Renowned German Artist Incorporates Images of Georgian Migrants

Exclusive Interview

Olaf Nicolai, one of Germany’s leading artists, notable for conceptual works that are both highly complex and poetic, has come up with yet another impressive show in Vienna (13/7 – 7/10 2018). As a part of his multilayered exhibition named There Is No Place Before Arrival, the artist has used the images of Georgian migrants and transferred them onto the floor. At Kunsthalle Wien, Nicolai commissioned several street and theater painters to paint onto the floor a pool of 22 images of different kinds selected from his personal archive of newspaper clippings.

“A key aspect of Nicolai’s methodological approach is the way he engages with the context in which his work is presented. In order to reflect on this context and call it into question, the exhibition extends itself outside of the institutional space and develops in the form of interdisciplinary projects, thereby multiplying the references and interactions the works make with one another and to their environment,” reads the review about Kunsthalle Wien.

In cooperation with the museum-in-progress, the exhibition will find an extension within media, digital space and Instagram under a project titled ‘Media Loop’ (#medialoop). By publishing photographs of the painted images included in the installation in international newspapers and magazines, the imagery will be exposed to a contextual feedback loop.

Considered one of Germany’s leading artists, Olaf Nicolai takes on a range of conceptual themes, from political and cultural critiques to inquiries into human perception. A recurring subject is the aesthetic appropriation of nature by human culture and design, explored through mixed-media sculptures and images. The conceptual artist is most notable for his works: Memorial for the Victims of Nazi Military Justice, 2014; Monument for a Forgotten Future, Gelsenkirchen 2010; Pavillons at Insel Schütt, Nürnberg, 2006. On October 24, 2014, Austria's president Heinz Fischer delivered a speech at the opening of Nicolai's Memorial for the Victims of Nazi Military Justice at Viennas Ballhausplatz. Two years earlier, the artist was awarded the first prize at the Memorial Competition implemented by the City Council of Vienna.

Olaf Nicolai (born in 1962) lives and works in Berlin. He studied German language and literature at the Universities of Leipzig, Budapest and Vienna, and has worked as a visual artist since 1990. In addition to participating in solo and group exhibitions, he has shown at Documenta X (1997) and Documenta 14 (2017), at the 49th and 51st Venice Biennale (2001 and 2005). For his work ‘In The Woods There Is A Bird…,’ commissioned by Documenta 14, Nicolai was awarded the Karl-Sczuka-Prize 2017 for works of radio art.

GEORGIA TODAY spoke to Olaf Nicolai about the exhibition in Vienna and his works.

What is the main topic and message of the exhibition?

When we communicate today, beside words we use a lot of images. They accompany messages as well as being the messages themselves. For years I’ve been collecting images which are published in news papers. Not so much because I am interested in the articles they are published with- more because the images “hit” me. Something made me look at them. In the show in Vienna, I selected 22 images from this archive and asked street and theater painters to paint the images on the floor of the exhibition space so you can walk over them, look at them out of context, take photos of yourself with them and post them. In a booklet which each visitor gets, you find not only the sources and the original context of each image, you also get a very personal index of texts. This montage creates a mental space, a narration full of associations related to the image. And there are performers invited to use the space of the images to play with these narrations and create their own “message.” It is about what an image is, how is it produced, how we use it, what we make out of it, how it attracts us and what it does to us- more than what we do with it- like a never-ending play. As the title of the show says: There is no place before arrival.

Why did you choose Georgian migrant workers for your show in Kunsthalle Vienna?

I found the image interesting because of the composition of the image, the style it was taken in. The photos were much more like classical portraits than reportage images. They presented each person in a strong way as an individual, as a group as well, but at first as an individuals with dignity. These photos are more than 10 years old, but in the current discussion about immigration and refugees, they have a strong impact.

Which exhibitions and projects would you single out in your career and why?

They are two pieces I see as very special. One is “Welcome to the Tears of St. Lawrence” which was presented at the Venice Biennale 2005. It is a simple instruction, published as a poster. If you follow the instruction and if you have a clear sky, you will see a falling star. I did nothing else than an advertisement for the Perseids, a meteor shower in August. It is a piece playing with the economy of attention. The Perseids are there anyhow, but without my instruction you might not pay attention to them. So what is the piece? I don't know. But the piece is in a private collection and on display in a museum in Switzerland, where each August stargazing meetings are organized.

The other piece is a simple postcard from the 1970s. The postcard shows the piazza in front of the Royal Palace in Naples which at that time was used as a parking lot. Today, it is a nice and empty pedestrian area. I re-published the postcard but wrote on the back “Free Parking coming soon!” And I distributed the postcard, walking around for two days in Naples. After one month, a friend sent me an image, showing the piazza full of cars. Neapolitanian taxis filled the piazza exactly like on the postcard during a big strike.

What are your future plans?

I am currently working on an exhibition about my artist´s books of the last 20 years, which will be presented next year. The next book will be a small artist book about Tbilisi. This project is organized by the CCA and the Goethe Institute of Tbilisi and will be presented at the Frankfurt Book Fair in October.

By Lika Chigladze

16 August 2018 18:15