A year of working in London’s most prestigious galleries left Tom Austin unimpressed, unsatisfied and empty. When he arrived at Pilotenküche the beginning of June, he didn’t know if he wanted to make art anymore. The sometimes self-serving, complacent aspects of the art industry, led the artist to question the long-established hierarchies within it, and their impact on the process of art-making and on society itself. In order to gain distance and dissociate with the world he had been disappointed with, Tom left. He spent 6 months working on farms and volunteering.
‘Pilotenkueche is a cool chance to re-engage with art’, he says. ‘I am trying to find a new sense for art making: I really struggle with the why at the moment.’ He is currently looking for ways to create art which help empower himself and other people.
With the effects of the climate crisis being more vigorously and immediately noticeable than ever, Tom’s most recent practice is largely focusing on the interconnectedness between the anthropogenic destruction of the planet, the existing global power structures and the entrenched elitism of our national institutions, and correlatively on the way cultures are shaped and altered by these entities.
Earlier this year, Tom held a 45 minute-long lecture in The Hague, generating a long overdue debate around the matter. The artist argued that the gallery world helps sustain the status quo: ‘It’s designed to stop us from thinking outside the box, to put us in our place, and it is run by elites who want to keep things the same. It is actually stopping us from taking any actions on climate change.’
The lecture thematised the growing use of fossil fuels in the 18th and 19th century, and the environmental, societal and cultural changes that came with it. It spurred the development of colonialism and the propagation of exploitative working ethics, culminating in an immoral extractivist system that is still in place today.
With the leading economies still nestled in the colonialist mindset of the past, they continue to exert their dominance and expropriate the world’s poorest nations of their natural resources. Tom highlights that the idea of superiority, of territorial and cultural hegemony over other humans, stems from the radical rationalist thought of the Enlightenment Era, the concept of man’s sublime position above flora and fauna finds itself manifested in the bible.
Despite the destructive ramifications of energy extraction through fossil fuels, the artworld gained phenomenally from it and this has altered the course of art history. The invention of the steamship made travel and trade easier and faster and gave artists the opportunity to access the unknown. Paul Gauguin spent ten years in French Polynesia, his paintings from that time made him famous and became a vital influence for Symbolist and Expressionist art. Emil Nolde painted in New Guinea, Van Gogh developed his love for Japanese prints, Picasso’s African Period greatly informed his cubist work. Tom’s attempt to find a holistic understanding of these complexities in their entirety, is evident throughout his most recent practice: connecting all the dots on a diagram, a written performance on the wall.
With his practice emphasising on performative art, Tom is currently developing ideas for a performance for the Pilotenkueche Exhibition at Kunstkraftwerk. He is creating a paper maché flower, which will be used as a prop. Props, masks and costumes find frequent usage in Tom’s performances and videos. They act as tools, as connecting points between him and the idea, never as character- defining elements that determine the narrative.
‘Circle of Life’, one of Tom’s more recent works, is a slowly progressing, organically moving piece in which Tom playfully engages with seemingly random objects like oranges, a basketball and several domestic items like a tablecloth, a CD-player and a juicer. These objects evoke connotations to mundane phenomena: breakfast TV, school outings, shopping channels. Tom’s interaction with them bespeaks a humorous, zeitgeisty language. Yet, Tom’s work is a far cry from being a mockery. Instead, it is a testimony of Tom’s dissatisfaction, a protest transmitted with an almost tragic, clownlike seriousness, a demonstration revealing to us our derelictions in a time of drastic change.
written by Fiona Irene Graf
See Tom’s work in the upcoming exhibitions
Saturday 17 August
Isaac Magner and Agathe Barre
Saturday 24 August
Isaac Magner and Agathe Barre
Friday 20 September
Saturday 21 September – Monday 23 September
PILOTENKUECHE International Art Program