Artist Portrait Michaela Putz | Photo: Theresa Wey, 2023

Michaela Putz is an Austrian lens-based artist whose work explores the intersections between memory, technology, and the natural world. She holds an MA of Arts&Science from the University of Applied Arts Vienna, as well as a degree from communication science that she gained at the University of Vienna and that sharpened her interest in tools of visual communication and the the impact of digital technology on memory and nature.

Starting point of her artistic process is always the digital screen with its smudges, traces of dust, dirt and fingerprints. For Putz, these stains and imperfections are elemental to today's visual culture, which is predominantly consumed through screens. Her work questions the authenticity and reliability of digital images as a representation of our experiences, exploring how digital technology has transformed our relationship with memory and the natural world.

Putz's multidisciplinary exploration of memory, technology, and the environment combines digital and analog techniques to create installations, objects, photographic montages, and post-processed images.
She uses a variety of cameras, software, and printing techniques to create her work, which often involves manipulating and transforming photographs of screens to create ethereal and almost celestial forms.

“What we see (in Putz’ works), however, are not the remembered moments; rather, we are looking at the process of remembering itself. In Putz’s pictures the transparent screen is rendered an almost opaque surface that—carved out by the camera flash and the extreme magnification—reveals a choreography composed by the use of these images: the traces of the interaction with the touchscreen, fingerprints, sebum residue, the smears from swiping across the display.” (Fabian Knierim, translated by Georg Bauer)

Michaela Putz's artistic contributions have been featured in numerous exhibitions both in Austria and abroad, including presentations in museums, galleries, and other institutional settings. Her work has garnered recognition and support from various grants and awards, including the Burgenland Annual Award for Fine Art in 2018, the START-grant for photography in 2019, and the studio grant for overseas work (Shanghai) from the Austrian Chancellery in 2023. She has also shared her insights and perspectives on contemporary photography and digitalization through public lectures and contributions to various magazines and catalogues. 


Esther Mlenek | Extinction Ballads Pt.1: Floral Opulence | Gloom Of Mnemosyne | LETHE

Kann etwas, das verloren ist, digital fortbestehen? Dieser Frage geht Michaela Putz in ihren Arbeiten nach. Ein Auszug aus der Serie Extinction Ballads Pt.1: Floral Opulence (2021) wurde für die Ausstellung als Raumintervention konzipiert und hängt - einem langen Social-Media-Feed ähnelnd - als Baldachin im Raum und vom Gewölbe herab. Die digitalen Arbeiten beinhalten Found-Footage Material kürzlich ausgestorbener oder vom Aussterben bedrohter Pflanzen. Michaela Putz übersetzt die Zeugnisse einstiger Vielfalt in eine verklärende Barockästhetik, unterbrochen nur von den schmierigen Spuren des oft belanglosen Scrollens, wie wir sie auf unseren Tablets und Smartphones finden. Die Künstlerin verweist in der Arbeit auf ein auffällig invasiv-destruktives Element menschlichen Handelns sowie auf die evidenter werdende Zwecklosigkeit flüchtiger „Gesten“.

Die Themen Found-Footage, Archiv und (zukünftige) Erinnerungen sind ebenso Teil der Serien LETHE Und Gloom Of Mnemosyne. Sie beziehen sich auf den antiken Mythos über die Flüsse Lethe und Mnemosyne, deren Wasser beim Trinkenden entweder Vergessen oder Erinnern bewirken konnte. Gloom Of Mnemosyne (2019) stellt direkt vom Screen abfotografierte Unterwasserfotografien aus dem Privatarchiv der Künstlerin dar. Putz referenziert darin auf den schier endlosen Strom der in der Cloud gespeicherten Bilder, der heute für uns Gedächtnislücken mit virtuellen Erinnerungen auffüllt. Die Arbeit basiert auf Daten, Pixeln, Lichtpunkten, kurz auf Rohdaten, die eine konkrete Qualität und Substanz besitzen, also gar nicht mystisch und vage sind, wie der erste Blick vermuten lässt. Diese prozesshafte, wandelbare Natur unseres Gedächtnisses ist - mit umgekehrten Vorzeichen - auch in der Serie LETHE (2019-2020) wiederzufinden. Digital dokumentierte Teile von Porzellanfiguren, Glas und anderen Objekten aus der Kindheit und Jugend der Künstlerin wurden zu neuen Objekten umgeformt, die auf Prozessen der Manipulation und der digitalen Bildhauerei aufbauen. Sie stehen für eine fiktive oder dissoziierte Erinnerung und somit für das Vergessen der ursprünglichen Form. In beiden Serien erfasst Michaela Putz das Paradoxe unseres Gedächtnisses: So nutzt die Künstlerin fast malerische Abstraktion als einen von Anhaltspunkten freigeräumten Raum, in dem Erinnerungen wieder aufleben können und impliziert im Gegenzug bereits die Auflösung der eigentlichen emotionalen Relevanz durch die zwar konkrete, aber dennoch künstliche Rekonstruktion.

Fabian Knierim | for the artist book PALINOPSIA, about “Screen Romance”

Screen romances used to be so simple: a thing between two characters on a screen, big or small. Projection screens onto which we could imagine ourselves a hundredfold, which we could blow up endlessly, but which were also unconnected to our everyday selves beyond that, on this side of the frame. Even the occasional off-screen relationship entered by actors of on-screen romances affected us only marginally, at most through the rustling of colorful leaves in the forests of glossy magazines. And our screen crush had to, by definition, remain an unrequited obsession—perhaps a painful one, but harmless. In any case, the levels of reality were clearly demarcated: here, your own world; there, that of the moving image.
Today, it’s complicated. We have relationships on this side and that side of our displays, on them, with them, and through them. Our own lives have long been happening on the screens of our mobile phones, mingling with the lives of millions of others: Facebook friends and Tinder dates, Instagram follower and Twitter contacts, influencers, online sellers, and, to top things off, all those people whose stories we learn about in the news. For all intents and purposes, it’s a storm discharging every day, chaotic and never-ending, but we’re keeping a tight grip on it with the barely visible movements of our fingers: unlock, swipe, enlarge, select, type, close.
At the same time, this gateway to the world is the window to our most private memories. We carry our personal visual archives in our pockets, on our phone’s internal memory and SD cards. What in pre-digital times was the shoebox full of collected vacation souvenirs, family portraits, and snapshots of former lovers and loves never consummated—a shoebox we cautiously opened from time to time like Pandora’s box—today is the Android gallery, always within reach. Of course, the memory span of our smartphones’ mobile archives often only goes back to the last model change, but in exchange these archives have a penchant for the exuberant and all-encompassing, and they harbor not just the traditional images of private photography but also the most banal visual notes; a photographic diary virtually without gaps.
What does this do to our memory? Doesn’t the abundance of images make it lazy and sluggish? Doesn’t the fact that moments are solely stored as data make our memory fleeting? Wasn’t the dog-eared photograph we kept in our wallet much more valuable than the hundreds of digital images in our virtual albums? For her series "Screen Romance", which she created between 2018 and 2020, Michaela Putz went over her own mobile visual archive and took pictures of select images from her smartphone’s display. What we see, however, are not the remembered moments; rather, we are looking at the process of remembering itself.
In Putz’s pictures the transparent screen is rendered an almost opaque surface that—carved out by the camera flash and the extreme magnification—reveals a choreography composed by the use of these images: the traces of the interaction with the touchscreen, fingerprints, sebum residue, the smears from swiping across the display. Swiping, that movement by which we communicate with our smartphones and tablets via touchscreens, has fallen into some disrepute of late. From a culturally pessimistic perspective, the gesture epitomizes the indifference of a digital society, a scattered consumer attitude that mechanically switches from one content to the next and can’t tell the difference between Instagram feed, a potential date, and news images from a current trouble spot.
In Putz’s "Screen Romance", however, swiping is an expressive gesture. Sometimes it materializes as a decisive, emphatic movement, at other times as an almost tentative touch; sometimes the traces agglomerate into an energetic cluster, at others they remain so subtle that they are barely visible. In their abstraction, the pictures in the series seem like Tachist compositions whose gestural brushstrokes offer reflections of the artist herself. They form a cartography of archival use and bear witness to the intensity with which these images are approached here. We’ve all experienced this. We use our fingers to browse the virtual photo albums of our phones and tablets, at times aimlessly, at times in search of a specific image, which we then unearth like a treasure. Almost every glance is also a touch. We palpate the images, want to know more, zoom into the photo, pause, move the selection, zoom deeper, until the shot dissolves into pores or pixels. Out again, on to the next image, stop, continue, stop, continue, double click, zoom in, and so on. It is a process in which the photographic image comes to life. Digital data may be cold and incorporeal, but photos have always been lifeless matter, dead moments that had to be animated by our gaze and imagination to become carriers of memories.
All this talk of analog photography as a reprint, as an immediate imprint of the thing itself, worked as a myth, a narrative of the metempsychosis from the object to its image that facilitated the fetishization of the photograph. And it still works as a fetish, in digital times as it did in analog times: Looking at a photograph allows us to conjure up the past, to visualize a loved one, to bring the old times back to life. And today, like yesterday, a feeling of melancholy remains in light of the fact that we can never fully get a hold of what we yearn for, despite all the presence that photography promises us. What has changed since the days we kept our pictures in shoeboxes are the gestures with which we do the conjuring. If back then it was the careful balancing of delicate prints between our fingertips, now it is a sometimes reckless, sometimes tender brush across a screen. It is precisely these movements with which we animate our memories; they are the traces of an invocation which Michaela Putz visualizes in her work. One might of course ask who exactly we are enticing when we, our heads in the clouds, brush our fingertips across our smartphone’s slick skin. Is our courtship always directed at the great beyond behind the display, or is it the devices themselves, with their hermetic surfaces, their rounded edges, their compact assembly, their inner glow, that awaken in our hands, that are fetish enough to appease our appetite through our mere interaction with them? Sometimes we don’t even have to produce our smartphone from our pocket. Sometimes nothing more than the touch, the familiar weight in our coat pocket, is enough for a reassuring sense of connection with the world and with time itself. (translated by Georg Bauer)


Michaela Putz (c) Bildrecht, 2023