Herwig Weiser

Galerie Lisa Ruyter

Hanging in the middle of the room was a most fascinating cylindrical object. Sound issued from it; something moved within. Its title, Death Before Disko (all works 2005)—also that of the show as a whole—plays on its association with the familiar disco ball. Of course this is an updated version, one made of Plexiglas, stereo speakers, LEDs, a computer system, magnets, and magnetic fluid, all activated by the movement of a motor, the pulsing of the sound system, and the programming of the lights. Movement is created not by the many small mirrors of the disco ball but by a mass of hectically vibrating pieces. They oscillate to the rhythm of outer-space noises—piped-in samples from various Internet sources. Only one thing is missing: the reflected light. For the black, magnetic liquid absorbs all the light.

Herwig Weiser’s machines, or “analog sculptural processes,” as he calls them, are the product of a collaboration with electrical engineer Albert Bleckmann, sound programmer F. X. Randomiz, and computer programmer Patrick Homolka. Perhaps it is his collaborative spirit that helps Weiser make his objects seem so playful, almost dreamy; they leave the dryly technical tedium of “media art” far behind. “Death Before Disko” makes one thing clear: We are not in control of these machines. On the contrary, we are relegated to the sidelines and cannot affect their motions even to the smallest degree. Mere observers, our observation shows us a world that is spookily unfathomable. This impression arises in part because the dark fluid, reflecting no light, evokes an infinite depth in its interior. But the movement is confusing in its own right, for the magnetic liquid hovers in space, somehow contained but devoid of any direct contact with its surroundings.

In addition to the central machine, Weiser also exhibited a tiny wall object: Prototype, a square graphite disk floating over the exact middle of four gold-plated neodymium magnets. It’s not that Weiser is all that fascinated by magnetism as a physical phenomenon. Rather, his interest follows from his understanding of “media art.” “I find magnetism, or electromagnetism, contextually compelling as the ‘invisible’ or immaterial basis of computer technology and of every kind of information recording and transfer. Almost everyone works with this ‘in a mediated way,’ and yet hardly anyone notices it’s really the basis and driving force behind the information society,” Weiser has remarked. It is impressive how he can translate technical realities into an object that evokes a landscape much more than “the basis of the information society.” The Austrian artist achieves a similar revaluing in the third work shown here, the film Entrée, shot in an experimental, interactive IMAX theater in France. The rows of seats flow into diffuse images; the illusion of the silver screen overflows to the auditorium and, as if experienced in a drug-induced high, the room dissolves. The sounds are feedback loops from the machine room in which the film was electronically edited and processed.

This was Weiser’s first solo exhibition in Vienna and a decisive foray from the realm of media arts into that of fine art, or rather into a “hybrid zone” of sculpture based on sophisticated work with technology—a modern alchemy. Weiser harks back to ancient longings but chooses to realize them by scientific means: the dream of an infinitely deep space, hovering matter that moves in harmony, spherical tones from strange worlds.

Sabine B. Vogel

Translated from German by Sara Ogger.