Follow Your Nose
Why Cosima von Bonin installed a vomiting sculpture on the facade of mumok in Vienna
Cosima von Bonin If you search for images of mumok online, every third one shows a sculpture by Erwin Wurm: a full-size house upside-down, teetering on the edge of the roof of the museum as if it’s about to fall. When Karola invited me to do my Hippie show, she suggested installing a rocket up there. The idea was to slightly reduce the online presence of this image with the upside-down house – and so that at last there would be something different on the roof.
Karola Kraus The upside-down house was part of Erwin Wurm’s retrospective in 2006, before I started working at mumok. What I had in mind was to place one of Cosima’s rockets upright on the roof – like an aerial. But it wasn’t structurally possible. It transpired that there are no points on the roof where the rocket could have been fixed. And it needed fixing, due to the high winds that sometimes sweep across the site.
CvB A roof where you’re not allowed to put in a single screw – a delightful architectural error! In the end I was glad the idea with the rocket came to nothing. Because I would have just been reproducing that kind of stupid Erwin Wurm macho thinking: ‘come on men, we’ll overcome this difficulty of not being able to fix anything to this roof.’ And then it would have been: ‘wow, how did they fix the rocket with the puking chick up there?’ And when I heard how much it was going to cost, it was over anyway. You could donate that kind of money to an NGO like SOS Children’s Villages or for the protection of orangutans, but you don’t spend it on a sculpture that will be there for less than four months. Instead of the rocket, we decided to install a balcony below the museum’s picture window – cheaper and not so macho.
KK But the balcony, too, was a challenge for the museum. Although it’s only 13 years old, mumok is a listed building as part of the historical ‘MuseumsQuartier’. To attach the balcony, we had to remove several basalt blocks from the façade under the large window on the fourth floor. This required the approval of structural engineers. Getting everything rubber stamped by the monuments preservation office was unbelievable.
Attila Saygel In the end, the balcony was checked by three structural engineers: first our engineer in Berlin where the balcony was built, then the engineer hired by mumok during the planning phase, finally the inspecting engineer who oversaw the finished installation. So many things have been standardized in Europe, but you can still never be totally sure. In our original proposal, for example, the balcony – which is six metres long, made of zinc-plated steel and weighs about 450 kilograms – would have been fixed to the reinforced concrete wall using anchor plugs by Fischer. But these plugs haven’t been certified in Austria, so we had to use Hilti plugs: eight of them, four on each side.
CvB Attila and his colleague Lorenz are my versions of mad scientists. I have no knowledge of these things. Which is why I’m so fond of working with them. It started in 2001, with my exhibition Bruder Poul sticht in See (Brother Poul Goes to Sea) at Kunstverein Hamburg. I’d already spent my entire budget on an 11-metre boat that didn’t float which I had built by a famous shipyard on Lake Constance. Even so I still absolutely needed two catapults to throw two big folded blankets onto the boat for a performance. Every day I’d say: ‘I’ll build them myself.’ And every day Yilmaz Dziewior, then director of the Kunstverein, would patiently ask: ‘How will the thing with the catapults work?’ Luckily, three days before the opening, he got Attila to come from Berlin. We met in Jena Paradies, the bar downstairs from the Kunstverein. I didn’t really feel like meeting, but Attila was wearing an Yves Saint Laurent shirt and he had a very good-looking friend with him, Tobias. The most beautiful man I’ve ever seen. That’s how it all began. Attila and Tobias then built me two catapults that worked really well, using scrap metal and four Indian rice sacks – I think it cost 300 Deutschmarks. And all I did was drink champagne.
AS That was my first art commission. Today, I work with my business partner Lorenz Schreiber under the name Saygel & Schreiber. We’re both architects. We started out building film sets, but over the last ten years there have been more and more commissions from the art world. We work with a network of subcontractors. Sometimes we drive into the middle of nowhere just to visit a business that has specialized in some unusual technology. We also do a lot of administrative stuff – certification, structural assessment and so on. We’re never really sure what to call what we do.
CvB ‘Saving artists’ arses.’ That describes it perfectly. I can’t really do anything myself. I can’t sew, I can’t design a balcony. I wouldn’t even want to learn how to put in a screw. I’m lazy and impatient. In my studio in Cologne I have Julia, she sews my stuffed animals. She loves it. When I jabber something at Julia, she understands right away: ‘The Bonin stitch here, and here it needs a bit more punk.’ It’s the same with Attila. I can call him and say: ‘make me a balcony.’ Then he’ll send me plans with various options, and I choose what I want.
AS Now we often work with Skitch, a brilliant free app we came across by accident. It’s actually a drawing programme for children. It makes communicating with artists in the planning phase much easier.
CvB I love Skitch. The programme works a bit like those old magnetic doodle boards for children. You drew on them and then slid the eraser bar to make it all vanish again. When I bombard Attila and Lorenz with Skitch, I upload photos, add written comments and arrows – always too many arrows – and then send it back. With the figure standing on the balcony at mumok, for example, it was about the exact angle of the head. One line drawn in Skitch, exactly how I wanted it to be inclined, and that was it. The figure is called THE ITALIAN, by the way – under no circumstances should it be referred to as ‘Pinocchio’.
AS The figure is made of epoxy resin, with a core of expanded polystyrene. It weighs around 50 kilos and is screwed onto the grating of the balcony from below. Quirin Bäumler carved and assembled it for us, he’s also an artist. He based it on a small wax model.
CVB The fact that the Italian is vomiting is left over from the idea for the puking chick on the rocket – but if I were to stand on a balcony 20 metres up, I would vomit, too. The figure is based on an illustration I found in a book belonging to my friend Claus Richter. He often sits on my sofa at my place in Cologne. He’s a crazy collector of antique children’s books. When I told him that I wasn’t happy with the figure, that it needed to be harsher, he brought some books from the 1930s for me to look at: Italian children’s books illustrating the true story of Pinocchio. He is chased and robbed by gangsters. His feet are burned off, he gets lynched in the forest. All very cruel. I really liked that. In the picture showing Pinocchio hung from a tree in the forest, his tongue is hanging out – as if he’s vomiting. That’s the one I chose. Also, The Italian is a film script written for Ferry Radax by Thomas Bernhard, whose books I’ve known since I was 14, because I grew up in Salzburg. I was wondering whether to hang a red and white flag with a portrait of Thomas Bernhard from the Italian’s nose – red and white like the Austrian flag. That was a puerile idea. So there’s nothing hanging from his nose now. And anyway: no snow must be allowed to settle on the nose.
KK There is a moat around the mumok building, so that if icicles form on the balcony in winter and fall off it’s not a problem. But the nose protrudes out beyond the balcony and beyond the moat. If icicles were to form on the nose and fall off, they could hit someone walking below. That would be a serious problem. So originally, the nose was going to have its own internal heating system.
AS Which would have been possible – but we weren’t sure about the power supply. Finally, we solved the problem with a gel developed using nanotechnology. It is applied and polished, but it remains matte, and causes snow and water to run off. That way the nose remains free of ice.
Translated by Nicholas Grindell
First published in Issue 17