Meeting with Money Matters Myself: Edgar Honetschläger

Edgar Honetschläger wearing shades

Artist, director, scriptwriter: Edgar Honetschläger talks about perspective in art, the Holy See and the power of images

The first time I came across Edgar Honetschläger was at the end of the 1980’s when he started his career as an artist.  His early work consists of drawings in pencil, wax crayon and aquarell colours featuring abstract shapes and marks. Honetschläger uses colour with the sure instinct of a seasoned abstractionist, but it is never merely decorative. His minimalist drawings and paintings still represent an important part of his work. However, Edgar Honetschläger is one of the few artists who can build the link between visual arts and film-making. Starting with video installations (like the scent of snow, 1994), and short films (HCN Miau, 1996, Enduring Freedom, 2002) the artist went into shooting fiction features early on (like MILK, 1998 or il mare e la torta, 2003). His latest production Los Feliz, a road movie, is coming out in March.

I consider myself very lucky that Edgar takes his time for a short meeting this week, since the world premiere of Los Feliz is due on Thursday and the artist is very much in demand.  We meet for lunch at Cafe Bräunerhof, an old-style coffeehouse, if not to say an institution in Vienna. It was one of the favourite places of Thomas Bernhard, one of the most important German-speaking novelists and playwrights of the late 20th century. I arrive early and it is no problem to get a table by the window. My guest is not far behind me, easily to recognize with his thick silver hair and greyish three-day beard. The 48 year old artist is a cosmopolitan, having lived in places all over the world (New York, Los Angeles, Tokyo, Sao Paolo, Rome).  However, he never gave up his base in Vienna. The waiter arrives to take our orders. We both go for a glass of white wine.

He must tell me everything about Los Feliz, I insist . “It is a road movie shot in a studio” he says. I am probably looking a bit surprised, because he explains in more detail: “You know, rolling backgrounds are not exactly new, but packing the vastness of America in a single room means creating a beautiful illusion – and all by means of huge drawings  and moving paintings which I did over the course of many years. How do you do a car chase in a studio without back projection or green screen?” Our drinks arrive. I am wondering, why on earth the service has such a bad reputation in this place. Our waiter is extremely friendly. He recommends today’s special which is  bœuf Stroganoff, preceded by vegetable soup. This sounds quite good, actually, however we both decide to stay on the safe side and go for the wiener schnitzel instead.

“How does the catholic church come into play”, I want to know (since I have done my homework and checked all information available on the film). “Think about power, think about control” he says. “European culture has been dominated by Christian values for centuries. For many, many years Europe came to mean ‘Christendom’. You can argue that even today there is a European self-consciousness centered on the church. By having control over images you can control imagination. Think about symbols.  Symbols and rituals elicit not only respect but also desire. They require eventually submission.” I want to object that  Europe is also the continent of enlightment and secularisation, but our schnitzels arrive. (The service is really extremely efficient.) It’s certainly not the best schnitzel I have ever had, but the meat is thin and the crust is perfectly decent, maybe a bit on the oily side. The potatoe salad which comes as a side dish is more than all right.

“Today it’s the American movie industry which has control over images. This is why the trip goes from Rome to Hollywood.” Edgar continues. I want to know about the scenary, the paintings and drawings, whether there is any chance to see them. I learn that there is an exhibition not only at 21er Haus (the exhibition hall where the world premiere takes place) but another one at Galerie Charim in Schleifmühlgasse.

The waiter comes and clears the table. Is there still time for coffee? Not really, but we order two quick espressos. I want to know why he is so passionate about film-making.  “That’s relatively easy”, he says, “after only 110 years of film history – how many movies have remained in our conscience? It’s a romantic dream to create a piece that lasts.“ Edgar has to run. That’s it.  “What about my money questions?” I ask him. He gives it a quick thought. “Property, ownership, all these things mean restrictions. It binds you. I’d rather be as free as a bird and realize my ideas, and live my dreams. What remains of us humans is nothing but culture – that’s the only thing money is good for.“