Zelko Wiener. Between 0 and 1
Art in the digital revolution
In the person of ZELKO WIENER (1953 – 2006), MUSA has chosen to showcase a leading exponent of the Austrian media art scene. The sheer diversity of his consistent, experimental, lyrical, both immaterial and physical artistic output is as impressive as his explorations of male perceptions, the structures and possibilities of new technologies, and the interpretability and representability of today’s communication culture.
The exhibition provides, for the first time, a complete overview of his creative output over more than three decades, an output now comprehensively contextualised through its posthumous appraisal as part of the Zelko Art Archives in co-operation with MUSA.
Zelko Wiener’s career as an artist began with a study course in graphic arts and photography at the Graphische art establishment in Vienna; in 1974 he enrolled at what was then the College (now University) of Applied Arts in Vienna. Artistically, he engaged with a wide variety of media, and while certain developments emerged as part of a gradual process, others ran in parallel. During his studies he worked not only on painting and graphic art, but also on metal sculpture and photography. It was during the final phase of his studies that he first began working with synthetic lacquers; little did he realise that this would usher in a period of many years during which he focused on a Japanese lacquering technique known as urushi-e. Between 1978 and 1982 he was actively involved in a number of citizens’ initiatives and organised public art campaigns. In the early 1980s he discovered the dynamics and artistic expression opportunities offered by binary media and electronic networks. He worked in the public space and was a founding member of BLIX, the Austrian art and telecommunications group. He was therefore one of the first artists to become actively involved in art and telecommunication. He worked with the text-based screen medium BTX, already then using it as a means of aesthetic expression.
At the same time he worked with ‘digital photography’, video art and small-format sculpture until 1990. From 1986 to 2006 Zelko Wiener lectured on the subject of ‘art with new media’ at the Lehrkanzel (Faculty, later: Ordinariat, Chair) for Communication Theory, a separate department within the University of Applied Arts Vienna. In his teaching and research work Zelko Wiener was particularly interested in questions relating to art and telecommunication as well as phenomena of media information channels and aspects of perception. He worked with Roy Ascott, Hans Ulrich Reck and Manfred Fassler, among others. In 1990 he presented environments with large-screen projections and sound. In 1992 he created the Bodybuilder, which was still causing a degree of moral agitation even in 1996. For this particular work he used the CALSI (computer-aided large-scale image) process to uncover yet another form of expression that was to shape and define his physical work thereafter. In 1996 he began working with Ursula Hentschläger as part of the artist duo ZEITGENOSSEN. Their work together culminated in www.zeitgenossen.com, a media trilogy which emerged from three projects developed specifically for the World Wide Web between 1999 and 2006. Thematically it holds a mirror up to our media-immersed present (BINARY ART SITE), a notion of the future (OUTER SPACE IP), and an image of the past (PHANTASMA).
With his media-based works Zelko Wiener is certainly part of the circle of pioneering media artists, and yet, through his continual efforts to counter the non-binding nature of the virtual space with physically charged positions, he can be situated just as readily within visual arts traditions. People and their struggle for orientation are at the forefront of his oeuvre. During his individual work phases he addressed various themes. His last involvement before he died focused on the transient nature of life and its implications of creation and decay, on engaging with the cultural heritage and the resulting moments in which identity and meaning are formed at the level of both the individual and society as a whole.