Heinrich Dunst – Publishing as an Artistic Toolbox: C
For the beginning of spring, the exhibition spaces at the Gallery of Contemporary Art and Architecture at České Budějovice’s House of Art are reserved for Austrian artist Heinrich Dunst.
Dunst presented the joint project Three Names (with Jiří Kovanda) at Prague’s Svit Gallery last year, but this is his first solo exhibition in the Czech Republic.
Heinrich Dunst, a native of Hallein, Austria (1955), is an integral part of today’s Viennese art scene. His work is characterized, among other things, by the concept of “communication.” Especially through his spatial interventions and performances in the space between what we see and what we can say, he pulls us into an environment that explores the relationship between the language of words and the language of objects.
The roots of Dunst’s work reach back to the ideas of Ludwig Wittgenstein or the art of people such as Marcel Broodthaers, who engaged in a basic analysis of our perception of words and images. Another source of inspiration is the Viennese art scene of the 1980s, an era when artists tried to bring abstract painting into a gallery setting.
On this subject, the director of the Düsseldorf Kunstverein Hans-Jürgen Hafner has said: “In the Viennese art world of the ’80s, then dominated by Neue Wilde painting and Neue Geometrie, Dunst, born in 1955, represented a typical conceptual approach of the time that merged abstract painting with the on-site expansion of art into the exhibition space. Dunst contributed to this ‘local blend,’ as dubbed by curator Vitus H. Weh – similar to Ernst Caramelle, Gerwald Rockenschaub and Heimo Zobernig – by contextually defining the (monochrome) panel painting in relation to the exhibition space, and functionalising it, down to design and furnishings. Not that Dunst would have ever abandoned his insistence on the aesthetic integrity and conceptual legitimacy of the individual object. The (abstract) image remains an integral focal point of his work – even when Dunst then tritely relativises it, arranging his monochromely coated plywood panels in serial ‘hangings’ or installing them as support structures in syntactic constellations. In his 1997 work Lost at MAK in Vienna, for instance, he plays with various installation devices to explore the roles that individual picture/frame/plinth-objects can adopt. It would be worthwhile to analyse this so-called ‘local blend’ today with historical hindsight and elaborate on the impact of the picture/space discourse initiated by curator Markus Brüderlin. Brüderlin’s theory highlighting the ‘Wiener Moderne’ as an exceptional case was as local as it was hardcore-formalist, and, in combination with the idea of institutional critique then gaining traction, opened the floodgates for a renewed political approach to aesthetic practice that reverberated far beyond Austria in the ’90s.Looking at Heinrich Dunst’s exhibition, aspects of this history are far from irrelevant, especially given that his apparent affinity for ‘theory’ is symptomatic both of the period in general and of the Vienna art world up to the present day.”
Face to face with Dunst’s installations, we are confronted with moments when our perception finds itself in the space between two phenomena, passing through various layers. We become witnesses of how an image is transformed into words and words into sculpture, a sculpture into film, and back.
The various media reflect ideas that move from one to the next, resulting in transformations such as material-relation, space-concept, color and sign. We can thus speak of the creation of a dialogue among them and the uncovering and transformation of individual meanings.
From 8 November 2017 until 28 January 2018, Vienna’s Kunsthalle hosted an exhibition titled Publishing as an Artistic Toolbox 1989–2017. This exhibition forms one of the reference points for Dunst’s project at the House of Art and which he is calling Publishing as an Artistic Toolbox: C.
The project’s concept is based on the idea of twin references: What is tactics and what is an exhibition’s system, and towards what materials and references (ideologies) does the form of representation lead?
Dunst has prepared a spatial installation whose central aim is not just to communicate with the viewer, but also to engage in a dialogue with the space itself. Using fragments of various materials – industrially produced pink Austrotherm pads (which were also used to cut out the large letters), depersonalized items from everyday life, drawings, and murals – he creates an environment that, within the system of textual references on the walls, references the aforementioned Vienna exhibition and engages in a kind of poetic conflict with a different level of meaning. Dunst thus asks the question as to what this evokes within the experience of perceiving art itself. He believes that this question relates to the ongoing discussion regarding museums, exhibiting, and the politics of meaning.
In relation to Dunst’s exhibition DA at Vienna’s Secession in 2014, Liam Gillick wrote about precisely this issue in what from Dunst’s point of view is a fundamental essay, “The Placeholder as Content.”
Just as in the rest of Dunst’s work, the exhibition in České Budějovice centers on an act that points towards non-linguistic reality, that anchors an answer within context itself – and also on the question that it asks regarding the interface between incarnation and representation. Meaning is thus dependent on communication and can also change depending on it.
In my view, Dunst’s work and ideas were perfectly described by Annette Südbeck: “Dunst puts his doubt about the certainties concerning the relationship between language and the world at the center of his deliberations and challenges us to reflect on the construction of meaning, ultimately revealing the prerequisites on which art itself is based.”
In Zusammenarbeit mit dem Österreichischen Kulturforum Prag.
In collaboration with the Austrian Cultural Forum in Prague.