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Art with an edge

Art with an edge

Art with an edge

Heide C. Heimböck grew up in the Bregenzerwald. From an early age, she proved to be critical of the familiar. Even a "strict" study of architecture did little to change her views. After all, in art she finds the freedom to question as she sees fit.

“You made your bed, now lie in it.” A sheet of purest white is cast forth by two outstretched arms and comes to rest upon the mattress with honed precision. These hands have performed this precise action time and again. The heavy cotton cloth is flipped over and smoothed with outstretched fingers. Precise, meticulous, exact: the sheet resembles a fine canvas screen upon which the image of perfection is cast. The task ends abruptly to be followed by the shaking of a pillow positioned lengthwise in the middle before being folded into place. In the Küefer-Martis-Huus in Ruggell, Liechtenstein, a museum set within in a centuries-old farmhouse, Heide C. Heimböck presents her film, projected onto a cloth hanging from a clothesline, within an attic cinema. On the floor there is a pile of beech leaves. ”These leaves were once used as filling for mattresses. Municipalities actually kept lists of which families were allowed to collect certain amounts of beech leaves and when,” says Heimböck, her body language expressive. “The foliage was practical at first, but with time it crumbled, became hard and left a hole where the head had rested.”

Growing up in Au in upper Bregenzerwald in the 1970s, Heimböck never knew a world of beech-leaf mattresses, but in her grandmother’s house there was still the small room in which the leaves had once been dried. The video is entitled “Als ich noch Dein gutes Kind war” (“When I was still your good child”), a quote from a letter by the German painter Paula Modersohn-Becker, who died in 1907. Modersohn-Becker was one of the boldest representatives of Expressionism. During her lifetime, she fought against the patriarchal nature of society. The letter in which the quote appears questioned what a person must do to be a dutiful child.

During her childhood years, Heimböck too was confronted with questions of belonging at an early age. After all, her surname was not local to the upper Bregenzerwald and was instead that of her grandfather from Upper Austria. Her early biography is rather circuitous, marked up by inconsistency. She took her Matura school leaving exams and ended up in studying architecture in Innsbruck before spending a year abroad in Holland. At the time, she imagined the Netherlands to be the polar opposite of the Bregenzerwald: wide-open and populated by cultured urbanites as open to new ideas as the landscape itself.

During an urban planning task at university, she had the nerve to solve design challenge differently than her professor had expected. Heimböck was labelled unruly, overly critical and fiercely independent. Her attitudes, it seemed, were also not welcome in the Netherlands either.  Even though it was only a single experience, Heimböck knew even before she finished her studies that she could not work as an architect. Instead, she devoted herself more and more to photography, gradually adding other media to the mix. “It is the art form in which I find the most freedom. In art, you have the opportunity to be subtly provocative.” In her photographs, Heimböck experiments with lenses, works out the essential from a macro perspective, transforms the familiar into foreign surfaces that nevertheless attract attention. Try as the artist may, the exact effect on the viewer can never be predicted with certainty.

Sometimes the reactions are surprising. Last Christmas, for instance, she staged an art project in a public space. The Götzis nativity scene club invited artists to design a nativity scene for the Christmas market. Harald Schwarz and Heide C. Heimböck wanted to explore the topic of refuge from the perspective of Mary and Joseph. In a typical nativity scene, these two figures are usually on the outside looking in. The artists instead turned the attention of the figures in the nativity scene to a screen instead.

The screen featured a video: in the foreground, statistics concerning people fleeing their homeland were presented along with images depicting arrival, death, success, failure and a reminder that Mary and Joseph were themselves refugees. The work of art provoked some fierce reactions in Götzis: Televisions had no place in a nativity scene, suffering should not be shown at a Christmas market, a holy depiction was no place to make a political statement. The nativity scene club itself, however, vehemently defended the work of the artists allowing it to rise above the criticism. After all, the purpose of art is to provoke a reaction. After her studies, Heide C. Heimböck helped individuals with special needs to transition to the working world. Today, she is a garden designer and artist and lives with her 13-year-old daughter in Schwarzach. Her desk and a blackboard wall in the living room is now her studio. Here she collects words from which sometimes stories or even whole works of art develop. At present, the blackboard reads: ‘Don’t give a shit.’ “My daughter wrote that,” says Heimböck. “Right now I think it’s fitting. There’s also a sentence from the local newspaper: “Circumstances determine behaviour.” This sentence is also tied to Heimböck’s childhood, her connection to the Bregenzerwald… ‘a kind of love-hate relationship,’ as she describes it. The phrase: ‘the valley shapes the behaviour’ perhaps most aptly describes her impression of the Bregenzerwald, though she is the first to admit that there is much more to the story. Heimböck’s own photo series entitled “The Nitty Gritty,” in which she photographed close ups of people wearing Bregenzerwald Juppe traditional garments, testifies to the fact that there is a lot to “uncover.” The structure of the shimmering black fabric for instance. “I wanted to free the Juppe from everything that exists around it as a strict set of rules governing who is allowed to wear it or not, or how to close the buckle properly. I wanted the Juppe to be recognisable for what it is.” So, do the circumstances indeed determine the behaviour? And what about Franz Michael Felder, a farmer, revolutionary and author from Schoppernau who died 150 years ago and whose foresight regarding social equality and justice are more relevant than ever? How does he fit in? Indeed, how does any free spirit meld with the cultural fabric of Bregenzerwald? “So you see what I’m saying, there’s always so much more to the story.”

Author: Carina Jielg
Issue: Winter 2019-20 Travel Magazine