BY Justin Hoffman in Reviews | 06 MAR 95
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Issue 21

Kunst Heimat Kunst

BY Justin Hoffman in Reviews | 06 MAR 95

The word Heimat - home, or homeland - has long been obsolete in German-speaking countries. But for some years now, attempts have been made to redefine the term, giving it meanings such as 'community', and not simply consign it to the remote past. In the process, the political left has developed the concept of Heimat as a place where resistance is no longer required. The project Kunst Heimat Kunst pursues this question in the realm of art, although it is never made clear why it should be so difficult to shake off this loaded term. Language, after all, constantly goes through a process in which words appear and disappear again.

This project, staged in many different countries by Werner Fenz, demonstrates the many diverse ideas held by artists on the meaning of Heimat. Only some of the participants see it as being applicable to the place where they live and, in many cases, it is viewed with a certain scepticism. The Berlin artist Raimund Kummer, for example, sees Heimat as representing an imaginary concept, a fairy-tale place. So he has taken as the starting-point of his work the castle of Sanssouci in Potsdam, with its famous park. Kummer is fascinated with the movement of plants in and out of the Orangerie. For a few days the building's Great Hall housed his installation Mehr Licht ('More Light', the supposed last words of Goethe), for which he arranged about a hundred enlarged artificial eyes and diagrams of an eye disorder around the floor. But he was also interested in the decorative plants themselves. He placed advertisements in a local newspaper, and produced a brochure in which all the plants were given precise descriptions. For the Russian artist Vadim Zakharov, on the other hand, Heimat is a place where he can communicate properly, in this instance the castle grounds of an Austrian sponsor.

For other artists involved, the project is an opportunity to think about their own nation and comment upon political conditions and developments. Here, Heimat is interpreted as a symptom of national processes. The Swiss duo Marcel Biefer and Beat Zgraggen took their personal situation as their subject matter. They both refused to take part in Switzerland's compulsory civil defence, which has little in common with non-military community service in other European countries, and were put in jail. Allowed out for one week to make their work, they dug a large number of jail-break-type holes under a marquee - a reference primarily to the bunker idea of civil defence in Switzerland. Should a war break out, every Swiss citizen is supposed to have an underground hole to use as a shelter.

For the Slovenian group Irwin, the concept of Heimat was an opportunity to proclaim their own state. In a work in Ljubljana they organised a demonstration on behalf of the NSK state (NSK stands for Neue Slowenische Kunst, an oblique reference to 'NS-Staat' or Nazi State). It was a temporary state, with its own passports and charters, its own music and paintings. Helped by the organisation he founded, the 'Department of Perceptual Disturbance', Kurt Buchwald commented upon the changes in East Berlin. When the GDR existed, the Marx Engels Forum was one of the most typical squares in East Berlin and here Buchwald erected a monumental black plate that interrupted the axial view of the square. It was only when you passed through the hole in the plate that you could see the square in the familiar way; 'in accordance with the old order'. Frank Castelyns deals with urban disorder. For two decades he has been going around Antwerp collecting refuse. For Kunst Heimat Kunst he rented a space on the Jordaenskaai, producing a garbage installation in the tradition of Junk Art.

With Willie Bester and Andrew Putter, two other artists who are also based in Kapstadt, South Africa, Sue Williamson decorated the inside and outside of a railway freight car - a bright, vital work that conveys something of the atmosphere of a new start prevailing in their country. The artists chose the freight car for its associations with both the nomadic life and communication. Their installation was mobile, and travelled from place to place around the country. The Styrian-based couple Horàkova/Maurer were prompted by similar ideas when they wrote inscriptions on the trams in Graz, using the vehicles to propel messages through the streets of the city. Ange Leccia produced an uncharacteristically romantic and emotional work on the subject of Heimat. His arrangement of a series of photographs, videos and light-boxes presented the island of Corsica as the site of elemental natural forces.

The exhibition concept of Kunst Heimat Kunst was extremely unusual in itself, not only in its global orientation but also regarding its temporal dimension. The installations and interventions on show were produced over a period of three years and didn't reach their conclusion until late 1994. In the last year, a new idea was added to the project by the curator Paolo Bianchi, which complicated the original concept. The analysis of the idea of Heimat was now to be considered in dialogue form: an Austrian artist would collaborate with a foreign artist on a project, as if the latter needed help with the topic. Thus, Andrei Khlobystin worked with Eva Afuhs in St. Petersburg on the installation of a kitchen under the motto 'home is where the kitchen is'. Afuhs also worked with the Japanese artist Mio Shirai, filming a sleep-in following a techno party at the Art Front Gallery in Tokyo.

By October 1994, all the projects were finally supposed to have been documented at the Künstlerhaus in Graz; but the end product was more an ambitious art exhibition than a display of information. The walls in the exhibition hall were redesigned on the model of a late 19th century German house and each of the participating artists, or groups, had a room of their own. In some of these, the visitor found documentation on finished projects; in others, completely new works only distantly related to the overall concept. Within the complex structure of documentation and presentation of works and projects, and given the spatial and temporal differences, the examination of the concept of Heimat tended to fade into the background.