Vienna

Thomas Locher

Galerie Metropol

Last December and January, pedestrians wandering through Vienna’s antiques district might have been surprised by the endless series of words (in German) that were cut out of opaque black plastic sheeting and hung in the gallery’s windows. Were these typography samples, a store’s inventory, or a new kind of linguistic peepshow? Thomas Locher promised “Keine Rede ohne Antwort” (No talking without an answer) in the title of his installation. Inside, in the seemingly dematerialized cell, the viewer found a set of objects: an aluminum table and two chairs meaningfully facing one another in a conversational arrangement. Here too, normal use was disrupted by a series of words notched into their surfaces. There was a set of demonstrative and personal pronouns (“I, you, that one, this one,” etc.) on the seat of each chair, and on the tabletop there were two identical pairings of sentences that described an imaginary communication. “I talk. I talk to you. . . . I divulge it to you.” The arrangement made it sound like a parody of Jürgen Habermas’ conception of a nondominant verbal interaction.

This arrangement was called Hermeneutik des Gesprächs (Hermeneutics of conversation). The viewer could have referred back to the “basic vocabulary” in the window panes; it would have helped him/her to blend the new material into the redundant dialogue. However, when shifting to the display of words, the eye paused at a mirror. Suddenly the viewer was confronted with his/her own image operating in this cell. It seemed almost like an enlarged image of the brain with its language center being virtually spread out as a furnished interior. In front of the mirror there was a closed wooden chest with a sentence sequence carved into it that could be endlessly extended: “I think of you, you think of me.” This “object of desire” at the mirror provided the objective pendant for the narcissistic ego. At the other end of this room was an empty aluminum stand, with individual letters and index numbers cryptically arranged on its cross-beam. Were these the structural skeleton and the syntactical layout of Locher’s spatialized language model?

The gallery’s rooms were clearly delineated, yet resembled a picture puzzle, and Locher made impressive use of them to demonstrate a fundamental issue of his seemingly difficult art: the (topo)logical and psychological correlation between inhabiting language and being inhabited by it. This installation embodied the structuralist duality of “I speak language” and “language speaks me.” Indeed, it illuminated the fact that subject and object are separate yet also interwoven, like the two sides of a Möbius strip. Locher tries to probe this dialectic in the interplay between language as a purely rational, logical system and its emotionally charged usage. In so doing, he conflates the two phases of critical thinking about language that are depicted in the transition from Ludwig Wittgenstein’s rigorously positivistic Tractatus to his Sprachspiele (Language games), which was inspired by esthetic structures. Locher is not so much concerned with the semantic function of language (as is Jenny Holzer), or the tautological short circuit between word and image (as in Joseph Kosuth’s work). His focus is the pragmatic dimension, in which syntactical connections function as determinants of a verbal exchange—similar to the function of practical items and furnishings of a living room.

Markus Brüderlin

Translated from the German by Joachim Neugroschel.