As a teenager, Markus Jeschaunig made films. But not just the occasional video of him and his mates messing around. Real films: over the course of two years he directed a feature-length following his script, with 18 actors, and a premiere at the Annenhof cinema in Graz. He dismisses it as “just a hobby”, but admits that it was valuable experience of “how to get a lot of different people working in one direction together”, adding: “It was important that I saw the project through.” This is just how Jeschaunig is today: self-deprecating and yet defiantly stubborn; quietly reflective, while at the same time burning with commitment.
When the time came to decide what to study, it was a toss-up between film and architecture. Architecture won. He sees a close link between the two disciplines: both processes require various technicians— either lighting experts and cameramen, or bricklayers and tilers. The script is the equivalent of the architectural plans, a schematic abstract waiting to be realised in space by a film director or an architect, who brings together all of the elements to create a visible artistic result. And this is the main point of his analogy: “Whatever I did, I always wanted to produce a tangible result at the end of it”.
Rather than the TU Graz, it was the Kunstuni Linz that appealed to Jeschaunig as a place where architectural studies were embedded in the arts, not the sciences. However, he and a group of other students eventually became so frustrated with the old-fashioned approach to urban planning taught by their professor, an outstanding historian with no interest in contemporary ideas that they ended up leaving the university and setting up on their own. Five of them formed the FLAUM research laboratory for public space. “If we couldn’t do it with him, we would do it ourselves – DIY learning. It was all about the concept of agency and the ability to act alone”.
The Flaumlabor (literally ‘fluffy laboratory’ – i.e. the notion of soft space in contrast to the hard concrete city) won a residency at the Architekturforum in Linz (afo), where they were given workspace and could stage an exhibition. They set out to explore urban space with a situationist approach, conducting experiments in urban perception such as following people’s routes, or riding the tram from one end of the line to the other and observing the city.
They also set up a series of workshops and lectures, boldly inviting the most interesting architectural thinkers they could find. Jeschaunig was happy to discover that he could persuade these people to come to Flaumlabor and talk for free—another brick in the development of his self-confidence. One of these was Liza Fior from muf architects in London (curators of the British Pavilion at the Venice architectural biennale and one of Britain’s most remarkable studios of art and architecture). “I was touched by the spirit of muf, it was a very important encounter for me. These were people who were trained as architects but who acted as both artists and social workers”. muf’s projects are socially oriented, they are “responsible individuals, not profit-hungry” - they will even finance the projects themselves if necessary.
Flaumlabor’s final product was a script that documented their year of mental mapping and experimentation, shown at an exhibition. They invited their professor to the opening, eager to show him what they had managed to achieve on their own. He didn’t attend.
Another important upshot of Flaumlabor was a trip to Istanbul, where Jeschaunig began later – during his Erasmus year at Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University Istanbul - to experiment with the concept of the “lineal walk”. He describes this as a “documentary capturing a moment in time”: if one sees the process of evolution in a city in terms of friction, then cutting a line through this makes a plane sectional view of the process. It is the confrontation of a naturally formed territory with a line, with a geometry that this grown territory does not usually know.
He then transferred this concept of the lineal walk to the city of Graz as the basis for his thesis on urban tomographies, presented at the Künstlerhaus Graz in 2010. His work centred on different ways of making the air space in a city visible: the urban events, the friction between them, and the results of this. By drawing a line crossing the city, one connects areas that are not usually seen in connection with each other. Places of little interest – a hedge, a window – take on significance when they are woven into a juxtaposition.
In 2012, “Linienflug Graz-Maribor” took this idea of the lineal walk a step further. In an action aimed at highlighting the issue of climate change, Jeschaunig flew an airship in a straight line from the centre of Graz to the centre of Maribor, filming the ground below. “What I wanted to say was: People, just take a LOOK at the landscape, before we reach the point of no return. To make a new portrait of the living landscape in a special way.” The organisation took six months of bureaucratic wrangling, but this was all part of the project: taking on the challenge of DIY planning, the overcoming of hurdles by oneself.
Ecological awareness is always at the fore of Markus Jeschaunig’s work; indeed, he describes himself as an ‘Agent in the Biosphere’ (a friend calls him the “James Bond of nature”). Ultimately the same statement stands behind all of his works: “Your presence has consequences”. He identifies one of the main problems of consumption as the psychological separation of producer and end product: “If we could experience starving children next to us then these consequences would be unavoidable”. For the 2012 Lendwirbel festival in Graz, he constructed an Arc de Triomphe made of metal grids filled with waste bread, a “4.75 m high, 1.50 m wide and 5.00 m long commentary on consumer culture”. As with all of his projects, the costs were minimal and the work was placed in public space for greatest possible impact. “I am an ambassador for ecological subjects”.
He is in fact very shy of claiming the title of artist, a combination of feeling unworthy and being uncomfortable with the idea that “an artist is more important than any other person”. He will, however, use the description when useful – such as getting permission to fly the airship over an international border: “when you are an ‘important artist’ the project suddenly goes from being seen as crazy to acceptable and desirable”. Ultimately, it’s all the same whether you call it art or not – the works are there and make their statement. “Some people go on demonstrations. I make art.”
He positions himself outside of the art market and has no scope for selling works at the moment. “When you make art to sell, in different sizes, the same piece according to the size of the wall where it is to be hung – is that art? No.” The Arc de Triomphe currently stands in his garden, overgrown with runner beans.
He is—among other things—working on the continuation of a 2012 project in Eisenerz. What began as a small-scale installation, Rostfest, using the old water mill to generate electricity has grown into a concept with huge potential in Eisenerz and beyond: a participatory energy plant where the people themselves become the producers, an ecological solution that could also lead to a dramatic revitalisation of the town. It is a long shot, he admits, but he is typically determined. “I always start with the view that my project cannot fail, it MUST happen. I can’t move mountains. But I can see things through to the end.”