Plaza de la Encarnación_zita oberwalder.JPG
Plaza de la Encarnación, Sevilla – Metropol Parasol
©: Zita Oberwalder


Zita Oberwalder - Outstanding Artist

Zita Oberwalder is now officially an Outstanding Artist - she was awarded the 2014 photography prize from the Austrian Federal Chancellery. Kate Howlett-Jones spoke to the Graz-based photographer about her work.

"In Oberwalder's work, 'classic' should in no way be understood as static, but instead indicates the renewal of a photographic vocabulary that generates focus, perspective, composition or tonality from the camera. Her work includes a number of areas of photography. The fact that architecture and architectural photography play an important role for Oberwalder confirms that photography too is still an on-going project in the modern age, which can be constantly questioned and renewed. Oberwalder has visited many places and approached them with special concepts that often encompass the personal and connect her images with interdisciplinary aspects."

This excerpt from an assessment of Zita Oberwalder's work, written by the Austrian Federal Chancellery jury who awarded her the 2014 Outstanding Artist photography prize, points to much of what lies at the core of her work - both directly and indirectly.

In her private life, Zita is surrounded by architect friends and family, and naturally spends a lot of time thinking and talking about architecture. In her work as a commissioned architectural photographer (also for GAT), Oberwalder displays the kind of precision and detail that you would expect from a documenter of buildings. Her working method, she explains, is to capture the first moments of encountering a structure, those impressions that cannot be recreated later. She then spends time with the building, absorbs its atmosphere and returns for a second phase of photographs.

Beyond this, she also works in collaboration with architects to produce photographs that are incorporated into the architectural design of a building or garden. These are always site-specific, and again draw deeply on atmosphere. At the Albert-Schweitzer Hospice in Graz, Oberwalder worked with architects Feyferlik/Fritzer to produce wallpaper images of outside views for the interior of the patients' rooms - no lush green palm trees and golden beaches, but rather subtle black-and-white cityscapes that allow quiet contemplation and the scope for one's own memories and imagination to roam the scenes. At the chapel of the St Lambrecht nursing home (Architect Mitterberger), an illuminated square picture floats on the ceiling, framed in gold, allowing above and below to flow into each other. With land architects Koala, at the Loisium Park an der Grenze in Laa an der Thaya she created a series for a wall display. Mounted in a row, like stills from a film that almost - but don't quite - match up, black-and-white fragments of whirling street dancers visualise her sense of the place's movement and wind.

This scope for interpretation, the parts that do not quite match up, is in fact fundamental to Zita's work. Throughout her oeuvre, there runs - both as motif and theme - the concept of Zwischenort and Zwischenmoment, the in-between place and the in-between moment: an ambiguity that is there to be relished. Art critic Ulrich Tragatschnig has described Zita Oberwalder’s works as “an escape route from photographic unambiguousness...not an ending-point or a target, but a point of origin and signpost”. The results are somehow abstract and yet not abstract, immaculate detail rendered to the point of aesthetic ephemerality.

Although she revisits a classic language of photography, at the same time her work roams uncharted territory, constantly pushing the boundaries of the camera and the image. Oberwalder says that for practical reasons she sometimes compromises with digital, but she would in principle always prefer analogue: "For me it has a greater depth, a three-dimensionality". She also favours black-and-white over colour, feeling that it gives better scope for interpretation and abstraction.

Among the wide range of places she photographs, she is consistently drawn back to the motif of the botanical garden as epitomising the in-between space: no-man's-lands where exotic plants have been transposed from all over the world into another. For the same reason she has worked frequently with the concept of borders and of exile, and in particular the poet Ovid's places exile, shown in her January 2013 exhibition Amores – Flucht mit schlechten Schuhen.

Omnia mutantur, nihil interit: everything changes, nothing perishes, writes Ovid in the Metamorphoses. More recently, in May 2014, her work appeared at the Graz Rathaus gallery in her exhibition entitled Transition. Lied eines Straßenhundes. In his review of the show, Wenzel Mraček describes her uncanny evocation of transition and how the photographs move away from the time of their capture "out of history... and to a place that no longer exists, that can only have existed for a fraction of a second in the way that one imagines perceiving it in the picture." Through Oberwalder's particular approach, each photograph becomes a Zwischenmoment, an in-between moment.

Photography is by its very nature solitary work, yet Oberwalder also spends time collaborating with the Graz artist collective Rhizom, documenting their projects in a way that is a mixture of reportage and art and also co-producing interdisciplinary projects such as deluxe precariat El Eden which ran at ESC Labor in Graz in April of this year, and she talks with enthusiasm about a future project which will incorporate her photography within another artwork. It is interesting to see how this interplay between collaboration and solo work, between "a number of areas of photography" as the jury report puts it, is achieved by Zita Oberwalder without any sense that she is compromising her artistic vision. Whatever the area, her photography always seems to create an outstanding connection between intellect and instinct, coming together in a fleeting moment that rings true and authentic.

Verfasser / in:

Kate Howlett-Jones


Thu 25/09/2014

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Die outstanding artist awards werden jährlich vom österr. Bundeskanzleramt für herausragende Leistungen vorwiegend an Künstlerinnen und Künstler der jüngeren und mittleren Generation vergeben.

Zita Oberwalder erhielt den outstanding artist award 2014 für Künstlerische Fotografie 

Jury: Christine Frisinghelli, Aglaia Konrad, Susanne Neuburger


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