• Everything we see could also be otherwise (My sweet little lamb)
    20 September – 11 November 2017

    The Showroom (63 Penfold St, Marylebone, London NW8 8PQ, UK) Curated by: What, How & for Whom/WHW, in collaboration with Kathrin Rhomberg, co-curated by Emily Pethick Preview: Tuesday 19 September, 6.30–8.30pm Exhibition opening hours: Wednesday – Saturday, 12–6pm The Showroom presents the epilogue of a long-term project which took place over several months in Zagreb (November 2016 to May 2017), which contextualised and rethought the Kontakt Art Collection. It was curated by What, How & for Whom/WHW in collaboration with Kathrin Rhomberg. This final exhibition is co-curated by The Showroom Director Emily Pethick. Taking selected works from the Vienna-based Kontakt Art Collection as its point of departure, including seminal pieces by some of the most prominent artists from Central, Eastern and South-East Europe since the 1960s, the exhibition stages an interplay between these and other historical, contemporary and newly produced works that interpret and critically examine the collection. The project unfolded in six episodes in Zagreb, each iteration influencing, contradicting and reinforcing each other. It took place in a number of smaller art spaces, artists' studios, private apartments and other locations related to artistic production and the broader cultural landscape of the city. This final stage of the project at The Showroom continues to reframe and expand the context of the collection. Interlacing geographically and poetically heterogeneous artist practices, the project attempts to punctuate standardized presentations and interpretations of works that have dominated international art circuits over the last few decades, with more disorderly and experimental arrangements. The project title is taken from a work by Croatian artist Mladen Stilinović (1947–2016), to whom the project is dedicated. Stilinović's life-long anti-systemic approach, his quiet but shrewd rebellion against social conventions and the conventions of art, and an artistic practice that trenchantly and humorously engages with complex themes of ideology, work, money, pain and poverty, inspired a generation of artists worldwide. The project is a cooperation with Kontakt Art Collection and is supported by Erste Group Bank AG and ERSTE Foundation.


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Carola Dertnig

At the center of Carola Dertnig’s artistic work, her thinking, and her research1 stands the idea of performativity. Texts, images, live actions and videos join to establish interwoven performative levels on which Dertnig confronts the seemingly known with neglected flipsides and counter-concepts. Dertnig examines and reflects upon her themes from a critical and feminist perspective coupled with an explicit interest in the politicization of gender. The idea of the performative with which Dertnig infuses her conceptually diverse works is conceived broadly and draws on both “classic” action and performance art and the effects that media culture and the culture of tourism have on society.

The slapstick video series entitled True Stories (totaling seven videos, 1997–2003) features Carola Dertnig herself as the main protagonist of her subtly and ironically humorous “vignettes” about fleeting events. The golden thread in True Stories is embodied by the awkward or embarrassing situations that Dertnig stumbles into in the various scenarios. By resorting to the tradition of slapstick film, Dertnig almost casually injects elements of anarchy and destruction into quintessentially everyday situations. By melding filmic staging and live performance, Dertnig explores norms of social behaviors. This applies not just to the individuals that happen to be present at the scene of the action and their various reactions, but also to those watching the video, to whose imagination it is left to judge just what is staged and what is “real.” The protagonist’s provocatively clumsy behavior and the embarrassing predicaments into which she gets herself evoke desires to either help her or ignore her, as well as feelings of malicious joy and scorn. Precisely because the audience cannot quite tell where the film directing stops and bystanders’ reactions are actually spontaneous, Dertnig succeeds in building up a sort of tension that goes beyond comic effect to deliberately give rise to a quasi-existential uneasiness, albeit one that is counteracted by the comedy of the protagonist’s “Buster Keaton”-like role.

The intensity of Dertnig’s miniature scenarios is owed to more than just the situations they portray; indeed, the decisive factor consists in the filmic means she employs. These include shots from varied perspectives, as well as postproduction sound effects and editing sequences that support the buildup toward the events’ climax. Repetitions and loops blur the chronological sequence and give rise to irritations, as Friedrich Tietjen notes: “She [Dertnig] opposes this with a fragmented, fed-back and multilayered temporality that is of no use to progression, a temporality in which the past, more than being just a necessary and completed stage leading up to the present, remains constantly at hand—albeit perhaps repressed—in said present.”2

It is no coincidence that these videos simultaneously reflect on Dertnig’s situation as an artist, as well as on her precarious living conditions in New York, where she took on factory jobs to stay afloat. A recurring theme in her work is the World Trade Center, where she had a studio thanks to a grant; it was only due to a fortunate coincidence that she was not there when it was destroyed. Dertnig employs her critically analytical gaze to highlight an aspect of the global economy that is not typically publicized: run-down offices that were apparently abandoned in haste, alarming signs of economic failure. Her difficulties getting through the revolving door are quite ostentatiously caused by the equipment that she has on her person: the tools she needs as an artist. The videos shot in Vienna are about being a stranger and about coming back to the town from which she had been absent for several years. Her presentation of herself, ranging from the self-possession of her conformist café guest and rail traveler to the embarrassment of the snafus described above, hence goes beyond any individual insecurity to refer to the generally insecure status entailed by her living as an artist.

It is with all possible irony that the issue of gender also plays a constant role in Dertnig’s work. She deliberately belabors clichés—that is to say, certain types of conventions tied to the construct of “femininity” such as clumsiness with technical things, wardrobe malfunctions, and lady-like comportment taken to the point of being ridiculous. Carola Dertnig describes it as follows: “In these videos, I assume the clown-role much like Buster Keaton did. I am the protagonist, but I’m also a projective surface acting as a catalyst for the most varied reactions by inhabitants of the public realm. It’s about the attempt to be inconspicuous resulting in one’s actually being that much more conspicuous.”






1 One focus of Carola Dertnig’s research is Austrian action art and performance art of the past 50 years. Together with Stefanie Seibold, she released the following publication: Carola Dertnig and Stefanie Seibold, eds., let’s twist again. Was man nicht denken kann, soll man tanzen. Performance in Wien von 1960 bis heute / Let’s twist again. If You Can’t Think It, Dance It. Performance in Vienna from 1960 until Today, (Gumpoldskirchen / Wien: D.E.A. Kunstverlag, 2006).


2 Friedrich Tietjen, “Failing, Passing. Carola Dertnig’s Afterimages of a Non-simultaneous Present,” in Carola Dertnig. Nachbilder einer ungleichzeitigen Gegenwart, ed. Silvia Eiblmayr and Galerie im Taxispalais (Innsbruck-Bolzano/Bozen-Vienna: Skarabaeus im Studienverlag, 2006), 10. Exhibition catalog.

Born in Innsbruck, Austria, 1963.

Dertnig studied at the University of Applied Arts in Vienna (Austria) and at the École des Beaux Arts in Paris (France) from 1986 to 1991. In 1997 she was a participant of the Whitney Museum Independent Study Program in New York City (USA). Since 2006 Dertnig is professor for Performance Art at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna. In 2008 she held a guest professorship at Calarts in Los Angeles (USA). 

Lives and works in Vienna, Austria, and New York City, USA.

Solo Exhibitions (selected):

2009 “Carola Dertnig“, CCS-Bard College, New York City, USA

2008 “Carola Dertnig“, Andreas Huber Gallery, Vienna, Austria

2006 "Carola Dertnig“, Galerie im Taxispalais, Innsbruck, Austria

2005 “Carola Dertnig“, Andreas Huber Gallery, Vienna, Austria

2004 “Equivok“, Vienna Secession, Vienna, Austria

2003 “Strangers – Handlungsräume 6“, Salzburger Kunstverein, Salzburg, Austria

Group Exhibitions (selected):

2011 “Austria Davaj“, MUAR Museum, Moscow, Russia

2010 “Lange nicht gesehen. Long time no see“, The Brno House of Art, Brno, Czech Republic 

2009 “Recollecting – Looted Art and Restitution“, MAK Museum für angewandte Kunst, Vienna, Austria

2008 “Why here is always somewhere else“, Badischer Kunstverein, Karlsruhe, Germany

2007 “Kontakt … works from the collection of Erste Bank Group“, Museum of Contemporary Art, Belgrade, Serbia

2006 “Why Pictures Now“, MUMOK Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig, Vienna, Austria

2005 “Living and Working in Vienna“, Austrian Cultural Forum New York, New York City, USA

2004 “Site matters“, Independent Curators International, New York City, USA

2003 “inside it’s different“, Kunsthalle Exnergasse, Vienna, Austria

2002 “Fabulation of Form“, Arthouse, Dublin, Irland

This bibliography provides a list of books available in the
ERSTE Foundation Library

Books/Exhibition Catalogues


Eiblmayr, Silvia, ed. 2006. Nachbilder einer ungleichzeitigen Gegenwart = Afterimages of a non-simultaneous present. Innsbruck: Skarabaeus [Exhib. Cat., Galerie im Taxispalais Innsbruck (Feb. 2-Mar. 19, 2006)]


Seibold, Stefanie, ed. 2006. Let's twist again: was man nicht denken kann, das soll man tanzen: Performance in Wien von 1960 bis heute: eine psychogeographische Skizze = If you can't think it, dance it: performance in Vienna from 1960 until today: a psychogeographical map. Carola Dertnig. Gumpoldskirchen: D.E.A. Buch- und Kunstverlag.


Frank, Rike, ed. 2004. Carola Dertnig: Equivok. Vienna: Secession [Exhib. Cat., Secession Wien (May 1-Jun. 20, 2004)]


Frank, Rike, ed. 2002. A room of one's own. Essays by Carola Dertnig et al. Vienna: Secession.


Dertnig, Carola, artist. I don't wanna know your name = Ich will Deinen Namen nicht wissen. Vienna: T19. Galerie für zeitgenössische Kunst.

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