Museums answer questions, but ask them too. The Dark Pairing exhibition at Vienna’s Weltmuseum, for example, uses images of plants enmeshed in yarn to encourage critical examination of colonial history.
- Contemporary art by Wie-yi T. Lauw
- Exhibition spread among several of the permanent galleries
- Runs May 20, 2021 – Mar 29, 2022
- Viewable with a standard museum entrance ticket*
- See also: Weltmuseum ticket and visitor tips
Flowers, nets and colonialism
(Press photo © Wie-yi T. Lauw)
A danger for any ethnographic museum is to shy from critical assessment and turn into a museum as mummified as anything in the Kunsthistorisches Museum’s Ancient Egypt galleries.
Not so the Weltmuseum Wien, whose temporary exhibitions may indeed present historical cultural items, but always seem to use the opportunity to raise contemporary issues. They ask us to think (a dangerous concept indeed).
The Dark Pairing exhibition (Dunkle Paarung in German) sees the museum venture into the field of contemporary art, but with the same mandate. Window spaces in various galleries play host to screen images by Vienna-born and Berlin-based artist, Wie-yi T. Lauw.
These images show exotic (and that word alone invites introspection) plants intertwined with knotted yarn that is something between a thread and a net: the kind of form you find discarded on the rocks of a small fishing harbour.
This pairing raises questions. Is the net captor or carrier? Enabler or barrier?
The images offer a representation and questioning of colonial rule: the indigenous enmeshed by the usurper. As with all art, the outcome is a matter of subjective understanding. The colonial powers might have answered “carrier” and “enabler” to the above questions. The rest of us beg to differ.
My shoulder bag always contains a notebook, bottle of water and several kilos of cynicism, but examination of T. Lauw’s work, where an orchid might bloom within the constraints of the yarn, immediately conjured up exactly the kind of questions that fall within the remit of an ethnographic museum.
The concept of the pictures first received a quizzical glance, but then the parallels became self-evident after a little thought.
Anyone who has grown clematis or similar knows how difficult it can be to separate a plant from an old net. And yet not to do so is to limit the self-expression and growth of that flower. How do you remove the net to allow the plant its freedom? The flower blooms even now, but the yarn sends white scars across the surface. And so the metaphors grow.
The series of installations is part of an EU-funded cooperation project (TAKING CARE) initiated by the Weltmuseum Wien, where various museal institutions use their collections to encourage critical thinking about the planet’s past and amenable directions for the future.
Tickets and dates
See the works from May 20th, 2021 to March 29th, 2022. There is no extra charge to view them: an entrance ticket* includes the temporary exhibitions and T. Lauw’s works are integrated into the permanent exhibition anyway. A Vienna Pass gets you one-time entry for free.
How to get to the exhibition
Find your way to the Weltmuseum Wien, then go up one floor where you’ll find a map that shows you the locations of the images among the permanent galleries. Look out for other exhibitions while there, such as I saw more than I can tell. In particular, watch for the Treasures from the Forbidden City exhibition due across autumn and winter 2021/2022.
Address: Heldenplatz, 1010 Vienna