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Edith Almhofer | No Pay, No Play!

His benevolent interest in the ordinary, a curious gaze towards the hustle and bustle of the world, and taking pleasure in interventions in the here and now, these are considered the trademark features of Patrick Baumüller's art. Born in Switzerland in 1969, the artist graduated from the University of Arts and Industrial Design, Linz, and has been living in Vienna since 1997. He has made forays into such diverse genres as installations, performance, art in public spaces, interventions, and photography.

At Galerie Michaela Stock, he is currently showing a selection of new works. Under the title „Ohne Marie geht auch hier nichts!" („Same Here, No Dough, No Go!") his exhibits explore familiar aspects of our lebenswelt. The uncouth motto brings into play the linchpin of our society, the stuff that makes the world go round: the wretched money. The tangible and real but ultimately unfathomable value money represents as well as the manifold dreams and yearnings associated with owning it, that is what the
artist tries to get to the bottom of in these casual arrangements of handpicked sample objects of everyday life. He creates images that are free of emotionalism but nevertheless forceful, even expressive. A piece of roof forms the center of this ensemble that openly stirs up familiar symbols and metaphors. Its chimney tops, however, do not emit billows of smoke but let us hear fragments of conversations, sounds and tones. This purist design touches on our basic longing for dwelling in a home: Beneath the protective crowing element of our houses, our private life unfolds. Even though its vicissitudes remain in obscurity, the whispering and murmuring, laughing and crying that seeps through the protective shield of the roof carries fleeting traces of a mesh of human interrelations to the outside world, forming a fragile acoustic image that is only rendered perceptible in the intimate setting of the gallery's exhibition space. It's been a long time, however, since the „White Cube" served as a neutral place for the reception of art – which, incidentally, it never was.

The sphere in which we confront ourselves with art is unanimously seen as an ambivalent context that is marked by various sociological, economic, and aesthetic factors, to which, in turn, the art of our day makes explicit references. In this case, of course, with a wink. Patrick Baumüller breaks the spell of the poetic image of a timeless and value-neutral artistic space by populating the walls with black spiders. These large creepy animals – and who wouldn't immediately think of gory horror movies – have, as he says, „come out from the rafters into the light and listen in on the goings-on around the exhibition". Of course, we are not talking about a real threat, not even for the most anxious of visitors. We are looking at artifacts made from drinking straws. But the ironic allusion to the cultivation of nightmare visions in literature and films points us to aspects of cultural history where contradictory qualities were associated with these useful insects. As archetypal symbols, they were relevant to all ages and cultures. Some North American peoples worshipped the spider as the creator of the world. In the Germanic realm, it is the great weaver, the symbol of the Norns, whose thread connects the past, present, and future.

Whereas in Greek mythology, weaver Arachne, whose artistic and technical skills surpassed those of goddess Athene, was turned into a spider as a punishment. In Buddhism, this animal signifies the deceptive world of the senses and in Christianity, it is the symbol of Satan and carries negative meaning. Unsure about what it is that seems to be crawling across the walls, our eye quickly turns to more agreeable sights and is caught by an image made from threads and nails. This is about an entertaining pastime that was highly popular in the 70s of the last century and may be familiar to some. Back then, probably every middle-class home was adorned by one of these hand-made, mostly geometric figures. Patrick Baumüller has rediscovered this long forgotten craft and used it to depict the silhouette of the „Spirit of Ecstasy".

Reminiscent of the Winged Victory (or Nike) of Samothrace, this figure, simply called Emily by those in the know, is the radiator mascot adorning the grill of every Rolls Royce since 1911. The interpretation we are presented with here reduces the figure to a silhouette. The „cost-saving alternative" is not cast in precious bronze but consists of a simple thread that circumscribes the object of desire. It is a blueprint whose delicately woven pictorial pattern points to something that is absent in a playful manner. The citation serves as a placeholder and projection screen for secret desires for luxury, power, and wealth.

A counterpoint is achieved through a small „Gambling Room", which is modeled on one of the gambling dens that have popped up by the dozens in our urban spaces in recent years. Behind a glass door, a tiny gaming room opens up, which is illuminated by the flashing lights of a machine. It is a scanty place, inhospitable, gloomy, illuminated only by a neon light object. A solitary confinement cell where one can indulge in playing in an endless loop and dream of a lucky future while life passes by outside the door. These representations of being captive to monotonous compulsive behavior – an experience shared not only by gambling addicts – finally culminate in a quote from Marie-Antoinette. The legendary monarch's ambivalent state of mind is brought into the picture through her own words: „I am afraid of being bored". Combining the quote with a close-up photograph of a thorn-bearing cactus creates an allegory, which puts in a nutshell the central anxiety underlying our modern instant-gratification society. Certainly, Patrick Baumüller is immune against succumbing to such fears. With regard to subjects, it seems he is always on the move. In terms of creative methods and techniques, he is always searching for new approaches and likes to borrow from such down-to-earth procedures as do-it-yourself, tinkering, or handiwork. His resourceful approach to different media is matched by the flexibility of his personal artistic style. Here, too, his creations do not boil down to a system or pattern.

His gaze turns trivial objects into marvels. The silent poetry of these installations arises from their open-minded approach. Baumüller zooms in on a great variety of appearances in an impartial manner, steers clear of emotionalism, and always maintains a critical attitude. He emphatically shows us the world we live in as marked by the effects of globalization and leads us to see how, again and again, the obscure connections between political, social, economic, ecological, and other phenomena point us to the complexity of our own actions. In this scenario it seems that, on the one hand, it is next to impossible to decide what is of primary importance. On the other hand, we are in need of individual as well as collective methods of decision-making and self-authorization that give back to us a certain degree of autonomous, independent thinking and actions. That, in turn, requires circumspection and attention, aspects that play a central role in Patrick Baumüller's work. Those who let themselves be drawn into his visual thoughts will suddenly be faced with having to decide for themselves whether they expand personal perception or whether our gaze into the mirror of art remains blind.

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