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Submerged – Xenia Hausner

IT’S THE SILENCE THAT TOUCHES YOU FIRST. THESE ARE FAREWELLS, BUT THERE ARE NO REQUESTS OR REASSURANCES, NO LAST GREETINGS OR PROMISES. The prot­ago­nists are mute. A litt­le boy is lifted up to the win­dow, but even he seems to be stret­ching out his hand without a word toward one of the pas­sen­gers in the com­part­ment. The par­ti­ci­pants speak with their hands. They are not gesti­cu­la­ting – they are reaching out, hol­ding on, poin­ting to some­thing invi­si­ble.

What kind of silent fare­wells are the­se? Why do the­se sear­ching pairs of eyes never meet? And why do some of the figu­res reap­pe­ar in the three sce­nes in dif­fe­rent grou­pings and on dif­fe­rent trains? What kind of jour­ney are they real­ly embar­king on?

At first they look like ordi­na­ry peop­le, pushed against one ano­t­her at the win­dow. But the youn­ger woman with her pat­ter­ned blan­ket and red headscarf loo­ks like a refu­gee, alt­hough the rest of her dress is wes­tern. With her upward gaze, and with the litt­le boy reaching hopel­ess­ly toward her from the out­side, she reminds us of the Vir­gin Mary, the Mother of God, caught in a second­class train com­part­ment. And what of the young man stan­ding over her, with his hand poin­ting upwards in a baro­que ges­tu­re? This is a timeless moment, some­whe­re bet­ween the pre­sent and the era of old-fashio­ned train com­part­ments and a Roman altar­pie­ce in 1600.

The pain­ter lea­ves traces, only to era­se them strai­gh­ta­way. In the next pain­ting it is night-time. Only the com­part­ment is lit, garish­ly. Behind the sli­ding glass of the half-open win­dow, the young Maria is sin­king down as if in an aqua­ri­um. Now she is the one poin­ting upwards, or perhaps her hand sim­ply does­n’t have the strength to hold on any­mo­re. This sce­ne seems cal­mer. No one is reaching out of the com­part­ment. A woman on the plat­form is taking one last pho­to, but the screen of her mobi­le pho­ne does­n’t show the face it’s direc­ted at. From the roof of the train, a pair of women’s legs, clad in sky-blue, seem to belong to the hand that’s pas­sing a bowl down into the com­part­ment, but the bowl appears to be empty. And how could the woman have mana­ged to climb up on top of the train in her high-hee­led shoes? What is she doing the­re? A hand grabs her, holds tight, pulls her down. The young man who’s caught hold of her from insi­de the com­part­ment is loo­king strai­ght out of the pain­ting. His eyes are empty, almost hopeless, without any emo­tio­nal con­nec­tion.

In the third com­part­ment, the­re are no more poin­ting hands. The woman who at first loo­ked like a Vir­gin Mary figu­re is now drow­ned in the aqua­ri­um of her silence. Three other young women have taken her place at the win­dow, for­cing her down. They press their hands against the win­dow frame, as if to defi­ne it. Two of them are loo­king back at some­thing left behind them. They don’t seem to reg­ret this depar­tu­re. They’­re not waving at anyo­ne, not loo­king direct­ly at anyo­ne. A cou­p­le on the plat­form embrace as if in con­so­la­ti­on.

A dis­tur­bing new per­spec­ti­ve on the tra­velers slow­ly inten­si­fies. Iso­la­ted from one ano­t­her, gesti­cu­la­ting silent­ly, they are enc­lo­sed in a latent panic. They are figh­t­ing for a place, for room to brea­the, pres­sing them­sel­ves towards the open win­dow, smo­the­ring one ano­t­her. They are not tou­rists, nor are they refu­gees – they are on a jour­ney who­se ter­mi­nus they them­sel­ves don’t know. The train com­part­ments were once part of an order­ly net­work of time­ta­bles and desti­na­ti­ons (the num­bers on the car­ria­ges still show signs of this), but they long ago fell into dis­re­pair, were several times repain­ted, chan­ged owners, pur­po­ses, end sta­ti­ons, and now, in the age of air tra­vel, have beco­me curious ana­chro­nisms. The tra­velers them­sel­ves are young, dres­sed in modern clothes, part of a dif­fe­rent world. Yet they are not loo­king for­ward to what awaits them. They are too alo­ne, too occu­p­ied with figh­t­ing for their own sur­vi­val.

On the right of the last pain­ting, only half part of the sce­ne, the­re stands a fema­le figu­re dres­sed in black, her hand rai­sed with open palm. She tells you to stop. She loo­ks direct­ly at you. She is not poin­ting in any par­ti­cu­lar direc­tion. Her ges­tu­re is half warning and half ora­cle. What is she warning of?

Current Exhibitions

To the 26.11.2017
Col­la­te­ral to the 57th Veni­ce Bien­na­le
Palaz­zo Fran­chet­ti, Veni­ce „Glas­stress“

To the  26.11.2017
Palaz­zo Bembo, Veni­ce
„Xenia Haus­ner – Exi­les“ in Per­so­nal
Struc­tures: Cros­sing Bor­ders

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1970 in Hamburg geboren, studierte Philosophie, Geschichte und Judaistik in Wien und Oxford. Der promovierte Historiker lebte und arbeitete in London und Paris als Autor und Journalist, seit 2006 in Wien. International bekannt wurde er mit seinen ausgezeichneten Sachbüchern über die Aufklärung, den Ersten Weltkrieg und die Zwischenkriegszeit. Daneben verfasste er mehrere Romane. Radiohörern ist Blom als Moderator der Ö1-Diskussionssendung „Von Tag zu Tag“ bekannt. Publikationen u.a.: Bei Sturm am Meer, Wien 2016; Die zerrissenen Jahre. 1918–1938, München 2014; Böse Philosophen. Ein Salon in Paris und das vergessene Erbe der Aufklärung, München 2011; Der taumelnde Kontinent. Europa 1900–1914, München 2009; Die Welt aus den Angeln, München 2017

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