VBKÖ – Vereinigung bildender Künstlerinnen Österreichs


Archival Sites of Speculation: Storying the Silence

January 12th – February 11, 2024
Opening: January 11th, 6 p.m.
Exhibition opening times: THU – SAT, 2 – 6 pm

With works by Katharina Birkmann, Maja Bojanić, nathan c’ha, Mark Chehodaiev, Alessandra Ferrini, Onyeka Igwe, Belinda Kazeem-Kamiński, Ivana Lazić, Arina Nekliudova, Carmiña Tarilonte Rodríguez, Elske Rosenfeld & Olia Sosnovskaya, SKGAL (Nina Höchtl, Julia Wieger), Tsai-Ju Wu, Lorenz Zenleser

Curated by Georgia Holz, and Stephanie Misa

“Silences have frequencies. I want us to ask, ‘How can we learn to hear silences that echo loudly, softly, or in code?’”
– Panashe Chugumadzi, “Hearing the Silence”

The exhibition Archival Sites of Speculation: Storying the Silence seeks to contribute to critical discussions on the archive as a space of artistic research and the experimental methods used in exploring convergent and divergent histories. It creates an experimental space within which methodologies of proximity and engagement with archives can be divulged. The participating artists seek to negotiate the constitutive
limits of the archive. The artworks envisage what is missing from documentation, testimony or kept historical material. With these methods, historical and archival research is combined with a critical fabulation to make productive sense of absence within an archive.

The VBKÖ (Austrian Association of Women Artists), founded in 1910, aimed at empowering women artists in what was then an exclusively male arts circuit. Housed within it is a typical association archive composed of the secretarial files, documents of chairpersons, the association’s activities, as well as materials and works of its artists.
The archive has documented and survived the National Socialist “Gleichschaltung”, a mandatory alignment with the NS regime. This exhibition is dedicated to a narrative shift and the development of decolonial methodologies that attend to the absences in the
association’s imperial archive. Even though the archive is 113 years
old, the association’s history is just at the very onset of its own documentation.

Saidiya Hartman’s notion of critical fabulation has informed the exhibition as well as the research project to a great extent. Based on archival research and a critical reading of the archive, it is put in practice by speculating about inaccessible, and silenced voices of the past, voices that “tell an impossible story” while simultaneously amplifying the “impossibility of its telling” (Saidiya Hartman, Venus in Two Acts, 2008: 11.). What she refers to are gaps in the transmission of the archive, the absence of an actual representation of personhood.

Artist Onyeka Igwe’s approach of proximity suggests a closeness of one’s own body to the body of the archive through touch, dance, text, projection and readings, seeking to account for how an archive becomes an embodied experience, which she performs with No Dance No Palaver (2017–18). Through this closeness, the cultural production of the colonial imagination is examined to think through an embodied with-ness in a distinct temporal space.

Both the approaches of critical fabulation and proximity engender speculations on absence through the equally ephemeral and timely qualities of performative practices. Invited artists Belinda Kazeem-Kamiński, SKGAL, Alessandra Ferrini, and Elske Rosenfeld & Olia Sosnovskaya enact this embodied practice as a way of working with that combine historical and archival research, critical theory, and fiction to make productive sense of anonymity and ambiguous authorship, as well as the invisibility of what is absent from documentation.

Participants of the seminar Working the Archive especially contribute specific positionalities to the exhibition in relation to working with the VBKÖ and other archives. Hinting at exclusions and omissions inherent in archives Arina Nekliudova, Ivana Lazić and Katharina Birkmann work with documents from the VBKÖ archive, namely membership registers and a 1932 Exchange Exhibition Catalog. Their works refer to internal tensions and an abstraction of relationships within the Association, much of which is left for us to imagine, also giving a nod to the VBKÖ secession of the Wiener Frauenkunst. On the other hand, the imprinting of documents from the VBKÖ archive into another medium enables
Lorenz Zenleser to mobilize multiple temporalities of documentation.

In speculative gestures that work with the fragility and generosity of ‘material’ as sites of exploration, nathan c’ha, Carmiña Tarilonte Rodríguez, and Maja Bojanić reassess the many levels of complex inter-relation and interaction that happen which allow the materiality to expand beyond their thingification. Tsai-Ju Wu and Mark Chehodaiev‘s works magnify the space of the archive, be it as the archival box where documents are held, or as the walls and floor of the building that houses the association itself. The works suggest different measurements of ‘containers of time’, both as witnesses and guardians to the association’s past (as well as its present).

This exhibition is a culmination of a year-long research project Anonymity and Absence – Archival Sites of Speculation, supported by the Program for Inter- and Transdisciplinary Projects in Art and Research (INTRA), at the University of Applied Arts Vienna. The project seeks to contribute to critical discussions on the archive as a space of artistic research, crucially asking how one performs the missing parts of an archive, and how can we weave alternative and unwritten histories into what is present within a collection.

>Download Booklet (pdf)

Accompanying program

Thursday, January 11th, 7 p.m.
Gadaffi in Rome: The Expanded Script
Lecture-performance by Alessandra Ferrini

Saturday, February 3rd, 2–5 p.m.
Let’s build our own acid-free archive!
Workshop with Tsai-Ju Wu
Max. 7 participants, free donation
Please register until January 31st via e-mail: tsaiju.w(at)gmail.com

Friday, February 9th, 3–6 p.m.
Archive of Gestures: Becoming In/visible
Workshop with Elske Rosenfeld & Olia Sosnovskaya
Please register until Feb 8th via e-mail: info@vbkoe.org

Saturday, February 10th, 3–6 p.m.
Finissage and guided tours

photos © by Daniel Hill

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