computer cage, where we met:  I was caught in greatest respect, I think, and had already been more interested in writing than in doing visual arts.

At this same time in 1999 Peter Weibel has still been Austrian Biennale commissioner for Venice. And its an obvious fact that although he is praising the labour of Birgit Jürgenssen in his text in words of overwhelming honour
("Her visual critique of cultural stereotypes, of the ethnicization and colonization of women in the culture of capitalism is (feminist) art of the highest order") he forgot quite fast on her labour after the text was published in 1998. I think it is quite necessary to show the historical circumstances, because texts are not timeless things. Weibel´ s task as commissioner has been to propose artists from Austria for presenting their works and representing "their" country in the show in Italy. The last time in 1997 Weibel´ s idea of showing the "Wiener Gruppe" or strictly speaking a comprehensive catalogue about this artist group in the Austrian pavilion ended up in a coup. The name "Weibel" left as the only one, left as the name of the creator of the idea. But in 1999 he appeared slowly and he was criticized heavily by artists, gallery owners and cultural journalists for that. His acting of deferring the decision as long as possible was regarded as a very unprofessional behaviour. Patricia Grzonka wrote in those days about Weibel´ s hesitating strategy in a critical comment published in the Austrian magazine profil (3) :

"Weibel - who is apart from being commissioner also head of the new gallery in Graz, new head designate at the centre for art and media technology in Karlsruhe and professor at the university of applied arts in Vienna - declared that he has three scenarios in work." And the obviously mega- busy, poly-tasked man of the art world explained his reasons to the magazine: "It is like football. First I will observe the others, how they will act, and not until then I will decide." As art theme of the year 1999 the media expert Weibel choose surprisingly one which was not his own: "acting instructions or art in the social field". Is it superfluous to mention that Birgit Jürgenssen felt a huge, understandable annoyance about Weibel´ s proposal - Irene und Christine Hohenbüchler did it, the "actionists of charity" (4) ?  She told me trustfully about her rage at this 1999 meeting.

The emphasis Peter Weibel has shown about Austrian (feminist) body art  in this text vanished into thin air in his art-political practice as commissioner although both happened parallel. Why he did not propose Birgit Jürgenssen for the Austrian pavilion in 1999,  an artist who "recognizes that seemingly natural femininity is a social construction dictated by men. She frees herself from this dictatorship by rejecting any housewifely identification of her body and her social functions" ? Was he afraid of female artists like Birgit Jürgenssen (5) ? 

Has it been easier for him to propose women (artists) who work in an (art) field which traditionally belongs to women ( the social field ) because he could stay then in his capitalistic/ schizophrenic position oscillating between naiveté and dictatorship (6) ? Or has he moreover been afraid of his own courage or his own body ? Was he afraid of being remembered on the serious internationally art stage in the context of Austrian body art as a little doggy dog at Valie Export´ s leash ? Was he afraid of being ridiculous while trying hard to be regarded as an eloquent curator, multi-head of museums and editor of art theory ? Probably you know the photo I am alluding to: Valie Export is walking through the streets of the city together with Peter Weibel -  Peter Weibel is here crawling animal-like deep down with his knees on the dirty street floor and submitted and subordinated to his Frauchen (7). But for sure this vanguard art pieces happened long time ago, in 1969, when the "gender debate, imported by the art world from the U.S.A. in the 1990s, had actually begun in Europe ... at that time, however, the art world suppressed the debate." We conclude that Mr. Weibel prolonged this suppression a little bit more by himself. Should we apologize this way of (not-) acting caused by his too much work at all, as Patricia Gzonka diagnosed his situation 8 years ago ? He actually repressed feminist art with a social-critical concern as commissioner-although it looks like a friendly obituary reading his text today, without knowing the context.   

I am tempted to propose a change for Mr. Weibel. After a quite successful career as a male, white participant of the art world ( as artist, curator, author etc. ) he could show us how real flexibility looks like.  Isn´ t it a fantastic idea: Weibel as an organizer of a football event. We know that he is already familiar with some football rules and strategies of this global ball game. Maybe he could start combining sports and politics: the worldwide kicked ball as res publica. The coming years in Austria would bring good opportunities for that in any case. But that´ s an utopian idea -  I am sure Mr. Weibel is choose again as an important representative in the European arty parliament in the Amphitheatre de Paris this weekend ( ).

Last time I met Birgit Jürgenssen at the gallery of Hubert Winter (8). I listened to her while she was speaking to a friend. The two women were telling each other their problems with teeth. I was curious and Birgit noticed that and said to me: "Hey, you are too young for those problems. You have still some life time without being confronted with them." But I did not let up listening and finally caught that: the women discussed the scientifically proved fact, that women older than 50 years often get problems with their jaw, because all the rage in (female) life which cannot be expressed will be acted out through the jaws in night during our dreams. And that causes teeth problems. Well, let´ s act it out, our rages, when we are awake.

And because I am not satisfied with Weibel´ s determination at all I put this question at the end: would You call Birgit Jürgenssen a body artist ? She is in any case a soul artist  and first of all I would call her a great photographer.

"... memory is nothing else than the certainty of having worn most different masks and of willing to get the rest." (9)

1 This text was already published in German in the catalogue “Früher oder später- Birgit Jürgenssen” which came out in 1998 on the occasion of the exhibition “Birgit Jürgenssen” in the museum of the country of upper Austria in Linz.  Bibliothek der Provinz / Weitra / ISBN 3-85252-210-2 / pages 83-85



22 but please have a look:  If you click on „Bilder“ and then on “Esther Ferrer” you see a picture of the per-formance. 

3 Weibels Abseitsfalle ( Weibels working trap ) profil 5 / 1. Februar 1999/ culture / page110 and 111

4 as they have been called in a critic on April 29th 2004 in "Die Zeit" Nr. 19 by Hanno Rauterberg

5  „Vorsicht – vielleicht kommen die Damen“ ( Attention – maybe the ladies are coming ) Lawrence Weiner wrote on his first draft of a poster for Vienna, which is placed in the catalogue “Früher oder später- Birgit Jürgenssen“, on page 82, vis-a-vis to the text of Peter Weibel

6 Refering here to the text „Snobistische Leere als letzte ästhetische Form des globalen Kapitalismus“ by Marina Gržinić, Malmoe 34, page 18, 2006/

7 “Die Mappe der Hundigkeit“ 1969[showUid]=3251&tx_pksaw_pi2[sort]=ESJSRT%3A0&tx_pksaw_pi2[pointer]=3


9 Elisabeth Samsonow in „Maske extra“, a text also published  in “Früher oder später- Birgit Jürgenssen“ on pages 7/10/12 and 14. Maybe it would have been better to publish this text of Elisabeth Samsonow in the multitudes magazine than again a Weibel thing ( The name Jürgenssen ist moreover written wrong in the address ).

Elisabeth Steger