Once the seat of an internationally influential community that put action above doctrine, Vienna’s creative history provides an enriched and fertile foundation on which its current wave of artists, designers, engineers and artists. architects seem to be building themselves furiously with a similar attitude of action on doctrine. Vienna is currently the fastest growing capital in Europe, and it shows on the ground. Perhaps this has made the current iteration of the Vienna Biennale for Change at the Museum of Applied Arts (MAK) particularly powerful.
The multi-faceted exhibition, which hangs under the title “PLANET LOVE. Climate Care in the digital age ”, opposes any disciplinary line or concern to identify the best and the brightest. It takes a serious look at the grim predictions of the future and what we can do as individuals and collectives to heal and sustain our fragile environment and therefore ourselves. Held in light of the adage that small in minds talk about people while great people talk about ideas, the biennial’s omnivorous appetite is refreshing, if not downright intimidating.
With such a wide range of interests, one can imagine the challenge of convincingly organizing and condensing such a heavy premise into something ultimately bracketed. As a result, curator Marlies Wirth and her team decided to take the practice of reduce and recycle seriously by building on existing work and assembling it into new relationships. “There are so many exciting projects out there already,” says Wirth. “We have a responsibility to take action using our knowledge – Western and Indigenous – and our tools – practical or emotional – to make a turn of events. This is where the notions of love for the planet and climate protection came from: we need a new mindset of interdependence, to create the basis for our actions. With care work (instead of “smart” and “for profit”) in mind, the design of our common future planets has a much more promising basis. “
In the high-ceilinged rooms of the MAK, it plays out like a sort of living encyclopedia with tables loaded with images, books, videos and selected objects contextualized with huge information banners hanging from the rafters. Wirth tells me that these oversized rollers were designed by Parisian designers Ruedi and Vera Baur, and allowed science, activism and cultural touchstones to have bodies in touch with the exhibition of art. “With design being more than products, the project banners allowed us to represent concepts and tools rather than mere objects, and this is an important step in mediation,” says Wirth. “It’s a very dense spectacle, but this density also gives hope: there are many ideas and visions and prototype projects that can be implemented, sized and evolved!
The saturation of the show first made me focus on what was familiar to me. My first tour, I zoomed in on the earthworks that I know from Ana Mendieta and Agnes Denes. I also spied on my beloved and now trending book Enzo Mari who shares DIY ways to make simple plank furniture of the late Italian iconoclast in perpetuity. My second round, I kept the spare items in the mix, including the painting by native Viennese artist Sophie Gogl. Made flat, Gogl’s mush of everyday organic art and impeccable artificial art helped illustrate the Biennale’s desire to hammer home the interdependence that structures our reality. Like bookmarks, these breaks in my journey gave shape to moments of connectivity where aesthetics and actions corresponded to texts and shared ideas.
As for a tome, the exhibition is divided into curatorial chapters. The highlight was without a doubt Invocation for Hope (2021), the SUPERFLUX commission which transformed one of the central atria of the MAK into a charred valley with a mirrored pond at its center. Made from 400 trees recently incinerated in a forest fire, this immersive installation is both a snapshot of our catastrophic trajectory and a symbol of hope. It’s also the only time on the show where Instagram feels like it’s being invoked as a sentiment distribution system. Is this the potential contribution of this art to the cause?
As Wirth explains, “The role of the arts in climate care should not be underestimated. Art has the potential to change our perspective and trigger our imaginations towards the unthinkable, to visualize the impossible and to make us think critically about difficult subjects. Contemporary artists are also increasingly interested in climate change and climate protection as they relate to their own practice. Many artists in the exhibition such as Julian Charriere, Adrien Missika, Thomas Wrede, Xandra van der Eijk, Edgar Honetschläge or Andreas Greiner use their practices and influences to actively contribute whether by planting a tree for each solo exhibition or by documenting melting glaciers or traveling by train instead of flying.
Nowhere in the series does this idea come to life as much as in Foster: the Water and Sol Residence, one of MAK’s basement satellite exhibitions, which used a gardening cooperative project initiated by Angelika Loderers (an Austrian artist who will be featured in the New Museum Triennale in the fall) as a premise for a more traditional group show. During the pandemic, Loaders sent out invitations to other artists in Vienna to participate in a project that would take them slightly beyond the city to farmland where it would provide each participant with a space to grow and harvest their own food. and its flowers. The people involved weren’t selected because of their shared aesthetic, but more so because of their openness to doing something as labor-intensive and community-minded as gardening. So when Wirth proposed to Loderers to bring the concept to the museum, there was no way to find out. that the final presentation would be as cohesive as it was.
Cultivated 30 under 35, Sophie Hirsch was in full force with a sci-fi-worthy sculpture that recalled both Richard Serra’s title walls and Tetsumi Kudo’s terrariums. His plastic display case filled with intestines sat beautifully alongside Loderers own reflections on environmental precariousness using molded and stacked blocks of sand to create leaning water towers and Roman Pfeffer’s sculptural collaboration with an unknown lichen . It was in favor he saw the roots of Vienna grow, waving little white flags of hope. Here is a group of different practitioners in conversation, collectively stretching the methodologies of their individual practices to make way for more sustainable and thoughtful productions without aesthetic mandates or philosophical veils to control this mission. Perhaps gardens have always been the original open source.
Want more culture? Sign up to receive the Cultured newsletter, a bi-weekly guide to what’s new and next steps in art, architecture, design and more.