Bust Talks

Ongoing performance series, since 2019

Thomas Geiger‘s Bust Talks are in a way contemporary séances that follow the decorum of a talk show. With the interview being his tool, Geiger investigates what the present might have in common with the past by questioning its witnesses. He treats objects as subjects and gives them attention that they otherwise would not receive … (read more of The Ghost is present by Mirela Baciak)

Bust Talk–Illumina

In the Stadtgarten Freiburg stands the so-called Illumina. In 2014, the statue was damaged by unknown persons and remains in this condition today. Since then, the statue has been missing its head; the Illumina has become ‘the decapitated’. In preparation for the discussion, possible answers of the statue to the artist's questions were found in collaboration with a group of people from Freiburg: Birgit Heidtke (Feminist history-werkstatt), Sévérine Kpoti (HereandBlack), Oliver Matthes (FREIeBÜRGER) and Dieter Roeschmann (Municipal Comission Art in public Space).

– Biennale für Freiburg, 2021, 25:22 min

Bust Talk–Hans Klöpfer

Hans Kloepfer was a doctor and local poet and is still an important identity figure in Styria today. But he was also a convinced National Socialist and that from the first hour. Nevertheless, a bust of him stands on the Schlossberg in Graz, among other places.

– steirischer herbst, 2019, 26:00 mi

Bust Talk–Kifwebe

A conversation with an East African Songye mask that has been in the possession of Kunsthalle Emden for several years. As a matter of fact, the provenance of the mask is unclear.

– Kunsthalle Emden, 2019, 18:52 min

Bust Talk–Ludwig van Beethoven

Ludwig van Beethoven is known as a great composer. But he also had a keen interest in economics and was concerned a fair payment. The conversation with Beethoven not only revolves around these economic questions, but also leads to the idealistic value of artistic work to society.

– Wiener Festwochen, 2020, 24:05 min

Bust Talk–Mutter

This conversation took place with an anonymous woman sitting on the grave of Johann Jakob Bachofen. Bachofen is the author of The Mother‘s Right a controversial book about how an early matriarchy evolved into a culturally superior patriarchy. Our conversation is not only about Bachofen, but mostly about the appearance and use of allegories within statutes.

– Ausstellungsraum Klingental, Basel, 2020, 23:40 min

Bust Talk–Friedrich Wilhelm Raiffeisen

The social reform of Friedrich W. Raiffeisen were a response to industrialization and the rampant capitalism of his time. Raiffeisen appealed for a “good capitalism” and a society based on solidarity, because “growing inequality is one of the greatest dangers to society.”

– Kunstraum Niederösterreich, 2019, 19:30 min

Bust Talk–Josef Werndl

This two-part series of Bust Talks took place at the Werndl Memorial in Steyr. Josef Werndl was an Austrian arms manufacturer and an important figure in early industrial capitalism. He saw himself as a social capitalist, as he invested in education, medical care and the infrastructure of his workers and his region. But can something be social if profit is part of it? The Werndl monument itself illustrates the core of this economic system much more honestly: it is based on oppression and social inequality. The industrialist stands raised on a column, while his workers sit below. I interviewed not only Mr. Werndl, but also one of his workers.

– LandesausstellungOÖ, 2021, 26:57 min

Bust Talk–Der Arbeiter [The Worker]

This is the second part of the Bust Talks series at the Werndl monument - this time with one of Werndl's workers. The conversation is about the failure of the social democratic movement in the 20th century and how to counteract the greed of the capitalistic system.

– LandesausstellungOÖ, 2021, 24:48 min

The Ghost is present
Mirela Baciak

There is no evidence that the words guest and host are etymologically connected with the word ghost*. While guests and hosts are graspable beings whose relation constitutes the problem of hospitality, ghosts are ambivalent figures. The ghost is present somewhere between me and you. It is a familiar-other who embodies the tension between the personal and the collective. The ghost is a performer who possesses a strange, timeless authority. The public is transfixed in awaiting its speech. The ghost is a host that teaches the social imaginary and gives advice on how to live. The ghost is a guest whose hosting is a risky endeavor. It remembers things that nobody else remembers and it might want to say them forever.

Ghosts are also known to be invisible, although many believe that they manifest in things. Things on the other hand, despite being material, often remain unnoticed themselves. Think about public statues. We pass next to them on the street, in the library, or at the university, in a museum, sometimes they are even part of the building that we live or work in. But unless they are contested, busts, monuments and other public sculptures done at one time for posterity remain unseen in our contemporary everyday life. Such an invisibility can have its advantages, of course. While being invisible, a ghost can sit and watch the life of others and thrill to it, without them knowing that it is there, until one gives them attention. One might, for example, attempt to talk to a ghost, as Thomas Geiger does in his performance series Bust Talks. There is, however, still no evidence that ghosts exist in public.

Thomas Geiger‘s Bust Talks are in a way contemporary séances that follow the decorum of a talk show. With the interview being his tool, Geiger investigates what the present might have in common with the past by questioning its witnesses. He treats objects as subjects and gives them attention that they otherwise would not receive. The protagonists in Bust Talks are not always angels; their study provides a lesson in confronting contradictions and looking at history from different perspectives. In specific episodes, the show is about how to talk to someone with whom you disagree – with Dr. Hans Klöpfer, understanding otherness and belonging – with Kifwebe, providing a stage for a reinterpretation of her story - with Mutter, imagining better futures - with Friedrich Wilhelm Raiffeisen, and revising ideas about the freedom of art and its usefulness - with Ludwig van Beethoven. Performance becomes here a stage for debate and discourse and a hospitable situation in which everybody can see and hear from different positions. Above all, Bust Talks make clear that if there is something that a guest, a ghost and a host have in common, it is how they all play into the process of the renegotiation of identity.

It is common knowledge that hospitality can take different directions and lead to different results. At its best, the act of hospitality is about self-othering, it is a counterforce to narcissism, and a process resulting in mutual recognition, that might lead to a transformation of the self. At its worst, however, hospitality is relation of power, a game of separating oneself from the other in multiple ways. It can manifest in an exertion of control over the guest out of fear about the loss of one’s power and identity. In practice the positions of guests and hosts constantly fluctuate. A guest can turn into a host, or into a ghost, who can once again turn into either guest or host, and again, forevermore.

*In 1953 Marcel Duchamp proposed a witty equation: A Guest + A Host = A Ghost indicating a somewhat magical merging of the two figures of hospitality into an entity between the self and other.

Mit freundlicher Unterstützung von: BBK-Bundesverband / NEUSTART