Museum der Moderne Salzburg dedicates its latest exhibition to an international pioneer of media art

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Museum der Moderne Salzburg dedicates its latest exhibition to an international pioneer of media art
Richard Kriesche, tv-tod III, 1974/2000, Generali Foundation Collection—Permanent Loan to the Museum der Moderne Salzburg, © Generali Foundation Collection—Permanent Loan to the Museum der Moderne Salzburg, photo: Rainer Iglar, Bildrecht, Vienna 2022.

SALZBURG.- The exhibition presents Richard Kriesche (1940 Vienna, AT – Graz, AT) as an international pioneer of media art. In his critical and socially committed oeuvre he analyzes and reflects the media, information, and digitalization revolutions from the 1960s to this day. His works also address the question as to the essence of art and its role and function in society. Kriesche’s works are based on an expanded understanding of art. In this context, he repeatedly forges alliances with science, research, economics, and politics.

The solo exhibition at Museum der Moderne Salzburg includes a selection of significant groups of works from 1963 to 2022 that stand for the artist’s remarkably long career. Beginning with his ongoing exploration of information and communication technologies, the exhibition makes it possible to see various sociotechnical phases and ruptures over the past six decades. Kriesche’s work does not unfold any kind of universal history, however, but rather takes an approach based on specific projects that closely explore the artistic and social potential of these innovations. Kriesche’s stance is neither characterized by a naive enthusiasm for technology nor by hypercritical or dystopic visions. He rather analyzes the aesthetic parameters of new media and technologies and their pictorial, formal, and semiotic idioms, looking for opportunities to use these productively for society in the form of art.

This exhibition, developed in close cooperation with the artist himself, presents early video works and TV actions, telematic sculptures, social and often collective projects, as well as Kriesche’s critical investigation of the genetic code as a store of information, and his interest in the connections between digitalization and economics. The exhibition also includes a selection from Kriesche’s very earliest group of works, the conceptual paintings of the numerical systems (1963–70), in which he anticipated basic features of digital image processing. The exhibition is based on works from the Generali Foundation Collection, complemented by loans from the artist and further collections.

The exhibition begins with Kriesche’s new interactive installation self-space, to which the exhibition title a solo presence refers. In a dedicated room, this installation brings the individual presence of exhibition visitors together with an invisible algorithm. This work addresses the permanent process of “datafication” that we are undergoing today—that never-ending production of data through digital devices that record, measure, and analyze us. From this point the exhibition then looks back at Kriesche’s explorations of the characteristics of new media and technologies and the appertaining processes of dematerialization, electronification and informatization.

Digitization in a global context
In the works and groups of works the god number (2011), ästhetik des kapitals (aesthetics of capital, 2007–11), datenwerk: mensch (human data plant, 2003–04), data matrix (2010), and michelangelo reloaded (2019) Kriesche takes a look at how public and social areas of life in globalized society have been permeated by information and data-processing technologies. In his analysis he uses the aesthetics that are intrinsic to digital technologies. These include the pictorial and symbolic languages of two-dimensional codes such as the QR code for example, and also the scientific depiction of the genetic code as a biological store of information. In the sculpture michelangelo reloaded Kriesche cites the famous nearly touching hands of God and man in Michelangelo Buonarroti’s fresco The Creation of Adam in the Sistine Chapel. But Kriesche replaces the ensoulment of Adam by a divine spark with the conjunction of “0” and “1” that sets off a computerized calculation.

Video, TV works and telematische skulpturen
In his early video works and TV actions Kriesche addresses and demonstrates the aesthetic and social parameters of these early new media, and together with others from his generation he paved the way for these to enter our general understanding of art. A number of Kriesche’s video and TV works of the 1970s and 1980s can be seen as icons of media art. These include peeling off (1972), an early video installation in which Kriesche explored the relationship between real space and media space. His artspots (1973–86) for Humanic wrote television history, presenting art instead of goods for sale in 30-second TV commercials. The action tv-death, which Kriesche performed three times between 1975 and 2000 is also a key work. In the 1980s and 1990s, Kriesche took a growing interest in the potential of telecommunication and telematics, the combination of telecommunication and computing. In stille elektronische post (still electronic post, 1986) Kriesche and Gottfried Bechtold undertook a TV action in which the two artists created a dialogue divorced from physical space by means of mutually related performances in the ORF studios in Dornbirn and Linz, in what was a premonition of today’s virtual video conferences. In the action artsat – MIR (1991) Kriesche looked at the traversal of extreme spatial and temporal distance using immaterial and satellite-based telecommunication. This large project was conducted in cooperation with the Soviet space station Mir, the Graz Space Research Institute, Technical University Graz, Joanneum Research Graz, and ORF. And Kriesche’s telematische skulptur 4 (telematic sculpture 4, 1995) is one of the earliest works to address the development of the internet as an interactive medium of telecommunication.

Media art as social sculpture
From the early 1970s, Kriesche undertook collective and participatory projects and actions in which he explored diverse social groups and worked together with them. While in dustman strike Kriesche documents the growing heaps of trash during a refuse collector’s strike as anonymous collective sculptures, in polaroid space he looks at the relationship between the artist, the image, and the observer—by radically and quite literally reversing it.

In the action cleopatra’s needle (1971) and later in the project heimat, eine zeitskulptur (home, a time sculpture, 1982) Kriesche explores memories of the two world wars and associated traces, scars, and repressions. The video installation 14 min im leben von … (14 min in the life of …, 1977) and the long-term project human sculptures (1980) explore the theme of work. In the project arbeit mit strafgefangenen (work with prisoners, 1974), Kriesche asks inmates at Karlau prison to use Polaroids, Super 8 films, and drawings to depict life behind closed doors. The work kinderklinik / videotherapie (children’s clinic / video therapy, 1979/80) is a comprehensive research project on artistic methods in the medical context.

numerical systems and w.y.s.i.w.y.g
Kriesche has a special place in the painting and graphic arts in postwar Austria. He took an early interest right after finishing his studies in the newly emerging field of the aesthetics of computing and computer-based systems. In his comprehensive group of works entitled numerische systeme (numerical systems, 1963–70) the focus is on the fundamental principles of geometrical and mathematical image design and the forms of perception that these lead to. The numerical systems are the beginning and foundation of the artist’s further interest in information aesthetics and cybernetic art. Kriesche’s work group w.y.s.i.w.y.g. addresses digital image processing, as early as 1989. As in numerical systems, a mathematical basis to perception is utilized in w.y.s.i.w.y.g. as a factor in image production. With analysis programs that are normally used to interpret geodetic data, such as satellite images, Kriesche analyses well-known images from European and American art and cultural history.

Curator: Jürgen Tabor

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