viennacontemporary was founded in 2015 and is one of Europe’s best-loved fairs. While most fairs have been cancelled this year, or even worse, been transformed into a dreaded viewing room, viennacontemporary is going ahead IRL, and we couldn’t be more excited! In anticipation of the 2020 edition, we got to speaking with video curator Jen Kratochvil, as well as Cathrin Mayer, who curated ZONE1 – a section dedicated to artists under 40, who live, work or have been educated in Austria – to learn all about what the fair has in store!
How did you get interested in art?
Jen Kratochvil: As a very young kid, my parents used to drag me around every museum and every new show. Their library is filled with books on classical art. I really hated it and wanted to stick to my encyclopedias full of images of dinosaurs. But that changed very soon, and here I am suddenly, not dealing with almost anything but art.
Can you tell us a little about Vienna Contemporary?
Jen Kratochvil: Vienna Contemporary is now in a unique position, being one of the few fairs still taking place in real-time and space instead of being channeled through online means. Everyone seems to be excited to have a chance to talk to people and see art with their very own eyes without a mediating barrier of a screen. There is also a high level of responsibility and careful approach involved in regards to the current situation. So this event can actually be enjoyable and not just a scare of being cramped with too many people in one space. Interesting times, as they say, indeed. The fair has always been important for the Central European context, so obviously, everyone hopes that it will stay that way despite the circumstances.
What kind of work can we expect to see in the fair?
Cathrin Mayer: The Zone 1, which I had the pleasure to curate is a special presentation format at the fair. For roughly ten years the ministry of arts and culture has supported artists below 40 with gallery representation who have either studied in the country, have an exhibition history or live here. At Zone 1 this year you find eight artists working in sculpture, painting and photography. Among other things all of them are part of an international conversation that they actively shape and bring new impulses to the local scene.
Jen, why is video such an important art form to you?
Jen Kratochvil: Haha, that’s a good and quite hard question I’m asking myself quite often. I’ve always been a film buff to a certain extent. When I started to be interested in contemporary art, it didn’t take long before my attention focused in a significant way on this particular form. In my view, the moving image has the potential to channel pressing political issues while staying abstract or highly aesthetic, not being preachy but rather mediating complex sets of content and various formal characteristics to open up a gradient of subjective sensitivities. The essential aspect of it is time and with it a potential for immersion into a work. I’m obviously generalizing quite a bit. Probably talking about my favorite types of art works.
Are there any video artists we should have on our radar?
Jen Kratochvil: Plenty. I’ve been lucky enough to have a chance to work with amazing artists and filmmakers. The video section of Vienna Contemporary is giving a glimpse into practices I highly admire.
How do you actually go about curating video?
Jen Kratochvil: I don’t see much of a difference in curating specific media. Despite my focus on moving images, I’m working with any kind of media. So your question could instead be: how do you go about curating in general…and I doubt we have space to cover that in this interview. I can only say that what plays a major role for me is an ability to relate to works, experience them fully, almost drown in each and everyone one of them, both as a curator, same as a viewer. The role of the curator, therefore, should be to mediate their excitement for the viewers. To draw a map showing how to experience the content thoroughly.
Do you think the coronavirus pandemic has impacted how we see and digest video art?
Jen Kratochvil: Basically, everything changed with the pandemic, right? In terms of art production, we’ll for sure see a notable impact, later on, also relating to the future of the art market. But that’s something we have to wait for and consciously navigate, steer the wheel carefully. Obviously, during the lockdown, watching videos online seemed like the most accessible form of distribution. Nevertheless, the experience from your browser can hardly mediate the whole experience of seeing a film in a proper installation setting or in a cinema. Last week I saw Jeremy Shaw’s “I Can See Forever” at Julia Stoschek’s. And I have to tell you, what a difference to be in that room physically, seeing the large-format projection in comparison to digesting the same content from my laptop. Not even talking about the social aspect of sharing the experience with friends or colleagues, discussing the work with the artist in person instead of zoom call.
Cathrin, Are there any young artists we should have on our radar?
Cathrin Mayer: The artists from Zone 1
Who are your art world sheroes?
Cathrin Mayer: I don’t know, if I would use this word sheroes, because it immediately introduces some kind of hierarchical feeling between the admired and the admirer, but during my time at KW I had the pleasure to work with artist Anna Daučíková and Lynn Hershman Leeson, both in their 70s now, who really made an impact on how I think about art and feminism today. But of course the conversations I have within my own generation of artists and curators are extremely important and we continuously learn from each other, no matter what gender we are identifying.
Is there any advice you would give to an early-career artist?
Cathrin Mayer: I think probably one of the most important things is to have a studio practice regardless of concrete exhibitions ahead. Some of the best artists I have met like, the mentioned above Anna Daučíková and Lynn Hershman Leeson, over decades have been focusing on their art and did not necessarily have a lot of exhibiting opportunities. Of course this is more easily said than done, because the economic pressure often does not provide the right set up to do so, but If one has a regular studio practice that provides the “room of one’s own” to exist and produce.
And Jen, what about advice for a career in the realm of digital art?
Jen Kratochvil: If someone wants to do something, there is hardly any grand scheme to follow. The only thing one can do is to be determined.
viennacontemporary will take place from 24-27 September 2020 at Marx Halle Vienna
Interview by Lizzy Vartanian