Category Archives: Kunsthalle Wien

How To Live Together. Part 2: the good news


Taus Makhacheva, 19 a Day (Outside Arabeska wedding hall), 2014

Since last week’s review about the exhibition How To Live Together at Kunsthalle Wien was all doom and gloom, i had to come back with another post and a more encouraging viewpoint.

This time i will thus focus on the artworks that show what makes coexistence possible in times of rapid societal changes, growing economic inequality, forced migrations and a widespread loss of trust in politics.

Intuitively, we already know that the key to more unified societies lies in a mix of resistance, remembrance, borrowing from other cultures, dreams and empathy. Many of the artists in the show illustrate what happens when these abstract notions are turned into real life stories:


Taus Makhacheva, 19 a Day, 2014


Taus Makhacheva, 19 a Day (Laili wedding hall), 2014


Taus Makhacheva, 19 a Day (Niagara wedding hall), 2014


Taus Makhacheva, 19 a Day (Evropa wedding hall), 2014


Installation view: How To Live Together, Kunsthalle Wien 2017, Photo: Jorit Aust: Taus Makhacheva, 19 a Day, Makhachkala, 14.09.2014

Makhachkala is the capital city of the Republic of Dagestan, Russia. Dagestan is famous for its dozens of ethnic groups, none of them forming a majority. Which explains why the country has 13 official languages.

Dagestani weddings are as serious as they are expensive and i’m glad no one has ever invited me to one because traditional celebrations can last for 3 days. Makhachkala counts more than 60 wedding halls. Each of them booked out during peak season (late spring to early autumn.)

With the complicity of local wedding photographer Shamil Gadzhidadaev, Taus Makhacheva spent a whole day crashing as many weddings as possible. At the end of the day, she managed to attend 19 marriage celebrations.

The performance was documented in postcards (each of them available for Kunsthalle Wien visitors to take away.) You see her adopting all the clichéd poses: congratulating the newlyweds, dancing, eating among the other guests, standing proudly next to the wedding gifts, etc. She’s the perfect uninvited guest!

Because of the coexistence of so many cultures into one city, the images of the festivities show a fabulous mix of brides wearing a hijab and a Western ‘princess’ dress, female guests whose style icons are clearly one or all the Kardashian sisters, people taking photos using an iPad, ladies in very conservative outfits, etc. Somehow this blend of oriental/occidental, pop/traditional attires works fabulously and suggests a society that is borrowing from several cultures in order to define its own identity.


Installation view: How To Live Together, Kunsthalle Wien 2017, Photo: Jorit Aust. Willem de Rooij, Bouquet V, 2010

Bouquet V is made of ninety-five species of fresh flowers. The arrangement gives equal importance and visibility to each flower, no mater its colour, size, or provenance. The bouquet symbolises the beauty of diversity, the appeal of mixing individuals of various origins to obtain a stunning foral composition. The same logic should apply to society. Yet, celebration of diversity is still undervalued in many parts of the world. Unless you live in Dagestan of course.

Willen de Rooij‘s floral compositions are also a reference to the Netherlands’ role as a key hub in the international flower trade.


Binelde Hyrcan, Cambeck (video still), 2010

Binelde Hyrcan, Cambeck (extract), 2010

The latest Mercer Cost of Living Survey calculated that Angola’s capital Luanda is the most expensive city in the world for expats. While living costs for foreigners who often work for the oil industry are slightly higher than New York and San Francisco, the average wage for the local population in Angola is just under $2 a day.

The most moving work in the show is a video by Binelde Hyrcan. The film shows four little boys playing on the beach in Angola. Sitting in the sand, they pretend they are driving around the world in a limousine. In only 2 min 30, the children’s playful chitchat reveals an existence plagued by social inequalities, poverty and families split by migration. “I’m going to America and live in a building; you’re going to stay here and live in a shantytown!”

But the film also talks of hope and dreams as a way to escape the trauma of social suffering.


Kader Attia, Reflecting Memory (Video Still), 2016


Kader Attia, Reflecting Memory (Video Still), 2016


Kader Attia, Reflecting Memory (Video Still), 2016

Kader Attia is also interested in exploring trauma and social anxieties. He believes that the world, too focused on the present to remember the past, is suffering from amnesia.

His film essay Reflecting Memory deals with the idea of trauma and “reparation”. Surgeons, historians, philosophers, psychoanalysts and traumatised people discuss the phenomenon of phantom pain, which amputees feel for their missing body part. The video draws parallels between this neurological condition and the trauma caused by psychological wounds, such as those brought about by war, slavery, colonialism, genocide and terror. They can spread over several generations as an unexpressed sensation of pain. This pain can in turn divide communities and create social tensions.

According to the interviewees, a confrontation with the past and an acceptance that it is part of our genealogy are necessary steps towards “repairing” the pain.

Attia’s film is shown in the screening room next to the space occupied by Sven Augustijnen’s Le Réduit which explores an episode in Belgium’s ruthless exploitation of Congo (i mentioned the work in my previous story). Congo, now The Democratic Republic of the Congo, typifies the fate of an ex-European colony which has experienced much trauma but has never been offered any healing experience.


Johan Grimonprez, Kiss-o-drome (fragment from Shadow World, story written and read by Eduardo Galeano), 2016

In 1980, Judge Manuel Morales ruled that ‘the cinemateographic kiss, in which salivas mix to simply swell the sensuality’ should be banned from the city of Sorocaba in Brazil.

In reaction to the ludicrous edict, almost 2,000 young people marched through the streets and organized a huge ‘kiss-in’ protest. “Never had people kissed so much,” writes in his book Eduardo Galeano in Children of the Days.

Johan Grimonprez‘s short video celebrates the protest with images of a dancing couple and the voice of Eduardo Galeano narrating the Kiss-o-drome demonstration.


Herlinde Koelbl, Italy Catania-Messina (from the series: Refugees), 2016

Herlinde Koelbl’s Refugees photo series highlights under-represented aspects of the life of refugees after they’ve arrived in Europe: their days inside the camps, the most treasured possessions they brought with them, etc. But also the generosity they encounter in the countries of arrival.


Installation view: How To Live Together, Kunsthalle Wien 2017, Photo: Jorit Aust. Wolfgang Tillmans, Anti-Brexit Campaign, 2016


Wolfgang Tillmans, Anti-Brexit Campaign, 2016


Installation view: How To Live Together, Kunsthalle Wien 2017, Photo: Jorit Aust. Ieva Epnere, Riga Circus, 2004–08/2017


Installation view: How To Live Together, Kunsthalle Wien 2017, Photo: Jorit Aust: Armin Linke, CNR, National Research Council, Fermi conference hall, on the wall the Globe made by Fra’ Mauro in 1460, 2007

How To Live Together also attempts to be more than yet another art exhibition for the usual cultural aficionados. The curators set up a “Community College” offering workshops, tours, brunches, courses and lectures until the end of the show. You can find the programme inside the exhibition booklet.

If you want to know more about the show, have a look at HTLT’s playlist or download the PDF of the exhibition booklet.

How To Live Together is at Kunsthalle Wien until 15 October 2017. The show was curated by Nicolaus Schafhausen, with curatorial assistant Juliane Bischoff

Previously: How To Live Together. Part 1: the bad news.

Also on view at Kunsthalle Wien (Karlsplatz location): Work it, Feel it! New mechanisms of body discipline.

How To Live Together. Part 2: the good news


Taus Makhacheva, 19 a Day (Outside Arabeska wedding hall), 2014

Since last week’s review about the exhibition How To Live Together at Kunsthalle Wien was all doom and gloom, i had to come back with another post and a more encouraging viewpoint.

This time i will thus focus on the artworks that show what makes coexistence possible in times of rapid societal changes, growing economic inequality, forced migrations and a widespread loss of trust in politics.

Intuitively, we already know that the key to more unified societies lies in a mix of resistance, remembrance, borrowing from other cultures, dreams and empathy. Many of the artists in the show illustrate what happens when these abstract notions are turned into real life stories:


Taus Makhacheva, 19 a Day, 2014


Taus Makhacheva, 19 a Day (Laili wedding hall), 2014


Taus Makhacheva, 19 a Day (Niagara wedding hall), 2014


Taus Makhacheva, 19 a Day (Evropa wedding hall), 2014


Installation view: How To Live Together, Kunsthalle Wien 2017, Photo: Jorit Aust: Taus Makhacheva, 19 a Day, Makhachkala, 14.09.2014

Makhachkala is the capital city of the Republic of Dagestan, Russia. Dagestan is famous for its dozens of ethnic groups, none of them forming a majority. Which explains why the country has 13 official languages.

Dagestani weddings are as serious as they are expensive and i’m glad no one has ever invited me to one because traditional celebrations can last for 3 days. Makhachkala counts more than 60 wedding halls. Each of them booked out during peak season (late spring to early autumn.)

With the complicity of local wedding photographer Shamil Gadzhidadaev, Taus Makhacheva spent a whole day crashing as many weddings as possible. At the end of the day, she managed to attend 19 marriage celebrations.

The performance was documented in postcards (each of them available for Kunsthalle Wien visitors to take away.) You see her adopting all the clichéd poses: congratulating the newlyweds, dancing, eating among the other guests, standing proudly next to the wedding gifts, etc. She’s the perfect uninvited guest!

Because of the coexistence of so many cultures into one city, the images of the festivities show a fabulous mix of brides wearing a hijab and a Western ‘princess’ dress, female guests whose style icons are clearly one or all the Kardashian sisters, people taking photos using an iPad, ladies in very conservative outfits, etc. Somehow this blend of oriental/occidental, pop/traditional attires works fabulously and suggests a society that is borrowing from several cultures in order to define its own identity.


Installation view: How To Live Together, Kunsthalle Wien 2017, Photo: Jorit Aust. Willem de Rooij, Bouquet V, 2010

Bouquet V is made of ninety-five species of fresh flowers. The arrangement gives equal importance and visibility to each flower, no mater its colour, size, or provenance. The bouquet symbolises the beauty of diversity, the appeal of mixing individuals of various origins to obtain a stunning foral composition. The same logic should apply to society. Yet, celebration of diversity is still undervalued in many parts of the world. Unless you live in Dagestan of course.

Willen de Rooij‘s floral compositions are also a reference to the Netherlands’ role as a key hub in the international flower trade.


Binelde Hyrcan, Cambeck (video still), 2010

Binelde Hyrcan, Cambeck (extract), 2010

The latest Mercer Cost of Living Survey calculated that Angola’s capital Luanda is the most expensive city in the world for expats. While living costs for foreigners who often work for the oil industry are slightly higher than New York and San Francisco, the average wage for the local population in Angola is just under $2 a day.

The most moving work in the show is a video by Binelde Hyrcan. The film shows four little boys playing on the beach in Angola. Sitting in the sand, they pretend they are driving around the world in a limousine. In only 2 min 30, the children’s playful chitchat reveals an existence plagued by social inequalities, poverty and families split by migration. “I’m going to America and live in a building; you’re going to stay here and live in a shantytown!”

But the film also talks of hope and dreams as a way to escape the trauma of social suffering.


Kader Attia, Reflecting Memory (Video Still), 2016


Kader Attia, Reflecting Memory (Video Still), 2016


Kader Attia, Reflecting Memory (Video Still), 2016

Kader Attia is also interested in exploring trauma and social anxieties. He believes that the world, too focused on the present to remember the past, is suffering from amnesia.

His film essay Reflecting Memory deals with the idea of trauma and “reparation”. Surgeons, historians, philosophers, psychoanalysts and traumatised people discuss the phenomenon of phantom pain, which amputees feel for their missing body part. The video draws parallels between this neurological condition and the trauma caused by psychological wounds, such as those brought about by war, slavery, colonialism, genocide and terror. They can spread over several generations as an unexpressed sensation of pain. This pain can in turn divide communities and create social tensions.

According to the interviewees, a confrontation with the past and an acceptance that it is part of our genealogy are necessary steps towards “repairing” the pain.

Attia’s film is shown in the screening room next to the space occupied by Sven Augustijnen’s Le Réduit which explores an episode in Belgium’s ruthless exploitation of Congo (i mentioned the work in my previous story). Congo, now The Democratic Republic of the Congo, typifies the fate of an ex-European colony which has experienced much trauma but has never been offered any healing experience.


Johan Grimonprez, Kiss-o-drome (fragment from Shadow World, story written and read by Eduardo Galeano), 2016

In 1980, Judge Manuel Morales ruled that ‘the cinemateographic kiss, in which salivas mix to simply swell the sensuality’ should be banned from the city of Sorocaba in Brazil.

In reaction to the ludicrous edict, almost 2,000 young people marched through the streets and organized a huge ‘kiss-in’ protest. “Never had people kissed so much,” writes in his book Eduardo Galeano in Children of the Days.

Johan Grimonprez‘s short video celebrates the protest with images of a dancing couple and the voice of Eduardo Galeano narrating the Kiss-o-drome demonstration.


Herlinde Koelbl, Italy Catania-Messina (from the series: Refugees), 2016

Herlinde Koelbl’s Refugees photo series highlights under-represented aspects of the life of refugees after they’ve arrived in Europe: their days inside the camps, the most treasured possessions they brought with them, etc. But also the generosity they encounter in the countries of arrival.


Installation view: How To Live Together, Kunsthalle Wien 2017, Photo: Jorit Aust. Wolfgang Tillmans, Anti-Brexit Campaign, 2016


Wolfgang Tillmans, Anti-Brexit Campaign, 2016


Installation view: How To Live Together, Kunsthalle Wien 2017, Photo: Jorit Aust. Ieva Epnere, Riga Circus, 2004–08/2017


Installation view: How To Live Together, Kunsthalle Wien 2017, Photo: Jorit Aust: Armin Linke, CNR, National Research Council, Fermi conference hall, on the wall the Globe made by Fra’ Mauro in 1460, 2007

How To Live Together also attempts to be more than yet another art exhibition for the usual cultural aficionados. The curators set up a “Community College” offering workshops, tours, brunches, courses and lectures until the end of the show. You can find the programme inside the exhibition booklet.

If you want to know more about the show, have a look at HTLT’s playlist or download the PDF of the exhibition booklet.

How To Live Together is at Kunsthalle Wien until 15 October 2017. The show was curated by Nicolaus Schafhausen, with curatorial assistant Juliane Bischoff

Previously: How To Live Together. Part 1: the bad news.

Also on view at Kunsthalle Wien (Karlsplatz location): Work it, Feel it! New mechanisms of body discipline.

How To Live Together. Part 1: the bad news

How To Live Together, an exhibition currently on view at Kunsthalle Wien, aims to looks that the conditions and prospects of living together in terms of individual and social dimensions.


Installation view: How To Live Together, Kunsthalle Wien 2017, Photo: Stephan Wyckoff: Goshka Macuga, To the Son of Man Who Ate the Scroll, 2016


Paul Graham, Beyond Caring, 1984/8

This is a brave, laudable and rather ambitious objective at a time characterized by tightening borders, stigmatizing discourses, political debates inside filter bubbles, and other suggestions that the world is not only melting under our feet but also intent on cultivating divisions.

The exhibition is located over two floors. It is huge and it can feel as overwhelming as the theme it purports to explore: Tina Barney’s photos of the European one per cent are hung in uncomfortable proximity of the ones Mohamed Bourouissa made of the deserted youth in the Paris suburbs; Jeroen de Rijke and Willem de Rooij‘s videos of drug addicts trying to stare at the camera in exchange for a beer make for an almost unbearable watch and Paul Graham‘s photos of everyday life at the (un)employment offices in the 1980s are too close to home 30 years later.

Fortunately, the curators of How To Live Together didn’t just summon grim visions, they also searched for glimpses of hope, signs of change, and lessons from other cultures. Wolfgang Tillmans’ poignant Anti-Brexit campaign reminds us why artists need to take an active role in civil society; Ayzit Bostan‘s Imagine Peace written in arabic on t-shirts challenges society’s prejudices; Johan Grimonprez‘s Kiss-o-drome illustrates how humour and love can challenge censorship. Speaking of humour… the main image of the exhibition with its Merkel diamond gesture is an amusing echo to Herlinde Koelbl‘s portraits of Angela Merkel over decades. Those portraits were probably the most scrutinised works in the whole Kunsthalle, by the way.


Herlinde Koelbl, Angela Merkel, 1991–2006, from the cycle: Spuren der Macht (Traces of Power) at Kunsthalle Wien

Because it’s almost 40 degrees this week in Turin and i’m in a murderous mood, i’m going to split my review of the show into two parts. Today, you get the depressing bits and as soon as temperatures have cooled off a little, i’ll be back with the works that speak of solidarity, optimism and compassion.

It’s not all bad though because 1. i loved that show so much i visited it twice and 2. i’m going to open the quick gallery tour with one of my favourite artists:


Mohamed Bourouissa, Carré rouge (from the series Périphérique), 2005


Mohamed Bourouissa, La République (from the series Périphérique), 2005


Mohamed Bourouissa, Le miroir (from the series Périphérique), 2005


Installation view: How To Live Together, Kunsthalle Wien 2017, Photo: Jorit Aust

“I wanted to represent the guys from the banlieues, who are generally only portrayed by news reporters, and to lift this type of imagery into the field of aesthetics,” explained Mohamed Bourouissa in an interview with Elephant.

Made in 2005, in the context of the riots in the French banlieues, the series has as its main protagonists the young Africans and Arabs living in the suburbs of Paris.

Because we are used to seeing them portrayed by news reporters, most of us would probably take our cue from their outfits and surrounding and automatically assume that we are looking at scenes of trouble. But Bourouissa’s photos are carefully staged and lit as if they were tableaux vivants. The subtle aesthetics strategy challenges our own prejudices as well as the over-simplification of photojournalism that often fails to convey more complex socio-political contexts. His photos also seems to invite us to face uncomfortable issues head on.


Mohamed Bourouissa, L’Utopie d’August Sander, 2012–2013


Installation view: How To Live Together, Kunsthalle Wien 2017, Photo: Jorit Aust. Mohamed Bourouissa, L’Utopie d’August Sander, 2012–2013

L’Utopie d’August Sander, another Bourouissa work in the show, refers to August Sander‘s magnum opus Menschen des 20. Jahrhunderts (People of the 20th Century, also on view at Kunsthalle Wien.) This photographic atlas was intended to be a “contemporary portrait of the German man”.


August Sander, Jobless, 1928/1993

Sander’s portraits were grouped into seven portfolios, each dedicated to a specific social and occupational group. He portrayed craftsmen, industrialists, farmers but also elements of German society that were regarded as less ‘respectable’: traveling people, beggars, the disabled, the unemployed. Their inclusion in the work is probably what raised the ire of the Nazi who, in 1936, confiscated the first published version of the project and destroyed all the printing plates.

Bourouissa’s work limits his portrayal of society to the unemployed but he anchors it into the 21st century by using 3D printing. His studio was located inside a “fab-lab mobile”. He parked his truck outside a Pôle emploi (French national unemployment agency) in Marseille and asked people in search of work if he could 3D scan them and turn them into figurines, which some likened to the santon tradition in the South East of France.

By being at the crossroads of integration and social exclusion, unemployment offices remind us how much we are defined by our social status. The polyester resin statuettes are anti-monuments to this uneasy position. The figurines respect the anonymity of the job-seeker but because they are different from each other, they also mirror the singular identities of the people who aspire to play the role that modern society expects from them.


Mohamed Bourouissa, L’Utopie d’August Sander, 2012. Image via exponaute

As a nod to the economy of precariousness and resourcefulness that surrounds unemployment, Bourouissa sold the statuettes on the street for 1 Euro.

For the artist, the work process was far more important than the statuettes. His documentation of the work includes a ‘livre des refus’ (book of refusals) in which he chronicles the reactions of people who said ‘no’ to his requests and accused him of using his artistic privileges to exploit people.


Paul Graham, Beyond Caring, 1984/8


Paul Graham, Beyond Caring (Waiting room, Highgate DHSS, North London), 1984/8


Installation view: How To Live Together, Kunsthalle Wien 2017, Photo: Jorit Aust. Paul Graham, Beyond Caring, 1984/8

In 1984, Paul Graham was commissioned to present his view of “Britain in 1984”. He chose to document the inside of English unemployment offices which, at the time, struggled to accommodate 10 million people out of work. Graham wasn’t allowed to take these images, meaning that he had to hide his camera under his coat or put it on the chair beside him. He thus had to shoot instinctively, often unable to look through the viewfinder. Yet, the images seem imbued with empathy.

The images of people sitting dejectedly in run-down waiting rooms under hostile neon lights attest to the breakdown of the welfare benefits system across the country. The series also holds a bitter mirror to contemporary economic systems that cultivate social inequality and political discourses that blame the poor for their own circumstances.

Over time the work acquired “this strange double life: as both a political work of social reportage handed out at lefty political conferences, and as a fine art photography book”.


Aslan Gaisumov, stills from the video People of No Consequence, Chechnya, 2016


Aslan Gaisumov, stills from the video People of No Consequence, Chechnya, 2016


Aslan Gaisumov, Production photo for People of No Consequence, 2016

From 23 February to 9 March 1944 the entire Chechen and Ingush nations, about half a million people, were deported to Central Asia by the Soviet authorities. They had been declared guilty of cooperation with Nazi occupants. Almost half of all Chechens died or were killed during the round-ups and transportation, and during their early years in exile.

The expulsion was part of a forced settlement program and population transfer that affected several million members of non-Russian Soviet ethnic minorities between the 1930s and the 1950s.

Survivors were allowed to return to their native land only in 1957. Many in Chechnya and Ingushetia classify it as an act of genocide, as did the European Parliament in 2004.

Aslan Gaisumov traveled across Chechnya searching for survivors of the deportation. He managed to gather 119 of them in Grozny. 60 years after they had lost their home. People of No Consequence is a quiet, hypnotizing single shot of these people entering an official looking room and sitting down facing the camera. First, the men. Then the women who go and sit at the back. On the wall at the back of the room, a poster depicts Grozny as a city that has erased all traces of recent wars in favour of pompous, alienating architecture. People of No Consequence is an incredibly moving work. The frail people in the film are the last witnesses of an injustice that hasn’t been given a place in official historical accounts.

Aslan Gaisumov had two video pieces in the shows. Both amazing in strength and simplicity. He approaches the darkest and understudied pages in the history of his country without sensationalism, bitterness nor unnecessary pathos.


Installation view: How To Live Together, Kunsthalle Wien 2017, Photo: Jorit Aust. Sven Augustijnen, Le Réduit, 2016


Sven Augustijnen, Le Réduit, 2016


Sven Augustijnen, Le Réduit (Aerial views of Kamina Base), 2016


Sven Augustijnen, Le Réduit, 2016


Sven Augustijnen, Le Réduit, 2016

Now for a bit of that famous Belgian surrealism:

While doing some research about Belgium’s colonial history in the Congo (now DRC), Sven Augustijnen found out that, during the 1950s, his country had planned to build a huge refuge for the Belgian elite in Kamina, located in the rich mining region of Katanga in what was then the Belgian Congo.

Augustijnen analysed the thousands of photos, negatives, carbon copies, maps and architectural plans he had discovered at Belgium’s Centre de Documentation historique des Forces armées. They had never been studied before.

The documents show that the Belgian government had planned to create a huge military base and a haven for the royal family and their entourage. The exclusive hideaway would have served as a second Belgian capital and refuge in case of a communist invasion in Europe. Which is pretty ironic when you think that many of these people were happy to exploit the African territory from a distance but had probably never set a foot on it.

Using the archival materials as well as a short trip he made to Kamina last year, the artist wrote a story that balances historical facts and fiction to explain the Belgian government’s absurd and ambitious secret plan.


Installation view: How To Live Together, Kunsthalle Wien 2017, Photo: Jorit Aust. Jeremy Shaw, Quickeners, 2014

That’s it for today! I’ll see you at the other end of the heat wave!


Installation view: How To Live Together, Kunsthalle Wien 2017, Photo: Jorit Aust

If you want to know more about the show, have a look at HTLT’s playlist or download the PDF of the exhibition booklet.

How To Live Together is at Kunsthalle Wien until 15 October 2017. The show was curated by Nicolaus Schafhausen, with curatorial assistant Juliane Bischoff

Also on view at Kunsthalle Wien (Karlsplatz location): Work it, Feel it! New mechanisms of body discipline.

Prototype II (after US patent no 6545444 B2) or the quest for free energy

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Nick Laessing Prototype II (after US patent no 6545444 B2 by John Bedini), Talk Radio with John Bedini (excerpts from 1980s radio show Open Mind), 2009

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Nick Laessing Prototype II (after US patent no 6545444 B2 by John Bedini), Talk Radio with John Bedini (excerpts from 1980s radio show Open Mind), 2009

A few years ago, artist Nick Laessing stumbled upon a book in a second-hand bookshop. Titled The Search of Free Energy, the publication introduced him to the world of people who are searching for alternatives to fossil fuel as a source of energy.

The artist went on to meet and interview some of the scientists, inventors, self-taught engineers and amateurs who are looking for ways to produce free energy. What fascinates Laessing are the utopian ideals that inspire these ‘fringe’ scientists but also the subculture surrounding overlooked inventions and the intrinsic sculptural qualities of some of the prototypes developed by these communities of inventors.

To explore with more depths the work of these enthusiasts, the artist started making his own copies of the machines. He is showing one of these devices at the moment in the exhibition The Promise of Total Automation at Kunsthalle Wien. It’s a brilliant, thrilling show and i’ll get back with a more detailed review of it in the coming days.

The ‘free energy’ generator exhibited in Vienna was modeled on a patent filed by an American inventor called John Bedini for a motor that is supposed to be able to recharge its own batteries and run continuously. The batteries also supply energy to an old reel to reel player that plays an interview that Bedini gave to the US talk radio show Open Mind in the 1980s.

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Nick Laessing, Prototype II (after US patent no 6545444 B2 by John Bedini), Talk Radio with John Bedini (excerpts from 1980s radio show Open Mind), 2009

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Nick Laessing, Prototype II (after US patent no 6545444 B2 by John Bedini), Talk Radio with John Bedini (excerpts from 1980s radio show Open Mind), 2009

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Nick Laessing, Prototype II (after US patent no 6545444 B2 by John Bedini), Talk Radio with John Bedini (excerpts from 1980s radio show Open Mind), 2009

Bedini believes that anyone can make the machine at home, all you need is a magnet, some copper coils and an old nail, Laessing explained in an interview with Cluster. But, while it may appear a simple, old-fashioned apparatus you can assemble in the backyard, the truth is that the physics behind the machine is very complex and not conventional at all. I’ve spoken to electrical engineers at various shows who are unable to grasp it; it is created from a completely different view on electricity, different to how we understand it.

Ultimately, i think that what Prototype II (after US patent no 6545444 B2 by John Bedini) demonstrates best is that art is a space where it is possible to expand and explore fringe science, all its idealistic promises and equivocal achievements in a way that would not be regarded as valid in a conventional science context.

The Promise of Total Automation remains open at Kunsthalle Wien until 29 May 2016.