Silvia Eiblmayr / Talk, so that I see you! / TRANSITION, Biennal Venedig / ISBN 978-3-903172-54-8

This imperative originates from a great thinker, who means a lot to Manfred Grübl – and I would like to prepend my talk with this sentence as a motto.

Manfred Grübl is being presented with the grand art prize of the Salzburg Region for a work which is imbued with a central theme: with inventive esprit and formal wit, the artist enters into critical interaction with various conventions and sets of rules, with normalisations and behaviour types, ultimately with forms of governance, an interaction that goes far beyond the territory of the art scene. One could say that for him it is about an open procedure in which he seeks a productive interaction with life and society. Logically he integrates individuals, mainly himself, or even his public on a completely general level into the action, which sometimes lead to actions that can take various parties aback, for example, when visitors to an exhibition cannot leave the gallery space for a certain amount time (Kidnapped Audience, 2009). And one more thing, as already hinted at, Manfred Grübl’s works are never deadly serious. They tend towards a sometimes even desperate humour to which the artist repeatedly exposes himself no less

Grübl has made himself the protagonist of his art in many various roles and functions. He was a squash player at the Wiener Künstlerhaus (Squash, 2013). He roamed Los Angeles on a bicycle, where successfully, but not without risk, he offered his services as a scissor grinder to residents (Sharpener, 2016). He played the postman in a place called Grübl, which really exists, a postman who himself conceptualised the post he delivers, right down to the very stamps, a postman who, at the same time, takes on the greatest political warmongers in the world (Post-Post-Projekt, 2015–2019). At the same moment he is also the ‘organiser’, that is to say the ‘string puller’, who infiltrates institutional areas with his recalcitrant ideas.

Manfred Grübl, born in 1965, belongs to those artists who are labelled as the second generation of conceptual art or with the term used since the start of the 1990s, contextual art. For, the premise being, where and how art gets its meaning is always dependent precisely upon the context in which it is produced and received: that pertains to the institutions and their discourses and – with consequent forward thinking –political, social and economic relations generally. So it is about extended and very differentiated parameters that are incorporated into the artistic reflection; Peter Weibel formulated it in 1993 somewhat militantly in connection with his exhibition Kontext-Kunst. Kunst der 1990er-Jahre like this: “The artists become autonomous agents of social processes, partisans of the real”.1
This can also definitely be said of Manfred Grübl, who was still in the middle of his studies back then. He studies architecture under Hans Hollein at the University of Applied Arts and sculpture at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna under Bruno Gironcoli and new media under Peter Kogler, disciplines in which the creative is just as important as the constructively spatial and medial thinking as well, all of which together are always linked to the social.

Manfred Grübl as ‘agent of social processes’ and as ‘partisan for the real’, here just a few examples from his comprehensive work: between 1998 and 2010 he appeared time and again with his project Personal Installation at international, highly acclaimed cultural and exhibition venues, for example, the Lincoln Center in New York, the National Gallery in Berlin, or Saatchi and Saatchi in London. At openings he sneaked in eight people dressed the same in black, all of them trained dancers, who remained motionless in positions in the space for hours in a rehearsed choreography, their glances directed only towards the next protagonist, an irritation which made the usual rituals of such society events during the evening stand out differently. The significant thing here was that all of these actions took place without the prior knowledge of the event organiser. Grübl stepped into an undefined intermediate zone not only a legally speaking but also specific to art, what always means a tightrope walk along power structures, during which he tries to sound them out. In La Joconde (2010) he was the protagonist himself at a sacrosanct place, inside the tabooed vicinity of the Mona Lisa, protected behind thick bullet-proof glass in the Louvre. He deliberately got far too close to her, and, as expected, was accordingly put straight back in his place by an appalled guard.

One Day Home (2012) was an extremely elaborate project that Grübl realised with Werner Schrödl, not on an international level but on a very local one, still planned and carried out as an equally risky test run against legal regulations. In a public place in Vienna, a ‘house’ was knocked up using waste wood which was then transported to Lake Atter on a low-loader, where it had a one-day existence as a ‘house’ not ‘at the lakeside’ but ‘in the lake’ before it, in anticipation of any action by the local authority, dismantled by the artist himself into constructive variations, being converted into a wardrobe or a bed, which in turn were converted into a boot. Grübl is referring to a right that once existed in the Gecekondular in Turkey, for example, that was granted to homeless people: if they could erect a house or a hut on public land overnight, it could stay up. In this law there was a relatively racy scope for free play which the community and the even state granted to the poor, something that would be completely unthinkable for us nowadays anymore in the capitalist-egocentric categories of ownership and disposition power.
Manfred Grübl works, as we see, with imaginative aesthetic methods on the most diverse subjects. He is a critically reflective mind and a down-to-earth craftsman or service provider at the same time, and he demonstrates how all this elongs together in his art. He founded the self-financed art magazine Version in 1998, of which there has been five issues to date, with the last four being collaborations with Linda Klösel. He also founded the CD/DVD Edition KW.I., a label for visual artists who also work with sound.

Manfred Grübl originates for Lungau, from Tamsweg, and I think that his experience of rural space, the awareness and knowledge of the kinds of working and living coherences influenced him and specifically keened his view for the everyday aspects of a society. At this point I would like to quote John Dewey, the American social pedagogue, philosopher and art theorist who published his prescient piece Art as Experience: “a theory of the place of the esthetic in experience does not have to lose itself in minute details when it starts with experience in its elemental form (…) life goes on in an environment; not merely in it but because of it, through interaction with it.”2 It is interesting that Dewey explicitly includes the animal in this interaction. Those of you who know Grübl’s work will already be thinking why I am speaking about this. Dewey: “The growl of a dog crouching over his food, his howl in time of loss and loneliness (…) are expressions of the implication of a living creature in a natural medium which includes man along with the animal he has domesticated.”3
When Grübl enters into an interaction with his spaniel called Marge, something which simultaneously provokes laughter and tears – he and Marge howl at each other alternatively at the highest pitches – and when he transplants with interaction into an art space, he opens in turn a – certainly philosophical – intermediate zone in which we start to… an beware of the pun here… grapple with our relationship to the “natural medium” that encompasses all living creatures. Grubl has produced a record edition of this howling dialogue, which is available for purchase.

As I have mentioned, Manfred Grübl opens the institutional space of art wide up. A group of alpine wrestlers is entitled to as much space with him as a dog breeders’ society with twenty dogs or a hunting association, like in his exhibition project last year at the Kunsthalle Nexus in Saalfelden. “People interest me more than what is hanging on the wall”, he says, which also means he “could not live from selling [his] art alone”, as he recently remarked in an article on the social standing of artists for the Standard newspaper. That makes such a prize all the more important, as is all public funding for artists who have something with which they can respond to the all-exploiting machinery of the art business.
I return to the motto I quoted at the beginning: “Talk, so that I see you!” This sentence originates from Socrates. I close with the words Manfred Grübl has to say about his favourite philosopher: “I like the way he engages people in conversation without regard of their standing or origin, age and profession. In doing so he has developed a method tom get to the truth. He was always dressed in the same cloak and was almost always barefoot (they said of him that he came into the world to get one over on the cobblers)”.

1 Peter Weibel, „Kontext Kunst. Zur sozialen Konstruktion von Kunst“; in: Peter Weibel (Hrsg.), Kontext Kunst. Kunst der 90er Jahre, DuMont Buchverlag, Köln, 1994, S. 57.
2 John Dewey, Art as Experience,1934 / Penguin Group, 1980, p. 13.
3 ibid., p. 21.