Blog #10: Apres Nous, Le Deluge

March 18, 2021
Rosie Evans & Monika Weber-Fahr
First, everything feels a bit disorienting when entering the Hundertwasser Museum (or, to name it correctly: The Kunsthaus Wien) in the Third District: Hundertwasser, as an Artist, had famously stood out as an opponent of using "a straight line", and his commitment to the curved and crooked - more in tune with the way nature tends to present itself - is particularly noticeable in building design. So we watch our steps and are carefully on the lookout wherever we are going - not wanting to stumble over unforeseen or unseen curvy things on the ground when purchasing our tickets for the Nach uns die Sintflut Exhibition. As it were, the exhibition’s artworks and the context in which they are arranged are just as unsettling - and beautiful - as the curvey Museum itself - and no less extraordinary, which is why we are reviewing the exhibition in this sequel of the LivingLight Blog.  Hurry: The exhibition closes shortly, the last day is April 5!
As soon as we walked into the exhibition, we were greeted with the words THE END carved out of a white surface.  Did we go through the wrong door and miss the beginning? But no, this was a statement! A stark reminder of the urgency for action against climate change - is this the beginning of the end of the world or, the beginning of the world’s effort to put an end to climate change? 
People are at the center of this exhibition.  People and how they cope, often barely, with how their environment has changed, is changing and is about to change even further.  From women construction workers in Bangladesh through to fishermen on the disappearing Lake Chad, we meet those whose lives are turned topsy-turvey through climatic changes - and we get to walk along their lives for a few minutes, getting a glimpse into what they do to cope.   Despite the documentary dimensions of the exhibits, the works we see are decidedly art, in how they stimulate thinking, leverage esthetics and skillfully build on artistic concepts.
We were both particularly touched by Ursula Biemann’s video essay Deep Water. It opens one’s eyes to see the extent to which daily lives are affected by the effects of climate change. One sees hundreds of women scooping mud into bags, bags that then are carried by even more people, one by one, to the shore, stacking them up to build protective mud embankments. There are thousands of mud bags there already, and each one of them looks so small. It must take so much time and energy to do all of this, and there seems no end in sight. Part of the very same video-essay are also views of the other end of the planet - Canada - where actions shift the climate that then impacts those in Bangladesh. Deep Water speaks powerfully to our connectedness around the world.

Picture: The Lake Chad Chronicles by Benedicte Kurzen.

 21 Artists, both Austrian and international, have created what mostly can be called “compositions” - using videography, paint, photography and story-telling - all together finding ways to touch the onlooker’s emotions in unexpected ways.  As you walk around the three exhibition rooms, you will find what speaks to you most.  On your way into the exhibition, or on your way out, you might want to take some time to explore the Museum’s regular exhibits - extraordinary testament’s of Hundertwasser’s creativity and love for colors and nature - early testaments of the environment movement here in Austria and beyond. 
A final note: We found the title Nach uns die Sintflut fabulously well chosen - a title with so many relevant nuances in meaning. For German speakers, this is a familiar saying, nearly an aphorism, often used in messy situations, describing careless or irresponsible behavior.  The English translation After us, the floods is quite correct, but more meaning seems to be carried by what is often considered its origin, Luis XV’s statement “Apres nous, le deluge”, capturing the sentiment of I could not care less vis-a-vis the consequences of one’s actions. The exhibition’s curators chose the title for another reason though: Karl Marx had used the quote in the first volume of Das Kapital to illustrate the sense of carelessness underlying the actions of those with a capitalist mindset. And so the title leaves us with the powerful reminder that the situation of environmental degradation we find ourselves in is by no means inevitable - but the result of political structures and economic incentives that could also be re-shaped and re-set.
We are leaving the exhibition somewhat somberly. And inspired. This is not the end. This is for all of us to shape!
Good for you, Hundertwasser Museum, taking this exhibition to us! We will be back!