Through dedicated fieldwork and her ability to quasi-inhabit different realities simultaneously, Johanna Magdalena Guggenberger supersedes borders. In her practice, the distinctions between experience, contemplation and creation become fluid. Moments of chance encounters that present themselves on journeys into cultures distinct from her own are pivotal. The everyday and the ordinary reveal stories for the artist to dwell on, she remains a calm observer and not a commentator or a culture-tourist interloper. Speaking the native language, the artist overcomes barriers of communication and becomes immersed; the pieces made are a visual diary.
These memories are visual as well as oral, layered and immanent: some found proto sculptural shapes, fabrics women buy in the local market, the gift of a precious handmade feather, a now antiquated ornament from a saint’s grave. The stories gathered become crystallised in their rendering and manifest once the artist returns to her studio.
Guggenberger looks for the moment when a society is at the precipice of entering late-capitalist modernity and global monotony, about to give up old ways, on the edge, in-between states.
Universal monotony is found inching into the classic ways of living. The town market is the age-old forerunner of the hypermall. The Adan’s call formerly amplified with cupped hands is now transmitted over megaphones, fully electronic. Women’s cloth wrapping and handy work is made obsolete by plastic bags. The shepherd becomes a symbol: the last vestige of nomadic society, now redundant.
In Lebanon, Guggenberger’s search for the craftsmen of donkey saddles became a performance. As this item, out of fashion and out of use, with donkeys now supplanted by cars, becomes a historic and anthropological specimen, the artist turns it into a reflection on passing time. It is used as a catalyst for reverse casting process, forming a sculpture that combines anthropological study and free associative formal power. Cultural sign post are the artist’s building blocks.
The quest for hypothetical situations of ‘what if’ and ‘where am I’ steers the artist’s instinctive choices. Identities are made visible, materiality is a gesture; soft and hard sculptures coexist in her body of work. The sculptures are resting and waiting to perplex the viewer, prompting them to examine unwritten codes. What constitute progress and whose persona is referred to?
Working against certain defined constituencies of Otherness and asymmetric power relations, Johanna Magdalena Guggenberger plays out her own parameters of cultural emancipation looking for a new dialogical narrative of coexistence. Through the artist’s visual reductionism and recasting, identities materialise and societies are de-marginalised in the hope of a more open discourse and the possibilities of potential collaborative futures.
Johanna Magdalena Guggenberger (b. 1985, Vienna, Austria).
Guggenberger studied Social & Cultural Anthropology, Arabic and Islamic studies in Vienna and Pakistan; and Fine Art at Academy of Fine Arts, Vienna with Pawel Althamer and Julian Goethe. Recent solo show this is (not) the time to (get up and) walk away, Belmacz, London (2017). She has travelled, lived, worked and researched in Austria, Romania, Ukraine, Armenia, Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Pakistan, India, Yemen and Bangladesh.