The Austrian Cultural Forum has been consistently staging politically oriented exhibitions for a few years now, surrounding pertinent historical events and current conundrums. NineteenEightyFour follows suit with a collection of works that consider surveillance methods and structures of control. This topic is treated in a very liberal and often puzzling way, though the quality of most of the works is generally high.
Referring to George Orwell’s famous book 1984, the exhibition captures several associations to the issue of surveillance in contemporary society—the manner in which its tools and structures are utilized, as well as the reaction and traditions it breeds. Clemens von Wedemeyer demonstrates the manipulation of language as a means of enforcing control. In his 12-minute video Die Probe (The Rehearsal) (2008), we witness a fabricated scene where a German presidential candidate rehearses his victory speech with his advisor. They discuss the usage of certain words and the persona he should present in order to be perceived as a reliable figure of authority. Mark Lombardi’s simple, but brilliant drawings delineate the connection between global corporations and political fraud. The five works display small circles or world maps that tie corporate entities with corrupt politicians, and ultimately – national strife. These works map out the power systems underlying our society—leaving little room for doubt regarding the controlled way our world operates. Exhibited in a different context, we would not be able to identify the source of the imagery comprising Dariusz Kowalski’s 55-minute video Optical Vacuum (2008). The work presents a montage of vacant landscapes recorded by surveillance cameras and downloaded from the internet, and is accompanied by an entirely unrelated diaristic narration. Gerold Tagwerker’s life-size, black and white photographs convey the assertion of authority through architecture. His Urban Studies series documents skyscrapers – an emblem of modernism – from the humbling vantage point of the sidewalk. The photographs’ perspective, stark lack of color, and large scale, evoke an undeniable sense of foreboding, thus capturing the overall mood of this show.
The exhibition paints a familiar, yet disconcerting picture of the structure of our current society, where we ultimately conform to governmental systems of control, expose ourselves within the internet sphere, and are forced - and tempted - to be voyeuristic. Although many of the works approach the subject of power assertion in a much too abstract manner, we nonetheless leave with a feeling of unease, as we have just witnessed how little control we maintain in the public sphere, and just how fluid the boundaries between private and shared space have become.
Images: Mark Lombardi, Untitled (World Map) (2000), Ink on paper, Collection of Joe Amrhein und Susan Swenson, Photo: David Plakke; Clemens von Wedemeyer, Die Probe (The Rehearsal) (2008), HD video, stereo, loop, 12:00 min, Courtesy of Galerie Jocelyn Wolff, Paris, Installation at the ACFNY, Photo: David Plakke; Gerold Tagwerker, urban studies-Toronto#1 (2000), urban studies-Chicago#3 (2001), Black and white print on chipboard, Courtesy of Galerie Grita Insam, Vienna, Installation at the ACFNY, Photo: David Plakke.