Catalogue: solo exhibition ‘Das Experiment’, Secession, Vienna 2001
Delphine Bedel, interviewed byPatrick Dax and Carola Platzek
What was your image of Vienna before coming here?
It was above all the social imaginary built through films, novels, press, music, popular culture, and the internet, gathering impressions of the place and of different social and political situations.
What does it mean to come to Vienna: a visit to Berggasse 19, a trip to the Ferns wheel in the Prater? Or for instance, if you look at the story of “The Third Man”, it is based on a novel taking place in Post-World-War-ll Vienna, which was turned into a movie. I could wish to visit some of the original locations of the movie, like the sewer, and discover that it is a tourist attraction today, with actors playing out some of the scenes. There is a play between the fictive and the real, where the public image of a place is constructed by fiction and entertainment, rather than history. Perhaps this is even a motive for people to come here. I lived for a month in an apartment in Vienna, which is actually used as a psychotherapy office. It was an ironic and meaningful experience. But what is or is not relevant to see? Who is an un/reliable narrator, do I need a map or a cell phone?
How did you approach the “real” city? As a kind of contemporary flaneur? No, I would obviously be closer to the urban “derive” of the Situationists rather than the flaneur as described by Walter Benjamin. I made most of these “drifts” through Vienna with people I met here through friends, asking them to show me their favourite place or anything that is relevant to them. There is no goal to most of this walks. It is a process of collecting sounds, images, according to certain topics in my works, or stones and memories I heard. I take the city as a structure of confluence between attraction and distraction. Attraction relates to desire but also to gravity and entertainment. In French the word “distraction” means to be distracted, to lose your attention from something, but it also means amusement. Can I experience the city as something other than a “scripted space” as described by Norman Klein, looking at the way architecture is used to tell us stories, what is remembered or forgotten, how spaces are configured as a narrative journey, where the audience becomes the central character. Walking through the city I see what’s visible and what might be hidden, which could mean, what’s revealed from history and what’s not.
The term of the flaneur is often connected to investigation, collection, obsession, compulsion, repetition … Yes, the “compulsion of repetition”! Possibly a Freudian aspect in my work. There are very obsessive parts – like I have this “Perecian” way of making these impossible inventories and archives like all the names that are in the city, all this written text displayed on shopping windows or billboards. I have a variety of archives from every place I’ve been to. In my video works I focus more on amusement and speed. In a way it is an absurd, poetic, impossible, playful attempt, a never-ending process,to read the city and popular culture as an alternative form of literature, and an experience of different motion in an urban surrounding. I am curious in particular about theme parks and amusement areas, where you are supposed to have fun, like a replay of childhood at a higher speed. The shifting of a city through tourism, urbanism, shopping malls to an apparent entertainment.
You are operating with different layers, it seems like a play with the obvious and the hidden. I see my work as part individual and part collective. I try to capture daily situations or information, where collective memory is shifted to a familiar but unstable territory to be experienced again.
You oppose the rather selective gaze of the city-dweller to the more cohesive view of the panorama. One of the two videos I made for the exhibition is called “Aussicht”, a real loop in time and space, in a take of 26 minutes. A young woman is sitting in a cafe, in a rather calm manner, while the whole background behind her is shifting. It is almost a still image. The piece started with the idea of the panoramic view as a sublime. Normally, the Donauturm, which can be considered as entertainment architecture, offers an “Aussicht”. It’s a turning 360 degree panoramic view of the city. But I was filming on a foggy day, so the panorama seems to be erased. Vienna can only be recognized in a fragmentary way. It is just a Viennese afternoon in a cafe. A singular experience finds itself in a structured surrounding.
Your work seems to have a lot to do with individuals being addressed by their environment, being subjected to advertising-slogans, the signs of the city. Do you think that the political situation in Austria is reflected in the signs of everyday life? I believe that there is a form of contamination in language and attitudes. It draws attention and discussion towards other topics, while opening public space to a certain form of discussion that did not have so much space before.
Actually, it’s a kind of symptom that society constructs an illusion of the private. There is a collective shift to entertainment and the many possibilities of amusement. You have been in the Prater a lot, why?
Public space and private space are becoming mixed up, the public and the private view. New technologies are autonomously developing their own systems of control, like Sim-city as a home model of city development. In relation to these different kinds of control, the idea of the private is a disappearing concept. The private is obsolete. It’s nostalgia. Vienna is one of the few cities in Europe that has had a permanent amusement area for a long time, that is part of the daily culture. I wondered about how it is entertaining or boring? The site is defined to be experienced in a certain way, you are supposed to feel free and to lose control. But there is a precise pattern behind it that decides certain things you can and cannot do. The second video “Extasy” was made in the Prater in one of the rides. The whole vision gets blurred by speed and extreme motion of the attraction. That’s the delightful loss of control in a controlled space.
Losing control in a controlled space? Sounds obscure to me. In a designed space, rather than a controlled space. In this second video the landscape disappears as well. In both videos the body is moved by a machine in search of a visual or physical moment, as a kick, a simulated and stimulated immediate experience.
You use different media in your work, like photography, video, and sound. Your installation produces a vertical, poly-perspective view of the city in itself. It mixes up listening and seeing. It takes the viewer on imaginary trips. What is the relation between vision and sound in your installation?While relating to a cinematographic aspect in my work, I’m looking for this kind of moment that, up to a certain degree, can re-create the “experience” of amusement. My work reflects on the different rhythms of moving in the city, from the slow motion of the walk to the extreme speed of amusement parks, on the difference in perception and senses, from an extended vision like the panorama to the fragmented and dislocated cityscape. To open a space where encounters and transmissions of experiences and atmospheres become possible.
Recorded in the Hotel Orient, Vienna, 8 November 2001