Do not jump from the balcony
By Aileen - 13/10/2007
Currently I am working on translating catalogue texts for an exhibition opening next month at the Lentos Art Museum Linz, which is entitled HAUS-RUCKER-CO LIVE again and revisits the exhibition "LIVE" at the Vienna Museum of the 20th Century from 1970. The catalogue includes texts from different periods and different perspectives, and I find myself thoroughly intrigued by how differently art and its reception can be and have been looked at and interpreted. There are wonderful descriptions of reactions to the installation "Giant Billiard" when it was first presented and was a radical departure from the way museums conventionally operated then. It seems that one visitor was even inspired to climb up onto a balcony inside the museum to leap onto the installation from there, but ended up breaking a leg. Consequently, the museum posted a sign to warn visitors "Do not jump from the balcony". This delightful description immediately sparked my imagination leading to a series of associations, raising any number of questions in my mind. I have often translated warning signs for exhibitions that include potentially hazardous installations. The CyberArts exhibition at the OK Center for Contemporary Art during the Ars Electronica Festival every year, for instance, not infrequently includes pieces with unexpected, unintended and potentially hazardous effects. I think that is a different situation, however. In the CyberArts exhibition, these unexpected effects are more likely to be the result of incomplete or unresolved human-machine negotiations or a fuzzy distribution of labor among artists and technicians. With the "Giant Billiard", on the other hand, the potential hazards were specifically due to the reception of the work on the part of the visitors. I imagine that the reactions that might be triggered by being confronted with a warning sign in a museum stating "do not jump from the balcony" are not something that could actually be planned, programmed into the work from the start, calculated as part of the art work as such. This too is different, I think, from signs in an exhibition that tend more to convey the message "something is not working here the way it is supposed to work". Some thirty years ago, the Haus-Rucker-Co exhibitions were new, radically different, challenging, but that is no longer the case today. "Interactive art" has become an established category and nearly every museum offers some kind of "hands-on experience". In another catalogue text, an interview with one of the artists, the question is raised, whether it might be more in keeping with the original spirit and intention of their work to present the "Giant Billiard" today as an art work only to be looked at, not touched, keeping the viewers at a respectful distance. That idea intrigued me as well. How would people react to a work that was so clearly meant to be played with, physically explored, if they were confronted with not being permitted to do so? In a way, that reminds me of another piece that has always appealed to me at many different levels called "The Loneliness of the Interactive Sculpture" by Beate Garmer. This "sculpture" is simply a length of white electrical cord with a power plug at each end and the Latin words "De omnibus dubitandum" imprinted on it. I am fortunate enough to have one of a limited edition of these sculptures, which the artist gave me at the time for my translation work and our accompanying correspondence, and it still fascinates me every time I pick it up from the shelf where I keep it in my office. It is essentially such a simple thing, but at the same time potentially lethal. Or is it? Theoretically it could also be a kind of fake with no wires inside the cable. There is no "safe" way to find out. Jumping from the balcony could be an exhilarating and pleasurable experience. Or it could be a very painful experience. I suspect that the ideas and imaginings arising from the question of jumping – or why not to jump – could lead in many other different directions. Is the most interesting interactive art what happens inside our heads?