Bust Talks is an ongoing performance series based on the assumption that busts and statues are not soulless objects, but potential interlocutors whose experiences and views can unfold a new perspective on our present. My dialogue partners included historical and controversial personalities such as Hans Klöpfer, Josef Werndl, Friedrich W. Raiffeisen and Rudolf Steiner or mystical figures such as Sphinx, Atlas or Illumina.
Read more with a text by Mirela Baciak.


Trümmerfrau

The Trümmerfrau [Rubble women] memorial was initiated by the radical right-wing FPÖ on a private property in the centre of Vienna. The “Trümmerfrauen” were the women who cleared the rubble from the cities during and after the war. However, there is another side to what sounds selfless and solidary. Historical research has shown that it was not voluntary labour, but a punitive measure for former female Nazis.
– Produced by the City of Vienna, 2024



Atlas

In architecture, the Atlas statue is a larger-than-life male "bearer" of a load-bearing architectural element, so named for the Titan of Greek mythology, who had to carry the vault of heaven. My interlocutor was deprived of his actual function and placed in a dark corridor in the lower Belvedere. What does this de-functionalization do to someone who was used to constantly showing off his strength and resilience?
– Commissioned & produced by Belvedere, 2023; photo by



Sphinx

Drawing on Egyptian and Greek mythology, the revived Mannerist sphinx of the late 15th century became a fixture of decorative outdoor sculpture in 18th-century palace gardens. There are more than 20 of them in the gardens of the Upper Belvedere in Vienna. In the course of our conversation, surprisingly, it turns out that they are not decoration at all, but a collective of artists.
– Commissioned & produced by Belvedere, 2023; photo by



Alexander Ecker

The bust of scientist Alexander Ecker was taken down some years ago, because of his scientific involvement in colonialism. Alexander Ecker not only made an intellectual contribution to racial theory, but also amassed an extensive skull collection, which is still stored inaccessibly in Freiburg. Some of the skulls demonstrably originate from a context of injustice, for example from the concentration camps of the former colonies. Howeber, the ghost of Alexander Ecker ist still present and looks rather relaxed at this conflict and is all the more enthusiastic about our present scientific abilities.
– Museum für Neue Kunst, Freiburg, 2022; photo by



Die Ausschauende

A conversation with an anti-war memorial that ostensibly commemorates the war widows of World War II. The conversation revolves around the theme of mourning and the dubious privilege of female statues to publicly represent mourning.
– Commissioned & produced by Kunstverein Siegen, 2023; photo by



Illumina

In 2014, the so-called Illumina 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).
– Commissioned & produced by Biennale für Freiburg, 2021



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.
– Commissioned & produced by steirischerherbst, 2019; photo by



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.
– Commissioned & produced by Kunsthalle Emden, 2019



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.
– Commissioned & produced by Ausstellungsraum Klingental, 2021



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.
– Commissioned & produced by Wiener Festwochen, 2021; photo by Franzi Kreis


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.