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Georg-Emmerling-Hof, 1020 Vienna, permanent installation

A large hole has appeared overnight on the façade of the freshly renovated Georg-Emmerling-Hof – opposite Schwedenplatz. The perpetrators can also be seen: two workers, one wielding a hammer, the other resting.

The increasingly precarious housing situation facing many people today and the covetous attacks on social housing are the themes of Themroc, the latest work by the Steinbrener/Dempf & Huber artist collective.

Themroc (1973), the film to which the piece owes its name, is the subversive tale of a worker (Michel Piccoli) who fights back against the misery of his existence and knocks a hole in the outside wall of his apartment with a sledgehammer.

Aesthetically, Themroc harks back to idealised portrayals of workers in council housing. Above all in the 1920s and 30s, a multitude of artworks were made for council houses that were in a sense politically in tune with the residents. 

This situation has changed dramatically and many residents of council houses in Vienna now vote FPÖ, the far-right Freedom Party.

Steinbrener/Dempf & Huber’s large relief also updates the portrayal of people who live in council houses. What remains unresolved, however, is whether Themroc depicts an act against the increasingly dramatic housing situation or whether this is an attack on the achievements of social housing by the very people for which it was built. 

The figures in Themroc are modelled on the posters and sculptures of Red Vienna in the 1920s. The viewer’s confusion about the dating of the artwork is wholly intentional. This might be seen as part of a self-mocking method of demonstrating the absurdity of artistic vanities. 

The artist collective installed almost all of their public projects in recent years high above the heads of the viewers. Often, they were small objects, for example the ibex on the bald head of the 42-metre-high statue of Bismarck in Hamburg, but they all played on the element of the unbelievable. Other sources of confusion include the group of workers taking their lunch break on an overhanging I-beam at a dizzying height above the city between construction cranes or the tourist information office installed on a sheer rock face in the Ötschergräben, beyond reach for any hiker.