On Photography & Egon Schiele: After Nyne Meets… Artist Anita Witek

Austrian artist Anita Witek is renowned for the tensions in her work produced between the original and the reproduction. Examining the space between the psychological interpretations of art history and the image flows in visual culture, Witek’s work is a radical re-staging of the interaction between image, object and viewer.

l’étrangère gallery in London is currently showcasing her photographic series based on two paintings by Egon Schiele – a self-portrait and a portrait of his model and muse, Wally Neuzil. The presentation was first shown at the Leopold Museum in Vienna earlier this year, but for the show at l’étrangère, entitled Artist and Muse, Witek has created a site-specific installation that includes a new set of photographs. After Nyne spoke to Anita about the exhibition.                 

Anita, that which is real and that which is fiction are themes that seem key to your work. How do you define the “real” and how does it inform your work?

I work with the medium of photography. All photographs, I would say, bear a fraction of fiction within them already. Although photography fixes moments in time, traditionally it serves as a documentary tool; it has, on the other hand, always been used to distort and manipulate reality. So with my work I am investigating photography’s potential by making use of both qualities of the medium. The fictional and the real. Personally, I subscribe to the view that the past and the future are unreal, and only an ever-changing present is real.

What processes do you use to distort and abstract the original content you are working with? What are the different stages of this process?

 I make collages and photomontages using analogue processes. I use pre-existing material, such as reproductions from books, magazines, posters, and imagery that has been taken by others. I cut out the central information and look at what surrounds it. There is so much information in images that mostly goes unnoticed. This is the reason why I like to shift the centre of attention by taking the parts out on which the initial focal point was laid. I reassemble the cut-out fragments that formed the background of the images and thus focus on the margins of the initial images. Depending on what project I am working on, I start layering these fragments to create new spaces.

How would you describe your subject matter or the content of your work?

The subject matter of my work is to shift views from the centre to the periphery. With the large installations I create new environments to give the viewer the possibility to put themselves into the picture, to literally move around within the paper collages. I like dissolving hierarchies and to create new perspectives in the spaces and subject matter that I am dealing with.

Do you ever approach a series with a particular outcome in mind?

Yes I do. For commissions it’s usually very clear from the start where I am heading, but of course it is always a process and there are unexpected challenges to master, particularly when working on site.

What drew you to the work of Egon Schiele for this series?

Being invited to create a large site-specific installation at the Leopold Museum in Vienna last year, as part of the Traces Of Time exhibition, I chose to immerse myself in the museum’s context. With site-specific work, I often do my research very intuitively. That means I investigate the archives, wander about the museum, looking through the material that the institution uses to represent itself to the public. In this case I chose two different posters that were advertising two different shows and drawing on what the museum sees itself to be known best for: the world’s largest collection of Egon Schiele’s works.

One of the posters depicts a cropped reproduction of Egon Schiele’s Self-Portrait with Chinese Lantern Plant and the other one the Portrait of Wally Neuzil, advertising the show Wally Neuzil and her life with Egon Schiele. I chose these two reproductions, because the original images hang next to each other in the permanent collection, evoking a strong connection between the pair and at the same time opening up a gap of everything that we do not know about their relationship. This relationship created a vast number of artworks that we can still access. With Artist and Muse I wanted to create a contemporary take on that subject matter and to point at the unrecorded part of the history.

What in particular interests you in the relationship between artist and muse?

Why and how can one particular person trigger another to create? This question is fascinating to me as an artist myself. As well as the dynamics that make such relationships start and end and what is produced while they exist. One might think it is a different way of falling in love, only finally leading to something that transcends friendship, marriage and parenthood. What comes from these relationships, the artworks, music, literature, etc., is a treasure that future generations can still benefit from.

How do the installations of your work differ between exhibitions?

Architecture plays an important role in our lives. As much as it shelters us it also often restrains us. With the way I work, using large layers of paper – a material that is light – I can in fact not expand the architectural structure itself, but I can expand the views and perspectives of it. That’s why I started to work with installations. I use the combination of 2D and 3D elements to allow the viewer to go beyond the frame of the photograph, as well as on the level of perception, to go beyond the limitations of architecture. I really like to work with given spaces and the challenges that come with it. With my recent installation at the Wexner Center in Ohio, a building conceived by Peter Eisenman, I had to deal with a very complex structure. So, depending on the opportunities I am offered, that is what I interact with.

Were there any challenges or surprises you found in installing the work in a smaller gallery? How do the prints on the wall relate to the installation at l’étrangère?

I had a show at l’étrangère in 2015 so I was familiar with the gallery space. At first I was generally questioning whether it made sense to transfer a site-specific work from a museum into a gallery space, since it was taking it out of context, plus I knew we would not fit the large installation in there. But I have taken elements of former installations and maintained the principle of collaging it into a new space. So it was finally only a question of which elements to use to give the viewer an experience that was conveying the story.

Do you enjoy giving your archive of printed matter new life in the form of a piece and seeing how it evolves?

Yes, I imagine it’s like writing a novel – you start out with the elements that you’ve been carrying with you for a long time, do research and while writing you let the story evolve.

What projects do you have coming up?

 First of all, I am looking forward to the official opening of my first artwork in a public space, a 900-sqm space in front of a public school in Austria, for which I have transformed my collages into a 3D environment made out of concrete, soil, grass and tartan.

I have also just started working on another site-specific installation for a Kunstraum outside of Vienna, for a show that will open in September, as well as a gallery show in Belgrade.

Artist and Muse is on at l’étrangère until 22 June 2018. For more information http://letrangere.net/exhibition/10533/

IMAGE: Credit: Installation view, Anita Witek, Artist and Muse, 2018. Photo: Andy Keate, Courtesy l’étrangère