Heimo Zobernig

With its limited colors and forms, Heimo Zobernig’s installation Ein Fernsehstudio für UTV (A television studio for UTV, 1997) could be read in part as an ironic commentary on Minimalism. A painting with broad stripes also hinted at Zobernig’s interest in color theory, but in the context of the installation, it became a test pattern on a television screen. The colors of the stripes (white, yellow, dark blue, green, dark red, medium red, blue, and black) reappeared on eight monochrome Styrofoam rectangular blocks that were strewn around the space. While Zobernig intended the blocks to serve as seats and tables for the users of the “studio,” they also resembled overturned white pedestals that had been disguised with a thin layer of colored paint. This tension between the aesthetic and the utilitarian carried over to the exhibition as a whole.

Zobernig covered one of the gallery walls with thick blue card-stock, at once suggesting a blank projection screen and a variation on wall painting. By using such mundane, inexpensive materials—and by foregrounding his process—he seemed to reject many of the hallmarks of Minimalism, such as its negation of ambiguity and its fetishization of surface. One could even glimpse a bar-code number through the veil of color on one of the blocks. The casual placement of the rectangles throughout the space contradicted the rigid procedures followed by artists like Donald Judd, Sol LeWitt, or Carl Andre. At the same time, the blocks’ irregular organization was strikingly reminiscent of Andre’s 1975 piece Uncarved Blocks, and his 1992 installation 25 Cedar Scatter, which consisted of cedar blocks distributed freely across the floor. Ein Fernsehstudio für UTV also recalls Andre’s “Verschluss Series” from the ’60s, in which viewers were invited to walk across the elements of which it was comprised.

Zobernig’s primary point of departure for this installation, however, was not Minimalism, but rather a project by Hans-Christian Dany and Stephan Dillemuth: a planned television channel that will be called “UTV.” This broadcast will finance itself only through advertising, somewhat like a free newspaper. Eight hours of broadcasting are expected to require the proceeds from sixteen hours of advertising. Cars can be sold, apartments can be rented, and announcements can be posted, all by means of film-clips that will be aired on the program. The goal of this project is to establish a platform for debate in certain areas, including art, Left politics, theory, and the media.

In a poster that formed part of the installation, Zobernig listed several distinguishing features of his projected “broadcast” in conjunction with slogans that pointed to the gallery context. Thus, for example, “simple production, gray markets, information, and art” are not only components of a successful television broadcast, but are also valued ingredients in an art-world venture. As with the pieces he presented at this year’s Documenta and “Sculpture Projects in Münster,” with Ein Fernsehstudio für UTV, Zobernig presented an artwork that served as a convincing medium for communication, while meditating on the nature of the institution within which it was presented.

Yilmaz Dziewior

Translated from the German by Vivian Heller.