“It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out, and happened to things.” – Leonardo Da Vinci
Mixing Art, Fashion, Performance, and world problems, Artist Billi Thanner is tackling the smog epidemic in Beijing China. Through her project “No Air No Art” she has been recognized by the government in Beijing and has begun showing her gallery world wide. Using multiple mediums, painting, photography, performance, she was able to captivate political officials who have continued to turn a blind eye to a problem that is linked to the deaths of millions each year in their city as well as around the world. Although I live in the United States, and Ms. Thanner in Austria, we both recognize the smog epidemic effects us both seeing as air knows no boundaries, and because of clear opposition to tackle to problem head on, a different approach to the problem may be the best way to get peoples attention. Ms. Thanner portrays a devastatingly beautiful future world where humans must carry plants with them at all times because the oxygen in the air is to contaminated to breath. She also was able to give some personal insight to her life leading up to the exhibit as well as the “No Air No Art” exhibit itself.
Q: Did your parents have artistic backgrounds that lead you to peruse your own Journey into Contemporary art, how long have you been an “artist”?
A: My parents were not artists but, I knew very early on that I would be one myself. At about 7 years old is when I “sold” my first drawing. It was to an uncle of mine, he warned me however that it would be hard to become a successful artist. As I was a child I thought everyone is an artist in their own regard, and creative, but I didn’t study it until technical school around 21 years old. Around 25 years I said to myself “you’re ready – from now on you’re only an artist”.
Q: Vienna is a culturally rich city, covered in statues and buildings that are very artistic. Were there any artists that influenced you the most, either from Vienna or elsewhere?
A: Vienna is not only culturally a good place to be, Vienna is also well known for psychoanalysis – like Sigmund Freud who lived in Vienna – and in the history artist over the last 60 years such as. Günther Brus , Hermann Nitsch , Otto Muehl , Valie Export , Franz West, Heimo Zobernig, Maria Lassnig, are catered for action, and it is a good mix of people who are looking for deep creativity, and more.I loved Egon Schille already as a child I knew everything about him. Every year I visit his grave and still bring flowers. I’m still sad when I think about his fate. He was so young when he died. His influence In the way I go about my art is the way he was drawing and painting, and the easiness and the colors he used in his artworks.
Q: You use your art as an outlet, not just to display the beauty that is aesthetically pleasing, but also to bring up bigger concerns in the world. Why did you choose this route? As opposed to beautiful pictures of women or paintings like the Mona Lisa or Statues made of marble?
A: In 2009, I discovered and developed a new technique, painting on technical Folie. It’s like painting on glass which is in art a worldwide new “technique” and from that point on it is running in a positive way I never dreamed about it …. I decided to choose topics that matched my feelings, things like fashion, beauty, but also the topic of why we disguise ourselves as human beings? Why we are so easily influenced by apparent externals and can be manipulated easily by advertising signs. To me it all added up to something that at first glance, is very nice and attractive, but if you look closely you might view something different. It is interesting to discover the deep wonders of the viewer and everybody should have their own way to discover and interpret the art– so I also picked the headers “I am to you beautiful enough?”, “Why do we love beauty?”
Q: You have traveled the world as an artist, what are some of your best memories traveling the world? No Air No Art
A: As an artist you should view the whole world as art, and be open minded, trying to discover the beauty of our mother earth. Last year at my exhibition at the MOCA Museum in Beijing China I was all alone with my fellow Chinese artists that eventually became friends. I was very impressed with the way they worked and lived, matter of fact, I felt sad when I was back in Vienna because I missed these people very much. I missed the kindness of people and the way they act and think. At the end of 2015 I was in Miami Florida, I also was very pleased to be there, as an artist it is up to me to feel the vibrations and of the “art” in the specific city. It is not a matter of where you live, just live your life and try to be as happy and as understanding as possible – I have no prejudices, just be as human as possible, no matter what the other person thinks or what color his skin is, it is important that you have a basic trust – then all goes well .
Q: First of All you call people who join your cause “Billi Thanners Art Army” I completely understand the concept that you are fighting for noble causes through your artistic expression, but what lead you to choose that name
A: “Art army” is an art project I had the idea for in 2007, I thought about wars, I thought that creative people like musicians, artists , actors, poets … can use their words/paint to express themselves. From there I invented this project to use as a platform to express their works and opinions in a communicative way – when I won a big German artist award I was doing a art performance with young artists at the “art Karlsruhe” – it was not only a success to just be at one of the biggest art shows in Europe, but to have my message translated in a way that I enjoyed was an honor.
Q: Can you describe your thought process behind the “No Air No Art”
A: I say “art must be shown where it does not belong” …My Country, Austria, is one of the richest countries in the world. We have fresh air but as we all know, air knows no boundaries. The idea of “No Air No Art” came to me in 2013 when I had seen a report on pollution caused by smog. I thought to myself “I should take my idea to a place where the smog levels are the highest”, which was/is at the time, Beijing China. The idea was to symbolize trees as the masks connected to the backpacks giving people the oxygen. In the beginning no one gave me support, not UN, World Bank, or even Bill Gates foundations. The people wanted to invest in galleries that contain sellable art, even in Vienna it was regarded as unimportant. None of this caused me to give up, I applied and applied and it ended up leading to a bit of State Support as well as some smaller companies here in Austria, from these companies I was able to finance the trip. Once my trip was financed Curator Michael Suh (MOCA curator) came to Vienna, we did the preparation of the exhibition and also invited Chinese artists to be part of it – for a first person view of living situation in Beijing.. In May of 2015, we had the grand opening and it was a big success. After the Exibition I created the video for “No Air No Art”. I want this idea shown throughout the as well as public places and art institutions, so that people in countries not affected by smog like Austria WAKE UP! It is our duty to take care of nature !! Six million people die every year on polluted air !!!
Q: Can you describe the pieces in your video/live gallery? Did you design and set it up all alone?
A: The idea came up one day when I was back from Beijing. The dresses were designed by a young designer team made in Vienna,the outfits were taken care of by Goran Bugaric and Klara Neuber. I had a great team of professionals and non professionals and I am very happy that everything has gone so smooth with us working as a team.
Q: Seeing as you seem like a person who likes to shed light on current world problems, do you do any charitable work or seminars/conferences speaking on such topics? How did they Chinese government hear about you?
A: I do conferences most of the time at art exhibitions, and the press depends on their political correctness, I have to be very careful in China with my statements (some of my interviews has been blocked by the Chinese government).
Q: As an Artist do you work on multiple pieces at once or do you focus solely on 1 gallery or topic at a time? (if you are currently working on anything else besides the “No Air No Art” project giving some insight to those would be nice to hear about)
A: I am currently working together on seven separate galleries. International galleries are the most import but I also do trade fairs exhibitions as well solo shows – the theme no air no art will never end, this year I plan to focus on museum exhibitions to make it more popular worldwide!
The different Approach to a problem that has been going on so long is beautiful to say the least. At least beautiful in the sense that, such a gross problem can be put under a spotlight in such an eccentric way. Billi Will continue traveling the world and showing off her gallery shedding light on the situation. You can join Billi Thanner’s Art Army on Facebook and follow her progress by clicking the link. You can also follower her on twitter @BilliThanner.