The art collective breadedEscalope consists of three associates, all from Austria: Sascha Mikel, Martin Schnabl, and Michael Tatschl. Founded in 2007, the group maintains its art practice in Vienna. They function in the very interesting space existing between art and design. In their show “Daily Routines,” their first solo exhibition in America, breadedEscalope put out clever inventions that require audience participation: a small bar for drinking, enclosed so that the heads and the upper part of the participants’ bodies are hidden, while their legs are visible; a digital clock in which a viewer can change the time by pulling a chain; and carpets in various sizes installed on the wall, with their surface given a Zen garden-like pattern by a carpet cleaner moving across the mat’s exterior. Like the conversation about ceramics, the artistic authenticity of design has been much discussed, although today we don’t make much of a distinction between the more art-like products of design and fine art itself. But, even so, the collective consciously bridges the space often separating the two classifications; it reaches deeply into a place in which the object requires the physical activity of the audience in order to be fully realized. This means that there is deliberate contact between the object and the spectator, which does not happen often in fine art. But neither can we say that the group’s efforts are purely design. Touching the work and interacting with it indicates that a different kind of dialogue is established between the viewer and the sculptures—one not only looks but also acts. The necessity of action pushes the audience toward performance, a relatively new addition to the fine art spectrum.
With Bar Non-Lieu (2015), the participation between viewer and construction is extreme. Two people sit on chairs inside an enclosure hiding the upper half of their bodies; within is a small table on which the participants could drink (liquor was provided the night of the opening). The lower half of the bar was open, supported by four thin legs. As a result, the gallery visitors could see the waist and limbs of the two drinkers. But once the doors of the bar have been closed, the sounds of the participants talking are inaudible, and their interaction across the table separating them is unseen, even as the closed space enables the two to conduct their conversation in total privacy. Based on the “American Bar” in Vienna, designed by the noted architect Adolf Loos, Bar Non-Lieu reminds us of a certain kind of European high life, one not known so well in New York, where high style is often downplayed in favor of informality. Bar Non-Lieu makes clear to us the difficulty in establishing privacy in public venues; charming, even humorous, it constructs an intimacy that quickens the pulse of both participant and spectator.
Zen-Rug (2017) is a highly interactive artwork too. It works by using a handmade glass nozzle attached to a carpet cleaner. The viewer draws on the black, rug-like surface of the carpet installed on the wall (in the show, the glass nozzle was exhibited separately, without the body of the carpet cleaner). By moving the nozzle in various directions—in curves or in a straight pathway—the spectator creates a pattern that looks very similar to the arrangement of the raked gravel in Japanese Zen gardens. The nozzle itself is an exquisite art piece, handmade in Austria. Its functional simplicity matches the directness of the motif inscribed on the surface of the rug; together, nozzle and mat show us how industrial design can be tied to whimsy and even performance art by requiring an audience action to be fulfilled. Zen-Rug, like the other pieces in “Daily Routines,” relies on humor to make a particular point, namely, that the design of things is meant to offer an enjoyable interaction between the audience and the work of art. The emphasis is on involvement, which is tied to a very contemporary understanding of what design can be and do.
The work addressing time, Your Clock (2007) is composed of a simple wall clock whose window presents digital numbers. The time seen by the collective’s audience refers to the last time the chain attached to the clock was pulled. Pulling it again advances the numbers to the actual time it is. So one jumps from the last notation initiated by participants to a current, correct reading. Time is an arbitrary concept, its division being regulated by well-established rules. But Your Clock demonstrates how it is possible to alternate between different kinds of time, as indicated by the manipulated clock—here one faces the difference in recording a past action and a present one. A playful reading of change activated by the human hand upon a mechanical device, the work establishes the fact that recorded actions have their own way of being noted, in ways that stretch our understanding of what time can mean and be. In general, the works described in this review alter our awareness of what art means, in the sense that we are intended to re-define our notions of the object, which here is eccentric and funny and responsive to change. Visitors are more than likely to enjoy the show’s penchant for informal play, made visible by design that cannot be separated from fine art.
breadedEscalope (functional art collective, Vienna)
January 19 – February 18, 2017
Writing by Jonathan Goodman
Photographs provided by the Elga Wimmer PCC