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Alternative Spaces 1050

Franziska Niemand, Nadine Wille, Barbara Höller, Gudrun Wallenböck and Andreas Perkmann Berger (f. l. t. r.) / photo: Christian Wind

Spaces operated by artists mostly combine their own artistic agenda with a scrutiny of artistic practices. They act in a utopian fashion and link individual aspects to general ideas, taking the “lab” for what it is in the first place: a place where the practice of art production dovetails with that of exhibition.

In Vienna’s fifth district there is a high concentration of autonomous art societies that act in very diverse ways. In total, they give a pretty good overview of various aspects of contemporary art. Contemporary art production is characterized, above all, by a great variety of processes and works; an unambiguous, linear understanding of such processes would miss the point. This is why describing the heterogeneity, parallelism and multiplicity of contemporary concepts of art in a confined geographical area or urban district is in itself an act of socio-political value.

The projects presented here all evolved as grassroots initiatives and can therefore quite naturally address art at its basis, which is rarely possible in traditional institutions such as collections, museums or art halls.

Most spaces operated by artists combine their own artistic practice with the necessity of a more general questioning of artistic practices. They associate the individual with the general and diminish the distance between them, thus acting in a utopian fashion. The thematic orientation is usually the direct consequence of the artistic interest of their respective operators, many of whom pursue their own creative processes at the same address.

Their essential motivation is mainly to visualize the theories and solutions of contemporaries, not least as a way of making them negotiable. There is therefore also an element of self-empowerment inherent in alternative spaces, which can effectively co-shape and extend today’s varied artistic canon. Alternative spaces are rarely interested in income from sales of exhibited works; they are financed, instead, by the operators and by traditional means like public sponsoring from the urban district, the city and the Federal Chancellery.

In order to create a decent exhibition space, the connected studio spaces are frequently kept small. In the fifth Viennese district, this is true of Pina, Schaustelle, and Kunstraum SUPER, for example. In such spaces the term “lab,” often misappropriated by major institutions, is actually justified: these are places where the practice of artistic invention dovetails with that of exhibition. The diversity on show is enormous: Hinterland is a place for intercultural, interdisciplinary projects with focus on artists from the Middle East. See you next Thursday focuses on the theme of artistic colla­boration. SIZE MATTERS constantly connects at least two positions from the visual arts and film, which enter into a spatial dialogue. Sehsaal presents architectural and artistic interventions, making space and spatiality its thematic subject. wellwellwell, original­ly known for inviting guest curators, places more em­phasis on collaborative practices between art spaces nowadays. Particularly noteworthy is Schau­stelle, founded by Gerhard Wolf in 2014, where “Josef Who?” conceives, develops and presents video games as a form of participatory, interactive, and social contemporary culture.

So we can see the operators of alternative spaces as cultural service providers with a highly sensitive antenna for contemporary artistic trends: they are the ones who begin to shape a picture that is then rounded off by established (and usually more stable) institutions in accord with cultural memory. And yet, the original place of art production will always be an alternative space, which, from this perspective, should actually be termed “alternative-less.”

A striking feature is the practically complete non- existence of collaboration between space operators. This is explained by the focus set by the spaces on specific mediums, materials, or curatorial concepts. Obviously there is little time left for other activities on the side of running a space and the pursuit of one’s own artistic agenda. Interestingly enough though, initiatives like wellwellwell or See you next Thursday have started to address this gap in their curatorial concepts. It remains to be seen which synergies and artistic concepts will emerge from this.

Text by Christian Bazant-Hegemark:

Christian Bazant- Hegemark, born in 1978, works as a painter and curator. He is represented by Galerie Voss in Düssel­dorf. He studied fine arts at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna with Gunter Damisch, Daniel Richter, and Harun Farocki, and took a PhD in philosophy (2011 to 2015, with Elisabeth von Samsonow, Felicitas Thun-Hohenstein). Various solo exhibitions, awards and residences. Lives and works in Vienna.

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