19 06 07

a beautiful installation - for 6 hours and participation

elisabet steger

"Today is the long night of the churches, this installation takes 6 hours, there are 300 books. The movement of this installation is without exception minimizing, a minus size", we can read on a flyer handed out by the artist Gertrude Moser- Wagner. So it has been a temporary installation, at the Anna Church in Vienna, on June the first 2007 - on that special evening, which is a rather new institution, when "the churches" in Vienna undertake great efforts for the purpose of advertising.

Before it was used in artistic vocabulary the term installation first meant the performance of installing a person into a position of authority. This old sense is still co-vibrating in this lightning installation of Gertrude Moser- Wagner who is sculptor but could be called a multi- media artist because she is acting as a graphic-, video-, performance artist as well as organizing or let´ s say practicing the art of invitation. It is co- vibrating in a paradox style, because the whole work is dedicated to the philosopher Simone Weil who "stood in distance to the church in general, as mystics practice love far from ecclesiastical institutions"- or, as Gertrude Moser- Wagner is writing: "Through this installation I introduce to you the thinker and practical person" Simone Weil, activist and theorist in one person. ( The German verb "vorstellen" which is used here has at least 3 meanings: to introduce, to perform and to imagine ). For years Gertrude Moser- Wagner´ s work is characterized through what is nowadays mostly called "art in public space". We would prefer to name it an "art developing public space". She chooses on this occasions already existing architectonical as well as landscape situations - not the white cube. And these situations are ones which have a certain attraction on her, an attraction which is caused by names, or more abstractly speaking by language. At least her installation labour is disturbing (in) these spaces, is initiating some processes. She once called herself a catalyst.

1. The facts

Vis- á- vis the entry of the little baroque church a video is projected onto the space which lies in between an empty frame at the church wall. The video is played in the loop: In three different, short sequences we see "three movements to S.W." repeating itself pure endlessly :

- first part of the video shows a situation on a public square in a small town on Sardinia: an old lady with a head scarf is sitting on this place, has caught a bird and is now trying to spread the wings of this animal to show the violently unfolded body to the camera, the artists apparatus. We can hear the cries of the bird while the old lady is grasping it and trying to loosen also its feet which got caught in her black clothes. We can hear the verse of a pop song in the background: Stop in the name of love, before you break my heart. At least the bird is successful in escaping, we can hear a female voice, the artists voice commenting the escape with "È volato!" and close fitting her liberated laughter, while the old lady is looking after the bird and clapping her hands. The video stops with that still showing the clapping hands of the old lady in the folded position, which we know from prayers gestures.

- a four parted picture comes next: the background of the video pictures is now a white room with an empty frame at a white wall, a former passage which has been laid on with bricks, an installed wall . This part is called "W.E.I.L." The body of the artist is presented, moving through this space, walking from one side to the other and back, passing the frame while turning around in itself. We see simultaneously: one picture showing only the space with the frame, below the upper body appearing in movement, right above in detail the forehead of the person in action and at least a close- up of the turning.

- the third part presents again the artists body standing in a empty tiled basin, grasping the edges of it, jumping out of that pool, disappearing outside the frame, vanishing.

In addition to the video 300 copies of "Simone Weil - an introduction" are lying on the floor in front of a side altar to be picked up, installed in two blocks we can walk through straight ahead to the altar where a transparent receptacle is standing. This receptacle contains pieces of a fabric designed by the artist in the framework of her last conceptual labour named "alter ego", which happened in the inner city of Vienna too. It is a white/black plastic fabric with the word "Widerspruch" in black/ white letters printed on. Gertrude Moser- Wagner calls this fabric pieces "Widerspruchsfragmente" and gives us a proposal for the use of these fragments: we could use them as bookmarks. Widerspruch, we think, means at least both in this context: the term points to outer contradictions as well as to inner contradictions, paradoxes too ( if we can put the difference between contradiction and paradox like that ).

2. "The aesthetical desire of Simone Weil got a certain satisfaction more in the ceremonies, the architecture and the music of the catholic church."

Video is a relative new apparatus. The purpose video is developed for is to serve TV. In her installation Gertrude Moser- Wagner uses video pictures in the way film pictures or slides are traditionally shown: through projection- so a difference in dictated use is made. These video pictures get into dialogue or maybe concurrence with the paintings in the church, the altar paintings and ceiling frescos. But they are disturbing the correct historical descendent line: film genealogically refers to fresco, while video relates to the surface of water, magnifying glass, microscope, telescope. And connected with this genealogies are of course the different aims, the power of the pictures: the video is not representing something like the painted canvases and walls with their depicted stories of holy people do representing the ecclesiastically authority- video is actually a tool for presenting and for philosophical needs, in our case it is presenting two times the body of the artist in action, performing a gesture and one time presenting something else but which is also moving, something which stands in close connection to the human body - an animal.
Moreover we would like to interpret this animal treated violently as a symbol for language, and if we do like that, this video sequence turns up to be a parable. A little parable which reminds us to the one Toni Morrison speaks about in her Nobel prize of literature speech. Morrison tells us the story of a blind woman who is asked by two children keeping a bird in their hands whether this bird is dead or alive. The blind woman answered, simultaneously refusing the question, removing it: I do not know, but I know that it lies in your hands. In analogy we could interpret the bird in the hands of the old lady "church" as the maltreated language, battered by the ones who are demonstrating their power. Toni Morrison speaks then about that what the fundamental problem of representation means in the empire of language: The representative language not only represents power, it is power.
We think that the confrontation produced between the representing pictures in the church and the video of Gertrude Moser- Wagner presenting "bodies that matter" opens a discourse about this same problem of representation/ presentation, in an expanded way, on a pictorial and the body level: we ourselves are staying in the church, we spend some time there, together with the artist, the visitors. And we hear the sound of a liberated female laughter, in this silent space, a space where the sounds performed in are strictly ruled upon. And that sounds a little revolutionary, we think.
The artist performs another quality of the gesture of video: she is manipulating the linearity of time. It is possible to synchronize a diachronical phenomenon through video pictures. And Gertrude Moser- Wagner is manipulating the linearity of time especially in constructing "W.E.I.L.". It is possible to draw a comparison with the labour of a composer, who is synchronizing tones, composing symphonies - but in difference to that a video- artist is composing time- periods.
Finally, to complete the introduction of Simone Weil, Gertrude Moser- Wagner choose a book about the philosopher, a critical introduction, to be picked up by the active participants who want to move too - at least a little bit. Gertrude Moser- Wagner told me that it was the condition for her collaboration with the responsible people of the Anna church that this book was provided for free. We think that is a quite funny circumstance: spending literature about the highly critical Simone Weil inside the territory of the ecclesiastical authority. And it has indeed been real fun to stay there.

3. "The Beautiful is something the Attention can rest on" S.W.

It seems to us that Gertrude Moser- Wagner realized an installation which does completely justice to the aesthetical thoughts of Simone Weil - as a minus size. And this minus size is beautiful, not only in the context of the baroque church, also in the context of the "public spaces" we are living in: they are littered with any possible means, but rarely with something we can rest on.

Literature: Große Denker: Simone Weil, Eine Einführung, Heinz Abosch

Elisabeth Steger