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Bell Street Project Space and The Hex
To best describe what happened between Bell Street
Project Space and The Hex and Amer Abbas’ ‘Temporary’
Gallery in Vienna I thought it best to go through some of
the things that happened before the show opened. But first
I should explain that Bell Street Project Space is an
offspace in Vienna’s second district that Marita Fraser and
I have run since 2006. The Hex was an offspace run by
Jason Dungan and Maria Zahle in a spare room of a flat in
London’s Clapton. More recently The Hex has been used
as a platform for putting together exhibition in the UK and
elsewhere in Europe.
Amer Abbas is a Vienna-based Gallerist who runs a gallery, a Kunstraum and a nightclub/bar. He has been organising exhibitions for many
years.

The first part of this story starts in Café Ritter, which is located on a corner of Neubugasse, very close to Mariahilferstrasse in Vienna’s 7th
district. Marita and I sat in there with Amer for a couple of hours to discuss what was possible in terms of a collaboration between Bell Street
and his gallery.

The Café Ritter is just two minutes up the street from Amer’s Gallery and sits on a fairly desirable piece of real estate. Despite this the
waiters there have a decidedly dressed down take on the penguin style suit standard in the grand Viennese coffeehouses. Midway through
our time there I felt their presence gave the place a feeling of being in a friend’s uncle’s living room. By the end of our time there I had no
idea what the exhibition might actually look like although I do remember we talked about the internet for quite a while.
I’ve since been told that that meeting must have
happened a full year before the exhibition actually took
place, which would mean that it happened during
summer although I don’t remember the waiters sweating
and I remember that it might have even been alittle cold
outside. But in any case, a time frame that spans one
summer to the next has dramatic potential so I think it’s
worth keeping in mind.

As one might imagine many things happened between
one summer and the next. Amer was cooperated with a
gallery in Cologne and showed many Viennese artists.
Marita and I spent some time outside of Austria working
on other exhibitions. And somewhere in the middle
between one summer and the next a series of weekly
exhibitions took place in Amer’s Schaulager curated by
Anita Leitz. Many nice shows happened from week to
week and the program also worked as a regular
appointment where lots of people from the art scene
could come together for a chat and a drink and to make
plans.
This is probably as good a point as any to explain the layout
of Amer’s place on the Schadekgasse. On the left there is the
gallery space which has three main rooms for showing work.
Then there is the Schaulager space in the middle which has
one large room and storage space behind it. Then on the right
there is the ‘Futuregarden’ nightclub/bar which also has art
inside and chairs and tables on the pavement outside which
are very cosy in summertime for sitting around and doing
nothing.

And last but not least, in the few weeks before our exhibition
Amer opened a new Kunstraum in a small town called
Shattendorf about an hour or so from Vienna. The town is
close to the Hungarian boarder and, as people often reminded
me before I travelled to Schattendorf to check out the space,
the town plays an important role in Austrian history as it was
apparently a trigger for starting the Austrian Civil War. I
learned about this story whilst I was sitting at the newly
opened bar the Amer’s Kunstraum. I was curious about this
situation in front of me: Amer had almost completely renovated
one of the largest buildings in town, converting an old
Gasthaus and presenting it back to the community as a
contemporary art space.
Everyone seemed very pleased with what was going on there. I met one
of the guests who was related to somebody from the socialist militias
from the start of the civil war period. Locals were rubbing shoulders with
out of town art types and there was lots of drinking. On that day we were
waiting for some artists from London to come and show alongside the
Bell Street artists. Jason and Maria from The Hex had invited British
artist Paul Simon Richards to collaborate for their participation in the
show with Bell Street in Amer’s space.

The inclusion Paul Simon Richards and The Hex stems from an idea
Amer had roughly six months into the one year that spans the meeting
at Café Ritter and the opening in Schattendorf. Essentially he wanted to
include an element from outside Vienna that could offer a counter
position to what one might expect to see at an opening if one lived in
Vienna and went to lots of openings. So he asked us to think of another
offspace to be included in the show. We thought of inviting The Hex.

The Hex exhibition with Amer was in the Schaulager space and resulted
from around four days of preparation inside the space itself. It seemed
to me to be four quite meditative days as far as art making goes. I am
sure many things were discussed. Initially all of this happened between
Paul and Jason but then after two or three days Paul’s partner Claire
turned up and then Maria from The Hex turned up too.
Whilst I wasn’t present for those discussions in the Schaulager I did glimpse a
paperback copy of Plato, various textiles and several bottles of beer. A month
or so prior to any of this Paul, Maria and I shared a drink at a lounge-club
type bar on London’s Hyde Park where Paul told me that what he was most
interested in doing was presenting a ballad for the show with Amer in Vienna.
The ballad would narrate a quarrel between two lovers.

When the exhibition opened, the work had departed from this point and had
come to involve other things. The exhibition consisted of a series of objects in
a room accompanied by a narrative text. In the end these elements
represented to me a layering of narrative gestures. And I think the objects
reminded me most of bodies and the text of actions. But for the sake of
keeping to a task I wanted to observe how it all came together: how the idea
of a narrative became a text, which then became forms with wood, textiles and
beer and before any of that happened Plato was alive and was also writing
texts.

Texts and dialogues. Maria Meinild’s work as part of the Bell Street show with
Amer had both of these. I think many people eased into watching Maria’s work
without knowing where the text had come from that was being read out to the
camera. The moment of recognition of the texts origin is something to be
cherished, it’s simply a profound art moment. Those people are Julia Roberts
and Richard Gere’s characters from Pretty Woman. When we hear this, the
film comes to life. But without this realisation the film nevertheless has a dry
readiness in its humour and the interplay between the different actors slipping
and out of the role of Julia-as-prostitute effortlessly play language against
lived experience. But what always pulled me into this work was its intuitive
understanding of how to place colour within a frame.
Moving through the spaces, the Gallery’s centre room features the work of
Nicola Brunnhuber and Julia Haller. In that order, Nicola’s sculpture,
commissioned for the city of Tulln’s public sculpture project of 2008 is large
bronze shape weighing around 80kgs. Julia’s is a large painting. The
sculpture is an abstract object. The work is theatrically person-sized and
adorned with tubes for the passing of piping hot liquid bronze.

To compliment the sculpture’s animating presence, Juila Haller’s gestural
black and white canvas spanning roughly an area of four to five square
meters features two ‘upskirt’ photographs of Nicola’s sculpture. The un-seen
semidarkness describes an empathy between physical object and pictorial or
imagined spaces. For the opening Julia also exhibited a large canvas inside
the Futurgarden.

In the back space of the gallery were the works from Marita Fraser and
myself. Marita’s hanging flag work involves a different kind of game in regards
to text and language. The work sets out a rhythm of colour and form that is
both partly hidden yet very frontal. The flag work and the circular themed
paster sculpture are explicit in what they demand from the viewer: formal
qualities within which the viewer’s gaze might enter to make its own
experience of space.

In this way these works offer a narrative that recede with the viewer into the
space of art as it is engaged, unlike artworks whose narratives emanate from
it and deflect against other elements and concepts external from the work.
I hope that my work can be understood as operating in the
similar way. It is space that can be entered into mentally,
however it is also physical space. My work in the exhibition
operates as a circular unit of space and form. Each of the four
elements involved affects its neighbour in much the same way as
it affected by others. The wall is interrupted by a blue projected
circle, the circle emanates from a black object, this object sits on
a green table, this table rests against a pink wall and this wall is
affected by the painted wall next to it.

The work is called vortex. And originates from the idea that
memory resists attempts to prevent it from interrupting present
consciousness. And so, consciousness turns constantly as
memories enter into it and change its course.

Toward the end of opening night the police were called from a
neighbour who lived upstairs. Around six of them showed up and they
made a small tour of the work the exhibition spaces and quickly asked
who was responsible for the stuff in there. Many of us were complicit in
the production of the stuff in there but in the end it had to come back to
Amer. It wasn’t too serious but their line of questioning didn’t impress
him terribly much: had someone been sitting on one of the cars parked
on the street? He was then forced to compromise a little on the
cosiness of the tables and chairs that sit outside the Futuregarden
(which was not very kind) during which explained to them that what he
was doing there was the production of culture and that it was good.
And it seemed this was a point that no one could fault.

Alex Lawler
Nicola Brunnhuber
Julia Haller
Nicola & Julia
Alex Lawler
Alex Lawler
Maria Meinild
Maria Meinild
Marita Fraser
Marita Fraser
Marita Fraser
Marita Fraser
The Hex
The Hex
Alexander Viscio Presents