COOKING AT THE AUSTRIAN CULTURAL FORUMMay 21, 2012
No Wiener schnitzel was served at the Austrian Cultural Forum’s 10-year anniversary celebration this week, but vegan beef tartare and food-based performance art were on the menu. Opening the exhibition “Our Haus,” May 17-Aug. 26, 2012, Austrian-born relational esthetician Rainer Prohaska staged the performance “Kitchen on Every Floor,” which, like it sounds, involved setting up a series of food-prep stations around the building. Guests were invited to follow Prohaska’s instructions at each post -- chop onions, dice fresh herbs, etc. -- until they had cooked an entire meal. (Aside from the Turkish-based faux-beef dish, Prohaska also provided a traditional Austrian recipe from a restaurant near his home.)
“I will not cook; I let people cook,” Prohaska explained during an artist talk held at the Forum on Wednesday, May 16, 2012, before the performance. “If no one’s cooking, we have no food tonight.”
The other nine artists in “Our Haus” take inspiration from the East 52nd Street building itself, which has become a modern icon since architect Raimund Abraham completed the slender steel-and-glass structure in 2002. Two years ago, installation artist Judith Fegerl lit up the insides of the building with flashing LED lights. Now, for Untitled (cauter) (2012), she set small, controlled electrical fires in a wall, causing faintly perceptible, pencil-like line “drawings.”
“This new piece is much quieter,” Fegerl said. “It’s about the things you don’t see.”
Other artists address the architectural theme less literally. In Rainer Ganahl’s split-screen video, he contrasts the boarded-up shops and apartments in Spanish Harlem, where he has lived for years, with the well-to-do surroundings of the Austrian Cultural Forum. And husband-and-wife duo Johanna and Helmut Kandl spliced together super-8 films of Johanna’s home from when she was a child with those of its current, dilapidated state.
Toward the end of the evening, guests clustered in the basement around what might have rivaled the feast for the most popular artwork of the night: a mini-fridge full of Stiegl beer, courtesy of Mathias Kessler.