Facing up to the consequences of its actions is not something humanity likes to indulge in. The new Nach uns die Sintflut (After us, the Flood) exhibition at the Kunst Haus Wien redresses the balance somewhat. The images on display bring home the destruction we continue to impose on the planet.
- Photos and videos from 20+ artists
- Documents and illustrates environmental damage and gives visual form to concepts like climate change
- Focuses on glaciers, permafrost, floods, and droughts
- All text in English, too
- Runs Sept 16, 2020 – Feb 14, 2021
- See also: Kunst Haus Wien visitor & ticket info
Nach uns die Sintflut
(Benoit Aquin, Berger à Wuwei, 2006, from the series: The Chinese Dust Bowl, 2006-2009 © Benoit Aquin)
With various environmental and medical disasters plaguing (literally) the world as I write this, you might argue we hardly need a reminder of the climate emergency and other negative ecological consequences of humanity’s greed and capitalism’s short-term perspective.
Except of course we do (if we didn’t, we wouldn’t be in this mess in the first place).
One such reminder is Nach uns die Sintflut (After us, the Flood), another excellent exhibition at the Kunst Haus Wien.
That German phrase refers to a slash and burn approach to life – when you ignore the implications for the future of actions taken today. It’s the equivalent of the French expression, Après nous le Déluge, made famous by Karl Marx’s treatise on capitalism.
In the exhibition, over 20 Austrian and international artists use the medium of video and photography to provide stark visual evidence of drought, melting ice, soil degradation, and various other expressions of the neglect and active destruction of the earth’s ecosystems and natural balances.
The work of these artists features numerous locations from around the globe and serves several purposes:
- They remind us of what we stand to lose in a purely aesthetic sense, particularly in terms of landscape and natural beauty.
- They highlight the failure of dominant economic systems when viewed from a long-term perspective.
- They support the mission of the Kunst Haus Wien to become a “Green Museum”, one which does more than just showcase great photography, but also addresses sustainability and other environmental issues.
Most importantly, the images present relatively complex processes in simple visual forms that allow us to better comprehend the true implications of such vague terms as climate change. (Many artists collaborated with scientific projects.)
Photos, videos and other media can communicate messages in a way that news reports and articles cannot.
So we see, for example, shrinking glaciers and the landscapes they leave behind as evidence of their demise. Or soils turned into a mosaic of shattered, moribund crusts.
Some personal highlights:
- Justin Brice Guariglia’s 2019 The End greets you at the beginning, with those very two words carved out of an image of arctic ice printed on polystyrene. The piece sets a powerful tone for the rest of the exhibition
- Benedikt Partenheimer’s 2017 Drunken Trees sees conifers tipping over as the permafrost beneath them melts; a fitting metaphor for the collapse of the environment
- Frank Thiel’s photos of glacier surfaces with their blades of sapphire achieve added poignancy given the film by Anouk Kruithof opposite (kudos to curators, Sophie Haslinger and Verena Kaspar-Eisert). Kruithof’s video collates YouTube footage of melting and calving glaciers, and the combination of photos and video brings home what we stand to lose
- Solmaz Daryani’s images of the shrinking Lake Urmia; stranded boats and a salt lake bed revealed as if the water had been sucked away by some cataclysmic Marvelesque event
- The startling colours in Bénédicte Kurzen’s photos of life around Lake Chad. The deep oranges, reds, and blues contrast with the less intense colours elsewhere
- Benoit Aquin’s 2006-2009 The Chinese Dust Bowl series, where the images and colours of dust-filled skies have added resonance given similar pictures from the 2020 fires in California and Oregon
- Michael Goldgruber’s 10m 2020 Talschluss wall installation. This unusual landscape photo mosaic draws you in to reveal a glacier receding almost like an injured animal withdrawing from the source of its pain
The overall impression is enlightening and depressing in equal measure, with so many quasi dystopian landscapes and natural graveyards among the photos. You might need a coffee (or something stronger) afterwards in the café.
But save room for a (very) small glimmer of optimism. After all, The End could refer just as much to the prevailing destructive socioeconomic systems as to the natural world itself.
Dates and tickets
View the evidence of man’s cruelty to the world we live in from September 16th, 2020 to February 14th, 2021.
The photo exhibition has its own standalone area in the Kunst Haus Wien requiring a ticket. I strongly recommend paying the small upgrade to get a combo ticket* with the Hundertwasser Museum in the same building, though. (If you don’t know too much about Hundertwasser’s art, you’re in for a treat).
Alternatively, use something like the Vienna Pass to get one-time free entry to both the museum and photo exhibition.
How to get to the exhibition
To find the Kunst Haus Wien and the After us, the Flood exhibition, simply follow the travel tips at the bottom of the main museum page.
Incidentally, if you fancy seeing a bit of the Danube (not as blue as you might hope), then just walk around to the other side of the block. What you then see is actually the Danube Canal, a small arm of the river that flows through almost the very centre of Vienna. The main part of the Danube is a couple of kilometres further away.
Address: Untere Weißgerberstraße 13, 1030 Vienna