Pasted out from film
After the conversation with Barbara Vögel we are heading out on to Kirchengasse in Vienna's 7th district. We are both looking down at the ground, where we see two little papers lying in the stairwell, both "well folded". Collecting finds such as these is an essential part of Barbara Vögel's artistic work and on closer inspection seems to be a link to her former profession. As a film casting director, Vögel tells us, her ability to absorb visual material like a sponge, to archive it and create connections - and finally cast the right faces for film parts - was a great advantage. But sometimes the gift turned out to be a burden, whenever the archiving got out of hand. After eight years in the film and advertising industry, Vögel no longer wanted to admit the faces of others into her mental archives. In 2003 she started to use collages to get "pasted out of film", as she herself puts it. Of course, this changeover from film to the visual arts did not happen overnight . It was more like a new context that would slowly enter into Vögel's life, crowding out the previous one. In 2004, when Barbara Vögel abandoned her job in casting, she was certain that there would be no going back to it. The trigger for her professional move was a trip to Greenland, a childhood dream, as she told us. Long before she departed for Greenland, the artist had approached her destination in her imagination through collages such as " Inuit woman and man on sledge with feather and drum. 14.9.03. Pix!" (2003).
In the streets of Vienna, accompanied by a longing for the icy shores, she suddenly encountered countless "icebergs": small, dirty jagged white pieces of paper that she entered into her pasted pictorial world uncensored. Vögel picked them up , pasted them and dreamt of Greenland, until she actually went there in the spring of 2004. Her artwork is not only a visual exploration of Greenland. Over several years the small collages continued to pick up tiny everyday details from the artist's life and were an inherent part of her personal records. As of 2002/3 the pictures became divorced from the records and were raised to the level of a new creative practice: the same passion she once invested in archiving hundreds of film cuts with her actors and ac-tresses, Vögel now accords to all the things she considers valuable for her collages. She is not a notorious collector, though. As she puts it, it is less her looking for the material than the material finding its way to her. In less fateful phrasing this means that although she does scrutinise the floor under her feet, she mentally selects what she might need or not. Only then will she pick up what others have discarded. Only the things that fit into her picture or are striking in shape will be entered into her archives; the find must possess a certain dynamism when coming within her peripheral sight. Often they will be figurative scraps of paper; artfully folded by coincidence or rolled over by car tires, they may have taken days or even months to reach their extraordinary shape. This found material is the source of inspiration for one of Vögel's short stories in pictures, such as "Chinesischer Händler trifft bei heftigem Sturm in der Präfektur Nagano ein. 7.11.03. Pix!" (Chinese marketer arrives at the prefecture Nagano during a heavy storm. 7.11.03. Pix!) (2003) or "Eine Frau in Kabul unterrichtet eine andere Frau. 18.11,03. Pix!" (A woman in Kabul teaches another woman. 18.11.03. Pix!) (2003).
Vögel generates her material through coincidence and selection, not tinkering or adaptation. The small objects and scraps of paper (her collages are usually in A4 or A3 format) are worked into the story exactly the way Vögel found them. All the paper scraps, plastic, metal or wooden pieces stay in their original state : nothing is cut apart, bent or manipulated. Vögel calls herself someone who likes to observe but is not at the centre of observation. It was therefore consistent that in 1980 she abandoned her actor's training after a short while and ran the school canteen for a while, where she took on the role of observer day by day. When she came to Vienna in the autumn of 1978, Vögel spent every free minute at the Film Museum . Her enthusiasm for narratives is clearly expressed in her work. The little stories she scrawls on the collages - written with the left hand although she is right-handed, by the way - compliment the pictures like short plot synopses.
While Vögel's collages reflect her view of the world in a grated , poetic manner, telling of foreign places such as Japan, Vietnam or Greenland and mostly concentrating on the interaction between the individual elements, her series "Short Pornos" (2003-08) is dominated by a different concept. The "Short Pornos" are subject to a certain structure that is repeated in every picture: a paper scrap with printed or handwritten text (such as a handwritten shopping list or a railway ticket) found at random is always combined with the picture of a female or male porn star - preferably Rocco Siffredi, Vögel's favourite porn actor - and a handwritten text. The text is by Barbara Vögel herself and often goes across the entire A4 format. In the process, a kind of dialogue develops between her and Rocco. The female actors, frequently presented together with Rocco Siffredi's erect penis, are not exclusively porn stars. In Barbara Vögel's eyes they are self-confident, pleasure-loving and passionate women who "do not hesitate to take what they need and who very urgently need what they so much enjoy taking". Vögel is concerned with women's enjoyment of sex and the opportunity to make her desire the topic of her work as an artist in a smart and self-aware manner. The writing and her pasted artwork, two essential elements of her work keep manifesting themselves. What the stories will be the artist often does not know herself. It will depend on what she finds.
Karin Altmann, artist and writer; member of the Essl Museum art education team since 1999. Currently also holds a teaching post at the Vienna University of Applied Arts where she is writing her thesis about "Textile art of Bhutan".
Veronia Hauer is an artist and writer. She currently lives in London, where she is attending an MA course at Goldsmiths College. She is a co-editor of the online magazine NOWISWERE.