Conversation with Ingeborg Strobl (February 2, 2017)
Ingeborg Strobl (1949–2017) was a highly accurate observer of societal developments. From the 1970s on, she looked critically upon the excesses of a profit-oriented meritocracy and broached the topic in her art. Early on, she warned against the consequences of the wasteful and thoughtless handling of natural resources and largely used animal motifs for this purpose. Strobl’s portrayal of animals is a commentary on man, on his repressions and distortions.
One might also describe Strobl as an outsider of art who had no interest in fashionable trends or in the protagonists and circumstances at the hot spot of media interests; she was rather interested in those who were marginalized and all too easily overlooked. She was in favor of a low-level entry and democratic access to art, as can be seen, for example, in her videos, which are available to all under “inga troger” on YouTube. The great significance of what is commonly found on the periphery can also be seen in her appreciation of the “printed matter,” which not only accompanies her work but is itself also part of it. This can be relived both in her mumok exhibition and in the following interview, which took place shortly before the artist’s death.
Strobl: There is no catalogue of my work in the conventional sense. A catalogue reproduces completed works, provides information with credits and is usually something like a sales catalogue. My books, including the pamphlets, are completely independent, self-sufficient works that do not reproduce commodities and can only exist as printed matter, both formally and in terms of content. Many people are perplexed to find that no art theory texts appear in my printed matter, as they would like to have these supplements, which I might not understand myself, as a guide to my works. (…) Many artists attach great importance to having texts by famous theorists in their publications. I am skating on thin ice here; perhaps that is also why my publications mostly gather dust in bookstores.
Jurjevec-Koller: The most important design elements of your artist’s publications are photography, text fragments/language, collage, and typography, along with material attributes like printing techniques, paper, binding etc. It seems to me that all these elements are given equal importance. Is that correct?
Strobl: Yes ...
Jurjevec-Koller: When you make a printwork, you decide everything yourself. You choose the print shop, the bookbinder, and so on. That’s certainly very time-consuming.
Strobl: Yes, it is important to me that as much as possible remains under my control. It’s about being attentive. When I do something, I do it properly, which means I exhaust all the possibilities, in keeping with whichever medium I am using. The same goes for my exhibitions. Seen in this light, every printwork is unique, even if it is part of a larger print run. I like it when there are many copies of the same thing. Printed matter is a democratic medium, but is not perceived in those terms. It can be purchased for a modest sum. That means that you end up owning an original by me, so to speak, but you can’t flaunt it. The book is a utensil with extensive content on a whole host of different levels.
Jurjevec-Koller: It is also very striking that the covers of your books often bear no titles or names. Does the artist step into the background behind the work, behind her own appearance?
Strobl: I have never attached importance to having “Strobl” plastered everywhere. That’s the least important thing. The name disrupts the layout, the whole look. I managed to ensure some of the covers had nothing on them. That is no longer possible today.
Jurjevec-Koller: Especially when it comes to publishing house productions, there are a lot of people involved, and the marketing team always keeps an eye on how sellable publications will be.
Strobl: That was all before this overpowering commercialization and exaggerated pursuit of profit. It was a freer time, more adventurous. Perhaps there were more financial resources too. There was another form of freedom back then that no longer exists. It is enough to have a title down the spine of the book. Perhaps it is also a form of modesty. It’s never about me; it’s about the product. That might perhaps be another reason why my printed matter is relatively unsuccessful, for I no longer have the strength to promote or market it once I’ve made it. The same goes for exhibitions. I often don’t even want to attend the opening. Nowadays you have to put yourself in the limelight, but I was never good at that. I just find it too exhausting; I’m not interested enough.
Jurjevec-Koller: In your exhibitions you again and again place objects from your collection— you have a very large collection, including found objects of all kinds and self-produced works —into new contexts. Does that also apply to the books? The same pictures appear in various publications. As a result, references/referential systems are created in your work/books. Have I got that right?
Strobl: Yes. I’m interested in contextual displacements. What context is an image placed in? That naturally alters its content. An object or a photo can be read in various ways, depending on the context. For example, in terms of photography, I have no interest in individual photos or in selling one single photo; that would only be one part of a larger whole.
Jurjevec-Koller: Most people have a sentimental or romantic relationship with animals. That’s entirely missing in your work.
Strobl: Yes, that’s right. I am very close to animals, but hopefully I can still see them as they are. With the same needs and rights as I have. An animal always has positive associations for me. Even the poison-dart frog has its place in the order of the world and is not simply beautiful.
Jurjevec-Koller: Besides animals, is there any other subject matter that is particularly important for you?
Strobl: Yes, humans’ relationship to their environment. (…) I find humans a very problematic species, with rather negative associations because of their actions. That runs through my entire oeuvre. This means that the works are political in the broadest sense of the term (though I don’t like using that term), while of course it’s anything but politics in the sense of current affairs. I actually suffer because of humankind. (…) I have two lives, one in a farming context and the other in the realm of art. I am also extremely keen on being anonymous. I probably do have a moral motivation of wanting to change things or draw attention to something, a somewhat naive attitude. As a single individual I am completely insignificant in this connection. And I was never an ardent feminist, except in my time with the group DIE DAMEN, where I got swept along but then distanced myself again relatively quickly.
Jurjevec-Koller: You once said, I think that was back in the 80s, “I realize that the book is my favorite medium.” My impression is that this is still true today.
Strobl: Yes, it’s still true.
The interview can be found in full length in the mumok exhibition catalogue Ingeborg Strobl. Having lived (Ed. Rainer Fuchs, mumok; Cologne: Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther König, 2020)
German edition first published in Gabriele Jurjevec-Koller with Brigitte Felderer and Maria Stadler (ed.), Sweethearts – Die Bibliothek als Kunstsammlung. Künstlerbücher und Künstlerpublikationen aus der Bibliothek der Angewandten, book series by Universität für angewandte Kunst Wien (Berlin, Boston: De Gruyter, 2017)