Birgit Jürgenssen

Elisabeth Steger

Elisabeth Steger

A veto! To the memory of Birgit Jürgenssen, 17.3.2007.

Some background information to the text 
"Birgit Jürgenssen or Body Art against the Semiotics of Capital" 
written by Peter Weibel 1

Birgit Jürgenssen ( 1949 - 2003 ), an Austrian artist and one of my teachers, acted quite friendly against me. I do remember it well, in 1989 we met first. Birgit created a wise ritual: all the new students who had been put up into the class of professor Arnulf Rainer at the academy of fine arts in Vienna, in which Birgit Jürgenssen had have a teaching profes­sion, have been photographed by her in these first days of a new period in our lives. Afterwards she placed the polaroid- portraits on one wall of the teachers room, so everyone of us could have an overview of all class members, and could get known to each others faces.Let me tell you about another meeting which I remember rather clearly, ten years later. In the meantime I had finished my studies, but somet­imes came back "home" to "my" school for looking after news or information or friends or simply for doing my email-corre­spon­dences on one of the computers which were available also for former students. We met in this computer room, the so-called cage, and even a few days before I had come back from a travel to Switzer­land, where I had visited the 7th International Performance Conference 2 in the Kunst­haus of Glarus. And Birgit especi­ally enjoyed my narrations about a performance of Esther Ferrer which I had seen there with great pleasure. She shared this pleasure: The Spanish body artist Ferrer counted loudly all the viewers in the audi­ence of her performance pointing her finger at every single one, she stood up on a plat­form and put her shirts down and wrote on her chest the word "performance" with a black marker, showing the outcome to all who are able to read: performance is written on my body" 

( With Alain Badiou we could say that Esther Ferrer made our situation visible through counting on everybody who was present, made percep­tible an onto­logical situation through the poetry of the body ). Birgit Jürgenssen was very enterprising and asked me then about doing a project together. Well, this idea of a collabo­rative project of Birgit Jürgenssen and Elisabeth Steger never became real.  My inner situation was similiar to the outer mirror, the computer cage, where we met:  I was caught in grea­test respect, I think, and had already been more interested in writing than in doing visual arts.

At this same time in 1999 Peter Weibel has still been Austrian Biennale commissioner for Venice. And its an obvious fact that although he is praising the labour of Birgit Jürgenssen in his text in words of overwhelming honour 
("Her visual critique of cultural stereotypes, of the ethnicization and colonization of women in the culture of capi­talism is (femi­nist) art of the highest order") he forgot quite fast on her labour after the text was published in 1998. I think it is quite necessary to show the historical circumstances, because texts are not timeless things. Weibel´ s task as commissioner has been to propose artists from Austria for presenting their works and representing "their" country in the show in Italy. The last time in 1997 Weibel´ s idea of showing the "Wiener Gruppe" or strictly speaking a comprehensive cata­logue about this artist group in the Austrian pavilion ended up in a coup. The name "Weibel" left as the only one, left as the name of the creator of the idea. But in 1999 he appeared slowly and he was criticized heavily by artists, gallery owners and cultural journa­lists for that. His acting of deferring the decision as long as possible was regarded as a very unprofes­sional behaviour. Patricia Grzonka wrote in those days about Weibel´ s hesi­tating stra­tegy in a critical comment published in the Austrian maga­zine profil 3 :

"Weibel - who is apart from being commissioner also head of the new gallery in Graz, new head desi­gnate at the centre for art and media tech­nology in Karlsruhe and professor at the university of applied arts in Vienna - declared that he has three scenarios in work." And the obviously mega- busy, poly-tasked man of the art world explained his reasons to the maga­zine: "It is like football. First I will observe the others, how they will act, and not until then I will decide." As art theme of the year 1999 the media expert Weibel choose surprisingly one which was not his own: "acting instructions or art in the social field". Is it super­fluous to mention that Birgit Jürgenssen felt a huge, under­stan­da­ble annoyance about Weibel´ s proposal - Irene und Christine Hohen­büchler did it, the "actionists of charity" 4 ?  She told me trustfully about her rage at this 1999 meeting.

The emphasis Peter Weibel has shown about Austrian (femi­nist) body art  in this text vanished into thin air in his art-political practice as commissioner although both happened parallel. Why he did not propose Birgit Jürgenssen for the Austrian pavilion in 1999,  an artist who "recognizes that seemingly natural femi­ninity is a social construction dictated by men. She frees herself from this dicta­torship by rejecting any housewifely identification of her body and her social functions" ? Was he afraid of female artists like Birgit Jürgenssen 5 ? 

Has it been easier for him to propose women (artists) who work in an (art) field which traditio­nally belongs to women ( the social field ) because he could stay then in his capi­ta­listic/ schizoph­renic position oscillating between naiveté and dicta­torship 6 ? Or has he moreover been afraid of his own courage or his own body ? Was he afraid of bein­g remembered on the serious internatio­nally art stage in the context of Austrian body art as a little doggy dog at Valie Export´ s leash ? Was he afraid of being ridiculous while trying hard to be regarded as an eloquent curator, multi-head of museums and editor of art theory ? Probably you know the photo I am alluding to: Valie Export is walking through the streets of the city together with Peter Weibel -  Peter Weibel is here crawling animal-like deep down with his knees on the dirty street floor and submitted and subord­i­nated to his Frau­chen 7. But for sure this vanguard art pieces happened long time ago, in 1969, when the "gender debate, imported by the art world from the U.S.A. in the 1990s, had actually begun in Europe ... at that time, however, the art world suppressed the debate." We conclude that Mr. Weibel prolonged this suppression a little bit more by himself. Should we apologize this way of (not-) acting caused by his too much work at all, as Patricia Gzonka diagnosed his situation 8 years ago ? He actually repressed femi­nist art with a social-critical concern as commissioner-although it looks like a friendly obituary re­ading his text today, without knowing the context.   

I am tempted to propose a change for Mr. Weibel. After a quite successful career as a male, white participant of the art world ( as artist, curator, author etc. ) he could show us how real flexibility looks like.  Isn´ t it a fantastic idea: Weibel as an organizer of a football event. We know that he is already familiar with some football rules and stra­tegies of this global ball game. Maybe he could start combi­ning sports and politics: the worldwide kicked ball as res publica. The coming years in Austria would bring good opportunities for that in any case. But that´ s an utopian idea -  I am sure Mr. Weibel is choose again as an important representative in the Euro­pean arty parliament in the Amphi­t­heatre de Paris this weekend ( ).

Last time I met Birgit Jürgenssen at the gallery of Hubert Winter 8. I listened to her while she was speaking to a friend. The two women were telling each other their problems with teeth. I was curious and Birgit noticed that and said to me: "Hey, you are too young for those problems. You have still some life time without being confronted with them." But I did not let up liste­ning and finally caught that: the women discussed the scientifically proved fact, that women older than 50 years often get problems with their jaw, because all the rage in (female) life which cannot be expressed will be acted out through the jaws in night during our dreams. And that causes teeth problems. Well, let´ s act it out, our rages, when we are awake.

And because I am not satisfied wi­th Weibel´ s de­termi­nation at all I put this question at the end: would You call Birgit Jürgenssen a body artist ? She is in any case a soul artist  and first of all I would call her a great photographer.

"... memory is nothing else than the certainty of having worn most different masks and of willing to get the rest." 9

1) This text was already published in German in the cata­logue “Früher oder später- Birgit Jürgenssen” which came out in 1998 on the occasion of the exhibition “Birgit Jürgenssen” in the museum of the country of upper Austria in Linz.  Bibliothek der Provinz / Weitra / ISBN 3-85252-210-2 / pages 83-85.
3) Weibels Abseitsfalle ( Weibels working trap ) profil 5 / 1. Februar 1999/ culture / page 110 and 111. 
4) as they have been called in a critic on April 29th 2004 in "Die Zeit" Nr. 19 by Hanno Rauterberg 
5) „Vorsicht – vielleicht kommen die Damen“ ( Attention – maybe the ladies are coming ) Lawrence Weiner wrote on his first draft of a poster for Vienna, which is placed in the cata­logue “Früher oder später- Birgit Jürgenssen“, on page 82, vis-a-vis to the text of Peter Weibel
6) Refering here to the text „Snobisti­sche Leere als letzte ästhe­ti­sche Form des globalen Kapi­talismus“ by Marina Gržinić, Malmoe 34, page 18, 2006/ 
7) “Die Mappe der Hundigkeit“ 1969  http://foundation.gene­[showUid]=3251&tx_pksaw_pi2[sort]=ESJSRT%3A0&tx_pksaw_pi2[pointer]=3 
8) http://www.gale­ 
9) Elisabeth Samsonow in „Maske extra“, a text also published  in “Früher oder später- Birgit Jürgenssen“ on pages 7/10/12 and 14. Maybe it would have been better to publish this text of Elisabeth Samsonow in the multi­tudes maga­zine than again a Weibel thing ( The name Jürgenssen ist moreover written wrong in the address ).