Guests in bikinis standing around what, from a distance, looks like an oversized plastic tub, is an unusual sight in a museum. It’s not so unusual when considered in relation to Gelitin, a Vienna-based art collective known for their endurance performances, confronting nudity, gender-bending and interactive installations. ‘Weltwunder’ (‘wonder of the world’) was first exhibited at EXPO 2000 in Hannover, Germany, has been a part of 21er Haus’s sculpture garden in Vienna since 2013 and is open for guests at intervals during its Gin, Gelato, Gelatin events on sunny days.
Women serving gin longdrinks in green glasses announce we can have one after entering the installation, offering Ben and Jerry’s ice-cream in the meantime to bring along to the growing queue leading to what seems to be the registration. Before entering the queue a temporary change room is in the usually closed underground storage room, accessible from the courtyard.
Back in the paved garden guests with wet hair sit on concrete pillars among sculptures made out of iron and other tough, weather-proof materials. Green glasses in hand they hide from the scorching sun. The chocolate fudge ice-cream goes down smoothly while waiting in line to have our ears checked and to sign an indemnity form. It’s explained that because of how deep we have to dive, it’s necessary for us equalise the air pressure in our ears. The technique is demonstrated and a staff member examines our Eustachian tubes with an otoscope. There’s an air of mystery surrounding the five metres deep dive as we sit on the edge of the pool with our feet in the cold water. Those emerging from the blue, bubbly water, return quietly. After a few minutes it’s my turn, and with my goggles I dive into the white cylindrical space, “blowing my ears”, as instructed.
When exhibited in Hannover, guests and the press were gently asked not to share their experience of the ‘Weltwunder’, and fifteen years on the silence remains. Its physical challenges are similar to Gelitin’s ‘Normally, Proceeding and Unrestricted With Without Title’ (2008) installation, when London’s Hayward Gallery rooftop was filled with water, giving participants the opportunity to sail in small boats weighed down with sandbags on top of a Brutalist building with a view to the River Thames. In being aware that the smallest movement could let water into their boats, participants became conscious of their bodies in relation to each other. A similar sense of intimacy and apprehension pervades ‘Weltwunder’. Where, in emerging from the pool and returning to a reality, a feeling of life’s uncertainty still lingers. **
Event photos, top right.