Vienna Biennale for change 2019, Kunsthalle Wien
In his 1952 science fiction novel Player Piano, Kurt Vonnegut sketches a dystopian future
in which the United States is the world’s dominant military and industrial power. Industrial production has been almost entirely automated, and most decisions are made by machines. Virtually no one does meaningful work; people are consumers and kept “busy” in government-run mass organizations. Society is divided into two classes selected by IQ: a small number of engineers are employed to operate the machinery and uphold the system. In keeping with her role as a marginalized subject, the protagonist’s wife designs a perfectly thought-through high-tech kitchen, though her creation ultimately keeps her trapped in the social confinement that, as a woman, has been her place from the outset.
Judith Fegerl’s sculptures are modelled on the form of a kitchen, a highly efficient piece of furniture that is the centrepiece of any functional residential unit. She subjects rectangular objects made of magnetic stainless steel in the standardized dimensions of European kitchen modules (60 x 60 x 90 cm) to inductive heating to destabilize their shapes and produce rainbow-like hues on their surfaces.
Induction stoves heat metal cookware by inducing eddy currents and through magnetic hysteresis losses. Fegerl uses the technology to inscribe a signature on the material that metaphorically overwrites all memories and behavioural patterns associated with it: heating erases all traces of the metal’s magnetic memory. The kitchen as such is still a symbol of traditional values and roles. Women, especially when they have children, find themselves cast as housewives, regardless of the careers they have forged. If the high-tech kitchen is thus potentially a counter-emancipatory instrument, as Vonnegut’s novel suggested well over half a century ago, Fegerl – an artist, wife, and mother – zaps it with a jolt of energy that ultimately shorts its ideological circuitry as well: rather than accommodating herself to the structure, she remakes the structures to her own specifications.