In the Studio

Andreas Duscha

Vienna, Austria

»To confuse, not to conceal«

Andreas Duscha’s work is determined by aesthetic subtleness and a poetically abstract pictorial language. He adopts events and incidents of greater or lesser importance to develop narratives, from which the viewer can derive new levels of meaning. We met him in his studio, not far away from the garden plots of Vienna’s 15th district. He was about to make final preparations to ship his installation of mirrors to Cologne. It will be his entry as one of 21 artist positions, selected to participate in the Art Award New Positions at Art Cologne.

The floor is very slippery, what are you doing here?
Yes, be careful, watch it. It’s extremely slippery. I’m recreating Galerie Christine König’s booth at the Art Cologne where I’ll have a solo presentation on New Positions, in which I investigate the theme “Disguise and Deceive”. Besides individual works I’ll apply a graphite drawing inspired by the idea of “dazzle camouflage” on the entire surface of the floor. I find the history of “dazzle camouflage” very interesting. In 1910, there was a competition between a zoologist and an artist who were both asked by the British Navy to develop a system to disguise the fleet with a special camouflage design. Funnily, the artist won although both had very similar ideas.

Contrary to many other methods of military camouflaging “dazzle camouflage” does not intend to deceive the enemy but rather impedes the estimation of distance to the object. Eventually an interwoven black-and-white pattern extensively applied to the ships was used. Thus artist Norman Wilkinson established a specific art direction, “Vorticism”, a combination of Cubism and Futurism. The ships were not intended to adjust to the environment but rather “to confuse, rather than to conceal” because the periscopes of the submarines had worked earlier with puzzle pictures whereby two images were superimposed in order to access the distance and speed of the enemy ship. This did not work with the “dazzle paintings”, which produce a moiré effect, which was intended to completely confuse the enemy. At the time it was said: “They are like a migraine to your head.” 

The series consisting of six works deals with two extremely enlarged details of photographs of “dazzle camouflage”-ships which I have shifted seven centimeters. Seven centimeters correspond to the ocular distance between the human eyes. Looking at it from the right perspective, standing directly in front of it, a three-dimensional image emerges. It doesn’t function with me, but there are people who can see it. The work on the floor will be a “dazzle camouflage” motif: Black and graphite, the contrasts can hardly be distinguished while one walks over it. The graphite surfaces are still very slippery. That’ll be different during the fair; a fixative will be applied to the graphite will be applied and it will be duller. The individual floor plates will be prepared in the studio so that we can easily transport and install them at the Art Cologne.

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to confuse, not to conceal, 2016
50x60cm, glas, silver, UV-Print, Courtesy Christine König Galerie, Vienna

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to confuse, not to conceal, 2016
50x60cm, glas, silver, UV-Print, Courtesy Christine König Galerie, Vienna

to confuse, not to conceal, 2016
50x60cm, glas, silver, UV-Print, Courtesy Christine König Galerie, Vienna

to confuse, not to conceal, 2016
50x60cm, glas, silver, UV-Print, Courtesy Christine König Galerie, Vienna

to confuse, not to conceal, 2016
50x60cm, glas, silver, UV-Print, Courtesy Christine König Galerie, Vienna

to confuse, not to conceal, 2016
50x60cm, glas, silver, UV-Print, Courtesy Christine König Galerie, Vienna

The mirror installation on the wall forms the core of your presentation.
Yes, and it’ll be much more difficult to transport. The work consists of an arrangement of sixteen mirrors, which are partly overlapped by glass sheets. Here I play with various levels, which falsify reality through diverse reflections. I would like to pick up on the cubist idea and transform the content back into the formal. The pattern on the floor will be quite recognizable through the partially transparent mirrors. 

I am fascinated by the work with the unpronounceable title. What is it about?
You mean Mamihlapinatapai? I have etched the word into a mirror, it is considered the “most untranslatable” word. It originates from the language of the Yaghan Indians of Tierra del Fuego (Fireland) and means: “A look shared by two people, each wishing that the other would initiate something they both desire but neither of them wants to begin.”
As a fan of conceptual art I visually quote Joseph Kosuth by recreating the piece description and setting it exactly the way he used it in his work “One and Three Chairs”. 

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Mamihlapinatapai, 2016
80x60cm, glas, silver, etched, Courtesy Christine König Galerie, Vienna

Did you etch or engrave the sentence into the mirror?
I actually etched it with a hydrofluoric acid that can no longer be purchased because it is extremely poisonous. The crazy thing is, that the American home-decorating queen, Martha Stewart, offers a product containing the same acid that I use to etch my mirrors. 

Where do you get the mirrors you need for your work?
I produce them myself. I began making mirrors during a residency in Slovakia where was looking for old mirrors with “blind spots”. Not being successful I searched the Internet for a formula to make them myself. The first mirror I made turned out to be a disaster; it looked rather awful. Now I have been making them for over two years and have become relatively good at it. Besides almost transparent mirrors and mirrors with red coloration, I also cast almost entirely black mirrors. This really requires expertise, for the mirror is influenced by both the thickness of the application of the chemicals and how the cast is fixed. Actually mirrors are coated on the reverse surface with bituminous lacquer. In my work at the 21er Haus (Boston Consulting Award 2015) I haven’t done it that way which means that the mirrors are exposed to air for years and in seven to eight years will be completely black.

Do you produce the mirrors here in the studio?
Yes, I produce everything in the studio. And I am glad you came today for until two days ago a huge table was standing here, which I needed for the production of the mirrors and I am also working with chemicals and that isn’t always pleasant and actually quite toxic. 

Untitled, 2016
50x40cm and 20x40cm, glas, silver, Courtesy Christine König Galerie, Vienna

Untitled, 2016
50x40cm and 20x40cm, glas, silver, Courtesy Christine König Galerie, Vienna

You say that you don’t manage to make the mirrors perfectly. Is that your intention?
I always have the intention to produce perfect work but don’t always succeed, I am aware of that. I work a lot with photography; it is something I do although I am not really suited to it.

Wait a moment: You work with photography because you’re not really the type for it?
Precisely! With photography and I don’t mean the taking of photographs, but rather the technical aspects of exposing film accurately and in the darkroom developing the film correctly. You have to be very exacting and that’s not really what I am able to do, therefore it is always a struggle with myself, which I mostly lose. 

It is interesting to note that you spend time with military strategies developing them in your work. What is so interesting about them to you?
I am fascinated in the manipulative elements of strategies like in my work Brood Parasites (Brutparasiten) which I recently presented at Galerie Christine Koenig in Vienna. Most cuckoos are brood parasites, laying their eggs in the nests of other species, ultimately killing the host birds’ brood. They aren’t “good guys” like the military who’re also not “good guys”. However, I like the shifting of levels of meaning. 
Many technical developments have their origin in military technology (Paul Virilio, Doxology). The Internet for example but also the blackest black originates from the military.
My work The Blackest Black and the Whitest White focuses on the exploration of the purest, darkest black. The military has the only use for this color and invests millions of dollars in researching it. Content and rationale of the research is to apply the black lacquer to fighter jets so that they become invisible on radar screens. One square meter of this color costs more than 600 pounds sterling. 

Anish Kapoor has acquired the rights to the blackest black. The military will not be amused. It is a rather strange development that artists acquire the rights to colors.
Kapoor has acquired the rights to the “blackest black” for civil use. The military uses a different color. It is not new that artists protect rights to colors, think of Yves Klein, who in 1960 registered his »International Klein Blue« as a brand. I assume it’ll be just another source of income for Kapoor, that he will sell licenses for the use of this black.

Arecibo, 2016
150x100cm, carbon paper, framed, Courtesy Christine König Galerie, Vienna

Arecibo, 2016
150x100cm, coal on paper, framed, Courtesy Christine König Galerie, Vienna

For me it is one of the many developments that can currently be observed in art: Aesthetics before content. As an artist, you certainly observe very intensely what happens around you, and you also curate exhibitions. Can you anticipate trends? 
At the moment there are many artists who take an image from the Internet which is actually completely “non-auratic”, because it essentially exists only as a binary code, switching to analog in the process of transforming it into an original, it becomes a kind of personal appropriation of the object – an inverse Walter Benjamin as it were. 
What is also apparent is that the medium of sculpture is becoming increasingly more popular. I haven’t quite understood the reason for it yet. Museums cannot easily acquire sculptures because they don’t have enough storage space; storage space is costly! One reason for the recent increasing popularity for sculpture is that they can be easily outsourced. One sends a sketch to the workshop and they build the sculpture. That is not so easy in painting. The pressure to be successful is quite big. If one participates in thirty or forty exhibitions per year, the work can’t be managed alone. One needs a support team. My assistant Sophie is helping me, she’s the best and I am very fortunate! Together we manage beautifully. Imagining if I were able to have twenty-five Sophies, I could produce ceaselessly. That, however, would compare to manufacture and would then have less to do with artistic work.

I notice that some artists are under pressure from the art market! It can quickly make them appear desperate. With you it is different which I find a relief. One thing builds on the other and one recognizes a central theme. 
Pressure is a problem! Today’s generation of 25-year old artists in particular produces the pressure for the most part themselves. Currently one exhibition resembles another regardless of whether one sees it in Cologne or in Zurich – everything is reduced to the “Art-Basel sales mode”. I come from a very different time. When I studied, we discussed whether we wanted to participate in the “Rundgang” of the Academy at all, whether we should support the Academy’s representation strategies or rather produce art for the ivory tower! Today 3.000 people participate in the “Rundgang” of the Academy and do Techno Rave. It’s totally out of proportion! I am fully aware of the market mechanisms. One has to participate to a certain degree, because one has to pay one’s rent. I am realistic. It’s okay. I don’t have a problem with it.

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Is art a sort of vocation or is it a job like any other job for you?
It would be going too far to consider “art a vocation” because for me it is too connected to the idea of the “artist as genius”. I find it problematic to consider art as a job or as a business. It appears as though many question if they should study dentistry or art. When you study art you can hang out at the cooler parties, earn money faster – so they study art. I am missing critical reflection. Is it not our task to be against something? We should rather question, if things out there are sensible? 

Do you consider it an artist’s task to question the world?
I am not a big fan of explicitly political art. I think the decision to become an artist is a political decision per se, because one deliberately enters a precarious situation. That’s different with many people who pursue a “classic” job. As an artist one actually can’t be apolitical. 
Personally I am interested in social topics. Before I started studying art, I studied sociology, history, and psychology. I’ve always had an interest in society and topics related to it. Imagining I would have to do abstract painting – I wouldn’t have a clue how to go about it. I can’t do it. I don’t have a talent for it.

Where do you get your ideas? What inspires you?
When I was younger I used to read a lot, I am still benefitting from that. Today I research a lot on the Internet. There I come across interesting things. For example, I made a work about Annie Taylor, an American teacher who decided to become famous. On her 63rd birthday she plunged over Niagara Falls locked inside a wooden barrel. She survived the stunt and became famous overnight. The day before the stunt a test fall was made with a cat, it is not recorded whether the cat survived the fall. Taylor’s fame vanished quickly. But using the account of the cat’s participation, she appeared with her barrel and always changing cats in many American freak shows over the years. A myth began to form around the cat. Was it the real cat or had the real cat died? It is curious events like this that interest me. I discovered this story also in the Internet.

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The process of research is a firm element of your work.
True, I really do very intensive research. I still sometimes get stuck about a theme. The difficulty is rather to find the right theme. I’m some kind of a research junkie for both my works and for the other projects I do – together with Marlies Wirth I am curating more and more exhibitions. I really love art and follow attentively what others do. The best site for me is »Who wore it better« which shows artists who have done the same work. The works are posted side by side without commentary and without the information of who made the work first. That’s fabulous because one wants to know if someone works on the same theme that one is working on. If that happens it’s okay, but when one knows it’s somehow strange. 

I like to watch in which direction art is developing. Lately green plants appear everywhere. I can’t remember how many exhibitions I have seen where some lunatic has placed a Yucca plant somewhere. Apparently many have discovered their “green thumb”, it is really noticeable.

You’ve already mentioned that you are also curating exhibitions. Do you see yourself rather in the role of a curator, or is it an artistic statement for you to arrange an exhibition?
It is a very lucky that Marlines Wirth and I have 90 percent overlapping points in content. In our joint exhibitions the idea according to which we choose the artists is always in the foreground – less their entire work but rather specific works. One is citing as it where something and develops it further in the context. That is not so dissimilar to my work as an artist. 
In my work I consistently adopt elements from the buildings blocks of art history. In my work about the prayer rooms in airports I was convinced that I wanted to quote the Benchers’ aesthetics. It was clear how the photograph had to be composed. It is a deliberate decision that one moves in a tradition. One can’t pretend as though one didn’t know what has been done in the past.

Perhaps artists are the better art historians or better curators.
What artists may be able to do better as art historians is the treatment of space. In this regard artists simply have more experience than curators. On the other hand curators can write texts a thousand times better because they have simply much more experience in the field. 

A few years ago you have organized the conversation series Kleinodien – Anomalous Talks with Cathérine Hug and Clemens Berger, for which you invited people in order to discuss their passion of collecting. Do you collect?
This was very exciting. For example, we have spoken with Wittigo Keller, the curator of the Funeral Museum Vienna, about his passion to collect everything connected with death and dying. I find collecting per se very fascinating. It has to do with passion and with power. I am not at all a collector of art or anything else. I am on the contrary rather a discarder.

You came to Vienna over ten years ago. Why Vienna?
I ‘ve already lived here for sixteen years and I want to stay here. I like Vienna very much and wouldn’t be able to adjust to a new city and to rebuild all contacts I need for my work. It is very pleasant for artists to live in Vienna. I love that I can reach many things on foot. My apartment is in the second district – in the summer I like to walk home in the evening. That might not be possible in other cities. That is my time to “unwind”. 

Interview: Michael Wuerges, Silvia Jaklitsch
Photos: Maximilian Pramatarov

Links
Andreas Duscha website
Christine König Galerie, Vienna


#loveart, #AndreasDuscha, #ChristineKoenigGalerie, #NewPositions, #ArtCologne

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