Monika Pichler  

Travels in the Living Room
"Carpets" by the textile artist Monika Pichler

by Vera Rathenböck

A "chamber journey", in other words traveling in one's own mind with a book in hand, was the recommendation given to women in the 19th century with a yearning for faraway places. The textile artist Monika Pichler has also dealt with "chamber journeys", and she has found a medium rich in symbolic and creative possibilities in the form of the "carpet".

For Europeans since the Biedermeier era, the carpet has most prominently been a symbol of the Orient. It is spread out as a prize possession in the living room, and when we sit at the table, we stretch out our legs over it and find repose. Yet the carpet is a colorful testimony to a completely different life than the one linked to the Swabian saying of "work hard, work hard, build a little house": the carpet originated in nomadism and is considered a "moveable piece of land" - and if it could only fly!

"My carpets are screenprints, mostly on velour, which only create the impression of a carpet," as Pichler explains her procedure. The surface design is the result of copies of traditional carpet patterns, onto which Pichler superimposes concrete photo material.

For the layperson, the ornaments awaken associations with maps; for the expert they are maps, because every carpet region has developed special patterns. Pichler conjoins and fills the old ornaments from a region with topical media images from this same zone, whereby the character of the traditional carpet is preserved. "It is only when the viewer seeks distraction that his gaze is focused," says Pichler to explain her intention. The trick is in the wonderful coziness that is quickly attained with textile material in particular. The eye falls into a trap when the ornaments suddenly reveal horror scenarios: in "Ölteppich I und II" ["Carpet of Oil/Oil Slick I and II"], for instance, Pichler combines close-ups of birds covered in oil with views of perpetrators of the pollution, the tankers. She interwove this mirror of time with an Indian carpet pattern.

The sequence of the motifs corresponded to the sequence of events, and she used rubber (from petroleum) as a printing ground. Then in summer 1995, "when there seemed to be no end to the pictures from the war in former Yugoslavia," she created the two "Bombenteppiche" ["Bomb Carpets"].

Even though Pichler repeatedly turns to different motifs, she follows the media production of images of war just as continuously as she does the literary and photographic testimonies of traveling women. "Just as a painter is urged to paint a picture, a poet is urged to express his thoughts, so am I urged to see the world," wrote Ida Pfeiffer in March 1850. She was the first woman to succeed in traveling around the world. 150 year later, Pichler dedicated a carpet to her from the series "Frauenreise Teppiche" ["Carpets of Women's Travels"]. It is inevitable that the two themes should move towards one another: "It is very hard for women to go to the countries where wars are being fought today. So here I prefer fiction, although I naturally have to interlock it with reality, especially when a war is going on there." Her attention focuses on the losers, the women, the children, the refugees, all those, in other words, whose existence is pulled out from under their feet like a carpet.

Monika Pichler, who was born in 1961 in Hallein, Austria, graduated from the University of Artistic and Industrial Design in Linz. Since 1993 she has worked there as an assistant, now associate professor at the Institute of Art and Design in the Textile Department (formerly masterclass textile). In 1995 she was awarded the Talent Promotion Prize from the Federal Province of Upper Austria, and her works have been purchased by the Federal Republic of Austria, the city of Linz, the Federal Province of Upper Austria, and the Federal Province of Salzburg, among others.

Pichler undertook a journey through her home region with a camera, when she was awarded the commission for designing a wall tapestry for the foyer of the meeting hall of the Regional District Wels-Land in 1998. "When art isn't hanging on the wall, though, reception becomes difficult," says Pichler, smiling as she talks about the reactions to her provocative T-shirts, delicately printed sleeping goggles, scarves or duffel bags. In her experience, the price drops when artworks are made to be used. Nevertheless, she loves working on articles of use. Art mingles with everyday life, loses its aura of aloofness, yet strengthens the power to concentrate on the essential things of life, as her current motifs - nut and brain - suggest.

(translated from: Kulturbericht Oberösterreich 56.Jg. 3/2003)