In the Studio

Judith Fegerl

Vienna, Austria

»I try to compress energy and tension.«

Judith Fegerl produces sculptures and installations that intervene in the structures of the used materials as well as the existing exhibition spaces. By means of electrical currents energy and tension in objects are condensed and expand the term sculpture into an alternative condition. The energy sources of the art institutions are drawn upon and newly worked into the architecture. Fegerl’s works leave traces and are challenging to both interested viewers and to the artist herself.

You produce objects that are often charged with voltage, by which a thoroughly threatening situation arises for the viewer. What claim is behind it?
A primary element in my work is electricity. Although this form of energy is one that has impacted our lives in a profound way for 180 years it still retains a certain degree of indeterminacy. The handling of electricity is extremely daunting outside of the safe channels of household appliances. Endeavors to control this force and its unpredictability are the reason why electricity is ascribed the female gender. I try to compress energy and tension and to demonstrate the time component in the process. The sculptures moment, last shown in the solo exhibition in charge at Taxispalais Kunsthalle Tirol and at 21er Haus for the BC21 ArtAward, consist of massive steel parts held together by specially produced electromagnets. Electromagnets manifest their magnetic power only under the action of electricity. If the electric current is interrupted, the sculpture collapses. This possibility creates an immediate relationship with the object that has sometimes nothing to do with art reception. Looking at the sculpture becomes the experience of a fleeting moment. Furthermore, the alternative condition of the sculpture is automatically considered, namely the possibility of collapse. This places the sculpture, space, and time, upon an axis.

Contrary to being charged, entire art institutions are discharged by you. In the process cable paths and connections become visible. Why this pinpointing?
I consider the museum a neutral space that functions like an intensive care station for artworks. There are universal interfaces, compatible standards. Works are positioned, lit, connected, secured, monitored, recorded, and after a certain time packed up, discharged and dismantled. The machinery of the business and the structural conditions are part of my observations and the resulting works. For the work self I deprived an entire art space of all electrical power lines, lights, outlets, monitors, workstations, and other fittings, rendering it dark and raw. It was important to me to show the space as an energy providing shell. The installation cauter takes as a theme the potential of electrical cables. When the power current is applied the cables become so overloaded that they burn through the wall and drawings emerge. During the preparation of such an installation, I collaborate closely with the institutions. This way I get insight into spaces that are usually not accessible, that’s exciting!

You’ve been invited by the Landesgalerie Niederösterreich to integrate an installation into the architecture. What can you tell us about it?
I was asked to develop a piece that deals with the museum itself and therefore I have been involved very early in the initial construction phases. I was able to study the planned gestalt and form quite intensively. I compare the form of the museum with the ideal-typical cube and ask the question, what amount of kinetic energy will be necessary, departing from the cube, to achieve the building shape of the museum. Three different objects will be integrated in the walls of the museum which through their own form are to provide information about the virtually stored energy in the museum building. Here, too, I provide an image about an alternative state, a potential form inherent in the actual form. A second part of the work consists of bronze casts of tightened tension springs.

Your works are very technical and you need in part heavy and complex material that can’t always be easily found. Where do you get your materials?
I collect, materials and processes. I document a lot and go through the world with very open eyes. I am fascinated by details, often really small things that set in motion cascades of thoughts inspiring entire works. Of course I research a lot and learn new skills when concrete tasks demand it. I rarely fall back on off-the-shelf solutions. For the most part my requirements are so specific that I develop custom-made parts with companies or produce them myself. Regarding the materials, I am interested in specific properties, technical applications that charge themselves up with new content for me. Examples are waxed paper or porcelain. Some materials I have to hunt for because they are hard to find. Over time, a material database has developed against which new finds are checked.

How high is the experimental expense in your work? What is being tested beforehand and how long?
Installations like cauter or reservoir were preceded by expansive test phases. They can take more than a year. Initially, I have a certain idea how I want to use a material or work on a theme. During the first trials I might be surprised how a material reacts or overreacts. And it is not completely free of dangers, a couple of times I’ve had my fingers too close to a live cable or connection. This is special for works that involve open electrical currents or unstable sockets, the safety issues for such exhibitions have to be addressed beforehand. Some works need long-term tests to ensure there will be no problems during operation. It is quite elaborate, therefore it is particularly important to act more spontaneously with drawings and smaller objects. When I draw I am very close to my thoughts and can experiment quickly using the dynamic of the moment. In the process new things arise that inscribe themselves into larger works.

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