This series expects to create a new dialogue with the life and work of great artists from the past. We want to update them and their imaginary through the re-creation of made up profiles in different social networks. For this reason, we use a direct language style and the many instances of micro-stories that have arisen in the context of the web 2.0. This section also tries to reflect on the way in which their works relate to current times and also the way in which users play with them and attach new meanings to them.
Egon Schiele might be one of the painters easier to imagine in the age of web 2.0, probably because of his need for continuous exposure, his exaggerated desire to take self-portraits and to read and understand his body. I’ve decided to recreate the Austrian painter’s Instagram account from my imaginary. For that purpose I’ve used his paintings, drawings, free copyright archive photographs, relevant facts from his life and also some irrelevant anecdotes.
Egon Schiele said on his letters that art shouldn’t be modern, but eternal. I guess he’s achieved his purpose, since today his extreme obsession to portray bodies in never before seen postures, something for what he was often accused of being a pornographer and a paedophile, still strikes us. He even had to spend some time in jail for this, and after that he rarely ever painted women or little girls again. In his representations of couples, threesomes and women having sex, it’s easy to sense a defence of the body and of the freedom to be exercised over it. Rumours accompanied him all his life, and the supposed love triangle he experienced with his master, Gustav Klimt, and the muse of both of them, Wally Neuzil, wouldn’t be a surprise today.
He painted women infinite times. On his letters he acknowledged the fear that femininity caused him. But one of Schiele’s contributions to art was, or has been, taking man as an object: he painted him twisted, full of angst, with firm strokes, with the same questions and anxiety with which he interrogated the body of those women that were a mystery to him. He painted his sister Gertrude, for instance, who would later marry painter Anton Peschka, without any hint of shyness from a very early age. It was this lack of shyness what made his dad send him to live with his uncle. Egon Schiele appears as a wild and ground-breaking figure, someone ahead of the norms of his time; a free spirit and an artist who decided to explore the world of people taking the basic element with which they experimented everything: their body.
His political ideas on the body and the censorship he suffered are very contemporary. Or, rather, equally misinterpreted by a malaise shared by both ages. For that reason I think that re-reading him, re-thinking him and re-imagining him is, without a doubt, a way of updating his art in relation to his discourse. However, this act of re-thinking is not unilateral; it isn’t only his discourse and his work what is brought to the present. Egon Schiele lived a moment of collapse of European politics: the First World War, the Great War, had a great impact on him; only four days after his wedding with Edith Harms he had to enlist in the army. Imagining his art as a kind of protest isn’t too difficult. He soon abandoned Vienna’s art academy and created the Neukunstgruppe. The anxiety of his stroke became more accused during the war, and the twisted gestures of his subjects take me to think of the bodies he portrayed then as political bodies in which another battle, as important as the one taking place at European battlefields, was being fought. Bodies, bodies, bodies that suffer, bodies that love, free bodies.
All his work, his way of looking at others and at himself, all this archive material, photographs and letters, also make me think of the way in which the accounts of so many anonymous people will be seen in the future. The huge amount of poor images, of trash images we don’t delete and place along the ‘most relevant’ ones, what will they say of us? In fact, what are they already saying? Focusing on his imagined Instagram account means also observing our own behaviour in relation to our bodies and the image we have of ourselves with regards to the other body in a medium, the digital one, that sometimes generates more questions than answers.
There are also many photographic portraits of Egon Schiele. In all of them he seems conscious of the mis-en-scene that each of them, each selfie we take, entails for the future. On every image with Schiele on it, even family and childhood pictures, we see the Egon that Egon wants us to see. Everything seems measured, thought of and rationalised: the posture of his hands, the severe gesture of his mouth. Egon Schiele and his photographer offer an image for posterity, as Barthes said in Camera Lucida: “Then, when I feel observed by the lens, I constitute myself in the act of posing, I instantly manufacture myself another body, I transform beforehand into the image.” We seem to be inhabiting that sentence nowadays, transformed beforehand into Instagram images, tweets, posts; fictionalising our lives and daily experiences to the utmost point, and relating to others through them; eliminating the space that separates us from others, creating a never-ending dialogue with anonymous people and acquaintances and even giving voice to painters dead decades ago.
Instagram’s Egon Schiele establishes a dialogue, through his creations, with Gaultier’s sailors and with Elvis Presley, and quotes Kinder Malo and Kierkegaard. Instagram’s Egon Schiele posts a Sacher torte, uploads a picture with kittens and trains and tags Klimt on it. Instagram’s Egon Schiele pays homage to Vincent Van Gogh and posts the image of his room in Neulengbach. Instagram’s Egon Schiele hates war, all wars. Instagram’s Egon Schiele uploads one of his paintings of two girls making love and uses the hashtags: #respect #lgtb #equalmarriage #heforwomen #freethenipple. Instagram’s Egon Schiele is alive and uses dialogue to experiment today’s world through his art.