otto mittmannsgruber / martin strauß, fremd

otto mittmannsgruber / martin strauß



Together with the province of Lower Austria and the Austrian daily paper STANDARD, the MEZ club launched a public art project based on the medium of the billboard. The background that inspired the theme of the project was the sociopolitical motto selected by the European Union for 1997: "Year Against Racism and Xenophobia". Six foreigns artists or artists'groups living in Austria each designed a billboard. The project has featured some 800 billboards scattered throughout the whole province of Lower Austria.
Since the organizers believed that the notion of racism in the more limited sense of word, i.e., racial ideology, hardly can be seen as a crucial social phenomenon and issue in Austria today, they expanded the theme of the project and asked the invited artists to create something alluding to FREMD (foreign/alien). This seemed to make sense also in view of the fact that ethnically motivated discrimination can be seen as only as an extreme pole of social and individual-psychological complex involving behavioral modes and attitudes that are certainly part of social reality in Austria. This has to do with a mix of motives ranging from harmless resentments felt towards German tourists to sporadic cases of real rasism, from jokes about foreign colleagues at work to the socalled "flood of foreigners" – a main attraction of political election campaigns, culminating in the government's present restrictive asylum policy and the policy of integrating foreigners that it endorses – a policy that has "ranked" Austria "last of all West European nations when it comes to integration policy." (Der Spiegel, 3. 10. 1997)

Otto Mittmannsgruber und Martin Straußhad created an explicitly political billboard. Like Wachsmuth's sketch, the subject-matter also addressed the issue of asylum. Here, however, a sarcasic commentary was staged on the Austrian government's present asylum policy and on the cozy, self-centered mentality that makes such a policy possible to begin with.
The intractable - always unspoken - slogan of provincialism: "We will stick with our own!" stood out in large type and seemingly affirmative across the whole billboard surface. But how can this be? An attitude that even in the media world of a small nation would never make a public appeal and is always expressed among its own was allowed here to present itself bombastically and on a large scale? The text was backed by the only motive on the billboard which filled the whole format: an ordinary dishcloth. The household utensil, soiled and obviously used, contrasts even more with the dramatic outcry.
A small, tilted rectangle in Austrian red-white-red forms a third element. Its size and placement first recalled the company logos that one normally finds on billboards. Here, however, was a short sentence that informed one of the present state of Austrian asylum policy: the number of asylum appplications that were rejected in 1996. The sad fact is not neutrally presented as information but rather ironically reformulated in praise of an achievment: "This year we were able to ..." - The positive annual reports of businesses begin with such words, or similar ones.
In this way a playful dialogue was created between the subjects, the "we" of both sentences - which in turn triggers a dialogue with the viewer. Who are the ones who wish to stick with their own folks, who are the ones who reject 92% of all applications for asylum? Are the two "we" the same? And who would like to belong to which "we"?
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