I had met the Austrian artist Florian Lang well before this interview. My mum and Florian worked on an exhibition combining history and art. While my mum lay the conceptual and historic groundwork, Florian worked on the artistic elements connecting the past and the present. Since then, I kept following his artistic path. I finally got to meet this guy in person in 2015. We met at Phil which is a really cool and chilled out café in Vienna’s Gumpendorfer Strasse and I was so captivated by his drive to explore so many different techniques, his view on art in general and the art scene in Vienna and his personal development as an artist.
This was two years ago and I really wanted to share Florian’s passion with you. We decided on a Skype interview given the regional distance between Asia and Austria. Florian had just come back from his most recent residency in Budapest. When he picked up the phone, it felt as if I had known him for years and was just casually catching up.
When I thought about Florian’s work before the interview, I mainly thought about his “Cut-Ups” – a type of collage with a very strong spatial dimension. He compares the process to slitting pictures and removing certain pieces of information. However, the work of Florian Lang cannot be pinned down to one certain type of art or technique. His work spans from painting, to collages, to the “Cut-Ups”, stages sets, music, animated videos and the exploration of space.
From Painting to Collages
Initially Florian painted, but when he reached the odds, he moved onto what he calls a new “cycle” and occupied himself with collages. His collages are often cut outs of glossy magazines (most of them in the fashion or travel area). At first, he painted the people but he was then drawn to the colour concept and over-stylized photos of glossy magazines. As he could not achieve the same over-stylized look and colour concept solely by painting, he decided to move on to collages. According to Florian, fashion photos are already an initial step towards art because they have been arranged in a certain way and edited.
How does he choose the people he cuts out of the magazines for his work? “It is totally random. I don’t want to know who they are. In ten years, every one of the people chosen will be irrelevant.” Recently, he moved on to cutting out people from Austrian regional newspapers. He chooses the section reporting about local events showing the “who-is-who” of the towns.” I ask him how he moved on from glossy magazines to the “who-is-who” section of regional newspapers. “It is about self-staging, similar to what people do on social media. I do not make fun of these people, for me the randomness is important.”
These collages later developed into his so-called spatial “Cut-Ups”. “It works like slitting things up. I remove certain pieces of information.” The Cut-Ups developed out of his work with stage sets. These Cut-Ups are very diverse in size. Florian worked on works in postcard format during his stay in Istanbul. When he returned to Austria, he was bored with the topic, he even was annoyed with it. So annoyed that he even cut some of the works. As a result, he moved on to a music project with animated videos. He re-focussed on visual arts again in 2016.
From Music Videos to Pseudo-Space
In 2016, he returned to his 2D work and occupied himself with crowds. His “Stadium” works are a result of this phase.
“It is almost like Jackson Pollock – it’s like limitless, all-over pixels. In the beginning, I just sprinkled confetti. Only because of certain frame structures it turned into space. This again resulted in more colour, more surface, less crowds and more space, more precisely a pseudo-space.”
The limits of the canvas disappear and Florian aims to move towards a state where objects and people develop out of this. Suddenly, the picture becomes and object, it is spatial even though it is flat. When you are in front of the work, it is not as obvious. But when you take a picture of it, it becomes more spatial.
“I love this idea of an artificial situation, it is two worlds in which the reflection of reality is more plastic than the reality itself.”
Florian Lang grew up in the small town of Stinatz in South-East Austria. He moved to Vienna to study visual arts – that was his first and official reason. The second, and probably not less important reason was to venture out, move out from home and be with his girlfriend at the time who already lived in Vienna. As plans often do not turn out as you want them to, Florian did not pass the entrance exam for visual arts which tossed him into a phase experiencing a lack of vision. His mother proved to be the supporting force for him to keep going. “Why don’t you study architecture? You do not need to study visual arts now”. It was a viable solution for him and he still appreciates his mother’s understanding. He enrolled in architecture and retook the visual arts exam and passed.
The studies in architecture might be one reason why Florian is fascinated with space. He thinks he has always been driven to build spaces. Already as a kid growing up in the countryside he built tree houses, caves dams in the creeks. He always was obsessed with building his own world. His uncle is a sculptor, maybe that was also a subconscious influence for his professional choice.
“I don’t think about space in the traditional sense, I see it more like in Photoshop – one layer lies on top of the next. My challenge is to break up the space as we see it.”
He recently went to explore medieval art in Hungary and saw similarities to his work. Medieval art is about positioning and arranging objects and people. Very often, objects in the back are bigger. This historic type of working with space is also reflected in Florian’s contemporary artistic work.
Travelling as a Tool to Develop One’s Artistic Path
Florian and I share the passion for travelling and exploring new things. He left his home town for Vienna and then went on to Glasgow when he was 23 and London a year later. At the moment, his main way of travelling is participating in international residences. They offer structure and context and an opportunity to get to know the location better and network. Travelling also made Florian more aware about things in front of his own door step. He started snorkelling in the Danube, for example.
“I recently passed by this house with countless chimneys in Vienna. I have been passing this house for more than 15 years and only recently, I have noticed it!”
Regardless of his need to explore new things, Florian regards coming home after travelling as very important. “I need a home base, wherever this is, it doesn’t have to be Vienna. But it needs to be a peaceful place to process all the new experiences.”
According to Florian, the biggest challenge of a young artist is to develop their own style, their own signature. His big aim is to develop what he calls a “filter” for his work. He does not want to be pinned down to one certain topic but a certain filter should help to recognize all his work as his. By filter he understands that this is something he can put over every topic he is interested in. Florian compares it to a vintage filter which can by applied on photos. Similar to this vintage filter, he aims at applying his filter onto every topic but still making his works recognizable as “Florian Lang works” in the end despite that filter.
The key is to lay down the foundations of your work by trying different techniques, based on the philosophy of the Bauhaus: During the first year of education, Bauhaus students had to try all the different kinds of visual art. Because Florian studied art with a view to becoming a teacher as a potential backup, he had four years of looking into different dimensions of art and techniques. This long training is what he considers the foundation of his diverse artistic path.
His engagement in the music field also helped him diversify into areas like video animation. He told me that he sometimes questioned the decision of studying visual arts to become a teacher. But now he thinks it was a great way to learn. Things like writing a Master Thesis taught him how to write texts, for example. A tool that comes in handy for catalogues, exhibitions and marketing.
“Art Is Always Business.”
Marketing is a very important part of an artist’s work, even though a lot of artists do not want to see it, according to Florian. This year, until July he spent 70% of his work on Marketing, which is, of course, a time-consuming distraction from his actual work as an artist. By July he had only finished three works. Florian tries to juggle the two and find the right balance.
Florian’s stance on social media is actually quite neutral – he thinks it is something that we have to live with and we can use for us. He is more troubled by people who do not respect art at exhibitions or gallery openings – when sculptures become places where you leave your wine glass, for example. As an artist, you have to factor this into your planning of your artworks – we do not want to build a fence around our work. Hence, we need to deal with it. At one of his previous exhibitions, his artistic partner’s artwork was made of paper scattered on the floor. It did not even take 10 minutes until people started walking over it. A lot of the visitors were confused and did not know if it was expected from them to walk over the work. Fortunately, the paper was covered with a type of wax and was not destroyed after the exhibition.
I ask Florian about his countless awards and whether they are important to him. He agrees that certainly, awards are a great way of recognition and stroke one’s ego. In addition, there is the financial perspective and, even more importantly, the marketing dimension. His last exhibition was broadcast in three TV shows and resulted in a high number of visitors and sales of a lot of works. If friends get an award you were also hoping to get there is, of course, a bit of jealousy. However, Florian considers this a type of positive competition that pushes him to new limits.
One of the areas he said he underestimated was when he was younger was the power of networking. He has always been a good networker but more because he is a very social and easy-going person. He tried to network for the sake of networking but was not successful. Somehow, his genuine way of networking seems to work out well for him though.
The issue with curators, according to Florian, is that sometimes they consider themselves as artists as well instead of the facilitators for artists. They often tend to decide on a certain topic and then ask the artists to produce something new which fits to that topic. Very rarely do they include works that have already been made by artists before. Hence, the artists are burdened with additional artworks that might not have anything to do with the current topics they focus on.
Florian agrees that visitors need explanatory texts when they see contemporary art. He gave me an example of two works he saw at documenta 13: Florian was standing in front of a block of bricks that were painted. His first reaction was “OK, what the f*** is this? That’s not interesting at all.” However, when he read more about the work he found out that in 1956 in Czechoslovakia, radios were prohibited because the Soviets called it “false-propaganda”. As a reaction to that law, artists used bricks which they painted to look like radios and went onto the streets. These stones were confiscated.
The second example was a flipbook of people moving. At first sight, it seemed like nothing special. Yet, these pictures showed assassins and were taken by the victims of war assassinations on their phones shortly before they were killed. “It is incredible, imagine, the people still took pictures so shortly before their death and then the phones were found and made into an artwork. It just gave me goose bumps.” And while Florian was telling the story, I shivered as well. Without additional information, these important works would not be understood.
I asked him if art that needs explanatory texts tends to be elitist – “Well, of course it is, but artists often do not want to produce art that is easily accessible. With my works, it is a bit easier, I think it is very accessible, even for people who don’t have any idea about contemporary art. But I think you need both types – the accessible and the elitist art.”
His long-term goal as an artist is to finance his projects and develop his art further. The above-mentioned cycles will probably be further extended. A current area he would like to dive in deeper is film because it comprises everything he has done so far – painting, object, sculpture, time, sound and animation – and would allow him to take it to the next level. I am sure we will see a lot more works by Florian. He is definitely an artist to watch.
Pictures courtesy of Florian Lang (unless otherwise stated) | Website: www.florianlang.com