Robert Gschwantner


September 20 – November 19, 2023

In December 1999, the deep-sea tanker Erika sank off the coast of Brittany, causing an enormous oil slick. I transferred this metaphorical term for oil sloshing across the sea into its concrete meaning by collecting spilled oil on site and filling it with thin, transparent PVC tubes, from which I had previously woven a carpet. It was the beginning of a series of projects that explore European landscapes that have been transformed in extraordinary ways by human impact. Originally focused on ecology, my focus expanded to include the topographical aspects of man-made waterscapes. These are islands, lakes, canals, waterfalls, constructed for political, economic or technical considerations, some of whose genesis dates back centuries or millennia. The water preserves these artificial landscape forms and ground plans. As solitaires, they shape the naturally evolved environment. Petroleum, water, mud, and other specific relics that I collect on site are preserved like landscape relics by serving as filler for my carpets and paintings made of PVC tubes. 

Room 2

The rugs in the Lost & Found series are a kind of remake and continuation of my Merci Total project about the oil spill caused by the sinking of the oil tanker Erika 20 years ago. While an oil spill remains more or less localized, millions of tons of plastic waste are spread in the world’s oceans every year, some of which washes back onto beaches.

In 2020, I collected plastic particles, sand and seawater on a beach on the small, uninhabited Greek island of Yalis and sprayed them into hand-woven carpets made of PVC hoses. Inside the hoses, the sand sinks to the bottom in the seawater, while plastic particles rise to the top, blocking each other and forming a random pattern.

Room 1

τέχνη (Techni), the Greek word for art, is a fitting term to describe the landscape around the Corinth Canal. The canal, built at great expense in the 19th century, is a huge intervention in nature, separating the Peloponnese from the mainland and turning it into an island. Only a few decades after its construction, the canal lost its importance for navigation, as modern ships are too large to pass through. Geometry, landscape, technology, art and history are facets of my pictorial objects. Each work from the current series of works, The Dividing Line, consists of multiple layers and perspectives interwoven with them. Spanning the image support are PVC tubes filled with seawater from the canal. Behind them is a glass plate, half of which is covered with a geometric motif. The unpainted empty spaces reveal a mirror mounted in the picture’s background. Depending on the viewer’s angle of vision, current satellite photographs and landscape images around Corinth from the early 19th century are reflected in it, framed by a classic wooden frame. The effect of the landscapes appearing is created by the fact that these landscape motifs are on the back of the geometrically painted front. By being experienced as an ephemeral mirror image, the landscape floats in space like an apparition and merges with the concretely graspable front to form a complex whole.