Forum Stadtpark, Graz (AT)

19.06.2018 – 06.07.2018

Eva Pichler (AT) and Gerhard Pichler (AT)

Recognize in the other

For this year's exhibition [...] an invitation was extended to the Salzburg-born artist Kay Walkowiak, who lives in Vienna and travels extensively. For his installation, Walkowiak chose a dialogical principle, or rather a dialectical one. If by dialogue in the etymological sense, one means alternation and exchange, as well as juxtaposition of concepts, the dialectic, in turn, is assigned complex categories, such as: connection between opposing parts, conclusions and, as it were, a bracket over different arguments.

By presenting a two-part video work for the exhibition space [...] the artist expands the dialogical assignment into a dialectical system, because one cinematic work not only complements the other, but both refer to each other in a tension-filled reciprocity. [...]

While "Island" is a 2016 cinematic work that was also presented at the Museum für Angewandte Kunst in Vienna, among other places, "Ocean" is a film that was only recently completed. Bringing together these two videos was specially arranged for this space and results in a (content-related) correspondence in (spatial) juxtaposition. In between, lies not only the sphere of the viewer, who can opt for a simultaneous or consecutive perception, but also the sphere of dialectical communication: is "Island" a prerequisite for "Ocean"? Does something result from the synopsis? Do the works complement or counteract each other? And this is where one makes out the sphere of dialectics between the factual and the fictional. Walkowiak uses a documentary visual language that can be read through the factual but is located beyond documentaries and expands into the fictional. 

He uses familiar images to tell of unfamiliar situations, moving from the realm of facts towards imagination. Both films are set in Japan and were shot during Walkowiak's extensive travels and residencies in and around Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka. They depict real cityscapes and street scenes, landscapes and interiors - and yet the modern city is a deserted dystopia; the settings are rapturous scenes of unimagined emotions. The actors do not act as interpreters of roles but display a peculiar hermaphroditic identity - like Cosplay characters - between disguise and introspection. Walkowiak's actors are amateurs, colleagues, artists who bring themselves into the action, who choose costume and pose, who contribute significantly to the filmic action with their physicality, with their associations. In "Island", the protagonist is a fellow artist of Asian descent acts; in "Ocean", the artist  is Viennese. Both stand for the principle of a spiritual cultural transfer, in that they each bring their own family origins, their own art and cultural history into the cinematic action, while at the same time interpreting the overarching question of the relationship between Western and Eastern worlds. The black/white square carried by the actors stands in Western culture  - at least since Malevich - for the absolute, the epitome of concentration in Western art history: the image that does not depict and, as an object, stands for non-visible spirituality. It is the solid, contoured form that stands for this absolute. In Eastern cultures, the square, the pure surface, is seen as something fluid and as the sum of emptiness. Here, Walkowiak's elements of form touch philosophical concepts as implemented in meditation, in Zen practice, directed towards asceticism, towards restriction to the essential, towards equanimity, towards happiness.

The West's view of the East lies on many misunderstandings and misinterpretations since the "exoticism" craze dating as far back as the 18th century and, even more so, around 1900. With his videos, Kay Walkowiak does not want to add another facet to this view of the foreign on the foreign, but rather, by means of his depictive visual rhetoric, to address the relevant questions. He counters the glorification of Japanese interior aesthetics with a search for the notion of space; the naive notion of striking geisha, samurai, kabuki clichés is answered by his simple performers; the typologies of mountain, bamboo forest, rock garden are followed by Walkowiak's contemporary seascapes and shorelines. This synthesis of image, space, and temporal continuity corresponds to the concept of creating a visionary space, as formulated, for example, by the Dutch artist duo Jeroen de Rijke and Willem de Rooij. They create spaces, in a way, as painterly works of art; they intertwine film as an imaginary medium with space as a physical medium: one can enter, as it were, into an artificial construct, into a work of art. With their doubt about the term "image", they stand for an expansion of the concept of image as handed down in Western art history since the Renaissance. Kay Walkowiak, too, distrusts the traditional categories of iconology and removes their horizon of meaning: the foreign is not symbolic of the exotic, the other, but it is always present, it can be recognized in the opposite. In the juxtaposition of "Island" - a video about a course of action, about the solid and barren, the dark - and "Ocean" - a film as an arrangement of still lifes, of the flowing, transient, of light - Walkowiak delivers a spatial story about the East-West dialogue and, at the same time, a commentary on the topicality of tradition. With the grand master of haiku poetry, Matsuo Bashô, this research can be summed up: "Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the wise. Seek what they sought."

Text: Margit Zuckriegl, Salzburg 2019 
Photos: (c) Studio Kay Walkowiak

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