Wind Talks To Weather

Wind, Water, Heat – „Previous Layers“ at STWST48x4 is meant to take a look at a previous project by STWST: the „Weather Building“ (1988). Tanja Brandmayr, who is working with wind in the present year, and Thomas Lehner, who has worked with weather back then, have a conversation.

If we start our Wind-asks-Weather exchange … me as the wind, and you as the weather. How does it strike you that a contemporary project reflects on a previous project and its intentions?
To bring back fresh air into the STWST is something I find great, of course. When I got informed about your project, I liked it from the beginning. Not only concerning technical aspects, also concerning its poetry. I have already worked on that topic before the Weather Building, in the technical/scientific sense as well as artistically, and I am still working on it. At any rate, I am glad about this opportunity to exchange some ideas about this complex topic that have also been important for the Weather Building.
A house constructed by weather. A building that heats heat, pours out water, that consists of nothing that is solid: Perhaps you can explain what the Weather Building was supposed to be and the intentions behind it? What kind of building was meant to be erected, what aesthetics, what economy, what energy effect? Or: what kind of spectacle?
Normally, a house is a building that protects from wind and weather. The Weather Building, by contrast, is made of wind and weather. I.e. it is rather the opposite to a normal house. A kind of anti-house. Yet it was of the same dimensions as a house. It was constructed in an empty lot in Alt-Urfahr at the time when the first buildings were torn down, and it was an entity constructed by artificially generated wind and weather conditions, amidst urban space. In the final phase - that is, unfortunately, only poorly documented - it overtopped the surrounding buildings and at night it could be seen from many kilometers distance. The building was accessible and visitors could experience the rather stormy and moist conditions inside by themselves. Yet there were also arid and hot as well as cold zones inside the building.
That sounds like a considerable effort.
Already making it operational was a performance in itself, as the installation affected the entire quarter of the city. The water was delivered from the main strand of the central water supply of Urfahr through various streets and rears of houses and it was pumped through bundles made of fire hoses. The portable water pumps permanently had to be adjusted and supplied with gasoline. Considerable amounts of coke that were delivered from the Voest had to be made glowing every day. The supply of heavy current for making the wind machines go, as well as the compressors and turbines of the snow canons, was a challenge in the moist area, not least concerning security. In order to start the complex facility it needed an operating plan, similar to a theatrical score that provides freedom of improvisation concerning unexpected events. The demand for energy was enormous. The gigantic masses of water that have been shot in the air via snow canons, hydroshields and other blast pipes rained heavily at the building and needed to be transported away again. The sewage systems were overworked. With an excavator we made a pithole for water and out of which we needed to transport water back to the Danube, over a distance of some hundred meters. Despite that water inflows in cellars of surrounding buildings could not be prevented. Fortunately, we were supported by the local fire brigades. Without their help, the Weather Building would not have been possible. Over time we managed to get a firmer grip on our play with the elements. Unfortunately, there is very little documentary material of the installation process. If anyone still owns such things, please contact me!
I want to ask for a seeming detail: Carl Michael Belcredi, who hosted the weather report in Austrian television then, came to the opening of the Weather Building. Was he like a weather performer, in such a setting? Has he given the setting a greater conclusiveness, being the primary instance for weather?
That we could convince the anchorman of the official weather report from the Austrian television (back then, the only channel) to come to the inauguration of the Weather Building gave the project some kind of flair of „official“ reputation. Back then, the ORF was the only broadcasting company in Austria. TV used to be the main source of political credo and public opinion making. At that time, Carl Michael Belcredi was a TV star with a lot of experience and an institution concerning all questions revolving around weather. He also is an erudite and likeable person and has a broad understanding of art. Not only he held a sophisticated speech, there also was a live weather report from inside the Weather Building that was broadcasted via „Zeit im Bild“. Also concerning clothing he was well-prepared. For the camera team, it came rather unexpectedly: as the turbines of the snow canons could create hurricane-like conditions in some areas. Via the collectively experienced weather report a much greater audience than the festival audience of the Ars Electronica could be reached.
I want to specifically adress the materiality or performativity of the Weather Building – wind, water, heat. I am interested in that since in the previous years I was working with fog or ice, fog as a performer, ice as an entity, this year it will be about wind and air. I work with immaterial material, transformed actors, systemic contradictions. Not least as the material performs itself and certain contradictions. I have established for myself a systemic concept of performance or an, as I call it, Bedeutungstheater (Theatre of Meaning) that has left traditional actors and objects behind. A brief example from last year: An ice block performs itself as it melts, at the same time and as an exposed entitiy, it illustrates aesthetic, technical, ecological and economic contexts and contradictions immanent to the system. I have not developed my projects as a reflection on, for instance, the Weather Building, but I notice that in the Weather Building immaterial material also has performed itself – heat burns itself, water pours out, etc … Do you see parallels or can you relate to the concepts I brought in? For me, it is about research, intention and a perspective that leads ahead – or also about more distant and unexpected greater contexts.
I like the idea of the Bedeutungstheater. The Weather Building was a theatrical play, or maybe a „dance“ with the elements. The main protagonists were water and air, that we, via mechanical energy, set in motion to each other, heated up with specific devices, evaporated with glowing coal, and cooled via compression and decompression. The audience could view the spectacle from the outside or enter the building. Inside there was a very humid atmosphere. Because of the illumination shadow plays came into being. The warm temperatures of summer invited for a visit in this cool setting. In the heat of the night some actionist scenes came into being. The image of people that have been exposed to artificially created, stormy climatic conditions had something visionary, and still has.
Apart from that: To create or manipulate wind and weather with artificial means is something that has occupied humanity since ancient times. And it also will, most likely, in a distant future. Perhaps until the end of mankind, on our planet, or even further than that. Obviously we meanwhile have manageged to artificially manipulate the climate all around the globe – despite doing so unintentionally, or out of ignorance. The think tanks of the „defense“ industry come up with many ideas concerning manipulation of weather and climate. There was even the idea of a gigantic parabol mirror in space acting as a burning glass to navigate the light of the sun to specific regions of the earth. The consequences would be unpredictable, yet at any rate desastrous. An established technique of influencing weather is to provoke rain or hail coming out from clouds, before they reach areas to be protected. For this purpose, a cloud gets targeted with a rocket carrying silver iodite which provides particles that act as condensation cores which provoke rain or hail. This method most recently also was used in Beijing for the opening of the Olympic Games, or each time on May 1 and 8 in Moscow. If it is still used in our land for the protection of the wine harvest is something I don´t know. Through rain dances, chants or bloody human sacrifices humans wanted to manipulate the weather gods already in ancient times. Using money to influence the weather, as it is negotiated today at the climate summits, whereby rich industrialized countries can buy the right to global air pollution, reminiscents of the sacrifices of already lost civilizations. Even in these, the priests of the often bloody rituals have not sacrificed their own lives or parts of their wealth in favor of the weather-determining gods. The influential rich have not been eaten. The poor have to sacrifice. At that time like today.
Oh, the big picture. In that sense I want to come up with a question I often ask myself: What questions art should actually pose? Why and what are the greater question amidst a forest of trees. This year I call for the wind as a medium. Wind is breathing and is thinking, very corporeal and very abstract at the same time – lose, far-reaching, the opposite to a solid network. And wind means to me: widening distances, rather diffusing something than to connect, re-organisation of thinking and feeling. Something like that. In this sense I do not want to impose too much on wind, do not long for a „hard“ treatment of the material … so to say: I don‘t want to go to the mountain and mine art out of the mountain like an ore. And to make culture out of nature. One is familiar with such mythological as well as philosophical approaches to Ring-mythologies, that illustrate the transformation process from a premodern era to modernity: Get iron ore out the mine, then, through some technological voodoo create a ring, followed by contracts and capital – and at that time all those involved all already unhappy. Now we are experiencing that in ever more acceletated cycles. And we experience that via a condensation of meaning that isn´t there anymore but would need to be constructed in order to begin with the extraction process again. What a paradox! But that came to my mind because you mentioned the gods. Yet let us again expand the context and the contradictions, concerning air, wind and heat and a technological development around those discrepancies. Let us talk again about wind. Please tell me about your knowledge about those aspects.
It all starts with the wind, the heavenly child. Air needs to get in motion in order to be experienced sensually. Air has a mass. Otherwise we would not feel it. Despite being that simple, it is very complex, like weather and climate themselves. Although air is around us since the moment of our birth. But historically seen, it took us a very long time to find out that it is a form of matter and therefore also contains mass. Likewise, it will probably again take us a long time until we find out the nature of dark matter in the universe. It is quite grotesque that in times when nations already raided other nations using air-powered (wind-powered) sailing ships, Individuals who claimed that air is material and contains mass were still considered idiots. It was not until the 17th century that this notion gut recognized. At that time, it got proven by experiments and accepted in academia and as a part of scientific worldview. Specifically knowledge of air under pressure lead to countless technological developments that influenced greatly our civilisation and will, likely, also do so in the future. Some facts: When air is extracted from a closed vessel, i.e. a vacuum is created, you can see what an enormous force is already there in our atmosphere. If air gets compressed, it liquefies. There is dry and humid air and when it warms up, it expands and rises, when it cools, it contracts and sinks. This is how the wind becomes into being.
The behavior of air, as well as other gases that liquefy through compression and  need to deprive thermal energy from their surroundings, to be able to get back to their gaseous state, not only forms the basis concept of the organism of each refrigerator, but is also the basis of the science of artificial cooling in general. Together with ventilation it builds the fundamental structure of air-conditioning technology which is crucial in modern architecture. Knowledge about how air is oscillating has, of course, always been decisive in architecture. In the 1970s oscillating air was even used as a building material. But I want to come back again to that later.
Through modern air conditioning the construction of ever taller buildings, with effects on the the shape of modern cities and their influence on climate, became a possibility in the first place. Countless civilisational developments, that also affect climate again, are unthinkable without it. At any rate, the more we use air conditioning, the more we cool, the more we heat up the atmosphere and influence global wind and weather phenomena. That is simply a fact. Apart from that cooling always produces heat. Also in the artifical creation of wind, the motor of a fan that gets hot, or the condensators of fridges. Above all, concerning the production of electricity necessary for the devices that produces cooling. A nuclear power plant without refrigeration system leads to disaster. Artificially created wind goes through our computers to cool the heat produced by the processors. Hard disks revolve on an air pad. The CO2 footprint of our data centers is enormous because of the demand for energy for the refrigeration systems. Behind the bonnet of our cars there is a cooling system, etc. Economic interest and the belief that everything can be fixed with money, obviously is so deeply ingrained in our culture & society, that the rise of CO2 levels in the atmosphere is fought by a capitalisation of the atmosphere. The belief into our capitalist system is so robust, in order to „save the world“, that air is becoming a commodity. Otherwise, fresh air apparently has no value. And if you can pay for it, you are allowed to pollute it.
You mentioned the capitalisation of the atmosphere – I will come back to the colonialisation of sleep again in a moment. At first, building houses. I think there is also a constant topic over the years and a connection between the Stadtwerkstatt of the past as well as of the present – namely to construct buildings in another way. The weather building was a construction, in between other urban or „house“ subjects through the years. I refer to a contemporary project from 2018, the Sleep Tunnel. The STWST Dept. No Architects wants to construct a house made of sleep, a dimensionless structure. A contextual structure made out of questions, a questionable entity by itself, where the human condition could actually be located or thrive … in an existential sense, in contemporary context and possibly largely unknown areas like sleep. Of course it is not about a colonialisation of sleep, like a conquest and raid, exploitation and subjugation into something „other“/“different“, something unconscious, natural, innocent as a sphere hitherto largely unexploited – sleep. Not at all – it is about silence, freedom, nature and autonomy. And in an existential as well as political sense it is about different states of consciousness. To come back to the question: We are building a house of sleep, you were building a house of weather. That many houses – also a story of its own over the years? Do you see similar or contrarian intentions in that projects, how were things like concerning the Weather- and Anti-Building?
Architecture and weather naturally are related. An architecture of wind and weather, of course, questions the meaning of conventional concepts, of how to deal with urban space. The Weather Building primarily was an architectonic intervention. The plan for the quarter in Alt-Urfahr at that time still dated back to old ideas by Adolf Hitler and Albert Speer. Also the cultural political concepts for Linz were still based on plans from the Nazi era. We wanted to change that. We could not relate much to the predominant concept of culture that treats art only like an object or, preferably, as a commodity. We wanted to create free spaces of thoughts, of forms and places. In that aspect using wind and weather for construction also was a suggestion for alternative concepts of urban design.
Let us, however, refer back to architectonial concepts of the 1970ies where demand for energy hasn‘t been that important and air was used as a building material. As already mentioned, an important technical aspect of the Weather Building was that air is matter and when it gets accelerated, it would be possible to create spaces and can even be used as a material for construction of walls. An illustrative example architecture are airdomes oft he 1970ies and particularly their gates. These gates are generated through accelerated air, created by strong and concentrated ventilation and are such as that you can close the entry in a way that the air pressure inside does not change and the climate from outside cannot affect the inside. This is still common today. For instance in entrances to subway stations. Yet our intentions went far beyond such technical aspects – it was about an utopian and poetic concept for a different kind of „construction“. And concerning a self-emancipatory social and political aspect: The discussions with people passing by served our intentions well. There was a vivid discussion with people from the neighbourhood who were also affected by the plans for construction to change the whole Quater, to which we wanted to direct attention. It was important to us that we could reach people from all strata of society with our art. Yet without losing artistic quality or watering down the message. Without adaption to economic or populistic intentions. The controversy and the discourse was what interested us. We wanted to exert some influence on the city and not only impress a small circle of art curators.
How was the Weather Buidling received from that side?
There have been hugs and kisses from prominent people from the art scene. „This has to be shown at the Biennale, at the Documenta, you need to go on international tour with that“ … and so on, was what they said. But the only concrete talks about a possible additional exhibition of the Weather Building I can remember came from the festival in Newcastle that has been newly established then.
But they didn‘t have enough budget, to pay even the gasoline for the transport of half of the equipment at that time. Another option would have been to stage it in front of the opera house in Manaus, Brazil. But it also turned out as „castle in the air“. Nevertheless it would be great to stage the Weather Building again today. Today, that would still be pretty seasonable.
Thomas Lehner worked for many years in various leading positions at STWST. He was significantly involved in the conception and implementation of numerous STWST art projects of the 80s and 90s. He developed the basic idea for the Weather Building. Responsible for conception, design and implementation of the Weather Building Thomas Lehner, Georg Ritter, Markus Binder and Rainer Zendron. Many others have participated: Werner Katzmaier, Gotthard Wagner, Wilfried Hinterreiter, Franz Moharitsch, Sabine Gruber, Kurt Holzinger, Edith Stauber, Wolfgang Hofmann, Erich Klinger, Silvia Zendron, Bernd Richard, Johannes Knipp, Peter Hauenschild, Attila Kosa, Helmut Weber, Ernst Matscheko, Dieter Lasser, Heinz Reisinger, Ingrid Scheurecker, Alexander Dessl, Herbert Schager, Ruth Scala, Margit Knipp, Otto Mittmannsgruber, Peter Utz, Brigitte Schober, Brigitte Vasicek, Almud Wagner, Kurt Hennrich, Leo Schatzl, Wolfgang Lehner, Wolfgang Dorninger, Gustav Dornetshuber, Simon Ritter, Georg Pichler.
Not to forget the then Artistic Director of Ars Electronica, Gottfried Hattinger. Without him, the Weather Building probably wouldn‘t have existed.
More: -> Chronologie →1988
All participants:
> To the german version
Within the framework of STWST48x4 a reference to the Weather Building is set in a small exhibition situation. A wind machine of the weather building and a short documentation video about the project will be shown in the workshop room.

Translation by Philip Hautmann.

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The „Weather Building“, 1988 (Photo: Stwst, 1988)

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