Jan Svenungsson

"Introduction", in: Thought Machines – The Manual to an international exhibition, Ambra / Edition Angewandte, Vienna 2013

We artists use tools to make our work. Pencils and brushes, computers and printing presses. The use of some tools promotes direct expression, while others demand planning ahead and conceptual thinking. Sometimes these characteristics can be combined. One place this happens is in the printmaking workshop. In order to make a print, the artist must both conceptualize and apply tactile knowledge. His or her ideas and thoughts must be translated into something that can be realized using the technology at hand: some form of machine.

We perceive the world around us in different ways: sounds and smells, physical and visual sensations. In the brain we humans order our impressions and try to make sense of them. Artists do not only that; they aim to create sense as well. Our thoughts are not confined to words and grammar. We can use all sorts of different ways of thinking, just like we can use all sorts of tools in the studio or in the workshop. Machinery is prevalent – but not necessary. Regardless of what techniques they use, all artists aim to create work which will stir viewers’ thoughts and emotions. Work which will be productive in the beholder's imagination, work for which there will never be a final answer but which will keep on raising new questions. We all aim to create works which will become Thought Machines.

Printmaking is the primordial Media Art, whose development began hundreds of years ago in the search for new means of distributing ideas, images and intuitions. Today, while many of its original functions have been taken up and industrialized in society at large, it remains one of the most potent platforms for artistic expression: rich in tradition while at the same time closely connected to the vanguard of technological innovation. This exhibition offers a panoply of experimental work by young artists based in Bratislava, Budapest, Leipzig, London and Vienna. Most of them study printmaking, some use it as a platform – and the work they show here is all concerned with the concept of Thought Machines.

This exhibition has come about thanks to a network of friendships and relationships between teachers and professors at the five participating institutions. Now we hope that this networking will be continued and expanded by their students. The first idea for a project was born during a visit to Budapest in spring of 2012, where two of my students participated in an exhibition organised by Professor Tibor Somorjai Kiss at the Hungarian University of Fine Arts. The plans became more concrete a little later when a whole group from Vienna spent a day at the Academy of Fine Arts and Design in Bratislava and were greeted there by Professor Robert Jancovic. Expanding the exhibition’s scope westward, I asked Professor Katrin von Maltzahn at the Academy of Visual Arts in Leipzig if she would like to participate. She, in turn, proposed we invite Professor Joanna Stockham and her students at the Royal College of Art in London. The title – Thought Machines – was coined by Katrin von Maltzahn. When Joanna Stockham heard about the special character of the spaces offered by the Heiligenkreuzerhof exhibition centre, she said: “Let’s make an exhibition without walls!”

A concept was born. In January 2013 our students were invited, in a short text written by myself, to submit proposals on the theme of Thought Machines. Eighty-five proposals were presented. During a long day in Vienna in May 2013, the five of us made the selection decisions together.

The result of the process is documented in this catalogue and, more importantly, in the exhibition space itself. There are indeed works which are still presented on the walls, while others command the three-dimensional space between them, on the floor or hanging from the ceiling. All works relate to the concept of Thought Machines, which each time resonates differently depending on the particular angle from which each individual artist has chosen to approach it. The exhibition is an adventure, which you are now invited to become a part of!

I cannot mention everyone who has helped make this project a reality, but would like to extend my special thanks to my four international partners for their great co-operation and for their answers to my questions in the FAQ part of this catalogue; to my colleague in Vienna Attila Piller whose enthusiasm for a joint exhibition project with Budapest and Bratislava set the ball rolling; to Theresa Hattinger who designed the catalogue; to Christopher Barber who has been busy correcting our English – and to rector Gerald Bast of the University for Applied Arts Vienna for supporting the project from the outset and funding the catalogue.

Finally and most importantly, I would like to thank the artists who have installed their Thought Machines. May they never stop running.

Jan Svenungsson