Metronom: You hold the role of Chief Editor for EIKON – International Magazine for Photography and Media Art. As art historian, what motivated you to get involved and work in this specific sector?
Nela Eggenberger: “You’ve got to get obsessed and stay obsessed’’ – that wise quote by John Irving’s character Coach Bob in The Hotel New Hampshire would probably answer the question, why I’m still working for an art magazine. The approach towards this specific field in the arts actually started during my studies in Vienna, which in my opinion lacked both, direct contact with artists and with the contemporary art scene in general. At that time contemporary art was only a peripheral subject in the curriculum of art history. I also missed the teaching of practical skills, which is why I took up internships to learn those. Following that, my second proper job during my fourth year at the university was for an art magazine, which I loved, because it offered me a lot of opportunities: It showed me how to contribute to the discourse on a practical level and, thanks to the label of “cultural journalist” I had access to almost everything and everybody in the art world. It literally opened doors. Furthermore I was able to witness how, after weeks of research and editing, the magazine started to shape up. Moreover, working for such an editorial department is to operate at the interface between many different characters – ranging from the young artist, whose work is firstly published and who’s thrilled to bits because of it, to the advertising customer, who needs to be courted, or to the author, who get sulky once you correct him too often. All these different layers of production were very exciting and inspiring for me… and they still are.
> M: You recently started a very special project: the Europe-wide EIKON Award (45+) for women photographers and media artists aged 45 years and older. What is the reason for this choice against the trend of promoting emerging artists?
NE: We didn’t want to start just another award for young artists, since there are already plenty of those; especially in photography there are numerous of calls whose target audience are so called “emerging photographers’’. By the way, I doubt that most of them have a sustainable impact for the participants. Instead we tried to go a little bit deeper and contemplate who’s excluded by the system itself and is disproportionately underrepresented – which just happens to be women artists, especially when they exceed a particular age. It is a fact, that women are obviously underrepresented at exhibitions and the art market, although more women study art than men; at least in Austria and many other European countries. Evidently there is often a connection between women and raising children, mothers therefore can’t build their career as fast as men. However when these women have finished their first really large projects and want to public with them by, for instance, applying for an award, age restrictions (until 40 or even 35 years) thwart their plan. This saying, many women have a clear disadvantage, which they can’t catch up. The EIKON Award (45+) is therefore a strategy, to raise awareness of this inequity.
> M: EIKON is not limited to editorial activity, but it has started EIKON Schaufenster, a platform located in the heart of the Museums Quartier of Vienna providing free access to Austrian and international photography and media art 12 hours daily. This initiative is part of an artistic / institutional context, the Viennese one, usually dedicated to public dissemination or is yours a case?
NE: Free entry in Austria’s public museums or cultural institutions is rather uncommon. For this reason the EIKON Schaufenster at the Q21 / Museums Quartier Wien is special, since the room is de facto located in public space. Therefore also the name “Schaufenster’’ (in English: “display window’’) was chosen. It’s a challenging space, unlike a white cube it only works if the artists conceptualize something that is specifically made for this room – a site specific project – like the current exhibition by the collective 280A. Overall Austria, which has a strong cultural tradition, is privileged, because in relation to other countries the state still allocates a lot of money for art institutions, especially to those supporting young artists. Most museums nowadays take emerging artists into account and involve them in their programme, even if contemporary art isn’t their core competence. Besides the previously mentioned award the promotion of young artists through the platform EIKON provides is also an important constant of our work.
> M: As editor, what are the main differences today, in terms of audience, content, etc. between a paper and a digital magazine? What drives a magazine today to keep the paper publishing?
A digital version of EIKON is something that we have refused so far and most likely will continue to do so. The high-quality production (the paper, the offset printing, the thread stitching, the graphic design among others) forms the identity of the magazine and creates both a kind of obligation and guarantee, which digital media still can’t provide and perhaps never will. However, we keep thinking about a useful combination of the digital with the print – this could be particularly helpful regarding the depiction of Media Arts, since it can’t be presented adequately in print. Generally we all as publishers should reflect on which content suites which medium. In my opinion, interviews and texts, which are relatively quickly consumed, work quite well when read online: There these contributions can reach a wider audience, which makes sense because those forms of texts normally address wider masses. The question is only: How long will the reader remember this content before jumping to the next page? Contrary to that, I guess most people would refuse to read academic or rather theoretical texts including footnotes on a screen. But this very audience, reading this kind of texts will surely keep the physical copy afterwards, maybe even for years. With this said, I guess the questions of distribution of both contents, online and print, is too complex to be answered easily. And it’s maybe also kind of pointless trying to even draw comparisons.
Nela Eggenberger studied Art History at the University of Vienna. Since 2013 she is Chief Editor of EIKON – International Magazine for Photography and Media Art. Previously she worked for art institutions such as MUMOK, WestLicht and the journals frame. the state of the art and EIKON. On the occasion of EIKON’s 25thanniversary, she published 5 x 5. Photo Tracks (2016). Furthermore, she curated exhibitions e.g. for KÜNSTLERHAUS 1050 (2018), KUNST HAUS WIEN (2015), BAWAG PSK Contemporary (2013).