November 01, 2016
'If there's no humor, I don't like it'
He has made mobile outdoor cooking stations by stringing together shopping carts with nylon straps. He has driven crazily constructed bicycles through the streets of China, and ridden the currents of the Danube for two months aboard a “swimming sculpture” assembled from found objects.
Now, artist Rainer Prohaska is in Cleveland as part of the fall cohort of Creative Fusion residents sponsored by the Cleveland Foundation. His host organization, the Transformer Station, has been his partner as Prohaska prepares for an exhibition called Parking Violation. The exhibition, involving cars turned upside down in the Transformer Station parking lot, runs November 19 through December 31, 2016 at 1460 W. 29th Street, Cleveland.
Prohaska also is collaborating with Polish artist Przemyslaw Jasielski on an exhibition called Apparat: Retrogression Through Technological Progress at the Sculpture Center November 11 through December 17.
Prohaska lives in Vienna, Austria, where he received secondary school technical training as an engineer. He held various jobs, including graphic designer, hot air balloon pilot and Scuba instructor. In 2000, he enrolled at the University for Applied Arts in Vienna, where he majored in Experimental Media Art and Digital Art.
Prohaska visited CIA recently, speaking to students in Sculpture + Expanded Media and presenting at the Lunch on Fridays lecture series. He also sat down for an interview, which we’ve edited for length and clarity.
How did you learn about the Creative Fusion residency?
[Artist] Przemyslaw Jasielskiwas here in 2013, and he highly recommended this to me. We’ve known each other since 2010, and we always fought, because we have the same sense of humor. What brings us brings together is the black tea, the white wine and taking our art not too seriously.
How did your technical school training help with becoming an artist later on?
I got three things out of it. The first was an idea of computers very early. The second is when you’re overloaded with tasks, how to deal with it, because I was overloaded for five years. And the third thing is I was super bored about engineering technology. If you are involved in producing planes, cars, it’s high tech. If you’re a small wheel in a big system, you can’t change anything. [With my art] I’m in control with everything. And it doesn’t take years. The skills are more playful, that’s the main difference.
When you went into art school, you were 34. At that point, did you know how you wanted to express yourself artistically?
No, I had too many ideas initially. I came to art school and everything started to explode. I was just trying out a lot of things. I had luck with my professors, because the first one, he was not a big fan of mine, and he’s a super amazing guy.
He was hard on everybody. But I was older than everybody else. I could not take him seriously. So he knows that, and he even treated me harder.
But it was OK, because all the other classes I see in art school, all the other professors are like, “Ahh, this is nice.” (The other teacher was like) “You don’t make that again! You throw it away or I’ll throw it away!”
This is how art should be treated. This is why we became friends. And he’s still trashing my things, and I trash his things.
Did you always have a sense of humor about art?
If there’s no humor, I don’t like it. The art world is too serious. For me, that’s boring. For me, that’s not the reality. I’m not precious at all. In this way, I am totally Buddhist.
It seems like there’s a certain amount of improvisation in your work. Is it fun?
For me, it’s fun always. It’s sometimes exhausting. I love when I have a bed nearby because it’s very exhausting. Especially the [Danube] project, because it’s hardcore. It is a 14- to 16-hour job every day. You have to be sure about the weather, about thunderstorms and waves. You have to think where to go to the toilet, you have to buy drinks, buy food, you have to take care of the kitchen. You have to film, you have to recharge your computer, you have to empty the cameras, you have to drive, you have to find a harbor before it gets dark, and then maybe you stay there only one night, so the whole thing happens again the next day. And always in the back of your mind, there could be something wrong.
What are your best technical skills?
I’m not really good in technical skills, I have to be honest. I think my greatest gift is seeing totally different groups or kinds of materials and seeing how they can get along together and to form something which normally no one is doing in that way. And also adaption: You have a system, and you have classical connectors for that system. You have another system, and another set of connectors. They seem not to be connected at all. I think I can see what I have to do easily to connect them. My whole life is improvisation — I think that is my technical skill.
What advice do you have for young artists?
Skip too much research. I think the idea is to find something special, and I think that’s what every artist wants. First, you need time to make it. Second, your mind eats all this information and you’re trapped by the information. Everybody is like “History is the most important thing.” I totally disagree. It IS important in certain things, but it’s a question of amount.
The second thing I would really tell them is it’s very important to talk to people who are not involved in art in any way. I need to talk about economics, about science, about sports.
And I think it’s very important to find a sport where, when you do it, it’s not possible to reflect on your faults. So walking slowly, and normal hiking, is forbidden. It should be something like mountain hiking or basketball, where your mind is not able to think. That’s what I call meditation. I do mainly free climbing. I do a lot of snowboarding, I do hiking, mountaineering. When I come back from a day of climbing, I suddenly remember everything I forgot.
I also think every artist has to learn how to cook. Cooking is the most aesthetic intervention you can do. It attracts more or less all senses, especially when you use your hands. A lot of people are not able to touch meat with their hands. That’s strange when you can eat it but not touch it. What’s wrong with them? So you have to go beyond your fears.
If you make an ugly painting, it never hurts like a bad meal. Painting is the one that hurts the less.
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