Heimo Zobernig

born 1958 in Mauthen, Carinthia, Austria; lives in Vienna

Biography

1977–1980: Studies at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna

1980–1983: Studies at the University of Applied Arts Vienna

1994–1995: Visiting professor to the Hochschule für bildende Künste (University of Fine Arts) Hamburg

1999–2000: Professor of sculpture at the Staatliche Hochschule für Bildende Künste – Städelschule, Frankfurt am Main

Since 2000: Professor of sculpture at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna

Visual Arts

Visual Arts

In its capacity as a communication medium, art for Zobernig is a language, and a critical appraisal of the functioning and possibilities of languages is central to his oeuvre. He has investigated the potential of the various artistic media and ultimately concluded that all we can ever ascertain about any kind of statement is its ambivalence and ambiguity, as well as its dependence on context. It is with this in mind that Zobernig pursues his work as a painter, graphic artist, sculptor, performer, maker of installations, films, and videos, as a computer artist and also photographer, poet, and musician, but also creating exhibition displays or designing lounges, cafés, and recently even sacred spaces. A perennial concern of his is the question of how artworks come to be instilled with differing meanings, and how their readings can change from one context to the next. With this, he also points to the impossibility of drawing a clear boundary between art and design, architecture, exhibition design, and typography, as well as theater and many other modes of performance, such as music making. Moreover, Zobernig is one of the first to have underlined the role and importance of the art business and its numerous actors (such as curators, collectors, and authors) in the genesis and reception of art.

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With their highly reduced grammar of forms, Zobernig’s works are indebted to the classic minimal art of the 1960s and 1970s, while countering the lack of referentiality that minimalism posits. Indeed, his aim is precisely to show that a white painted cube, for example, with a Perspex bell jar on top can be read and handled as both a minimalist sculpture, which is to say an autonomous artifact, and as a pedestal and thus a functionalist article. Analogously, his paintings and videos examine the manner in which meaning is generated with these media, and how it can alter with changes in context and then be read differently. In his Farbenlehre (Colour Theory, 1995), an artist’s book that he made with the writer Ferdinand Schmatz, Zobernig points to the history of color theory and shows that over the centuries, one and the same color has been assessed in different ways and given a variety of connotations. Zobernig’s displays waver deliberately between artistic installation and interior design, leaving it open as to whether a table, say, or a shelf unit is a sculpture or a piece of furniture.

Author: Eva Badura-Triska

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Music

Music

Making experimental music based more on performative than musical rules was important for Zobernig from early on. Between 1983 and 1984, the group Halofern, which mostly appeared as a trio comprising Zobernig, Marcus Geiger, and Richard Fleissner, was dedicated to crossovers in which music in the customary sense played a fairly marginal role. Instead, a veritable DIY cosmos was opened up to present a rich palette: in some cases the instruments were self-made—in an act regarded primarily as sculptural. Similarly, who played which instruments was a flexible matter. The musicians swapped them around so as to prevent any routine or formulaic approach from setting in, and the sound repertoire deliberately consisted of »hard-listening« unruliness.

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This kind of iconoclasm can be witnessed in the video Heimat II (1987), which Zobernig and Helmut Mark made to a piece by a lineup comprising the groups Halofern and Molto Brutto. A red horizontal line runs through the bottom third of the screen on what is otherwise a black image and is interrupted just twice for a fraction of a second. The singer for Molto Brutto, Fritz Grohs (1955–2000) gives a fractious rendition of a text on the homeland, while his fellow band members subvert any hint of »Gemütlichkeit«with a casually tossed-off recalcitrance.

Author: Christian Höller

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In the Exhibition

In the Exhibition

Heimo Zobernig, AVOIDANCE im Studio, 1992

Heimo Zobernig

AVOIDANCE in the studio, summer 1992, 24:05 min.

with Marcus Geiger (bass guit.), Martin Guttmann (guit.), Hans Weigand (guit.), Heimo Zobernig (guit., voc., harmo.)

Video: Heimo Zobernig, Camera: Peter Kogler, Octavian Trauttmansdorff

In 1992, Zobernig invited a number of artist friends to join him as guitarist on the project AVOIDANCE (originally titled AVOIDDANCE). Marcus Geiger (bass), Martin Guttmann (guitar), at that time part of the art duo Clegg & Guttmann, and finally Hans Weigand (guitar), a member in the 1980s of the band Pas Paravent, all arrived as scheduled at the studio. There had been no rehearsals nor any great discussion beforehand, and thus the conceived situation gave rise to three diverging artifacts, which are all in their own ways very concise: the record AVOIDDANCE (later renamed AVOIDANCE by Zobernig) with two pieces created during the session (»Avoiddance« and »Fut«); the video AVOIDANCE Label (1992), which in one long, unbroken take shows the label Zobernig designed for the vinyl—the photo of a whisky glass complete with ice cubes shot from above—as it revolves; and finally the video AVOIDANCE im Studio which documents the original studio session.

The video shows in a single, 24-minute take how the session and initial recordings gradually took shape. In this way, processes that normally are elided from the finished music product are shifted to the documentary center. Filmed through a sliding door that is forever being opened and closed, it captures the doings of the musicians from the vantage point of the control room—with various of the participants moving time and again across the picture or up toward the camera. The focus is directed first of all to the preparations, the »paratext« that tops the actual recordings: stringing the guitars, tuning, plugging in the amps, etc. It is not until the seventh minute and at the behest of the producer, Edek Bartz (»Can we slowly get this thing going?«) that they embark on a three-chord piece that subsequently appeared shrunk down to a 90-second instrumental titled »Fut«. Bit by bit, a harmonica and vocals join in (both by Zobernig). Later, again at the urging of the producer (»Another quick one?«), a comparatively raw, unharmonious number follows before ultimately drifting apart. At the end, everything is unplugged and packed away, while the sound recording can already be heard from the engineer’s room. Another sign of the breadth in which the production process is presented here.

Author:

Eva Badura-Triska / Christian Höller