Workout, work and warfare – is our drive for optimization the root of all evil? This question has occupied the Hamburg and Berlin-based artists Stefan Panhans and Andrea Winkler for some time. At Kunstraum Niederoesterreich, an exhibition by the duo is currently on view – for the first time in Austria.
“HIIIIIT“, with seven “I “s, loosely based on the fitness trend of “High Intensity Interval Training” (HIIT for short) – this is the title of the current exhibition by Stefan Panhans and Andrea Winkler at Kunstraum Niederoesterreich. It doesn’t promise too much: “Intensive” is indeed the picture that presents itself to us upon entering the exhibition space in Herrengasse: oversized LED screens everywhere you look; in between, all kinds of yoga mats, exercise balls and other fitness equipment, and, as a place to sit and lean against, a dark blue Styrofoam block that brazenly occupies part of the main room. HIIIIIIIT is a kind of interim balance sheet of the past three years of multiple permanent crises in politics, everyday life and the culture industry. “The exhibition,” writes curator Katharina Brandl, “reflects individual and societal notions of risk management and defensibility, and asks: how do we carry out our compulsive attempts at hedging against chronic, systemic crises?” The work settles the score with a world that continuously demands self-optimization from us, but in return always cheats us out of the best.
HIIIIIIIT is a kind of interim balance sheet of the past three years of multiple permanent crises in politics, everyday life and the culture industry.
The two-channel video installation Border Control (2021), not far from the entrance area, leads us right into the thematic center of HIIIIIIT. In it, a group of dancers perform a kind of “border and disaster control round dance” that ultimately ends with the ensemble’s total physical collapse. We are reminded, among other things, of the border protection exercise Pro Borders from 2018, a project dear to the heart of the Austrian Minister of the Interior at the time, in which units from the police and the Austrian Armed Forces rehearsed the concerted defense against a “migrant onslaught” on the Austrian border. Just behind, we come across a solo photographic work by Stefan Panhans, Bringing the WoW Home (2021), an ironic homage to Martha Rosler’s legendary collage series of the (not quite) same name from the 1970s. We see black-and-white portraits of actress Lisa Marie Janke, who, in a mix of quirky and disturbing, imitates combat gestures from the online role-playing game World of Warcraft (“WoW”). War has arrived in the living room – as a fantasy farce. In the video installation DEFENDER (2021), a few meters further on, we encounter Janke again, this time as part of a post-dramatic end-times musical ensemble, which, chanting motivational slogans from pop and advertising, ponders eloquently about the limited prospects for happiness in neoliberalism.
War has arrived in the living room - as a fantasy farce.
Self-optimization stress, border regimes, the expansion of digital battle zones, the privatization of the crisis and the crises of the private – it’s all about the big picture for Stefan Panhans and Andrea Winkler. The fact that we do not shy away from this superabundance but, on the contrary, want to energetically reach into the full is not the least among the diverse surprises the exhibition offers. HIIIIIT is an overload that makes you want more – without cheating.