Wien Kunst

Kata Oelschlägel. Interview

Kata Oelschlägel is a post-radical Viennese actionist, but where does the movement that she belongs to differ to the Actionism of the 60s and 70s?
post-radical Viennese actionist
Kata Oelschlägel, Hangman, Fabric, paint, tube and water on skeleton, 2023

Erka Shalari: How did Post Radical Actionism evolve in you Kata? The word post is frequently used, is it possible that we employ it so extensively because the term also constructs a kind of openness? How do you see it?
Kata Oelschlägel: I consider myself a Post radical Viennese Actionist, and I leave the radical component behind because I don’t believe we need it in times like ours. The Viennese Actionists had no other choice than being totally radical in order to break the social wall of silence after WWII, but I am strongly convinced that it is obsolete for an artist to act as a breaker of tabus since every tabu has already been broken. It is almost pathetic to think that you can still do something meaningful by slapping the “bourgeoisie” with a radical-esthetic backhand. I see my duty as an artist to take the observer of my work by the hand and gently guide them towards the topics that we need to talk about. I don’t want to avoid difficult topics, I still talk about them unapologetically. But on the other hand, I cannot help myself but realizing that every loud visual speech carries a risk of scaring people off, which would ultimately defeat my artistic goal. 

I leave the radical component behind because I don’t believe we need it in times like ours.

post-radical Viennese actionist
Kata Oelschlägel, Portrait

Regarding post – post is a word used to describe something that happens after an event, so basically, it describes an idea or a possibility for the future without being too specific. That’s why I fell for this wording. It gives me some flexibility in my work because no one knows what is about to happen after the presents. You can make a good guess but that’s about it. In my work, I often deal with the question of post-hum. I’ve spent so many years thinking about death, experiencing it, exposing myself to events connected to death. I was under the false assumption that I somehow got it. It was always a prominent issue in my life, but I managed to think of death as something very natural and that helped me to deal with the inevitable. I mean it’s always painful when “it” happens again, but I was always able to keep my cool. Yesterday Mahir Jahmal a friend of mine died of a heart attack, he was 36 years old. I find myself so shocked by his death, as I’ve never been before. He was one of those people you’d always bump into at literally every art event. He had an instant connection to his surrounding, and you couldn’t help yourself but loving him. He was the archetype of a positive and unique person, he was the main character in the room, and I think that’s the reason why it hits me so badly. I unconsciously thought of him as immortal. I still irrationally think that his death must be part of a really bad marketing strategy and he’ll jump out of a cake at his own funeral or some shit. I somehow had to tell you this.

Is substantial to me that my interview partners take me in unthought terrains. I think getting lost in words, feelings and thoughts is something extremely beautiful.
I would continue by posing you a second question: Do you think Vienna Actionism still exists?
That’s a hard question to answer since the definition of actionism is a very wide one. Though, I think that you can find actionism everywhere. It is not only reserved for the artistic community. You can find it in everyday life, all around us. Also, I would consider myself somehow of an actionist artist due to my hangman actions, which I wouldn’t call a performance. 

What influences your art, and are there any artists you admire?
My art is partly influenced by my educational background, I studied history of arts and European ethnology, and everything I saw, see, and will see. I don’t believe in an exclusive art community, and therefore despise the idea of the “artist as a genius” with superior skills. In my perception, the artist is just a bit more sensitive to his/her surrounding and consequently more capable of telling a detailed story of what was, what is and in the best case what could happen.

As artists we have the luxury of using a language beyond the spoken or written word. We can talk about things we normally couldn’t grasp due to our natural limitations. Art is so much bigger than the human itself. It is something totally out of our system of thinking. There is no wrong and right in art, no black and white, no good and bad, the only thing to understand about art is the fact that the “human rules” don’t apply here. To me it’s more of a spectrum of reality’s and truths existing parallel to each other in infinite dimensions. I got lost in my own head here, sorry. Long story short, I do not admire artists. I respect them, I learn from them, but I wouldn’t call it admiration. 

What I do admire is the movement and development of society; it is not the reality of one individual that attracts my attention, rather the multitude of individual truths moving together.

post-radical Viennese actionist
Kata Oelschlägel, Schnittaktion, 2021

Do you ever have been thinking to apply for the academy? And if so, did you also have countered arguments to then don’t be a part of it? I ask this as in my practice, I have also gotten to know artists that were part of this system, but then in order to be real artists they felt that they had to quit (…)
For a while, I was obsessed by the idea of going to an art university. The selection procedure made it very attractive to me because I thought I’d be part of some kind of secret society once I get accepted, but the more I learned about the institutions and the students, I came to the conclusion to not go down that path (or at least not at the moment). Without a doubt, an institutional background has advantages when it comes to making connections and building your basic skill set. And for some people university might work. However, the student-mentor system never seemed attractive to me, maybe because I’m already so caught up in my own philosophy. I do not believe in definitiveness and I’m totally dedicated to that philosophy which I spent endless hours on establishing and still do.

Cutting, scribbling, dripping, what bedazzles you about this process?
It’s simply the line that caught my attention. My first action was the one where I sketched out a line on my body. I was obsessed with Kandinsky for a couple of years and eventually started to apply his line theory to the three-dimensional room. From there I took another step towards what I call the “individual three-dimensional room” which means the body.

With this almost technical approach of Kandinsky, I tried to find a line that makes the body-room vibrate, an intensification of the body if you wilL. After I found that line, which turned out to be two, I got them both tattooed on my body. After the realization of this intensification lines, I decided to develop my own line theory further (also in favour of post-radical actionism), which resulted in the “cut action”, avery prosaic comparison of 3 lines.

post-radical Viennese actionist
Kata Oelschlägel, Schnitttatto, 2022

The already established intensification lines (=black tattoo) gets crossed over by the trickling blood which represents the natural line (= all substances fluid enough to be affected by gravity). The cut is the invasive line, a sine qua non and at the same time completion in the comparison of all three lines. With the help of contextualization, I tried to extract the drama and the radicality out of the very strong visual picture and make it easier for the viewer to understand my intentions. Blood is something so normal and positive. I want people to overcome their fear that might be triggered when they first see the documentation of the “cut action”. By using the esthetic of something that would be considered as pathological, when simultaneously putting it in a very technical context I attempt to highlight the spectrum of perceptions and truths in the observation process. 

This little text might also be interesting for you: 
blood is not radical
I want to put the viewer in a situation of experiencing and testing out their own ambivalence.
Especially in the perception of blood, the accompanying negative association is almost unavoidable.
The self-inflicted cut is often taken as self-harm and blood as drama.
I try to offer an alternative aesthetic in my actions.
My work must touch, may frighten, but without the intention of a missionary act.

post-radical Viennese actionist
Kata Oelschlägel, Linieaktion, 2020

Tell us something about your day and nights. How do they look alike, which kind of working regime do you have?
I used to have a really manic way of working. 4 days and nights awake doing nothing else but working and maybe using the toilette occasionally. But I quickly found out that this was not quite sustainable for my body and mind. So, I had to force myself to establish something like a “normal” work schedule. Art made me become a quirky person and I think by now I have a bit of a screw lose…that’s why I sometimes struggle with the ordinary everyday things like eating or sleeping. I guess being a bit impractical is part of the luxury that comes with being an artist (…) or it’s just a sad excuse for being dysfunctional? Anyway. Also, I’m sure I cannot just leave my workplace, go home and relax. Just because I stopped working on something physically doesn’t mean I stopped working mentally and emotionally. The first thing I thinks of when I wake up is my work and at night, I dream about it. It’s always there and never really leaves me. 

post-radical Viennese actionist
Kata Oelschlägel, Studio Portrait

Where are your works created?
In my studio. But place and space were never my priority. I can work everywhere. 

In September you are showing at Parallel, what will it be?
I’ll show an installation, of deconstructed hangman. The skeletons now look like gargoyles covered with fabric. Part of the installation is going to be a water circulation to integrate the natural line (=blood).

Kata Oelschlägel –