The media artist Herwig Kempinger is working with camera and computer on a redefinition of the concepts of painting, sculpture and photography in the immaterial space of virtual images. Born in Steyr, Austria in 1957, he studied at the Academy of Applied Art in Vienna from 1976–1980, where he later also taught, including in Peter Weibel's master for visual media design. His works have appeared in numerous international exhibitions and in 1994 he was Austria's representative and the Biennale of São Paulo. Examination of Concept Art and the media-reflexive processes of the 70's characterise a work for which deconstruction, absence and the experience of time are essential. Herwig has always been opposed to "sentimental European material fetishism". His subjects are light, colour and space, his theme is perception beyond bodies and objects, beyond the picture.
Kempinger's rigorously composed pictures are committed to a minimalist, abstract aesthetic, whether they operate in colourful cyber space or on almost empty photographic surfaces on the border of visual perceptibility. In the architectonic context the flat, uneventful photographic images demonstrate a transformational capacity. With simple pictorial strategies such as running colours, modulations of light and diffuse shadows, energies are developed which change and subvert spatial substance.
Kempinger, who is one of the radical finalists of object relation and narration, and who with his photography pursues the de-materialisation of the art work, in the end tracks down the immaterial in manifest cloud formations – media contemplations of an artist for whom nature only becomes interesting through manipulation and improvement. The digital information from several negatives is combined into one picture on the computer, condensed and expanded. Recently, a cloud motive was woven into a Persian carpet, a picture but an endless process, months of weaving as the ultimate contrast to the finger on the camera button.
By means of this crossover between handicraft and technical construction Kempinger triggers turbulence and his project for the Chamber of Labour is also located at an interface. The commission to take into account the logo of the Chamber of Labour (AK in German) could have led to affirmation or mere design. However, Kempinger has managed to walk the tight-rope between art and advertising in a productive way. The bolt of lightning with a gleam of light on the logo merges a personal language of forms and the commission into an exciting intervention in the public field which works equally well in both contextual and spatial-organisational terms. Kempinger himself points to the old give and take between advertising and art. "There is a very close relationship, very often in the direction that advertising profits from art. On the other hand, many artists have worked with advertising subjects. It started with Warhol and it's still an ongoing process, up to Jeff Koons and Richard Prince. So there's this intense and very stimulating exchange – advertising in itself is something very interesting. I also find working in public space exciting because it's always a case of very special and different commissions and the situation is fundamentally different from the protected spaces of museums and galleries. That also helps my own work. You think in a new way and have to leave those thought constructions you've been moving in – only adapting doesn't work. In principle, I think that concrete commissions with tight parameters are a challenge, you deal with limits and can only think within a certain framework. Often it is exactly these commissions which are positive, you have an extremely concrete basis for thought, in fact because not everything is possible anymore – and that is also a kind of freedom."
As an artist Herwig Kempinger is in command and reacts undramatically. There is no big-talking symbolism and no indiscreet romanticism but only the sober finding that our way of perceiving signs represents our closer or more distant relationship to time in different ways. Whoever measures virtual worlds in fractions of seconds with the help of modern means of communication but needs hours for the physical transport of a tired body is suffering from permanent phantom pain which the comforting realia of the billboard also cannot ease. As a consequence of Kempinger's contemplations of time-signs there comes the recognition that the artistic – in contrast to the historical sell-by date of one after another – is a time of equivalence and synchronicity: everything is simultaneous.