Issue 2/2001 - Du bist die Welt

Greetings from Vienna

The Viennese artist Ines Doujak and her works dealing with the visual ideology of racism, female sexuality, and minorities

Roger M. Buergel, Hedwig Saxenhuber

Patterns of thought in which identity and attachment to a particular location, rootlessness and migration are all inevitably combined lead, in a world characterized to a great extent by transitions, amalgamations, disbandments and new creations, to aporias and wrong political decisions. An artistic treatment of the phenomenon of migration cannot help but take account of the power of such patterns of thought and of the »symbolic practice« of discourses on migration.

For two years, Ines Doujak has been examining the phenomena of ethnic identity constructions and racism in her works, She is an artist who analyzes and explores the power of such patterns of thought by means of images, produces communications about them, and in doing so creates analytic models for the examination of these complex structures.

For the exhibition »The Subject and Power (the lyrical voice)« in the Moscow CHA (2001), Ines Doujak created two works that display her general interest in modern techniques of government, but also her particular interest in feminist politics.

One of these works, »Russia is a White Country,« quotes an article from the Los Angeles Times in which the paper's Moscow correspondent reports on the success had in Russia by the anti-Semitic theories of former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke. Around this text, Doujak groups a series of photographs showing an amateur actor dressed as an orthodox Jew. He poses alternatively in the artificial light of a disco, or condemned to speechlessness with an egg in his mouth, or as an exhibitionist pushing his penis through a large photograph. A peculiar shift seems to be at the center of this work. The virulent anti-Semitism in Russia is superimposed on the idea of »whiteness« propagated by militant racists in the USA as if the »conditions for the acceptability of killing in a society of normalization« - to quote Michel Foucault's definition of racism - were culturally unspecific: as if racism cannot only attach itself to any signs of difference, but also circulate between these signs, which are here displayed as a masquerade.

Doujak counters this incredible mobility of discriminatory attributions with a modular system: old shoeboxes, which are used less as containers than as building blocks in a pointedly fearless counter-discourse. Doujak also adopts this minimalistic formal language for a series of 24 mounted photographs that observe three women in an open, cramped »white cube.« The camera angle from above imitates a panoptic view, which encourages the subjects to internalize their complete visibility and behave according to the rules of the society of normalization without any external compulsion. In western society, this surveillance scenario not only characterizes public spaces to an ever-increasing extent, but also meets with populist acceptance inasmuch as it satisfies the collective sadism of power-deprived subjects in TV formats such as »Big Brother.« In Doujak's sequence, too, we are given a story that we can observe: a discourse of female bodies that remove their clothing, hang it neatly on the hooks provided, and form groups in different arrangements. It soon becomes clear, however, that this performance is beyond our imagination and control: that we cannot make sense of the perfect superficiality of the three women's interaction. If one thinks of the compulsions to which undisciplined bodies and souls are subjected, the »white cube« turns out, quite modernistically, to be a plea for autonomous spaces.

Doujak's contribution to the project »Erlauf remembers...« in the summer of 2000 was concerned with both the historical and the present-day cultural examination of an autochthonous minority, the Carinthian Slovenes. After all, ethnology owes its scientific identity to the examination of small societies that are clearly defined in terms of language, culture, and location. Doujak, who had herself been confronted with this problem as a child, saw how this ethnic group has been the target of hostile propaganda. Even today, German nationalist groups use psychological, structural force with the aim of obliterating the Slovene cultural consciousness. During the summer months, she showed four alternating installations in the showcase of the Raiffeisen Bank in Erlauf, one of them: »Doma/At Home - Izgini/Go Away«, strikingly connected - against a red and blue background - by a bilingual text about the construction of majorities and minorities. Associations were suggested between the »Blut-und-Boden« [»blood and soil« - a Nazi concept stressing the unification of race and territory. Trans.] mythology of the nationalistic past, and the search for the permanent locality of an emotional structure that could mean home. Since the birth of »national identity,« people have fought for the honor of their nation, spilt blood, and died themselves, alongside those invisible markings called borders. This complex theme is dealt with in the second installation. Contemporary Slovene witnesses describe how they were driven from their farms and tell stories of resistance, illustrated by two sentimental watercolor landscapes Doujak found in a book. She dedicated the third work both to the present and the history of art. It was precisely the time when the Slovenes were able to save the »honor of the nation,« and the EU was requiring Austria to act in an exemplary way towards minorities. Mark Tansey's metaphorical image of painting over one's own shadow could illustrate an understanding that steals its own past and its own memories.

»Dobrodos/Willkommen daheim/Welcome home,« the third installation, consisted of a recipe for a gâteau in 27 photographic steps together with a text by Stuart Hall. In this »pictorial theory,« logical combinations and new patterns of meaning regarding identity, attachment to a particular location, rootlessness, and migration were produced. Alongside these visual installations, Doujak organized an event she called »Heimatabend.« She showed a video in which female survivors from the Ravensbrück concentration camp tell their story. A contemporary witness was also invited. She talked about her memories as the child of exiles, camp life, and the way parents lost their authority, and also how she has only recently been able to speak about it all.

The poster project »Lick before you look,« carried out by Ines Doujak in collaboration with Marth, is conceived as a visual analysis of sexual practices. Every four months, a new double-sided poster came out in a subscription series. The subscribers knew only the title, and could guess what they were letting themselves in for. Doujak and Marth's intention is to break up the stereotypes of »normal« heterosexuality and create lusty images opposed to the norm, outside the categories of sex and sexuality laid down by society.

Two threads can be discerned in Doujak's works: one that is explicitly concerned with political questions, the way prejudices and clichés arise, and the examination of image politics; and another that opposes new, strong, joyful pictures of women to conventional images, as in the cycle »Dirty Old Women,« for instance.

»Grüße aus Wien« [Greetings from Vienna], Doujak's most recent work, examines the concept of racism as a primarily visual ideology and visual culture that produces and estheticizes »race« as a meaningful category. Starting with the discrimination against blacks and the accompanying rabble-rousing propaganda in the Viennese media, and culminating in the death of the asylum seeker Markus Omofuma, who suffocated while being deported, a visible movement has sprung up, supported by a radio station, a network, and a newspaper. The establishment of the neoliberal system and the concomitant social changes and redistribution has meant that conflicts are transferred to particular groups within society. This has led to African men becoming the main targets of racist attitudes in Austria.

That is the background for Doujak's installation and performance as part of the Festival »du bist die welt« [You are the World].1 Doujak's desire to bring about change in the area of image and text productions is not the expression of an unbridled play instinct; it follows the impulse to intervene in social images and to expose clichés. She photographs black men, who pose standing, sitting, or leaning, in a manner closely connected to the esthetics of advertising. The artist estheticizes them as subjects so as not to reveal the trauma of the victim, and eroticizes their behavior through controlled images; she functionalizes them to create a reflection of social reality. She uses the poses to show the prejudices and fantasies connected with skin color. She transforms the images of racist strategies into different forms, a large wall installation and objects lying on the floor. And with five ticket sellers at the opening.


Translated by Tim Jones


1 »Grüße aus Wien« by Ines Doujak can be seen from 1 - 24 June 2001 in the Künstlerhaus Wien as part of the Vienna Festival project »du bist die welt.«