Subverting Vienna by Kurt Kladler


In the last decade, critical performative art has taken a distinct turn: The academic seriousness of the 1990s has been dismissed in favor of a multiplicity of event forms, temporary interventions, web-based channels of distribution, and the appropriation/adaptation of pre-existing formats. Featuring a choice of post and retro attributes, these ideograms light up in the visual sound of the event and the photos, clips, and sound files reproduced through social media.


In the 1970s, “radical chic” (Tom Wolfe) could still be regarded by social elites as fashionable. In the meantime, a new situation has been created through pop culture strategies of appropriation, excessive use of the iconographic elements of every political movement, repurposing of the logos of major corporations or institutions, and the use of the aesthetics adopted by militant organizations (“terrorist chic”).


Radical changes of meaning, superimpositions, the unorthodox use of symbols of power, subversion, and creative forms of protest all became formative influences on the production of art, particularly that of a younger generation of artists such as Anna Ceeh (Russia) and Iv Toshain (Bulgaria) who hail from the former Soviet sphere of influence. The experience that the world of cultural representation is inconsistent and determined by codes of territorializing power has shaped aesthetic processes, which have as their content the dynamics of transition and the shift of attention to margins and thresholds.


A case in point is the sonic research project ⁄S⁄O⁄N⁄I⁄C⁄ ⁄Z⁄O⁄N⁄E⁄S⁄, which was curated and organized by Anna Ceeh and Franz Pomassl and staged at the Vienna Secession 2008–2014, among other venues. In 2009, it focused the activities of the progressive electronic music scene on historical, political or military sites of change in post-Soviet countries (Russia, Kazakhstan, Tatarstan, Georgia, Estonia, etc.). The production of art drew on sources such as spatial traces found while travelling and during stays, documentation of environments, digital remixes of visual and acoustic material as well as net-based visuals.


Iv Toshain has also developed an exhibition format in cooperation with Matthias Makowsky. Staged on one level of the parking garage of the Stadion Center Vienna, the Avant-garde Art Fair PARKFAIR is held concurrently with and in close proximity to VIENNAFAIR The New Contemporary. Its exhibition format is theme-oriented and displays the characteristics of an art fair. In 2012, for example, in cooperation with the University of Applied Arts and the Vienna Klangforum, it took the form of a gesamtkunstwerk that challenges conventional formats of art. At the center of this experimental exhibition setting are site-specific interventions, installations, performances, video and media art as well as the exploration of presentation methods.


FEMINi̶s̶m̶TC is a joint project by Anna Ceeh and Iv Toshain that is aimed at harnessing synergies arising from the formats the two have developed over the years. On the one hand, it is geared towards expanding their audience, on the other it attempts to generate role definitions and discourses in the context of performances, art, and forms of reception that have as their starting point the artists’ precepts and generative settings.


Subverting Vienna


In 2012 Iv Toshain and Anna Ceeh founded the art label FEMINi̶s̶m̶TC. Label, logo, slogan, branding, and merchandising—on the face of it, this does not sound like a common critical art practice. And the answers to the question as to how criticism is expressed here are in no way verbally elaborate statements referencing canonical authors.


Instead, the authors talk of a “modular perpetual motion machine” whose movement creates event structures comprising temporary interventions, activism, networking, exhibitions, etc. Post-socialist pop activism and subversive affirmation characterize this artistic practice in which, as a consequence of this movement, binary ascriptions are avoided. Concepts such as generating identity, queer culture, self-historicization, and formal experiments turn against the accepted notions, ideologies, role clichés, and appropriateness but also against those of rebellion and coolness. This is not done from a know-it-all position, nor does it propose complementary principles of, for example, the definition of what post-feminism “really is.” Incomplete understanding, semantic indeterminacy, and diversity of voices are intended to activate the position of recipients so that they become active participants in the performative sets that Iv Toshain and Anna Ceeh create.


While fuzziness, irony, semantic shifts, and overlays are part of the artistic process and strategic decisions, individual events, exhibitions, and interventions are quite concrete parts of an experimental set-up with assigned reference planes.


Arena und setting








We identify sequences of letters as words or signs that initiate meaning. In doing so, we follow conventions that make it possible, for example, to understand this particular text on works by artist duo Anna Ceeh and Iv Toshain. In the area of art, these conventions are complemented by a number of other procedures and criteria, so that significance can be attributed to the promises of meaning underlying works of art. Here, meaning can continue to fluctuate and there is also the possibility that meaning we perceive as recipients does not correspond to the author’s intentions, but is valid nevertheless. The reason being that fixed meaning is only of temporary character and art is context-sensitive. In a special way, this is true for art in public spaces, as the recently published poster series FEMINi̶s̶m̶TC: ПРЕЙЪР by Anna Ceeh and Iv Toshain shows. These posters convey messages in a familiar manner. The displayed texts carry strong messages and the appended proper names of persons, to whom statements/slogans are attributed, also appear to vouch for their content. To many people, the latter will just be part of the semantic noise of visual city sounds or mean nothing at all. Nevertheless, it contains meaning that is designed to be understood not only as an artistic gesture or through the aesthetics of a somewhat deconventionalized exhibition object/poster.

All this comes to a head, for instance, in the branding of the logocisms, or variations of letters, the two artists place in front of the above discussed ismTC. They serve as multiple names of the collective represented by the two artists. The meaning condensed into these sequences of letters is already the product of successful branding, which has partially overwritten and expanded the original content of FEMINi̶s̶m̶TC. ismTC proves to be the moment of activity that sparks additional projects, action, and meaning. It has usurped content whose meaning was previously anchored in the preposed sequence of letters FEMIN. In an anarchic Dadaist gesture, as it were, Anna Ceeh and Iv Toshain have now invented new isms and played with combinations of sequences of letters that add an ironic appeal to FUCK, which goes to show that word meaning itself is nothing significant. Except as a play of irony, provocative gesture, part of a letter poem or, of course, as an example of a randomly chosen succession of signs which, functioning as markers and sentinels, only begin to make sense through performative acts and, little by little, assemble meaning in the course of an artistic process.


Extrinsic distribution channels


Finding opportunities and creating events is an essential part of the artistic praxis of Anna Ceeh and Iv Toshain. In this specific case, it is the publication accompanying the public space project FEMINi̶s̶m̶TC : ПРЕЙЪР, produced independently by the two artists and distributed in the form of an art journal. As an insert of VICE Magazine, it will be shipped directly to „consumers’“ homes. (An Edition of 2000 newspapers will be distributed in Vienna, Basel and Zurich, as an insert of VICE Magazine in June 2014.) In this manner, further strategies are added to the artistic practice (outside of the “white cube,” and beyond art-crowd territory), camouflaged as merchandising. A „poster“ is displayed in the space of pictures and signs that is a magazine, surely reminding many of the time when the word “poster” first became something with meaning to them, i.e. their first art magazine centerfold that addressed the social and political concerns of a young audience. Mimetically adapting the pop icon rhetoric of representation, Iv Toshain and Anna Ceeh subversively propagate an attitude towards life that is marked by multiple models of identification from the worlds of art, politics, pop, sex, and fashion as well as by a vital awareness of what it takes to create presence.


Performance, performativity, activism


Nevertheless, the cultural sphere does offer opportunities to actively create events where contextualized meaning is only created during and after active involvement of participants. In this way, social and institutional spaces are generated where identity can be negotiated, criticism staged, ideals conveyed, life styles tried out with pleasure. Social, financial and political dominance can be experienced as their opposite, with the aim of initiating cultural and political change. The internal logic of the art world and its constitution in symbolic orders accentuate the performativity in settings such as those configured by Iv Toshain and Anna Ceeh. Performers articulate their positions within the potential event structure contained in the work of art. It is only then that acting and utterances bring into being the experience and content that creates meaning.


These circumstances elucidate the political significance that previously could only be indicated by reference to a post-socialist pop activism and subversive affirmation.




In this context, the concept of art spans a variety of aspects. On the one hand, it is the artists’ product as they design and create settings, objects, works etc. On the other hand, it is also something that results from context, actors, and corresponding dynamics. Reception, use, and forms of distribution are, thus, a part of the work.



January /April 2014

KURT KLADLER studied psychology and philosophy at the University of Vienna. he has authored a number of sociological studies in the areas of art and culture. From 2001–2002 he held a teaching assignment in Experimental
Visual Design at The University of Art and Design Linz, Austria. he moved on to manage art galleries in Zurich,
Switzerland (Galerie Bob van Orsouw, Shedhalle) and work as an art critic. Since 2002, he is director of Charim Galerie, Vienna.