photo of a stockpile of canned food wrapped in lead

Ou Topos, Vienna - Apartment Project

Mysterious artifacts left behind by an elderly man revealed a deep anxiety about the future and a survivalist’s obsession with scarcity and preparedness
Vienna, Austria
1 shows: exhibition history

Herbststraße 105, Door 5, 2d. floor, No. 9, Vienna, Austria

“Some fears can never be shaken off. Like the fear of starving to death. But for the resident of this apartment, it wasn't enough to accumulate and preserve food, he also wrapped it in lead to protect it from a possible atomic fallout…”   Iris Häussler

The first iteration of Iris Häussler’s contemporary art project, “Ou Topos” (no place or nowhere) was set in a public housing apartment in the worker’s district of Ottakring, Vienna. Visitors climbed flights of stairs to enter the private flat of a fictitious tenant, a reclusive elderly man who had disappeared without explanation. His mysterious story, told only by the traces and artifacts left behind, revealed a deep anxiety about the future and a survivalist’s obsession with scarcity and preparedness. Perhaps a manifestation of the broader collective anxieties of his time.

The installation comprised rooms with tables, drawers, cupboards, and crudely built shelves, spilling over with thousands of tin food-cans wrapped in thick lead foil and labeled with expiry dates. Most living spaces in the apartment appeared to serve as a workspace for the compulsive activities of collecting, preserving, and stockpiling food-cans. The open display of personal items and evidence of daily routines suggest an inner turmoil as well. Along with the old man’s handwritten notes and drawings, some scribbled directly onto the walls of the flat, were images cut from a book on the effects of nuclear weapons that showed people suffering from radiation exposure. Some images and drawings were framed and hung on the wall, while others leaned against the wall, waiting - as if he intended to curate a private exhibition of the thoughts and worries that most kept him awake at night.  

The apartment was opened to the public for one month.