Dorit Margreiter

Galerie Krobath Wimmer

To write for a primarily American readership about an exhibition by a European artist concerned with the commonplaces of American television presents a certain difficulty. Despite their worldwide dissemination through the media, the depicted cultures of high school, cheerleaders, or the Super Bowl, for example, are nonetheless very particular and cannot be quoted with the same self-assurance as they can within their own culture. On the other hand, our European understanding of American life is shaped in great part precisely by its clichéd reflection in the media.

In Dorit Margreiter’s video Short Hills, 1999, we see a teenage girl driving through one of those “typical” suburban neighborhoods to the accompaniment of typical TV background music, and so we anticipate that this scene will develop into an equally typical TV story. It is therefore disconcerting to discover that Short Hills is a real town in New Jersey and that the girl is a cousin of Margreiter’s. But then this reality, the world of the Chang family, originally from Hong Kong, is depicted as a sort of TV-world in turn. The Changs have just finished an addition to their house, a media room, and the mother explains, referring to blueprints, how it was planned around a large television console. The furniture matches the television, which also creates a relationship to the other major design component of the room, the open fireplace, over which hangs a picture of the Hong Kong skyline. Chinese objects adorn the mantelpiece. Mrs. Chang’s favorite show, not surprisingly, is a Hong Kong soap opera: “Somehow I like to have a daily window on Hong Kong and to see what topics are being discussed at the dinner table or while playing mah-jongg, and so I always have the feeling that I know what’s happening there.”

In the installation, Margreiter presented several elements from the video. The plan for the television cabinetry hung on one wall, and the Chinese soap opera could be seen on a monitor. In the center of the space, the photograph of Hong Kong is presented on an articulated, freestanding module taken from Friedrich Kiesler’s flexible exhibition architecture. This allusion to utopian modernism recalls the promise that television would provide a “window on the world,” compensating for the shrinking of the social realm caused by the suburbanization of life in postwar American society. Living rooms began to be reorganized around the television set, and that development reaches its extreme in the construction of a special media room.

But there is no hint of cultural pessimism in Margreiter’s presentation, whose overall title is “Bringing it all back home.” While the media-window is important to Mrs. Chang, both her consumption of television and her design for the living space, with its emotionally significant pictures and objects that refer to her origins and cultural background, seem to occupy a plane of self-awareness. On the other hand, her sixteen-year-old daughter, who, during the course of a car ride, breathlessly tells the artist about the latest developments on Dawson’s Creek, proves to be more unself-consciously engaged with her television heroes. Their reality, in her eyes, becomes clear as she compares the fluffiness of an “unrealistic” series like Buffy the Vampire Slayer to the seriousness of Dawson’s Creek. Margreiter’s approach to the way the media’s images influence real life is a careful one. Her juxtaposition of a photograph of her cousin standing in front of the house with a thematically identical video still from her favorite series hints at the connection. But the multilayered space of the exhibition—which included photographs of the family’s living situation, Margreiter’s video as a narrative thread, little DVD-players with excerpts from the television series, and a model landscape as a structural foundation—suggests the possibility that we can negotiate several worlds at once, and in the way appropriate to each.

Christian Kravagna

Translated from German by Sara Ogger.