TransAct 16

TransAct statement

The process which has allowed a national form of neo-liberalism into the forefront of political power in Austria has been making itself felt in the field of art for years. One hardly needs to be reminded of the campaigns directed against contemporary art (Nitsch, Krystufek, Kolig and others) which have now moved to legitimising the participation in government of the extreme right. Various symptoms in the field of art itself are less obvious than the clear historical continuities. They show the extent to which the social system is involved in art in the main tendencies within society.

It is known from research into attitudes in Western Europe that since the 1980's there has been an extraordinarily strong prevalence of ethnically based nationalism in Austria. A partial explanation for this is the unconscious escape into a victim role. In 1993 when Austria decided to take part in the 45th Venice Biennale with two artists who were not from the country this decision, which broke with the ethnic principle of national representation, met widespread disapproval. No less than around one third of artists questioned and 42% of visitors to the most prominent Vienna galleries reacted negatively. It is perhaps more remarkable that, statistically, patriotism or nationalism alone was more important in the distribution of attitudes to the representation of Austria by Andrea Fraser and Christian Philipp Müller than 30 other factors put together. In addition, judgment of their works was explained more by nationalistic perception and interpretation than through any other factor – and this did not depend on whether those questioned had any 'aesthetic experience' in Venice or whether the installations were only known from hearsay.

In Germany at the same time, there was no 'patriotic' criticism of the country being represented at the Biennale by Nam June Paik. This corresponds with results on national identification in Germany in the field of art. The results of another study carried out in 1995 in not exactly 'post-national' France were similar. The poll took place in Paris, the current centre of the rejection of the Austrian policy of 'business as normal'. To the question of whether this model of transnational representation should be taken up by France for the 46th Biennale, only around a quarter of the French audience for contemporary art reacted negatively. This data shows that the over-proportional importance of patriotism in Austria in the 1990's in a field which is partly recruited from social 'elites' was an indication that the situation now existing in Austria was a possibility. This also applies to the reactivation of the victim role in the face of criticism and sanctions from other countries and for the country stylising itself as a 'culture nation'.

In view of Austria's history – especially its participation in the Holocaust – the participation of the extreme right wing in government is unacceptable. With the advanced symbolic weapons of criticism and mobilization which are at its disposal, the 'resistance' coming from the field of art should direct its powers towards its dissolution and come out against racism and (cultural) neo-racism which is based on bubbling patriotism and in doing so it should include the hyper-patriotism which it finds on its own doorstep.

Ulf Wuggenig, Sociologist, University of Lüneburg