“ (…) the whole
of how we’re each surrounded
and what it doesn’t teach.”
(Surfaces, Kay Ryan)
‘Hyper’ comes from the Greek ‘huper’ meaning ‘over’ or ‘beyond’ – ‘hypersurface’ in this sense suggests something arising by virtue of a surface, be that canvas, wall, skin or screen. Surfaces lead many lives, some in private and some in intimate relation to our own - we marvel at them, fear them, preserve them, try to get rid of them. One could potentially trace back the history of our world along a history of surfaces. Different biological, geographical, aesthetic, semiotic, epistemological, economic and erotic surfaces are forming and peeling away, rubbing and creasing, folding and moulding against one another. Such a trajectory feels particularly tangible for the history of art as one of interacting with, looking at, and mastering surfaces.
‘HYPERSURFACE’ at the Austrian Cultural Forum, curated by Caterina Avataneo and Nicole Tatschl, explores the possibilities of making and seeing within relations of complex surfaces and artistic practice. Featuring mostly Austrian artists and a range of mediums including painting, sculpture, text and animation, the show treats surface not as an end but as an active means to accessing various layers of substance and interpretation.
Some examples include the collaborative piece ‘Synthetic Seduction’ (2018) by Stine Deja and Marie Munk in the vitrine underneath the ground-level staircase. It gains a new seductive, bodily appeal through its site-specific display. Deja’s fleshy on-screen animation surrounded by Munk’s soft silicone balls evoke an extreme tactility, being trapped and squeezed against the glass in an enclosed transparent box. The vitrine itself acts as a second surface in addition to the screen through which the viewer encounters the work.
Barbara Kapusta’s text-based work across the lower gallery walls, ‘Many Holes and Folds as Can Be’ (2018). is strategically placed over the security cameras and electrical sockets, which is a clever multidimensional intervention into both the exhibition’s topology and context. By drawing attention to these “alien” outgrowths and gateways leading to external channels, Kapusta’s work disrupts the illusion of the gallery space as its own isolated, aesthetic universe, and thus our experience within it.
Simon Mather’s multi-layered works play with the imminent sense of voyeurism in windows as openings to different worlds. His surfaces capture a tremulous focus between inside – outside and foreground- background. The two-and three-dimensional elements of the canvas - the frame and the thicker to thinner applications of wax - create an interactive tension in that the viewer is simultaneously looking at the scene in front of and beyond the window and at the (swear)words on the imaginary glass. A closer look even reveals small droplets of what appears to be water, evoking a vaporous, breathing, alive surface.
Julius Heinemann’s site-specific works such as ‘Interface’ (2020) and ‘The Staircase’ (2020) similarly tease the viewer’s gaze. ‘Interface’ is painted directly onto the wall by the exhibition’s entrance and is easy to overlook, as if it were marking the spot of a previously removed painting. Heinemann is interested in such manipulations of given environments, using disjointed patterns of paint and various materials, playing with individual perception and thus participation. ‘The Staircase’ is a thin, barely visible net hanging from the ceiling between two staircases painted over with various patterns of colour clashing with existing discolorations on the wall behind the work. Upon encountering it, viewers can explore what’s beyond and what’s on the surface, what’s the artwork and what’s part of the background.
The work ‘avd_d_e’ (2020) by World Wide Web-based collective AVD is an Instagram algorithm displayed on a screen on the first floor, which finds, comments and interacts with various profiles and images on the social media platform based on words in the exhibition’s press release. It’s an original and fun response to the overarching theme as an autonomous, ever evolving surface and virtual character – and a surprisingly polite, if a bit awkward, Instagram commenter.
Overall, ‘HYPERSURFACE’ engages with the different behaviours and lives of surfaces from a variety of intellectual and artistic angles through a diverse selection of artworks. The curators manage to involve the challenging but stunning architecture of the Cultural Forum in the exhibition in ways that equally enrich the subject matter and the works on display. The viewer is invited to actively participate through their own ways of looking, which reinforces the idea of ‘hyper’surface rather than a passive, one-dimensional encounter. Finally, the publication is definitely worth highlighting- it features experimental writings, influential essays, an exhibition text and illustrations by the artists and serves both as an excellent contextual guide for the exhibition and an indulgent read by itself.