A sense of comfort
For the last part of our three-part series on the Viennese art scene, Spike brought together Cory Scozzari (Cordova) and Franziska Sophie Wildförster (Kevin Space) for a conversation. They are both Goldsmiths alumni who are now running independent art spaces in Vienna; here they talk about the opportunities the city offers, especially compared to their old domicile London.
Franziska Sophie Wildförster: Cory, you came here in 2015 from London, where you co-founded the art space Jupiter Woods, and you are now based in Vienna where you run Cordova in your living room. How did this come about?
Cory Scozzari: I moved to Vienna because I was offered a curatorial job here at Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary (TBA21), which allowed to secure myself financially and gave me a visa that meant I could stay in Europe after I graduated from Goldsmiths in 2015. This was crucial for me because I wanted to stay near my boyfriend and my friends in London. Also it allowed me to continue with Jupiter Woods; we decided to start a satellite here in my apartment. I did that for a year but over time a certain disconnect developed as each of us felt more invested in the program that we had in our respective cities, so we decided to split off from one another and I founded Cordova.
FSW: My main reason for moving back after two years at Goldsmiths was a job offer at TBA21, too. I also found it exciting that Vienna has a history of small initiatives that seemed to offer a space of potential that still has a lot to offer: COCO, run by curators Severin Dünser and Christian Kobald; HHDM, run by artists Daphne Ahlers, Roland Mathias Gaberz and Philipp Timischl; or a small apartment space like Garret Grimoire all presented refreshing exhibitions with local and international artists. They all closed down, for various reasons, but still they laid a foundation for what is happening now. Kevin Space emerged at a time where there was a lack of experimental young practices. Four of us – Fanny Hauser, Denise Sumi, Carolina Nöbauer and myself – started Kevin Space in February of last year, and after moving twice we found this former corner shop with large storefront windows at Volkertmarkt. We understand Kevin Space more as a kind of Kunstverein than a project or “off-space”. The difference is in the scale of productions, our positioning and the discursive program and events we offer, through which we try to reach out to different publics outside the sworn art crowd, such as people living at Volkertmarkt and the surrounding area.
CS: Yes, I also realized that there was a gap here specifically in the “off-space” circuit – a term I find really annoying, which I think discredits the work people do in these spheres, but that is a different discussion. A lot of people from Vienna’s art schools have spaces and show each other’s work, while I mostly show artists in my peer group from outside Vienna, many of whom I met during my time in London. I didn't think it was my role to come in and show Vienna-based artists when I was so new to the scene myself. I don't find my program is really attached to one specific place anyway, in fact I am moving Cordova (and myself) to Barcelona and will open there in September, though I will be sad to leave Vienna.
Relationships make up an important part of my practice at Cordova, especially as it is based in my apartment: the artists I invite usually stay there for a week for set up. This means the conversations about the show happen more informally, like when cooking breakfast. Generally, I am interested in work that tries to address certain kinds of geopolitical issues, different forms of subjectivity, issues around feminism and queer representation, also in specific exhibitions; systems of control (as in Viktor Timofeev's exhibition "Sazarus I"); or language and the politics of audibility (in Emily Jones's "News From Nowhere"). I generally try to push artists away from saleable objects to something less contained. The space is a perfectly square room and lends itself to a more unified approach. How would you define your programming approach at Kevin Space?
FSW: With Kevin we are trying to find a balance between international and local positions, solo and group exhibitions, shows and ephemeral actions and discourse. We don’t want to limit ourselves but the themes are often things close to our hearts: queer and feminist discourse, questions of identity and biopolitics within technological globalisation. I guess these issues are more prevalent in a place like London, and a lot of the artists we have shown are from the London and Goldsmiths circle, such as poet, writer and artist Caspar Jade Heinemann, choreographer Alex Baczynski-Jenkins and artists Maria Gorodekaya or Yuri Pattison. At the same time, Volkertmarkt is marked by social marginalization and we try to reflect our position in that context, too. The space looks out onto the market and what is happening inside is completely visible from outside. It is a very specific display situation and new productions respond to the space. We also try to activate the space beyond openings with screenings, talks and readings, and an ongoing series where we invite artists, writers or musicians to accompany a three-course dinner.
CS: Economics makes a big difference for what is possible. There are generally a lot more opportunities here, mainly because the rent is much cheaper, both for living and art spaces. Our situation at Jupiter Woods in London was (and presumably still is) quite crazy. The rent was cheap but the building had a leaking roof. There was a very precarious contract with a development agency that was trying to tear down all the buildings in the area to build luxury condos. It seems that London has become even more vicious ever since we were there two years ago.
When we were both living in London I remember there being a huge discussion on funding cuts, and in response many spaces needed to become commercial – that was a very common trajectory. Here in Vienna it doesn’t seem like it is the only option. There is a well-oiled government arts funding body, even if there are also spaces that don't get funded at all, as is the case with Cordova, where I am on my third unsuccessful application. I think this is because I am new to Vienna, which sometimes feels like a hindrance. A large share of the funding goes to more long-term, stable and predictable projects, which makes sense in some ways but also limits the variety of work that gets shown.
Vienna also seems much slower in general, which at times I have found stifling, but it makes it a nice place to live. I knew some people here already, so it was a little easier for me. I am grateful that Cordova has been so well received, and I feel continuous encouragement from a good core group of people here. Many of them are students – proportionally there are many more students around – and they are very receptive. They understand the importance of international discussions and seem to be hungry for new platforms. But there is a big generation gap between the more diverse student generation and the older Viennese artists, professors, gallerists, etc. There is not much of a middle level, which is maybe where I see myself: not a student but also not as established in Vienna.
FSW: I think that’s a good point. Vienna needed some sparks at the right time. There is a lot of motivation and a sense of visibility, which might also have to do with a growing number of online art blogs. I don’t know if it’s just me getting older, but the sense of comfort and room for experimentation in Vienna feels productive; even if we are always being told that the competition, struggle and speed in larger and more connected cities are the source of their creativity.
CORY SCOZZARI is a curator and artist, currently working as an assistant curator at TBA21. He was a founding member and co-director of Jupiter Woods, London/Vienna from 2014–16 and is the founding director of Cordova, an exhibition space in his apartment in Vienna.
FRANZISKA SOPHIE WILDFÖRSTER is a curator and writer. She received her MA in visual cultures and an MFA in curating at Goldsmiths, London. She was an assistant curator at TBA21 from 2014 to 2016 before cofounding the kunstverein Kevin Space in Vienna.
In part one of this three-part series on the new Viennese art scene, Franziska Sophie Wildförster takes a look ond who is doing what and why. In part two, the gallerists Laura Windhager and Oliver Croy talk about competition, cooperation, concepts and collectors in the city.