The second in the Lateral Thinking series, which portrays trained architects who have moved sideways into other professional disciplines.
The everyday absurd and absurd everyday: zweintopf
The artists Eva Pichler and Gerhard Pichler—aka zweintopf—are drinking coffee and telling me about their newest project, to be shown at the Viertelfestival Niederösterreich. An underground pipeline, transMost pumps local cider directly from Ardagger to Vienna; the artwork is some pipe sticking out at surface level. It’s fictitious, of course, and humorous, but like the best humour, has serious intent: it exposes the relentless marketing machine that’s eating its way, unnoticed, through Genussregion after Genussregion of Austria.
The project epitomizes not just their oeuvre but also the way the zweintopf are in themselves: wry, subtle and understated. There runs a thread throughout zweintopf’s work—from installations to street art and conceptual art— of refined absurdity, a deliciously oblique view of the world that comes as a natural part of who they are.
In the six years since they became zweintopf, they have won various scholarships and prizes for their art. Previously, Gerhard Pichler studied architecture at the TU Graz; Eva Pichler art history at KF University Graz and an exhibition design Masters at the UAS Joanneum. Moving away from architecture was “a liberation”, says Gerhard Pichler: a conscious shift away from the durable, and towards the ephemeral.
In part this is simply practical—if permanent, their uncompromising interventions in public space would need authorisation. But this transience is also integral to their approach. Much of their art forms a thin layer overlapping with—or embedded within—everyday life; it adds an aesthetic twist to the mundane. Tiny interventions pepper the streets: a grey metal electricity cabinet on Lendplatz, its top covered with beer cans, is transformed into an outside bar by placing chairs around it. Annenstrasse shop signs undergo the slightest of changes. A senseless staircase hovers in a gap between buildings. They make you smile, and there is something magical about these extraordinary, yet ordinary, shifts in the urban fabric. Yet always, beyond the pleasing aestheticism, is that serious intent. In particular they often question our compulsion to draw borders, especially between what we consider public and private. The outdoor electrical box bar: why should it catch our eye, producing a laugh but then uneasiness at its flagrant transgression of a boundary?
A recurrent material in their gallery installations is the kind of white tape that farmers use for electric fencing, symbolic of demarcation. At the Minoriten ‘Compassion’ exhibition this is woven into an innocent-looking jacket, attached, via a small wire heart tucked into the pocket, to a voltage supply. The list of materials reads like ingredients for an everyday recipe: Metallständer schwarz, Zaungerät Voss NV 100, Elektrobreitband 10 mm Topline. Another installation, Menagerie: the origin of species, takes normal white towels and ingeniously folds them into benign animals, penned in with reams of electrical fencing; simple illustrations and photos appear as instructions on how to fold and install your own. The everyday materials; excessive boundary tape; recipe-like instructions that invite participation: they form a gesture that reaches out to the observer, ridiculing and breaking down the boundary between gallery and outside world.
Both inside and outside galleries, and despite the turn away from architecture, much of their work plays with notions of architectonics, urbanity and spatiality. Part of a series, Noneventeventmonument IV was intended in 2010 as temporary lettering on an insignificant structure on Lendplatz: “I AM A MONUMENT”, announces the rubbish container and unofficial urinal. The lettering survived far longer than intended, thus adding an unexpected twist to the work, whose original aim was to examine Venturi’s ‘duck vs. decorated shed’ theory: by elevating the metal shed to monument status, it is left suspended, oscillating between meanings.
The next in the series, Noneventeventmonument V (2011), consisted of 24 party tents—just the frames—in a field, shaped into a cloister. zweintopf laugh as they tell me that architects who saw it were keen to find it a function, to pull it back into line. Again, it seems to sum up the essence of zweintopf: a solid architectural motif made ephemeral, transposed, with the smallest of shifts and simplest of materials, rendered absurd. Humorous, aesthetic, yet deeply unsettling. The lightest of touches, exposing a transMost-like system of meaning beneath the surface.
"Mankomania", solo exhibition KHG gallery Graz
opening: 4th May 2012
"transMost", Viertelfestival NÖ, Raststation Schallaburg
opening: 25th May 2012, duration: 26th May 2012 - 12th August 2012
"10 days 10 artists", komm.st 1.2,
10th May 2012 – 19th May 2012, Stainpeißhaus, Anger bei Weiz
"METALDRAWINGOLDENRULE", solo exhibition, F.A.K. Münster
31st March – 29th April 2012
"Schauplatz Annenviertel!", group exhibition Stadtmuseum Graz
15th February 2012 - 29th April 2012
"Compassion", group exhibition Kulturzentrum Minoriten Graz
17th March 2012 - 13th May 2012
"Be realistic, demand the impossible", different locations in Sarajevo
till December 2012, "Die Zeit" - 78_83, Museum im Palais Graz
till summer 2012 "Bollwerk Admont" together with JUZ Admont