temporary installation, mixed media
Krypta Ursulinenkirche Linz, 2010
Judith Huemer’s project “Goldstück” (Gold Piece) with its unpretentious combination of engaging installation and video performance, body and space triggers unexpected encounters and elicits probing curiosity. Conceived an installation, “Goldstück” functions as an autonomous artwork in a dramaturgically thought out performance ensemble that extends from the central axis down to the crypt of the Ursuline Church in Linz. On entering the nave a richly lit bouquet of flowers immediately grabs the visitor’s attention. Placed in the middle of the central axis facing the altar, the bouquet not only assumes a central position because of its enormous size but also because of its intense colors. Here it engages in a dialogue with the altar painting, creating a threshold to the crypt lying below it. Apart from these flowers, the church is otherwise unadorned so that artistic intervention generates new relations and tangible resonances in the experience of the spatial situation, bringing on a shift in traditional relations.
As we know from the artist’s previous installations, photographs and videos, she successfully gets the viewer’s attention with her incisive interventions. Her allegiance to garish colors is evident throughout her entire oeuvre as a token of her resistance to any uniformity. In the meantime she has created a sort of claviature for garish color flashes. Hers is an emphatic art that defies conventional standards of taste, and Judith Huemer does not shirk back from taking up elements of kitsch. This can be seen in the iridescent, rococo-like flower vase that has undergone artistic modification as a result of the mise-en-scène. Judith Huemer certainly shows no reservations about transcending art by means of everyday rituals. She refrains from designing the opulent flower bouquet in the striking vase and leaves this to the florist. In the context of the exhibition this flower bouquet serves the artist as a readymade. Her art is one that subjects itself to a reality check and seeks to break through the vacuum separating art and life. Judith Huemer uses her video in the crypt as a spatial installation. She positions the video projection between the Ursuline tombs and lets it play non-stop in an endless loop. The artist’s performance creates a tension in the video in which the contrasts between real space, its historical-religious connotations and the media-informed video performance all come together as an appeal to the self-assertion of the individual. With an Austrian flag rolled over her shoulders, Judith Huemer climbs up a metal ladder with her back turned to us, and lets the flag unfold over her back. The artist deconstructs the will to national representation that is manifested in the symbolism of flags. As emblems flags symbolize territorial occupation but they also stand for the dissolution of the individual in the collective. This is something that Judith Huemer addresses head-on in her performance. Her appellative intonation of the word “Goldstück” (gold piece) does not last more than 90 seconds but that is enough for her to play through all of the associations and disassociations that one – man or woman – might have with this word. The insistent repetition of the word “Goldstück” does not form a hymn, but becomes transformed into its opposite, revealing the ideological distortion of individual needs in a national community. In his authoritative work “Imagined Communities” (1983), Benedict Anderson claims that the production of community as a nation makes use of flags and hymns as artifacts of the imagination, of political fiction. In the former mortuary of the Ursulines, Judith Huemer has left further traces of her preoccupation with the tension between social convention and individual expression with her “individual flags”. Her ‘flags’ offer visitors the chance to enter the setting and to partake of the staging or to expand its range of action. Golden threads have been suspended throughout the space. Photographs dangle from them like on a laundry line – depicting roles of fabric of various constellations of color. The viewers are asked to select their own individual flag, which expands the territorial space of the project by bringing information and objects into circulation. The visitors become players who take action against the collective standardization and homogenization of individual needs. The emblem of the flag thus becomes a conceptual tool that serves to demonstrate the absurdity of national autisms. Ideas of identity that are bound to political fictions are thus turned upside down by the artist who ascribes the question of identity to the individual. In this project Judith Huemer really gets to the bottom of the artistic disempowerment of dominant norms and social codes.
During Lent, from Ash Wednesday to Good Friday, the crypt of the Ursuline Church in Linz becomes transformed into a venue for art. For twenty years the Forum St. Severin has been inviting artists to present an art work in the crypt. The Ursuline order resided in the convent in Linz for some three hundred years, up until 1968. It was in the crypt of the church that the nuns found their final resting place.
Judith Huemer responds to the discipline of the order and the contemplative and morbid character of this site in an unconventional and playful way, questioning the ascription of roles and collective cooptation. Her intervention transforms the crypt into a place where the individual can chart the course of his/her life. In the central corridor of the church, right at the staircase leading down to the crypt, there is a bright, fragrant bouquet of flowers. Stepping down into the crypt the fragrance of the flowers yields to stale-sweet odor of mortality. Simple tin plaques mounted on the walls of the large vaulted space commemorate the nuns buried here. Each plaque on the front of the niche tombs gives the name, age and date of death as well as the year the nun took her vows. With this ceremonial oath a new identity, coupled with the order, emerged, symbolized by the name of the order and the black-white habit. The uniform size of the tomb plates embodies the discipline and norms of the order beyond life into death. On the front wall of the space the artist has placed a video installation. The first shot of the film shows a ladder. The artist who appears as the protagonist disrupts this contemplative picture. Wearing gold shoes she steps up a ladder, with a larger roll of cloth slung over her shoulders. Once she reaches the top she unfurls the cloth until a flag with the Austrian national colors completely fills the monitor. At the same time the sound of the word “Goldstück (gold piece)… Goooldstück …. Golldstück” fills the space, intonated in different ways by the artist/”role player”. From carrying the roll and the national stereotyping of the ceremonious unfurling of the flag, the trace of the installation art leads to a smaller room. Here in what once served as a mortuary for the nuns, the spatial coordinates are redefined by golden threads that are suspended above the heads of the viewers. Small photo flags have been mounted on the threads, which depict fabric rolls of different colors and sizes. The irregularly suspended flags recall the decoration of a children’s birthday with the 3-dimensional appearance of the rolls evoking opulence and joie de vivre. An almost grotesquely cheerful picture emerges against the backdrop of the incisive symbols of mortality – the skulls and ribs on the tomb plates lining the narrow sides of the space. Judith Huemer calls the bright roll (or role) flags “individual flags”. The viewers are able to select one role/a flag out of the many and to take it with them on their way out. Judith Huemer works with the visualization of language and conceptuality which she merges to form a piece. “Goldstück” (Gold Piece) is anchored by metaphorical and acoustic elements – ladder, red and white flag, rolls of fabric in bright colors and “Goldstück” calls – that relate to each in varying associations. The artist lays tracks but these do not lead to a defined goal. One-dimensional ascriptions are dissolved allowing a plurality to emerge, unfolding into infinity. Thus the search of the ”Gold Piece”, what is assumed to be the key to the artist’s work ultimately is left in abeyance. The gold piece, something precious and shiny, which appears so tangible in the title of the installation cannot be grasped. Only the “individual flag” selected by the visitors is tangible. Judith Huemer tells stories but lets them end in irrationality. The aesthetically appealing imagery of her installation reveals an unfathomed depth in terms of symbolic content: the cheerful children’s birthday decoration becomes a subterranean labyrinth of traces. A secret lies concealed in the brightly colored rolls – its discovery leads us down the steps into the depths, even deeper than the crypt – into the realms of the unconscious. Martina Gelsinger, 2010
© Judith Huemer 2022