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Silvia Kolbowski
17.9. – 11.11.2004
Silvia Kolbowski, inadequate…Like…Power…, Ausstellungsansicht, Secession 2004, Foto: Hannes Böck

Where and how can we position critical artistic practice today? What possibilities do conceptual strategies and methods offer in reestablishing a capacity for critique? Silvia Kolbowski is a key representative of those contemporary artists who take their cue from the conceptual methods of the 1960s and ’70s, radically questioning claims to objectivity in projects—including pictures, sounds, or gestures—that recognize the political nature of art. Her artistic practice began with an engagement with feminism, feminist film theory, avant-garde film, and psychoanalysis, and subsequently Conceptual Art. In her installations, she focuses on paradigmatic phenomena of a current zeitgeist: the fascination with shopping, the historicization of Conceptual Art, and the symbolic force of power all represent realms of experience underexamined by mass culture. Silvia Kolbowski counters dominant, monological voices with altered interview situations that showcase both a multiplicity of voices and an “ethic of failure” (Jacqueline Rose), but without individualizing through personalization or first-person narrative.


For the first time, three of the artist’s large-scale installations are on view in the Secession’s Main Room: an inadequate history of conceptual art (1998-1999), Like Looking Away (2000-2002) and Proximity to Power: American Style (2003-2004), a project developed especially for the Secession.


The sound and video installation an inadequate history of conceptual art was a reaction to the revival of concept art in the mid-1990s. The resurgent interest in Conceptual Art in Europe, the United States, Asia, and Latin America led to its abrupt historicization and marketing. With this observation as her starting point, Kolbowski invited 22 artists to describe from memory an artwork of the period between 1965 and 1975, which they had personally witnessed at the time. The stories, which include neither the names of the artists nor the titles of the works, offer insights into a multitude of details and peripheral locations, as molded by experience and memory. Repetitions, mix-ups, gaps, and diverging subjective assessments render an “inadequate” picture. The historical knowledge presented here is characterized by the past tense, the unconscious and the subjective, a lack of unanimity, and a failure to put into words, which, in turn, disturbs the official flow of historiography. When transferring the work to the gallery, Kolbowski separated the sound from the pictures: the interviews are heard in one room, while a video projection in a second room shows only the hands of the interviewees. The picture and sound elements are not synchronized, but instead point to the ethical-political dimension of “inadequacy.”

In Like Looking Away Silvia Kolbowski asks young women ages 18-34 about their reflections on shopping. Here too, the installation features only the interviewees’ answers and not the artist’s questions. In addition, all linguistic references to “shopping” are edited out. Kolbowski then had an actress record the edited version of the young women’s statements. Although she approximates the specific qualities and intonations of the women’s voices, the use of an actress creates a tension between the accounts and their first-person voices. The installation also includes 31 photographs, portraits of the 30 women taken while they listened to the playback of their sound recordings. The 31st photograph shows the actress in the sound studio. In a related space is a projected video loop containing excerpts from a Hollywood blockbuster, with all images except the most violent edited out. Like Looking Away is about the sublimation of personal and public experience, highlighting the role of the unconscious as a driving cultural force.

The third installation, Proximity to Power: American Style, which was created especially for the Secession, questions men from the spheres of business, politics and media/entertainment, who work in close relation to powerful men. For Silvia Kolbowski, the relational aspects of power are illuminating with regard to American and other global impositions of force and culture. The edited interview sequences were spoken by actors and interspersed with music based on the soundtrack of a well-known movie about the Vietnam War to form the voiceover for two series of slides. One series consists entirely of details from the famous etching The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters (1796-1797) by Francisco Goya, with the picture’s metaphorical and culturally critical idiom turned to abstraction. Juxtaposed with this, as a form of dialogue, the second series presents a contrasting visual idiom: images illustrating the responses of about 40 young boys between the ages of seven and eleven (in Freudian terms, the period of latency), to a question Kolbowski posed: “What most represents power to you?”


Silvia Kolbowski

geboren 1953 in Buenos Aires, lebt und arbeitet in New York.

Programmiert vom Vorstand der Secession

Vereinigung bildender Künstler*innen Wiener Secession
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1010 Vienna
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