by NINA PRADER, LadyLibertyPress & Library
for the project STADT//SCHICHTEN

The feminist collective Studio Fundus approaches me, extends an invitation, “Remember, that mural you painted, entitled ‘Lavare: Labors of Love’ in 2014? It was about the washer women* in Sandleiten, Red Vienna’s workers in social housing in the former electricity museum. We want to highlight another resource. Next to heat and electricity, we want to celebrate the watery pathways and pipelines in Vienna in public space. STADT//SCHICHTEN will be a performative walking event. It will take place along Liesing’s aqueduct, in the 23rd Vienna district. From the brook, it is a short walk along the brick, swooping arches of the aqueduct, up a grassy hill. It will be a day of walking, reflecting, and drinking water, accompanied by dance, art, and sound. You will be joined by Romy Kolb and Jelena Popržan.” How does an idea turn into an action, event, or work? It is a tapestry of moments, conversations, and interactions strung together.
Side note: On a hot summer day, I visit the Roma Wiese to cool off. VAN — a mobile gallery inside a van — is set up in the parking lot. My colleague and comrade, Brishty Alam is on view. She inspires me. She has worked with water before. Shutki (Schüchternfische)* which is Bengali for “dried fish" is a fish-like corpus made of dried clay, draped over steal, ready for filet, or sunbathing humorously, showing its belly. The van’s luggage compartment turned micro white cube is like its refrigerator.
Alam’s chemistry background has also led her to make work representing water molecules (Variations of White Solids, 2018). She teaches and organises a course, entitled “BIPOC* artist talks and studio visits”. When asked what her methodology is she says, “We walk to water and read.” She gives me sage advice, “Concentrate your voice!” We have had many an artists' heart-to-heart along the Donaukanal. Both of us have traveled across many diasporic seas to be here—next to these bodies of water.

The collective invites the artists to take a tour of the water tower in Favoriten, Vienna’s 10th district. We learn big, blue knobs control Vienna’s water resources, turned by the hands of men—albeit friendly and keen to share their knowledge with a bunch of curious artist femmes. We climb spiral staircases to the top of the tower and look over the cityscape. These arteries pump water into all these households, turn the faucets on, fill the cups of the city’s people and wash their bodies, dishes, and clothes.
We visit the pathway that will be the event’s trail—multiple times.
We visit on rare occasions. It only happens four times in a year. We witness the “Abkehr”—the sweeping and cleaning of the spring water pipeline. When this vein is briefly closed, a flood of water gushes out under the aqueduct into the stream below. It roars and moves with such force and for a moment becomes visible. The water’s work for the city takes space. We listen, record, and watch, in an intimate moment of reflection.

On the first walk to the walking-site from the Liesing S-Bahn station, it is nightfall. On the facade of a house on the trail is a fresco of a bathing woman—naked of course—schlepping a big jug of water on her shoulder, standing upright. She is bathed in a yellowish street light on this night. Her pronouns shift, they are a deep sea being. There is a tiny street in Leopoldstadt Vienna’s 2nd district named after the Greek ocean goddess Thetys—a titan’s daughter. Perhaps this is them. Protectors and wardens of the watery gates. A life vest adorns a house—sometimes water does not play nice.

“How can one show the burden, the worries, but also the joys of caring labor?” (12), is a driving question formulated in the introduction of the theoretical book of essays Radicalising Care Feminist and Queer Activism in Curating. This question informed my research on water. Curare (2022) is the title of my series of banners, created for Stadt//Schichten. In a way, it is the second chapter of Lavare (2014). Curare in Latin means,“to care, to value.” The banners were a guiding system along the walking tour, providing a meeting point, backdrop, continuity, and symbolism in their own right within and beyond the project.
Hands were my leitmotif. It takes a lot of hands to hold each other up. The central image for the banners was inspired by a visit to the Neues Museum in Berlin. There, they were: two tiny hands in a vitrine, holding each other delicately, entitled “Hands of a Group Statue or of Two Princesses” (Hände einer Gruppenstatue oder zweier Prinzessinnen, Neues Museum, Berlin). These disembodied hands spoke volumes of collectivity, plural modes of being, and solidarity. Their bodies missing, their gender, sexuality and heritage irrelevant, they seemed the perfect monument, demonstrating the power of bonding together, the strongest glue for survival, economically, politically and socially: friendships, allies, partners. You are not alone. There are so many hands, invisible in the background, performing child care or caring for the tired, caring for spaces so that others might take their place on the world stage.

It was important to me that the artworks not claim any national identity, not a landmark or rigid monument. Hung up like laundry, the banners were not intended as flags but what noted author Arundhati Roy describes as “bits of coloured cloth” ('Flags are bits of colored cloth that governments use first to shrink-wrap people's minds & then as ceremonial shrouds to bury the dead.’— Arundhati Roy). It’s not about “Austrian water”. Who owns it and who has access? It’s about water as care. Water is universal, a deeply political subject. Globally, it is a valuable resource, a human right to have access to it. Wars have been waged about water, people die at sea to this day. Especially in Austria, it is mythologized as a cultural heritage. The geologist and teacher Eduard Sueß—and perhaps it is noteworthy that he was Jewish—was the first inventor of the popular Vienna spring water pipeline, securing clean drinking water, funnelled through lower Austria's and Styria’s calcium alps in the eighteen-hundreds. He saw the need for clean drinking water in times when the pest and pandemic killed Vienna’s citizens. (Ehren für den Vater des Wiener Wassers, Wiener Zeitung, 30/31 July, 2022) The second pipeline was activated under Karl Lueger, Vienna’s notorious populist and an anti-semitic mayor, and unfortunately, he is usually credited in Vienna’s collective memory when the story of water is told. Let us hold space for Eduard Sueß in these lines.
Therefore, processions in German-speaking places are to be handled with care. A guided tour is to be treated with care. You’ve seen them in tourist guide attractions, little flags, so a group knows whom to follow. I created little anti-national guides from boxing bandages and chopsticks. I dyed them blue and cut them into the shape of hands. The bandages are somehow symbolic of repair, bandaids speaking to the struggle that go into looking after resources and people, and healing. They gently waved in the wind, which created a wave-like, horizontal motion. I was interested in the idea of the current and how this influenced the direction of walking. To be in motion with the water or to swim against the current. An awareness that groups of resistance must have if they mean to ignite change in the larger social order.

Walking and water connect us. It creates a place of joy and pleasure and replenishment, a reminder to take care of one another. The day of the performative walk was warm and sunny. The people joining the art walk, wear their sturdy walking-shoes; headphones for all. Veronika Hackl (Studio Fundus) guides the way. Green light, red light, crosswalks. Look, here, in this city, you will find water. Follow the signs, listen to the gurgle of the brook. The walkers trudge through a wooded area towards the aqueduct to a little resting spot. Water on a stick, oh, a popsicle. Do we have your attention now? Up the hill to the tippy top of the aqueduct. Romy Kolb’s choreography animates water through the dancer Alina Bertha. Carrying a water bucket, Alina Bertha runs up and down the grassy hill. er exertion shows the walkers the labor behind the water’s process. The aqueduct has a metal gate, so people do not dance on it. My banner of hands hangs transparently on the sharp steal rods, veiling the sign: “It is forbidden to trespass” and becomes the dancers background. Along the aqueduct the banners point to the final meeting point by the stream. Across the way, the musician Jelena Popržan stands on a stage on wheels in the aqueduct’s arch. Coaxing hums from water glasses, they turn into instruments, she sings a melancholic and joyful tune, an ode to water. Children play in the stream and people cool their worn feet. The banner flutters in the rhythm of the wind. Watermelon feeds hungry hearts. Tough love, water is the ultimate care.

© 2021/22 STUDIO FUNDUS und Nina Prader