EuroReview 4. Raw Matters
Vienna: Raw Matters; A Celebration
Recently, while going through my things in preparation for moving across the country, I uncovered a small series of performance reviews I wrote while in Europe in 2015. Being that somehow I happened to pair my timing perfectly with the end of summer/early fall season - when all of the slumbering arts were beginning to wake with a fury - I stumbled upon some of the most interesting installations, spoken word and theater nights, interactive gallery events and just plain ridiculous talent and complete openness to expression through the arts. This is the fourth of 10 stories which I will call reviews.
Vienna, Austria. September 2015.
Of all the openings and performances that I attended as a part of Vienna’s opening Arts Week, this was one of my favorites. I was firstly surprised at how many people showed up. Every seat in the room was filled, and with the BEST assortments of fabrics and clothes- and then, how completely raw it really was! It was unpretentious, pure, yet very organized. (True to form, Austria.) Think backyard DIY home video vibe meets Cirque-Du-Soleil in your kitchen minus the acrobatics plus a little champagne.
The “Hosts” of the evening, who appeared on the wall at the front of the room as a recorded projection, were two girls with pigtails and over-sized sunglasses celebrating their birthday that would carry on their own skit -intermixed with what would be direct communication to the viewer- between sets,. The spoke to the camera as though we were actually at their party - totally breaking the 4th wall yet from behind the veil of technology (so is it really broken?). Lots of silliness –yet very serious- (again with the Dada) and lots of nonsensical bloopers. With this loopy energy, they guided the flow of the evening.
Then, the actual performances. It was a series of 5 upon the stage that was built in the corner of the room and included modern dance, music, spoken word, and a teaching style presentation that was unique and a little bit bizarre [on a topic I cannot for the life of me remember, but I do recall a slide-show, and something about the brain.] At the end the hostesses themselves came out on stage in sparkly leotards atop florescent tights and capped with running shoes, throwing balloons and opening champagne for everyone in the audience.
To be honest, now that I think about it, the actual performance sets themselves must not have been as interesting to me as the hosts, since looking back at my notes from 2015 I have hardly anything about them. Of course it’s impossible to remember every performer we see, but I think sometimes what stands out most is context. Were you in a stuffy old theater with smelly red velvet chairs? Was it a circular room with strange lighting and arm chairs to sit in? A little cement room in the back of an Austrian gallery with plastic white lawn chairs and streamers? To me, the memory is of the Evening, the Timespace that unfolds; Flavors and colors may vary but the essence is a big colorful, wonderful night of art. It doesn’t even matter what we saw. It just matters that it happened.
When I think about the past three blog posts I’ve written about openings in Vienna, they all seem to use Art as an excuse to throw a literal [birthday] party. Or are all somehow linked; art = movement = dance = dance = party = party = performance= movement = party = art and on and on, and the Absurd, and the Ridiculous, and the Dada and yet the totally ahead of their time because of the No-Fucks-Given attitude that is the backbone to the pulse of their modern art scene. And it is THRIVING!! From what I gathered through the many conversations I had while I was there, Austria is very divided between the new and the old: the conservative and the rebellious, the classical and the punk, tradition and evolution; this schism has spawned some of the most mind-blowingly free thinking, super conscious and evolved, expressive and outspoken, art-centered youth. Yes. All of those things. I’m not kidding when I say I was blown away.
I just wasn’t expecting it. I mean this whole time leading up to my Europe trip, I was like “Yeah, yeah, Vienna. Marble sculptures and fountains and gardens and Mozart. It’s probably just a pretty town in Europe that is all historical, snooty, and boring.” Ha! I literally had no idea. First of all, Vienna is a HUGE city. Obviously not like NY but a complete [organized] maze if you glance at a subway map; it has about six different colors of underground train lines. So yeah, not a small town. Second, the very first place I was taken to on my first day in Vienna was the Danube Canal - the absolute best place to get a gyro and 2 euro beer and sit on the edge with your legs hanging over the water and admire some of the most beautiful street art you’ve ever seen. (Disclaimer: the reason I wound up in Vienna was because one of my best friends had been living there for a year as an Au Pair and wanted me and our other friend to come visit before she left. I spent the first week of my journey with them, but all of these performance write ups are from the following month, when I returned on my own and manifested a friend, a place to stay, and a total in to the Vienna underground arts scene.)
I think what I loved about this performance - about all the performances - and the total playfulness of the spirit of Vienna which I experienced was that they just freaking DO it. It not all super high level or high budget, and some of it can be pretty obscure, but it has such soul. To be honest, it reminded me of what I imagine Greenwich Village in NY to be like in the 70’s or something - crawling with artists and big ideas and a rebellious mindset.
I actually just stumbled upon an article in the NY Times written this past September 2018 about Vienna’s art scene and as a little surprised when I saw the title- “In Austria’s Art Scene, the Ideas Are Big (but the Turnout Isn’t)”. I thought it was so interesting because in my experience in 2015, the turnout was SO much bigger than I would have expected! And maybe it was that I was there specifically during the two week span when all the arts were waking up, but it felt like a continuous carousel ride from show to show, opening to opening, scene to scene. Either way, I commend the Austrians with an A++ for SHOWING UP. Because like, even if that article had some validity and it was just my timing that yielded such a satisfying taste of the art scene, those artists are still showing up and doing it. Their ideas were on point. Their execution was on point. It had a complete spirit of freedom but delivery honed to perfection. It was that specific attitude of complete seriousness and honor of craft that made even the most ridiculously outrageous installation or performance feel Real. That is why I am so interested in their bizarre performances, and how they have been staged. What is being shown and for what benefit to the community? After analyzing all of these, I would say that these young Austrians know what’s up, and they have some beautiful brains.
xo for now,