By Paolo Bianchi
Sitting on the back of an elephant and observing poor, wild India with pitying
amusement as a discerning white man exemplifies the wonderful amazement of a
European. Those who wish to not only see, but also comprehend will not be able
to avoid a deeper study of foreign cultures. The more one knows, the more one
sees. Those who know, are more perceptive.
It is often so that one must travel far from one's own doorway to learn more
about oneself: the wide world as a school of life. When one travels, the passive
biography starts to become unbounded to take on an active form as a mental geography.
In geo-graphy the bio-graphy returns to itself as another, as a guest. Contemplation
is preceded by leaving the narrow constraints of a home that is not infrequently
more uncanny than homely. Yet one question remains unanswered here: in which
direction do you turn to pray in an airplane?
It is February 14, 1997. The artist Monika Pichler, aged 36, sits in the train
traveling from Linz to Vienna making notes: "There was a certain Ida Pfeiffer
from Vienna, who started traveling at the age of 45, after fulfilling her conventional
motherly obligations, and traveled throughout the world around 1845. In 1842
she traveled to Palestine and Egypt, in 1845 to Scandinavia and Iceland, from
1846 to 1848 she traveled through Brazil, Chile, Tahiti, China, East India,
Persia, Asia Minor and Greece; from 1851 to 1855 she undertook a second trip
around the world, traveling by ship to Madagascar in 1856, where she was arrested
and expelled from the country. She died in 1858 in Vienna of the aftereffects
of the strain of this last journey. ... I would like to awaken memories of Ida
Pfeiffer." No sooner said than done. "Ida's Traveling Carpet"
by Monika Pichler is based on a multiple allusion: perhaps Ida Pfeiffer brought
carpets back with her from her journeys; in any case, the traveling carpet conveys
something that is both homely and nomadic at the same time. "Because it
is moveable," the artist notes. "A floor that you can take with you,
and aside from that, the Orient was much in fashion in the Biedermeier era,
including the Oriental carpet."
Low instead of high is Pichler's motto, or in other words: nomadism rather than
Better Homes & Gardens. Off to the camels, instead of traveling before the
flickering firelight on television. Flow instead of fly. Staying in flow makes
Pichler the habitual traveler, the eternal wanderer, who is nowhere at home
except in motion. Perfect holidays are boring. The unforeseen, though, is what
remains vibrantly in memory. It is often more exciting to travel reading than
to submit to the movement of travel itself. As a reader, Pichler is a nomad
with her eyes. Since the Vatican decreed in 1985 that the papal blessing via
television screen loses none of its effect, there is no longer any reason to
travel to Rome.
When the artist is traveling, it is not only with the self-image of her identity.
She is also on the road aesthetically - not as a new authority, but as a nomadic,
unsteadily wandering and anti-narrative energy. For those who travel aesthetically,
the question arises as to an oppositional strategy, a vision to counter tourist
To counter the tyranny of the masses, the traveling aesthete counts on the subversion
of what is his own, even if that does not spare him from long lines at the check-in
counter at departure time. What matters to him in the course of his passage
is an ethically aesthetic position in a global culture, his intercultural standpoint
in a new cosmopolitan space, his image in the world. Traveling, including Pichler's
imaginary travels, comes from the traveler's pleasure in the world.
March 16, 1997: on the train EC 660 "Joseph Moor" from Vienna to Linz,
Monika Pichler uses the time to make notes. "I will read Ida Pfeiffer's
travel journals and start right away with the first concrete screenprints -
I will concentrate on the things that she brough back or could have brought
back with her. From her journey to the Holy Land, that might have been a carpet."
The artist thinks about what she has read: "Travel journals written by
women are also primarily read by women, because then they don't need to leave
their own hearth."
The reason for all the misfortune of this world is that man cannot stay quietly
in one room, maintained Blaise Pascal, Frenchman of the 17th century, who invented
the hypodermic syringe and the calculator and died in 1662 at the age of only
39. Instead of lying motionless in his room like a cocooned insect waiting for
a new season to start, the human being is a tempo-setter and a restless being:
yet his journey around the world in 80 days leads into a void. For even the
most remote corners of the world have already been traversed. The true garden
of Eden is the wasteland. It would be more appropriate to quote the title of
a book by Julio Cortàzar, a "Journey Around the Day in 80 Worlds".
Monika Pichler's carpets are these worlds - they are carpets of life.
Paolo Bianchi, cultural writer, Baden (Switzerland)
(translated from: Monika Pichler, Siebdrucke, Ausstellungskatalog Galerie im Traklhaus,
68. Ausstellung im Förderprogramm des Landes Salzburg, 1998)