Martina Schöggl is curatorial assistant at University of Applied Arts Vienna (Angewandte) and has been working in exhibition management at the Museum of Applied Arts (MAK). She has been assisting the curation of the exhibition How Will We Work? at Angewandte Innovation Laboratory as part of Vienna Biennale and she was co-curating the now successfully running exhibition for the celebration of the 150th birthday of the University of Applied Arts, AESTHETICS OF CHANGE. Besides being involved in arts, she is one of the founders of Sorority, a cross-industrial network for supporting the career advancement of women.
What should we know about you?
My name is Martina, I grew up in Styria, actually pretty far away from the art scene but in a quite creative atmosphere I believe… yet surely away from classic arts, art systems, institutions, museums and academies. After the school leaving exam I moved to Paris where I was jobbing around, had a lot of time during the day, which I spent mostly with engaging myself in arts. As I moved back to Vienna I started to study art history and quite soon I had the chance to take a position in the exhibition management of the Museum of Applied arts and then as a curatorial assistant at the University of Applied Arts.
Besides my whole career story in arts, together with some of my girlfriends we have founded Sorority, a cross-industrial women network in Vienna. This initiative has become quite big by now, we have a lot of members and are arranging a wide range of programs. The point for us is to bring women together in order to - first of all - show solidarity towards each other, on the other hand to provide each and every woman the highest authority possible so that they can make autonomous decisions. This is what I am doing on a day-to-day basis and what is influencing my work as an artist as well. Partly this is also what has influenced me becoming a DJ.
What made you decide to become a DJ?
… It just came from the feeling that there are too few female DJs. I did a lot of partying at a time and I was always complaining that there were always "only those male DJs" in all the clubs who were great of course but I’ve got annoyed by this classic structure and my male friends were then joking around that I should be DJing myself then. First I was thinking that I certainly can’t do this but then I told Therese - Therese Kaiser, co-founder of Sorority - that I’m thinking about becoming a DJ and she joined me for the same reason.
We learned some techniques from friends and we got together once a week to practice - we had a very academic approach. At the same time, we were simply asking around whether we could play in public somewhere and were lucky to actually get gigs pretty fast. In the beginning we didn’t exactly know what we were doing but such as everything else the more often you do it the better you get. Meanwhile, we have more clue and it will get better with time as well. Therese got deeply engaged with the scene, holding workshops as well and in general, she deals with music much more right now than I am.
When did you start engaging with feminism?
Uhm, actually very late... I’ve been thinking for a very long time that I am equal to my male peers and have all the possibilities in the world. With Sorority my involvement in this topic started to evolve more and more. I started working at the same time and thought - okay, there are systems after all that aren’t exactly working the way as I imagined. What I realize at Sorority as well is that a lot of girls around that age*, start working in their first job and realize that not everything works as expected and there are cultural obstacles to be overcome and are hence looking for networks to engage in.
Isn't the curatorial scene and art communication actually dominated by women?
Art communication is a super feminine field, for sure. But is that where the power lies? In my opinion this is the more relevant question. The classic example is that in positions with relatively little power you will find mainly women. In art curation you can find many great women meanwhile, but one can still rather observe a male dominated scene. This is also true for the academic field In a history of arts auditorium for a bachelor’s degree at the University of Vienna you will find hundreds of people, from which a very small percentage are male. I might be exaggerating but this ratio is definitely changing as we are climbing up career ladders. One can observe similar structures with art schools. At this point in discussions I like to point to the Guerilla Girls, a female artists collective existing since the 80s in New York. The collective consists of a bunch of women who act in guerilla masks and criticize patriarchal structures within the art system. In 2015 the collective celebrated its 30th anniversary. For the occasion, they updated their very first info graphics on the representation of women in large institutions. The results are super shocking. Whereas in 1985 zero female artists had a solo show at the Guggenheim or at the MoMA, in 2015 we are up to one female artist who was granted a solo-show at each of those institutions. It’s stunning how a scene that claims to be liberal and open can develop at such a slow space.
What do you think is the reason for that?
I think the problem is very complex and one has to look at it at multiple levels. One reason could be the image of artists that is still very common in our society: a male genius, eccentric, creative, a thinker, a producer. This archetype of an artist is so strong that women can hardly have a space in this concept. And this has a lot of influence on structures on many different levels. Think about the art market for example: In general, the money tends to be with men, hashtag wealth gap... which results in art collectors being predominantly male as well, and those powerful men tend to buy from their male “peers”. Or: A huge part of being an artist today includes networking and attending many events, exhibition openings, parties, fairs. The ‘market’ or the ‘scene’ expects you to be very flexible time-wise and location-wise, which can also be especially hard for a woman, as women are still expected to do the “care” work and be with their families...
As you have been living in Paris, have you seen any differences in being an artist in Paris and being an artist in Vienna?
I think a huge difference is that living in Vienna is much cheaper. There is generally more space for everything in Vienna. I honestly believe people having more space to work start to think differently. In Vienna there are a lot of qualitative cultural institutions and fundings, space to chill together, through that the art scene in Vienna is much cozier. In Paris due to higher rents and prices in general as a young person you become even more diligent. It also leads to more messiness which contributes to a totally other dynamic. Apart from that, in an international art scene, in a connected world, one can get the impression that contemporary art is very “uniform” despite different cultural backgrounds.
Could you mention some of the topics that are picked up more and more internationally nowadays?
Definitely. Of course now topics are coming into my mind that I’m more involved with. Technology, internet.. Even if art and working is not happening online, still future of art is changing in some way very strongly due to the way how we look at pictures on the internet and due to our space and social perception. So I think this is it; on one hand works are going to be more digital and technological so that as a result people have to perceive them differently. There are for sure analogue works still but they are going to change their form as well, material works are going to be even more material in order to represent a counterflow. Such as works of Olafur Eliasson, an artist who had piled up a huge iceberg in front of the G8 peek in order to represent climate change. Timeliness and singularity could be such topics as well.
Was it a conscious curatorial decision to focus on technology particularly at last year's Vienna Biennale?
Well, I can’t speak for the Biennale as a whole. As last year’s topic was “Robots. Work. Our Future.” I was super excited to work alongside Anab Jain, Professor for Industrial Design, and Gerald Bast, Rector of the University of Applied Arts Vienna, who are both very involved in the discourses around how the world of work is changing also through technologies. Our show, How Will We Work?, which was the Angewandte’s contribution to the Bienniale and took place at the Angewandte Innovation Lab, endeavoured to capture a discourse that’s in progress: what it means to work and to be a worker. The impetus for this shift is relentless technological acceleration, for sure, but: driven by geopolitical conditions and the free market.
Furthermore, for the 150th birthday of the University of Applied Arts we are touching these topics again. The show AESTHETICS OF CHANGE, offers not only an amazing retrospective on the Angewandte’s vast history, but also speculates about the future of education, society and the arts.
Robots: CHANCE OR CHALLENGE?
Both. I mean, for sure it’s a challenge and raises unbelievably many questions both from ethical and moral perspective but still super exciting and will influence a lot of things in the future.
Could you trust a Robot?
Sure. If that’s a good thing or a bad thing, is a different story though...Thinking about how I trust algorithms, looking at my use of Facebook, Instagram and Google, I can easily imagine trusting a robot. Or in other terms: I believe I’m already trusting algorithms and robots a lot.
Will there be a time when curators will be replaced by robots?
What does it even mean to be a curator? We all curate our Facebook and Instagram stream, we curate playlists, flea markets and wedding buffets. However, thinking of the classical job description of a curator (if something like this even exists), there are for sure activities that can be automatized. And there are assisting platforms existing for that already. There is surely a lot of research that can be done by an algorithm but I believe that a human component is needed in order to tribe the basic idea in the good direction, to bring interesting things together, to make links between concepts and to add coincidental associations...
Could DJs be replaced by robots?
Likewise. I think to be a DJ and and art curator is pretty similar as far as processes and the activity they are doing are concerned. Of course there are already existing algorithms; in case I listen to Spotify next week, the lists popping up aren’t going to be “hand-harvested” by one of the Spotify employees, so obviously there are processes that can be automatized. But the interesting part comes from the spontaneous links of a human mind and from the coincidence of human thinking. That’s what I find especially exciting as a robot is not able to perform this accidental beauty.
Text by Barbara Böröcz
Cover photo by Virgil Widrich