4' 33" Generation Generali


It’s December 12th, 2006, 7:30 pm.The following action takes place in the exhibition hall of the Vienna Generali Foundation: a well-known character from the Hungarian Fluxus and Conceptual Art scene of the 1960s and 1970s, the artist Tamás St. Auby, makes indecent advances to his young colleague, Ekaterina Shapiro-Obermair; he puts her over his knee and spanks her with a folded newspaper. At a first glance the scene is startling and intriguing at the same time, in the flagrant illegitimacy of the role stereotypical symbolic action and its still so transparent real harmlessness. The action is hard to bear on a continuing basis: due to the brazenness of the performed monotony. Here we become witnesses of this scenario, which is less a raw act of violence on a female body, but rather shows the ostentatious indifference of two actors, whose activity is reduced to the keeping-still (of one of them) and the mechanical up-and-down movements (of the other): clapping in step, for exactly 4 minutes and 33 seconds.

The title of the operation “4' 33" Generation Generali”, which was initiated by Ekaterina Shapiro-Obermair, can be traced back to the famous composition/performance of John Cage. As well as in Cage's case, the title sets the timeframe. Here, Cage acts as an archetype, as a precursor, and as an essential reference to a contemporary artmaking, which structurally questions itself and its tradition. Another paragon appears yet life-sized, Tamàs St. Auby; his virility and his age alone as well as his oppressive pose towards the young female artist let the ideal influence of the frame of reference art/history on a contemporary art production become an imperatively physical experience.

As a central theme the work picks out the (self-)perception of a young artist generation, which has always been recognized in its relationship towards its antecessors and traditions and which also encounters the pressure of positioning itself along a canon. The staging of the own localization as a violent confrontation is striking, the real location also being striking: The action took place during an exhibition of historic and contemporary conceptual artwork from the collection of the Vienna Generali Foundation and amidst all the “great names” that coined the notion of “Conceptual Art”: Haacke, Fraser, Rosler, Sekula. Being a student at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna, Ekaterina Shapiro-Obermair presented herself here with her partner Tamás St. Auby forming a part of the official Generali collection; St. Auby, who has been continuously developing the stylistic elements of the art activism since the 1960s, has by the way framed a very similar curating statement with his latest project: In “Portable Intelligence Increase Museum, Pop Art, Conceptual Art and Actionism in Hungary during the 60s” he thoroughly gathered researched works and documents of an unofficial Hungarian art scene in the 1960s and presented them as a kind of a wandering archive in the official frame of miscellaneous European art galleries, such as in the Vienna BAWAG Foundation in 2004.

Ekaterina Shapiro-Obermair has injected in “4' 33" Generation Generali” (the knowledge of) such strategies of performative acquirement of institutional structures as well as methods from the Russian Actionism, which called attention to itself during the 1990s due to its aggressive actions aiming at a shocking impact. However, the artist does not trace back any of the seized techniques to their historical motives or – the opposite way around – to the last consequence. Also, the drastic measures of her work are only adumbrated. Ekaterina Shapiro-Obermair’s working methods can be best described as coquetry with art history. She has learned her lesson well and understands the pioneer work that has been accomplished by artist generations before her. On this basis her unarrested eclecticism is an absolute emancipatory method created by herself in order to immunize herself against attribution and canonization in and by cultural activities

Text: Kathi HOFER
Translation: Patricia Büscher