by Leonie Huber
An outside is mandatory to be an insider – or an inside is mandatory to be an outsider. For the third issue of dis/claim I invited the authors to explore the notion of ‘outside’ as a differentiating force. For me, this was a rallying cry to establish a critical distance and reflect both on the autonomy of the independent art scene in Vienna and what criticism is possible from the inside. The contributors to the third issue rid me of the illusion that the question – to write or not to write – is a binary one.
It was the first half of August and the height of Sommerloch in Vienna, when I chose the topic ‘outside’. With no openings or events to attend, it became apparent how much my private and professional life hinges on being part of the Viennese art scene. ‘Outside’ was a rallying cry to establish a critical distance and reflect both on the autonomy of the independent art scene in Vienna and what criticism is possible from the inside. I drafted the invitational text in my note book on the lawn of Kongressbad and cycled home though streets emptied out by the summer’s heat and holiday period. Now, the outside has changed appearance as the November rain is pouring down and my hands are shaking from the cold while I smoke a cigarette at an event. The reality of the city outside my windows – from the trivial change of seasons to the politics that govern its inhabitants – serves as more than a backdrop or a name-giver for a Viennese art scene, in that it provides the material conditions for the production of and discourse on art. Relatively stable rents allow artists to pursue a studio practice which wouldn’t be possible in many other European capitals and public funding enables an ever-growing number of independent spaces to flourish. As a result, a lively contemporary art scene exists outside institutional or commercial settings whose artistic and discursive characteristics – beyond it being young and independent – are rarely discussed or critically reviewed when featured in established art publications or museum shows in Austria. It is one intention of dis/claim to provide a platform for discourse and criticism inside this scene. Yet, both as its editor and a writer myself I experience how difficult it is to write one’s way out and establish a critical distance.
Ironically enough, the thrill of finally feeling inside was the point of departure for this issue. “I felt elated after the release of the second issue and the accompanying event hosted by Laurenz in the end of April.”, I wrote in the initial invitation to the authors. In general, success can come in many disguises: public interest, critical acknowledgement, institutional recognition and commercial rewards. Until these thresholds are crossed, one remains dependent on a fleeting feeling of approval from one’s peers. For some, establishing oneself in Vienna’s independent scene is a waypoint on their voyage into new social circles, artistic or economic possibilities, while for others it is a desirable destination in itself. Putting institutional gatekeepers and market valuation second and your peer group first is a beautiful and emancipatory act. Yet, condemning the art world outside your bubble for its stiff institutional frameworks, public opinion and the danger of commercial sell-out and bad press runs the risk of overlooking power structures and market mechanisms on the inside. As I stand in a group of people at an opening, I wonder how the artistic and social protocols inside the independent scene differ from their institutional and commercial counterparts. Are we really prefiguring an alternative to the notorious outside?
I invited the authors of the third issue to explore the notion of ‘outside’ as a differentiating force, unwilling to resign to the conclusion that an outside (of neoliberalism) isn’t an available option anymore. I was curious to learn about shared utopias or fierce oppositions. While subcultures might not exist anymore in the same way they did in the previous century, an outside is mandatory to be an insider. Or – to stress this point with a linguistic circle – an inside is mandatory to be an outsider. The boundary separating one from the other is neither solid nor static, but it’s more permeable for some than for others. In general, boundaries, “divide what’s you from what’s me but also designate appropriate and inappropriate behaviours, and/or compartmentalize different realms of life.”, writes Lily Scherlis in her piece Boundary Issues for Parapraxis magazine. Tracing the discourse of boundaries from the 1990s’ self-help mass market to cybernetics, ego psychology and system theory of the sixties, she highlights its metaphorical origin in notions of property rights. Scherlis states, “The problem with boundaries is that the world is designed to force us into financial and emotional dependence upon one another, and our primary metric for measuring the health of a relationship is being able to perform independence.”
In absence of the recognition and rewards from a mainstream outside, we’re financially and emotionally dependent on our inside. Our friends are our audience, our critics and our competitors. Navigating all these different roles we perform for one another without stepping on somebody’s toes is a challenge and it makes you go through all sorts of contortions. In the invitational email to the authors, I described this: “I quickly realized I had to watch my mouth wherever I went and, actually, everyone else was doing it too. If one’s individual feeling of accomplishment and next gig is dependent on a friendly relationship with the in-crowd, social conformity is mandatory and a critical distance is far off. […] Feedback on each other’s work is minimal for the most part. Often, there’s a clandestine silence after the question ‘What did you think about the show?’, and while one must carefully chose the right moment for constructive criticism, generally there’s more to say than ‘I love the space!’. A friend of mine accurately described this attitude as toxic positivity, meaning: If you can’t come up with something nice, rather remain neutral and shut up. On the flipside of this, a conversation about other people’s work quickly feels resentful and appears like bitching or gossiping. Heads are turned to ensure you’re out of earshot before opinions are voiced. If the pack I run with is the only public, why don’t we talk more about our work?”
Isn’t the way in which power structures and market mechanisms are addressed artistically, discussed collectively and criticised publicly that which distinguishes an inside from an outside? So, what would happen, if someone actually reviewed the show of their best friend and – instead of concealing their nepotistic behaviour – made this fact transparent? What form of criticism is possible from an inside position? These questions are fundamental to the concept of dis/claim, so it felt right to bring them to the forefront again in relation to the topic ‘outside’. The contributors to the third issue rid me of the illusion that the question – to write or not to write – is a binary one. In reality, the outside of language interferes with the inside of one’s thoughts, ideas and feelings long before they come crushing down on the blank page. Since writing is not only permanent, but public, in contrast to speech’s evasive and private nature, it takes courage to voice one’s opinion and accept the risk of being misread. The introductory disclaimer to each contribution is an attempt to connect intention and outcome on the one side and on the other to disclose individual conflicts of interest. I’m thankful to the authors of the third issue of dis/claim for engaging with this format, trusting me with their insights and allowing the readers into their texts.
 Lily Scherlis: Boundary Issues. How boundaries became the rules for mental health—and explain everything, Parapraxis Magazine, 10.07.2023, https://www.parapraxismagazine.com/articles/boundary-issues [zuletzt: 20.11.23]