media loop

Arriving in the loop with Olaf Nicolai – a media loop from museum in progress

What do a cloned horse, marching right-wing radicals, a fossil human finger bone, imprisoned Tibetan monks and a robot have in common? They are all protagonists in the twenty-two media images that Olaf Nicolai has selected as the starting point for his multifaceted exhibition There Is No Place Before Arrival at the Kunsthalle Vienna. The media images from the artist’s private archive, which have aesthetic-poetic or (socio-)political connotations, have been transferred by theatre scene painters to the floor of the Kunsthalle for a large-format, walk-on installation. Through their transfer to the medium of painting, the functional media images, ostensibly offering an objective, neutral view of a particular event, become stand-alone works, hand-made originals with their own aura. The supposed objectivity is replaced by individuality and interpretation.

Visitors to the exhibition curated by Luca Lo Pinto are quickly seduced by these ambivalent images, which on the one hand radiate a certain familiarity – we all know similar images from the media – and on the other hand appear to contain something secret on account of their unusual and recontextualised presentation. The context of the individual media images is explained in the accompanying exhibition booklet. This knowledge immediately changes the way we see the images. A snow-covered mountain landscape with footprints can no longer be seen as an exalted image of nature when we know that the footprints are those of a group of mountain climbers, six of whom were later to be killed in a fall. The purely factual perception of these images is disturbed not only through their transfer to the medium of floor painting but also through the additional texts in the exhibition booklet, which create associations going beyond the facts and often contain surprising perspectives. While media images in newspaper articles illustrate a particular set of circumstances and usually communicate an unambiguous message, the floor pictures by Olaf Nicolai are given meaning by the visitors, whose different ways of interpreting them are all equally valid. The artist reflects in this way in particular on the relationship between meaning and experience. In that context, the extensive accompanying programme is also noteworthy, the creative interaction of guest actors with the painted pictures providing additional levels of interpretation.

In the project entitled “media loop”, museum in progress returns the media images to the information environment of eighteen newspapers and magazines in a continuous contextual loop. The print run of around 1,200,000 and a readership of over 4,000,000 ensure that the project will have a large impact The printed works are shown for the most part in full-page or double-page spreads and stand out from the surrounding media images. But the return to the media environment cannot undo the artistic opening of the images to multiple interpretations, and the transformed media images can therefore no longer be part of the logic of media dramaturgy. The “media loop” art project is thus a productive intervention into the closed world of the participating media, once again dependent on the readers’ interpretation as they are confronted unexpectedly by the images from this media exhibition and can then attribute their own meaning to them. The perception of Olaf Nicolai’s works is not determined solely by the viewer, however, but also by the medium and the surrounding media content. As the project makes clear, the interpretation of an image depends crucially on whether it is in a daily newspaper, business magazine or street newspaper, whether it is in the features section, sports section or placed next to fashion photos.

Beyond the analogue exhibition in the print media, and as a systematic extension of the art project feedback loop, museum in progress is opening a digital exhibition space on Instagram employing the hashtag #medialoop, which integrates all phases of the loop: the original media images, their conversion into large-format floor paintings, and their return to newspapers and magazines, which after their publication will once again be incorporated in the exhibition at the Kunsthalle in Vienna on a large table in the entrance area. In addition, the use of the images by the public for communication in social media will also be shown on Instagram, for example in the form of selfies, evoking new levels of interpretation in this way.

Since 1990, museum in progress has specialised in presenting contemporary art on unconventional presentation platforms. Based on the expanded definition of art by Joseph Beuys, the non-profit art initiative takes and expands the concept of museums and through its activities transforms the media and public space into a “museum” for its art projects. As it doesn’t have its own exhibition building, museum in progress operates outside traditional presentation formats. It uses newspapers and magazines, posters, building façades, concert halls or television as exhibition spaces, in this way reaching a huge audience not usually exposed to art. Its context-related and temporary art projects are always at the interface of art and life. To that extent the initiative has a fundamental socio-political dimension.

In the last twenty-eight years the art initiative has published over 1,000 newspaper and magazine artworks in various media. The scope of the artistic interventions by museum in progress in the print media ranges from small-format insertions to double-page spreads, from one-off contributions to group exhibitions and series of insertions with as many as a hundred items over a period of up to several years. A collaboration with eighteen media partners in the “media loop” project with Olaf Nicolai is also new for museum in progress, by far exceeding the maximum of four media partners in previous collaborations.

The newspaper and magazine artworks by museum in progress recall art projects in the mass media dating back to the 1960s, such as Dan Graham and his “Figurative” works in the fashion magazine Harper’s Bazaar (1965) and ”Homes for America“ in Arts Magazine (1966–67), or “Fake Photos” by Allan Kaprow in the weekly newspaper Die Zeit (1981). In the last fifty years there have been many other fascinating projects by various artists and institutions in print media. In view of the large number, diversity and quality of its projects in this area, museum in progress occupies a unique position in the international art world. Its works conceived specifically for the media environment are not reproductions of works of art but multiples, stand-alone works printed in the medium in question. As such the individual newspaper or magazine is an original. This democratises the collection of contemporary art and makes it affordable for all. At the same time, they have also found their way into the collections of traditional art museums. Media art projects by museum in progress have been shown, for example, in the MoMA in New York, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam, and the mumok in Vienna.

The “media loop” project is designed as a long-term exhibition series with different media partners and artists, who will be invited to place their works in the context of the mass media. The results of these artistic investigations of print or digital media will be returned in a loop to the media environment. Olaf Nicolai’s exhibition project at the Kunsthalle in Vienna has a distinctive performative and process character. During the exhibition, a further seven images will be added to the initial fifteen, with visitors being able to witness their elaborate creation on site. The existing images will also be subject to continuous change. Visitors will walk on the floor paintings and leave footmarks on them. This process of change deliberately sought by the artist, which emphasises the participatory role of the public, is an important component of the project and will also be integrated in the extension of the exhibition in “media loop”. The weekly magazine Die Furche and the Jewish city magazine wina have also declared their willingness to print the same subject twice with about four weeks between, once as the original picture and then in the same format with visitors’ footmarks. The image printed in Der Standard was presented only with the footmarks.

The poetic title of the exhibition There Is No Place Before Arrival, which Nicolai has taken from a text by the American writer and jazz musician Sun Ra, recalls a well-known sentence in Wagner’s Parsifal: “In this realm, time becomes space.” In Parsifal as well, space is created by arrival, by being there. Put another way, a space takes form only when it is occupied by a presence. You too can create space by going to the Kunsthalle, reading a newspaper, browsing magazines. Arrive in the “media loop”, discover Olaf Nicolai’s work and feel the productive energy of your presence in the space!

(Kaspar Mühlemann Hartl)

Media partners
architektur.aktuell, Augustin, brand eins, Falter, Die Furche, The Gap, Kleine Zeitung, Kurier, Neue Westfälische, profil, ray Filmmagazin, DER STANDARD, St. Galler Tagblatt, trend, vormagazin, Wiener Zeitung, wienlive, wina

media loop (with publication dates):
Kunsthalle Wien:
#medialoop #olafnicolai #museuminprogress #kunsthallewien