Dissolving in Infinity - A Conversation With Marianne Vlaschits

Marianne Vlaschits is just as known for using camp aesthetics and kitsch as she is for exploring space and the future with her art. The multimedia artist is questioning stereotypes and invites her audience into the fictional dreamy worlds of tomorrow. Marianne Vlaschits creates paintings and installations that make you want to take a second look. Loud and thoughtful at the same time, her work is luring you in to reflect on issues regarding gender, secret utopias and the future of human existence.

Following her studies at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna and the Slade School of Fine Art in London, the artist has exhibited her work at various spaces such as DUVE Berlin, Kevin Space Vienna and Nile Sunset Annex in Kairo.

Amar Priganica and Marie-Claire Gagnon met Marianne Vlaschits to talk about her wide-ranging influences, capitalism in the art world and feminist science fiction.

Marianne Vlaschits
Marianne Vlaschits, A disturbance traveling through a medium, installation view, 2016, DUVE Berlin, photo by Joachim Schulz

Art as an Anti-Depressant

Amar Priganica and Marie-Claire Gagnon: Let’s begin with an overall look at your work. It seems like you have lots of influences ranging from camp aesthetics and kitsch to astronomy and mythology. Why do these specific things speak to you? What aesthetic or political potential does the interweaving of these influences offer?

Marianne Vlaschits: Maybe coming from a place like Vienna full of historical references on every corner made me focus on the future. Not that I would forget about the past, but I'm more of a dreamer than an archeologist. Hope always lies in the future and hope is what I need to survive in this world. To me, art is an antidepressant, a hormone overdose of adrenaline and oxytocin. When I imagine how the world could possibly look like in a hundred, a thousand or a million years, I feel pure excitement. It's like being in love with an unreachable person; it's the purest form of love because it will never know an end. Of course it's escapism but that's a good thing, escapism is the all-inclusive 5 star vacation of the poor and precarious. Some escape with drugs and parties, I offer an escape to the fictional dreamy worlds of tomorrow.

My interest in camp and kitsch aesthetics derives from a desire for a utopian place where bodies, sexualities and gender can be lived freely without oppressive restrictions. Maybe my personal background from a non-artsy and non-academic background plays a role as well, where you would rather hang paintings of cute animals and rural scenes in your living room than contemporary art. That "distasteful" stuff is what I grew up with and what I like. Grotesque humor in all different kinds of media also has a long tradition in Austria and is the part of my cultural heritage that I groom the most.

The aesthetic and political potential? It's all about subversion!

Amar Priganica and Marie-Claire Gagnon: In your exhibition "A disturbance traveling through a medium" at DUVE Berlin, you first introduced us to the concepts and ideas behind your own utopia of female representations in space. In the sequel to this show at Kevin Space Vienna, you invited the viewer to enter the floating "Venus City." What’s the next step? Are we going to see how space travel and the colonization of space will develop in purely female hands in any of your numerous upcoming exhibitions? Can you tell us what you are eager to try out next?

Marianne Vlaschits: Currently I'm working on a lot of different small things like commissioned work, applications for funding or competitions, renovating my studio and so on - all the not so glamorous stuff you have to do as an artist. In the end of May, I will take part in a group exhibition at Kunstverein Hildesheim, the title is Promises of Monsters and it's about feminism and science fiction. I'm very much looking forward to this great selection of artists and I will be able to show the Venus City installation once again. In June, I'm on a two week residency in South Tyrol at Hotel Amazonas, where I take a short break from the universe and do projects with pigs, my favorite animal. When I return to Vienna, I want to focus on my next big space project, which might be a video or a VR game - the choice of medium will become more clear during creation.

Currently, I’m very interested in space suits as a membrane between the human body and the cosmic vacuum and the adaption of the body to extraterrestrial environments. I'm confident that I will not let go of the space theme in the following years, as this is something that has fascinated me since I was a child and I finally figured out how to work with it. But ask me again in September, then I can give you a more concrete answer. Good work takes time.

Anna Sethe, 2014 and Venus City, 2016
Left: Marianne Vlaschits - Anna Sethe, 2014, 200x145cm, acrylic and marker on canvas, photo by David Rabeder / Right: Marianne Vlaschits - Venus City, 2016, installation view, Kevin Space, Vienna, photo by Georg Petermichl

Tackling Social Change

Amar Priganica and Marie-Claire Gagnon: In political and social theory, accelerationism is the idea that either the prevailing system of capitalism, or certain techno-social processes that have historically characterized it, should be expanded, repurposed, or accelerated in order to generate radical social change. You stated that it would be cheaper to send women to space - in the logic of capitalism men would have no business up there. Are you interested in the idea of using capitalism to ultimately destroy capitalism itself? Do you believe that a matriarchal society could build an alternative future instead of holding on to the strictly defined set of capitalist parameters?

Marianne Vlaschits: Who said they don't have a business up there? They might be good for company and pleasure. Gender-mixed crews might be good for the mood on a long trip.

In my opinion, capitalism is already obsolete and it will ultimately destroy itself. But until that happens, we have to use the same strategies as capitalism does, as there are no alternatives yet. The alternatives might be born out of the ashes of capitalism. If you look at the United States, solar energy and electric cars business are booming. Not because people suddenly appreciate the environment so much, it's because those new techniques are profitable. It's quite natural that most people care more about what is happening now than what will happen a hundred years in the future, so we have to convince them with some kind of immediate benefits. I'm hoping for a communist future as described in the book "Four Futures" by Peter Frase. I’m interested in the question: "What comes after money when it becomes obsolete? (If it will ever be)". If we still need prestige or social status in the future, what will be the currency? Maybe it's going to be social prestige Whoofies as in "Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom" by Cory Doctorow. I think the Like or Heart button on social media could be a precursor to the Whoofie. Or Knowledge and education will be the new currency. How can you display that? Is it more fair or less? Or will the number of asteroids with water reservoirs you own determine your social standing.

Amar Priganica and Marie-Claire Gagnon: Your work deals with matters like social discrepancies, stereotypes and alternative future scenarios. Do you believe that art could be seen as a form of activism and/or as a tool for social change?

Marianne Vlaschits: Of course, all art also carries some kind of political message with it - may it be intentionally or not, and this might or might not influence the observer. But I doubt that art can be the same as political activism. I’d rather be a political activist in my daily life than try to force all of this urgency onto a piece of art. I want my art to be free from any purpose in the first place, it's aesthetic and philosophical contemplation, the opposite of work and duty. All the possible political effects that might be generated from that are secondary to me.

And what's the point of turning activism into art, when it ends up on some collector or museums walls anyway? The left-oriented art crowd gets confirmed in their existing beliefs? Rich people can buy their political consciousness at art fairs? The art world is still a very homogenous place and political activism should reach everybody. Also, political activism should not be something third parties can make a profit from and sell for exuberant prices on the secondary market. Art accelerates and influences politics and society for sure but it operates very slowly and it takes a long time to show an effect and sometimes problems can’t wait that long to be solved.

Activism has to be fast and reactive, activism is much more about shaping the present life. So ideally, you work on both ends of the spectrum at the same time.

Aliens, 2015
Marianne Vlaschits - Aliens, 2015, 100x200cm, acrylic on canvas, photo by David Rabeder

Philosophies of Art and Life

Amar Priganica and Marie-Claire Gagnon: We’re curious about which philosophies of art and life, move you the most, presently. What are you currently thinking about and how do you incorporate these things in your works?

Marianne Vlaschits: Recently, I got into feminist science fiction and I've been busy exploring the amazing worlds of Octavia E. Butler or Ursula K. Le Guin, just to name the two most famous ones. The book "Lilith's Brood" by Octavia E. Butler was the best I have ever read and it will for sure influence future projects. It’s about an alien race that saves humanity from self-destruction by saving us from a dystopian planet and breeding with us. "Lilith’s Brood" definitely had an influence on a performance piece I’m currently working on, it’s called "Cake Ceremony" and merges some of the ideas in the book with my approaches from "A disturbance traveling through a medium" and "Venus City". I like to use books as narrative guidelines and sometimes I translate or continue the ideas and thoughts I read in visual art. Of course I also do this with movies or music - everything can become a part of my work.

The book "The Big Picture“ by Sean Carroll, an astrophysicist from California, also really had an impact on me. He calls his concept "Poetic Naturalism“ and it shows you how to explain all the big things in life with science and how to acknowledge their beauty. I'm not a spiritual person and I’d rather go for a well-researched explanation than a subjective experience.

Amar Priganica and Marie-Claire Gagnon: If you were able to realize a project without being bound by factors such as money, time and space - what would you want to create?

Marianne Vlaschits: I would go on a six-months residency on the International Space Station and be the first artist ever in space. I don't know what exactly I would do there, as I can't possibly imagine what effect this extreme environment would have on my mind and my art. But I would die to find out and I really hope this will be possible within my life time. They send all kinds of scientists up there to carry out all sorts of experiments but no artists, writers or philosophers so far - that’s a big mistake. Imagine what ideas and impressions they could bring with them! Usually physicists, technicians or doctors are not known for their creativity and expressiveness.

Here on earth, I would like to build a hybrid of a space theme park and a thermal spa. Floating in hot, bubbling water while gazing at the stars or drifting through the crab nebular, that must be amazing. I would like to build something that gets you as close as possible to the feeling of dissolving in infinity. Do you ever swim with your head so far back that it looks like you’re levitating over an infinite sky?

Featured images: Marianne Vlaschits - Malibu Sunrise, 2012, installation view, Galerie im Taxispalais, Innsbruck, photo by Rainer Iglar; Creole Love Call, installation view, 2013, Viertelneun Gallery, Vienna, photo by Alexander Nussbaumer; I dreamt I was Henriette Rosseau, 2016,  170x240cm, oil on cotton, photo by Julian Mullan; A disturbance traveling through a medium, installation view, 2016, DUVE Berlin, photo by Joachim Schulz; Venus City, 2016, installation view, Kevin Space, Vienna, photo by Georg Petermichl.