The Great Divide

The Great Divide (Die große Schere)

The Austrian film-maker and photographer Lisl Ponger does not only move in the context of art but also that of political activism. She is an artist who takes a position. The political dimension is at the centre of her work. This range of themes demands different methods of production and ways of reading, and it makes evident the fact that representation is just as much part of the political as art discourse.

Ponger's contribution to "Worlds of Work", the poster project of the Vienna Chamber of Labour, is a new work especially developed for this specific location and context. "The Great Divide" deals with the subject of "women's work" and reacts to the fact that grass roots demands such as "the same pay for the same work" have still not been met.

Pieces of women's clothing are dangling on a blue washing line (nothing is coincidental here – blue is the colour of the right-wing Austrian Freedom Party). They function as signifiers for various jobs: The uniforms of air hostesses are hanging beside overalls and mechanics' jackets, chambermaids' aprons beside the work dress and headscarves of the (Gastarbeiter) cleaning ladies, painters' trousers meet a Red Cross nurse variation, a Barbie Doll outfit rivals the coquette secretary look.

T-shirts as textile hinges between individual sensitivities and their proclamation as streetwear carry relevant messages such as "cheap", "burned out" and "Yugopower". A housewife shows us the clenched fist on a carrier bag – "We can do it," she says. Hope for a bright future or bitter resignation?

What is hanging on the line comes from Lisl Ponger's legendary personal archive of found objects, a collection of material and under headings such as colonialism, globalisation and travel. Ponger's research for film and photographic work is based upon her "chaotic" system of organising books, objects, textiles and photos. In the category of "staged photography" she creates ironic provocative images about the character of cultural and social with these accumulated raw materials. Lisl Ponger tells her stories with the ready-mades of life, the trophies of everyday existence. They deal with the state of systems and look for traces of events which influence our lives. Word-picture combinations underline the socio-political motivation of the work. The sayings ironed onto white scarves say that the guerrilla girls can be subjugated economically. "If this development continues, men will soon earn twice as much as women," can be read on one. That sounds like a late-Dadaist wisdom after the event, but could also refer to Murphy's Law – if something can go wrong, it will. As in many of the artist's works, what is absent also plays an important role as a latent component of the picture. What we look for in vain in this work is the women themselves. Already sufficiently irritated by Jacques Lacan's chauvinist "la femme n'existe pas", Lisl Ponger attributes the absence of women to their economic marginalisation. Quiet ironies such as this give the criticism lightness and spice. Concentrated stagings like these flow into a precise but simultaneously also subtle rhetoric of visual elements.

The political meaning of photography arises both from its aesthetic structure and from the context in which it reaches its viewer. For Lisl Ponger urban public space becomes a stage for social relationships, her field for artistic action, beside the museum and the gallery, is the street. For her contribution to documenta 11 in Kassel, for example, she went in search of traces of the events surrounding the G8 summit in Genoa. Over the course of many months she documented protests against the current Austrian government and the Thursday protest walks. Her photo cycles "Foreign Vienna" and "Xenographic Views" combine ironic provocation with reflection and criticism.

What is special about Lisl Ponger is the fact that there are no scissors (for the title of the work is also no coincidence) between the aesthetic intention to interpret the world and the political intention to change it. Form follows content.