Neue Galerie, Innsbruck: BLOCK


24.11.2011 – 05.01.2012

Johanna Tinzl & Stefan Flunger
Artist Talk with Franz Thalmair and Johanna Tinzl & Stefan Flunger on Thursday, 05 January 2011 at 7 p.m.   

The exhibition BLOCK in the Neue Galerie is a thematic continuation of the works by Johanna Tinzl and Stefan Flunger on the subject of fortifications. The title is a reference to the shape but also to the verb “to block”. Previous journeys, most to regions of the so-called former Eastern Bloc, triggered the artist couple’s interest in travelling along the external borders of the European Union and investigating the architectures of the admission controls. These are uncanny places in our spatial perception: a contrast between high-tech surveillance apparatus and nature in what are often rural, unpopulated areas, shaped by an iconography of power and deterrence.

The artist duo […] “reflects, in terms of both form and content, on current topics, particularly those relating to media- and social-politics”. (cf. Franz Thalmaier, Ökonomie der Aufmerksamkeit, Der Standard, 26.12.2008).

In this context, however, the artists are not concerned with documentation or any form of inventory. Transposed into their artistic practice, such topics lead to the formulation of poetic images that often only reveal their content at a second glance. In search of successful images, they produce cross-media works; the content is always the beginning, and ideas about formal presentation only emerge in the next step.   

After intense research for the project BLOCK, Johanna Tinzl and Stefan Flunger travelled to the EU’s external borders in the Balkan countries, Bulgaria, France, Greece, Great Britain and Spain. Much of this was made possible by a working grant received from the Hypo Tirol Bank, Hypo Talent 2010. The journeys were searches for evidence at some of these countries’ neuralgic points; visiting architectures, control systems and the inhabitants of the border areas.

Untitled I-X, 2010/2011, Installation View VBKÖ

Tinzl & Flunger draw an audiovisual cartography of these powerful, often hidden transit zones and exceptional areas, which are structured, altered and shaped by such interventions. The exhibition reflects on European history, encompassing thematic complexes such as politics and migration and their effects on the respective regions. Transposed into the exhibition space, the artists’ work enables us to see and hear a walk-in spatial installation incorporating objects, videos and sound. A picture emerges of borders and their differing courses, not always manifest in the works through clear reference to places.   
In their art Johanna Tinzl and Stefan Flunger often draw deceptively romantic landscapes, which are highly charged politically. (Cf. Blossom of Multitude, ed. Universität für Angewandte Kunst, Transmediale Kunst, 2011, Appendix II, p. 19). And the visitor is confronted by a deceptive image in this exhibition as well.

The photo on the invitation card, the view from Gibraltar to Morocco, is only apparently poetic – the cones of light could also come from search-boats.
After entering the spatial installation across planks of scaffolding, the visitors’ attention is directed towards an idyllic landscape by the sea. Sand is scattered about the gallery space, and it is possible to see the video installation Tarifa – Calais on the walls to the north and south. The two videos and the sound track (wind, the roar of the ocean) immerse the gallery space in an atmospheric mood. The video in the first room, on the south wall, shows the coast of Tarifa in Southern Spain.   

It is dark; the light of a lighthouse only appears in the background. An object made of metal is lying on the ground. In it there are stones found on the coast of Albania. On the wall opposite, to the north, it is possible to see the coast of Calais in France. It is bright, and one can discern the shadow of a rotor blade on the ground – a helicopter? In the sand on the floor, like objects, are the very sacks with which the stones were transported from Albania.

Upon closer observation, the idyll is toppled – the object entitled Operative Risk, 2011, is the enlargement of a blade from barbed wire (also known as “Nato wire”), the type used at the EU’s external borders or by prisons. It is not the usual kind of barbed wire: the blades cause serious injuries. The shadow in the sand of Calais is that of a radar. The lighthouse in Tarifa represents, so to speak, a historical version of today’s tracking systems, the light also signifying a safe harbour at that time.   

The ladder with the illuminated rungs in the middle room is entitled Unheimlich, 2011. The title refers to the Spanish word for “clandestino”, people “sin papeles” (without residence permits), the direct translation of which is “secret” (heimlich). It is a ladder into nothingness that is unusable, indeed dangerous. The light is employed to make something visible that would otherwise remain invisible – “secret”. Formally, Johanna Tinzl and Stefan Flunger are referring to the ladders made from branches, plastic and similar materials, with which people attempted to climb over the fence in a mass onslaught on the border of Mellila, the Spanish enclave inside Morocco in 2005. As a consequence, the fence has been extended and raised from 3m to 6m.   

The La valla es europeo. The Fence is European. (13min 47sec), 2011 is installed in the middle room. A taxi drive in Spain’s enclave Melilla on the African continent is filmed using a hand-held camera. The drive leads along the barbed wire fence that marks the external border of the EU. This was the only possible way to film the 13-kilometre-long fence at all. On the drive, the taxi driver talks about the situation there using very simple Spanish sentences. He talks about the fence, about Morocco, the work situation, the refugees. The conversation was transcribed and translated into German. What we hear is the voice of an Innsbruck taxi driver, Hannes, who reads the German translation. It is not always easy to visit the borders in areas some distance from the official crossing points. That is why there are no images but only stories about the trip to Orestida on the border between Greece and Turkey. Actually, there is no fence there; instead, the course of the border along the river Evros is guarded in a strictly military fashion by Frontex soldiers. Frontex is a unit of the European Union, formed especially to secure the external borders.   

Nevertheless, many refugees succeed in crossing over this border: according to information from the locals, about 300 per day. But many die trying to do so.
The work Azimuth, 2010/2011, a series of 2 x 19 plates made of brass and iron, is installed in the back room. In classical cartography azimut (Arabian: as-sumut – the paths) refers to the angle, measured clockwise, between geographical north and any arbitrary direction on earth. Every year thousands of people die in an attempt to cross the existing, defined borders – mainly from the south to the north. It happens during migration into the European Union as well. The artists create memorial plaques for those who are never identified. Their identity and the exact time of their deaths remain unclear, and even the place is often approximate.

In this exhibition Johanna Tinzl and Stefan Flunger investigate highly explosive subjects without being too blatant in their approach. It is only with closer observation that the contexts and content of this spatial installation become visible to us.

Neue Galerie
Rennweg 1, 6020 Innsbruck

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