Artist and Muse
billboard paper on wall
2700 x 1000 cm
series of handcrafted analogue photographs
Leopold Museum Wien
What stands at the center of Witek’s current 2017 series Artist and Muse is not the photographically reproduced space but rather the real space of the museum, which through the presentation of its collection acts as a conveyor of cultural history. For the works the artist created especially for the exhibition, she utilizes posters showing Egon Schiele’s Self-Portrait with Chinese Lantern Plant (1912) and Portrait of Wally Neuzil (1912), with which the Leopold Museum advertises its permanent exhibition. As is her practice, Witek cut the main motifs from the posters and layered the fragments of the abstract backgrounds, consisting solely of painterly structures, over each other to form new constellations in which the self-portrait of Egon Schiele and the portrait of Wally Neuzil can be recognized only through the cut edges. While the series of exhibited photographs documents the various stages of this layering process, Witek’s wall installation meshes one of the collages directly with the architecture of the museum, with image space and real space seeming to blur together in the overall presentation. Moreover, in both the photographs and the wall installation the artist takes drawings by Schiele as her model in the assemblage of the fragments, finding inspiration in the postures assumed by Schiele’s muse and partner Wally Neuzil to create abstract, tectonic structures. Through these forms – which resemble the cast shadows that in other works by the artist refer to things no longer visible – Witek evokes a silent echo of physicality. Simultaneously, the artist succeeds in this way in weaving not only the paintings reproduced on the two posters but also indirectly numerous works from the museum’s collection into the layers of the image space. These works thus do not reflect so much the visual culture of a specific time, as was conveyed by the Best of … series, as they do the collection of the museum. The abstract and – in the form of a wall installation – physically accessible memory space of Witek’s works thus presents the museum as a place that – apart from the everyday flood of images, in which the museum also participates with its posters – contributes significantly to the molding of the historic imaginary through its conveyor role.
For her Artist and Muse series, Anita Witek drew inspiration not only from the Schiele posters but also from the descriptions of the relationship between Egon Schiele and Wally Neuzil found in the exhibition catalogues of the Leopold Museum. Her exploration of the written word brings to mind her 2007 work Notizen zu Aminadab (figs. 3, 4), in which Witek used mass-media material to give expression to Maurice Blanchot’s descriptions of Kafkaesque spaces in his 1942 novel Aminadab. As she did in Notizen zu Aminadab, Witek threaded a specific level of narrative through her current series, but one that does not articulate itself as a directly related reference but rather – like her form of photographic representation – is always carried out on a metalevel. Just as Witek uses photographs as reproductions of photographic reproductions, her form of narrative unfolds as a reflection on the life story of Egon Schiele and Wally Neuzil, the accounts of which have been saturated with art-historical and psychological interpretations. These texts, which despite their claim to objectivity represent individual interpretations of a past from the standpoint of a specific present, prompted the artist to create compositional forms – as she did for her Notizen zu Aminadab series – within her abstract collages. In view of her own practice, on the other hand, the artist makes the viewer conscious of the form of her interpretative approach on the intrapictorial level through the lighting of the individual photographs. By means of the shadows of the venetian blinds that lie across the image surface and enter into a tension-filled relationship with the painterly traces of the source material, the artist’s studio inscribes itself in the image composition, with the play of shadow and light emphasizing the specific time the photograph was taken.
The past, as it is depicted in Anita Witek’s photographs, is thus always a subjective reconstruction resulting from the present, one that is immobilized in the photographic image. Nevertheless, not least through the emphasis on the materiality of analogue photography, which the artist uses exclusively, the associative layering of the image space generated from the backdrops of the source material lends an “extraordinary presence,” the “presence of déjà vu,”[i] to that which is actually absent.
[i] Douglas Crimp, “The Photographic Activity of Postmodernism,” in October, Vol. 15, Winter 1980, pp. 94 and 99.