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Homo Oeconomicus: A pioneer of neo-conceptual art exhibits at Vienna's Secession
Thomas Locher, Homo Oeconomicus. Installation view at the Secession 2013. Photo: Jorit Aust.

VIENNA.- A pioneer of neo-conceptual art since the late 1980s, the German artist Thomas Locher examines the rules of language and the complex ways in which it functions. His exhibition Homo Oeconomicus, specially conceived for the Secession, continues his examination of the relationship between language and economics as well as the subject acting within this system, themes he has focused on for some years now. In a series of images, objects, and animations, most of them new, Locher treats aspects of exchange, structures of credit, belief, and credibility, and the impact of these notions on the constitution of the subject.

In the fifteen-part series SMALL GIFT. TO GIVE. GIVING. GIVEN. GIFT, IF THERE IS ANY ... (J.D.) (2006/2013) Thomas Locher combines generally accessible media images featuring motifs of giving and handing over, gestures of lending a helping hand, etc. with annotated passages from Jacques Derrida’s Donner le temps 1. La fausse monnaie (Given Time I: Counterfeit Money), which questions to what extent it is really possible to “give.” Under what conditions is a gift so true that it does not come with expectations of any kind, thus constituting a break with economic relations based on exchange? Beginning with these reflections, Locher uses the contradictory phenomenon of the gift and the gestures associated with it to highlight the formal and informal forces that bind our society together.

In another group of works Locher links reproductions of Giotto’s frescos Kiss of Judas and The Washing of Feet (Scrovegni Chapel Padua, 1304/06)—presented in the form of punched-out stacks of the letters W-G-W (Ware-Geld-Ware or “goods-money-goods”) and G-W-G (Geld-Ware-Geld or “money-goods-money”)—with Marxist analysis of the circulation of goods and the question of the rules governing the transformation of goods and money into capital. The montage, the characteristic form Locher employs in his works, is based on the principle of juxtaposing contradictory meanings within a single image to create an open dialogue. In her catalogue text, Ana T. Pinto relates this strategy to the work of Walter Benjamin, who classifies photo-montages as dialectic images:

The dialectical image entails a political rather than a psychological representation of time—a displacement of temporality which could be described as the opposite of nostalgia for it implies that the image of the past can only be realized in the unstable juncture to the present (…) Rather than being defined in opposition to language, dialectical images emerge, thus, from the medium of language. In Locher’s practice, the dialectical image is often, quite literally, composed of text, which can appear either in acrylic plates or printed over furniture items. (Ana T. Pinto)

For Homo Oeconomicus Locher hangs all the works in a row contrary to the common direction of reading on just the right side of the gallery rooms.On two flat-screen monitors in the final room he presents two digital text works HOMO OECONOMICUS, CREDIT / Opening Credits (Animation 2013) and HOMO OECONOMICUS, THE ECONOMIC SUBJECT / Closing Credits (Animation 2013), which offer a reference system of definitions and questions that can also be applied to the other works in the exhibition. Playing on the different meanings of the English word “credit,” Locher applies the construct of cinematic opening and closing “credits” and the way they link textual and visual aspects. On the screen he shows various ambiguous and contradictory definitions surrounding the phenomenon of credit, with its future-oriented logic of expectation, payment deadlines, deferment and interest, as well as its characterizing the “economic subject.”

Locher’s constructions of image and text seek to relativize generally accepted principles and norms in order to embark on a critical exploration of the political implications inherent in the structure of language and show their impact on communities and human behavior. In her catalogue contribution Sabeth Buchmann describes how Locher “has developed various forms for his work along the lines where (conceptual) art, semiotics, deconstruction and (post-) structuralism meet,” thus making a key contribution to the further development of the information paradigm of conceptual art:

... in contrast to conceptual art forms, Locher's montages do not seem to be at all purged of referential meaning, nor do they solve the problem of meaning through sheer referentiality. Rather, they form the “literal” intersection between aesthetic and semantic information, and consequently of reciprocal transfers between iconic and grammatical rules from which themes such as exchange and the credit system, legislation, human rights, jurisdiction, etc. structurally take shape, so to speak. (Sabeth Buchmann)

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