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New installation by Austrian artist Heinrich Dunst on view at Vienna's Secession
Heinrich Dunst, DA, installation view secession 2014. Photo: Michael Michlmayr.

VIENNA.- The Austrian artist Heinrich Dunst creates spatial interventions and performances that navigate the gap between what can be seen and what can be said, the untranslatability of one form into another, and the contextual nature of spatial presentations.

For his show at the Secession, Dunst develops a new installation. Its organizing principle is a wall cutting diagonally across the gallery on which hypertext is inscribed. Various media fragments—letters cut from pink foam material, monochrome pictures, defamiliarized everyday objects, an Ottoman miniature painting, and photocopies revolving around the theme of the hand—are the elements from which he constructs a non-hierarchical visual field. A central motif in his art is the deictic act and the question it raises of the interface between embodiment and representation. This interest is manifest, for instance, in the two letters in the exhibition’s title, D and A, which appear as volumes set against the wall asserting their immediate existence as sculptures, but also form a word legible as a symbolic gesture pointing toward something else that is absent. Dunst scrutinizes the various semantic assignations and makes them oscillate between materiality and conceptualism, between language and image. His set-ups can be read both as confident graphic signifiers and as sculptural objects, regarded as traces of the artist’s subjectivity, and located in the perceptual ensemble they form with their surroundings.

Dunst’s conceptual approach is rooted both in the work of artists like Marcel Broodthaers who scrutinize the systems underlying the perception of words and images, and in the Viennese scene of the 1980s and its characteristic ambition to extend abstract painting into the exhibition space. He lends these complex issues fresh interest by developing forms into correlations and pointedly questioning the seemingly unequivocal meaning of the elements through variation, superimposition, and changes of direction. In her contribution to the catalogue, Vanessa Joan Müller describes Dunst’s specific way of activating the context by means of arrangement in space as follows:

“Yet because he insists less on the quotation than on the slight deviation from it, on the principle of cut and counter-cut or the deadpan series of conflicting concepts, his works seem like constant re-readings we should imagine as a form of scanning and excerpting, highlighting and browsing translated into the aesthetic object (…) Linguistic meaning is context-dependent and the semantic import of words is specified by their use in any particular instance; Dunst, by contrast, builds on openness and variation: in the dialogue between the works, each of them becomes something else. A texture of shifting / mutating relations emerges; a disintegrated representation and deviant syntax that, as a new language within language, might be said to represent its outside.”

One concrete instance of this transformation is the rear side of the wall, which is in many ways a defamiliarized or rephrased version of the front side. A painted bar or strikethrough line recurs in abridged form; the letters D and A return in mirror-inverted form while the material they are made of, the pink insulation material, also appears elsewhere in its intended function as wall cladding and yet elsewhere as the mirror image of the volume of a barrel. Although the visitor cannot actually see these elements at the same time, they become associated in his or her recollection. Their orchestration in space thus points up the physical presence of time and memory, while the very form in which the writing is recycled highlights the fact that, and the manner in which, the references being invoked change.

Dunst puts his doubt about the certainties concerning the relationship between language and the world at the center of his deliberations and challenges us to reflect on the construction of meaning, ultimately revealing the prerequisites on which art itself is based.

Heinrich Dunst was born in Hallein in 1955 and lives and works in Vienna.

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