"Visitors" by Beat Streuli

Once again, as each year since 1991, the media exhibition "Billboard", organised by museum in progress in cooperation with Austrian Airlines, Gewista and Europlakat, is taking place in the winter months of December and January. The Swiss artist Beat Streuli, who lives in Düsseldorf and New York, has elevated street life to a subject for art like hardly any other contemporary artist. For "Billboard 1996", as a reaction to the current circumstances of public space in Vienna, Beat Streuli has put together a series of apparently distanced photographs of passers-by in the city in bright sunlight. Beat Streuli's work is a variable module system of large-format photographs which are just as interchangeable as the movement of passers-by in the city itself. The photos will appear in various constellations on each of the 3,000 billboards in Vienna, and for the first time in the history of "Billboard" also numerous billboards in Berlin, Frankfurt, Zurich, Budapest and Prague. In recent years the artist has created internationally recognised work which, out of an omnipresent aspect of contemporary life, that of the passer-by, develops the revelation of unconscious processes in public space and the presentation of the contemporary feeling for life at the intersection of universal nomadic experience and the affirmation of the individual. In museum exhibitions the fleeting moments of the street are transformed into modern frescos with large-format photos or slide projections. The introduction of an extended time dimension, similar to slow-motion, allows the gestures, actions, feelings and thoughts of anonymous individuals to become conscious as visual subjunctives.

In Vienna Beat Streuli directs his attention towards the phenomenon of foreign tourists who, in masses and without any real regulation, determine an unconscious side of the character of the city as anonymous, nomadic passers-by. His poster work "Visitors" can be seen on the one hand as a homage to the numerous foreign visitors who now make a large contribution to the standard of living of the city and its inhabitants. On the other hand, through the medium of the poster, Beat Streuli's "Visitors" consciously spreads the phenomenon of the continual presence of innumerable foreigners out of the city centre into the most diverse streets of the outer districts and the periphery. The work is both a critical statement about the city as an urban and social structure and also a conscious intervention in the current xenophobic climate in many parts of Europe. Beat Streuli's carefully chosen series of images from the serial photographic process of the motor-drive camera take on a new dimension with their transformation into the medium of the poster and their direct confrontation with life on the street. The large-format photographs appear to the passing observers in the streets like self-contained mirrors which make them conscious of their own image and make clear the similarity between the nomadic presence of passers-by and that of foreigners, while at the same time the precisely calculated seriality of the images gives the impression of a silent film in modern costume. The original power of film directly to address the collective activity of a large city with simple, easily understandable images has been contained by the artist in a surprising and only apparently simple form which once again keeps pace with the impetus of the electronic visual media and extracts great symbolic power from the most simple circumstances of everyday life.

(November 1996)