Salzburger Land

Resident: Martin Gautsch

Photographer Bernhard Müller in conversation with sculptor, organic farmer and operator of the Kunnsthof in Gruben Martin Gautsch. He was born in 1975 in Lungau, lives in Thomatal and is a resident for the Feldarbeiter*innen Porgel and Habitat 23.

© Bernhard Müller

“The sea of infinite possibilities.”

What was your career like?

I grew up at Kunnsthof, there on the farm, and looking back it was a wonderful childhood, we were able to let off steam in handicrafts, in nature, the stream goes by and we built dams and jumped down from the torrent wall and built huts. It was already a very intimate village community and childhood. I grew up in a very traditional and down-to-earth family, with a clichéd division of roles: my father worked very hard and my mother took care of us. We are 8 children, 7 siblings, 2 siblings are even younger than me and that was also a very exciting story, because you have the rivalry, but I have very positive memories. Of course, the farm was very formative, that is still a basis for me, the handling of animals, with plants, in a sustainable way, and also always in life with the weather and the season. That is already a structure that dictates a lot. It was a family business and we all helped together, of course not always voluntarily, but that was just the way it was, you helped with the hay or with the firewood, that wasn’t always fun. And then I got into the conventional and traditional things, I was in the village, in all the clubs, I was in the parish council and in the municipality. From the education I went to the agricultural school in Tamsweg, which was also very good for me, I was away from home in the boarding school, but also very down to earth and traditional. Then I went back home and managed the farm for 20 years, we are convinced organic farmers, that is a matter of course for me, there would be no other way of farming for me. Then, at some point, art came along creepingly. That has always interested me. When I visited my friends in Munich or in Salzburg and Graz in my youth, I always looked at art exhibitions. At some point I started to carve sculptural things as a sideline in the context of agriculture and forestry. This then abruptly went on so that I suddenly had 2 jobs and it has become more and more. Then I decided to concentrate on one direction and look for my vocation. At the beginning it wasn’t so clear, but at some point I focused entirely on art. That was an exciting discussion far beyond the boundaries of the community. I then also made a total lease and have reduced the agriculture quite strongly, a few oxen and sheep. It is a time-consuming hobby, but I have arranged it so that in summer all the animals are on the pasture, on the alpine pasture, so I have more room to maneuver, and in winter I even enjoy getting up early in the morning and doing the barn work.

© Bernhard Müller

So now, in addition to your secondary profession as a farmer, you live entirely from your sculpting?

I divide my self-employment into two areas, one is creative carving, where I make figures as orders, for example, for playgrounds or for a regional garden show in Upper Austria or for companies, for a hiking trail in Hermagor, just stories like that. There I get the sketches from architects or artists, that is the creative craft, not such a profound art. I have a very broad concept of art. Beuys, I can get an incredible amount out of him, and I also experience it that way. I do workshops with children, what goes on there. You just can’t interfere, that’s the art. I accompany the children to the sea of infinite possibilities, I call it that, and I put the creative work into their hands and say: are you ready to be artists? And then they usually say yes. I explained a bit about art to them beforehand, and also about the various possibilities. Once we made sculptures with books and I told them you can fold them, you can crumple them, you can cut them, you can drill them, you can stack them, clamp them, and so on. I also tell them you can all make a piece together, but you can also each make something on your own, just as you like. And then I also tell them you can make something that no one has to like, but it should be good for you. And then it goes off, that is brutal, that is not to believe. The sea of infinite possibilities, I got that from Ulrich Warnke, a specialist in quantum physics, and for me that is a designation of the area that I sense, that in it is the artistic that every person in the world has within themselves. That is unfortunately often overlaid by ideologies and fears and habits, but we have that in us. And that is then the second area of my artistic life and that is also the goal, that I get there. There the comprehensibility is not so given, but that is not needed in art, but more the feeling, the feeling.

© Bernhard Müller

How did the people around you, your village community, react to your decision to be an artist?

I have had the advantage that I am socially very involved and everyone knows me quite well and I say so, I have had a certain acceptance. Basically, my experience is that the target group in art is rather smaller. At the opening of an art event there at the farm, 100 people were there, which is great for the Lungau. If I do an open day, where I open the barn door and the brass music is there, then I have 700 people there. But what I can really experience is that when people come, people who don’t often deal with art, there is a great willingness for them to join in. The exciting thing is that these are often encounters that go really deep. And that’s where, in my opinion, acceptance is increasing massively. Art can touch people deeply, and I’m also convinced that we need to open up to it in the future. The prerequisite is that we face up to it, and that’s not always pretty.

How do you see the situation of modern art, especially in the public sphere, in Lungau?

That is not very easy to answer now. I see very many points in Lungau where art happens. If you are there for a longer period of time, you can see that there are a lot of activities, of course a lot from the Lungau cultural association, they do a lot in the area of theater and concerts, cinema screenings. Contemporary art is not quite so massively present. With 20,000 inhabitants, the Lungau has a completely different structure, and there are no large centers. But what I want to get at is, what is art? In the common designation it is reduced to painters, sculptors and that is not tenable for me. It is true that art requires sensitivity and empathy, intuition, and then I deal intensively with the material and a subject. But when I look at the upbringing of a child, for example, I find it hard to believe that this requires more creativity, empathy, sensitivity and also freedom for the processes that arise. If I take care of an old person or lead a school class or even get as far as politics, i.e. create a political process, then that is also art. I would like to see more acceptance of artistic work.  You also have to imagine that there is a budget for the construction of many things, but for creative work with children, where I claim that a window opens and the horizon expands, it is difficult to raise funds. There simply needs to be more acceptance.

© Bernhard Müller

You are the host of 3 artist groups at Supergau, the Feldarbeiter*innen, Florian Gwinner with “Polter”, Fabian Lanzmaier and Andreas Zißler with “Habitat 23”. How did you get involved and what is your role as host?

I submitted a project to Supergau, but I wasn’t accepted and that was my first contact. Then Tina Heine and a lot of artists stopped by at the beginning and visited me. Basically, I’m very open to the whole thing and I’ve also dedicated the courtyard so that it can be used for such things. I have then also addressed the workshop, if someone needs something and also if someone has questions with companies, because I have a lot of experience. Yes, and then Florian Gwinner came, he’s from Berlin and makes the poltergeist organ, and he’s producing it for me now. He has already been there twice for several days and has also worked there. He can simply use the workshop, the machines and of course I have also provided him with some material. He said he needed so and so many tree trunks in such and such a length. Then we found unbelievably finely grown trees, the ideal sound wood, so to speak, and he got them. That is for me again a simply beautiful encounter, we often talk to each other and philosophize and that suits me. And then the field workers, these are the 5 ladies, they need a field for their tractor-knitting-techno-performance, there is a knitting machine at the back of the tractor and they make such a ribbon in the field. Then we have visited a field and there I look, that for the date is suitably mowed and what they need then also still is a cattle trailer, that becomes the center, where they install the technical plant and lighting purely. I have also offered them the workshop as a catering room. Andreas Zißler and Fabian Lanzmaier, who are making their sound installation here, have also joined us, because the places they were aiming for have not been approved due to nature conservation problems or work safety. I showed them very special places up here, we have a place with an old blast furnace where iron was smelted and then there’s another area where coal piles used to be made. We have someone in the village who is running it again, and I put them in touch with him and gave him information. Maybe they’ll incorporate that now, too.

© Bernhard Müller

How do you feel the response here in the village community to the SUPERGAU that is about to begin?

It’s not so present yet, it still needs a few more marketing mailings. But because I’m involved, of course, I’m talking to some people. I wouldn’t say I’m looking forward to it, because nobody really knows what’s going to happen yet. But I wouldn’t say that there is a big contradiction and I don’t see any fear either. What is already and I also find good, a bit of skepticism what will be there. It’s just also from the outside, it’s just also put a little bit so over. But I can already tell you about cool projects that are here at my farm, where I can see that great people are working on them. That’s the enrichment for me, when you see how the artists, I call it honest and authentic, approach the projects.

Most of Supergau’s works are temporary. How do you feel about that as an artist who creates permanent sculptures, and are you already looking forward to the festival?

Basically, I have the conviction that there is nothing, no action, that does not have an effect forever. I’m not the one who says that something has to be created that has to be there forever and embellish something, I don’t have that approach or claim. Rather I see it like this, why should it be forever? Why do we always think that everything has to be productive? The children show us that it’s not like that and do something for the joy of doing it and what happens to the sandcastle afterwards doesn’t matter at all. They build for hours and when it’s done, they knock it down and then the next one comes. I’m definitely looking forward to the time with the supergau and see it as a great enrichment and for that reason alone it was worth it for me.

© Bernhard Müller