‘Belgrade is the new Berlin and Vienna is just in-between.’

Interview for The New Contemporary Blog,
by Kristina Kulakova, 2014

KK Kristina Kulakova
WL Wolfgang Lehrner

KK How did the project VIE CEE start?
WL Two years ago, on a 12-hour bus ride back from Sarajevo, I had enough time to think about time, distance, and the importance of roads: Nowadays, in the globalized world, it makes no difference if you go to London, Mumbai, or Bregenz. It takes more or less the same amount of time and with the same travel experience. The distance is no longer noticeable. Traveling by bus brings you back to the roads our grandparents could have traveled on; it connects you to the direct neighbors and gives you an experience of distance. I also had time to think about Vienna, a city that has been a cultural and political melting pot of Europe for centuries. VIE CEE intends to reconnect all the cities of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire into a possible Central-Eastern European capital.

WL In the wake of the Iron Curtain’s fall, due to its status as a former gate between Westernand Eastern Europe, Vienna was labeled the capital of the CEE region by economists. I wanted to take this ‘label’ seriously and proceed on a search for the cultural extract of this region. Going through the bus connections at the Vienna International Bus Terminal I found out that Vienna is a real gateway to the East with daily bus connections to all the majorcities of CEE. The course was set on cities not more remote from Vienna than a day’s bus ride. Their connection to Vienna – in a historical, cultural, or economic dimension, or just by transport – is their unique commonality.

KK What strikes you about CEE and Vienna?
WL What do the urban centers of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire have in common after one hundred years have passed? Have the cities of the former East turned out to be more Western than those of the West? VIE CEE will offer you more questions than answers. Personally I was attracted to the city center of Lviv (Ukraine)and Timisoara (Romania). They feel common and foreign at the same time. On the mental map these two cities seem far away, but geographically they are the same distance as Vienna to Bregenz.KK You present Vienna as a possible CEE capital in your work. Do you see any influence of Vienna on contemporary artists’ practices in the CEE nowadays?WL   No, at least not in the direct sense. For some artists Vienna might be the gateway to the bigger stage. Probably the influences are also the other way around. Belgrade is the new Berlin and Vienna is just in-between.

KK What are you currently working on?
WL I just came back from Paris, where I’ve been for the last three months, and I am now selecting/reflecting upon my ongoing project World City. I’m also working on my next solo show Living the International Style, which will take place at the globally famous yet locally unknown Wittgenstein Haus in January 2015.

KK What do you consider as the peak of  your career?
WL Staying curious. Working constantly on different projects in various parts of the world. Reaching the level of being an ‘artist’ in the sense of Baudelaire’s definition ‘man of the world’. Taking interest in everything the world over, wanting to know, understand, assesseverything that happens on the surface of our spheroid.

KK How did you decide to become an artist?
WL I think it has been more of a development than a decision. Ever since I can remember I was fascinated by travel. So the first step was to become a flâneur, an observer, a painter of the passing moment. All the projects that followed have been the result of my cosmopolitaninvestigations…

KK What are the advantages of being a contemporary artist in Austria?
WL Indeed, I don’t feel like I live in Austria. I always tried to spend as much time abroad as possible. I like having my home base inVienna, and I’m very grateful to have an Austrian citizenship. Compared to all the megacitiesVienna gives you not just a lot of space but also more time to think! As a matter of its size you can move as in a village – and you are never stressed to miss anything. Two art universities, public art funding, plenty of museums, affordable housing, and the Viennese humor complete the wide amenities of the city.

KK What are the disadvantages?
WL Can you criticize the ‘World’s Most LivableCity’ (Mercer Ranking)? Probably not. Vienna, the city without problems (Wolfgang laughs). Personally speaking, living under permanent wanderlust gives me a very ambivalent feeling about my ‘hometown’. Vienna might be the opposite of a ‘city in the making’, although some changes have been made in the last few years. In general I miss the lack of competition and internationality.

KK What has to be done?
WL   I think nothing has to be ‘done’. The only thing that could be done is: Get things done! The pace of Vienna is very ‘down-tempo’. This can be good and bad at the same time.