The Master Narrative
by Lisl Ponger


© By Sheila 

Lisl Ponger’s exhibition is an ironic view on cultural predators. In consists of six photographs and an eight-hour video-installation. Lucky me, I was allowed to be there when Lisl Ponger personally explained the exhibition to a small group and guided us through her work.

Exhibitions begin to work in and with us, long before we enter them. The trigger for our expectations and upcoming memories is usually the more attracting aspect of the exhibition – its name. Lisl Ponger has chosen with “The Master Narrative” a powerful sound for her exhibition. It not only resonates in her title. Why the name?

Lisl Ponger at Weltmuseum: She introduced to her latest work, the exhibition "The Master Narrative" at MuKul, Weltmuseum Wien. It's focus lies on ethnology critics and tries to display these through media like photographs or a film. Lisl Ponger created colorful art here.
Lisl Ponger shows us her work at Weltmuseum Vienna.

Master Narratives

The term “Master narrative” originally comes from the philosopher Jean-Francois Lyuotard: Naming a universal meta-narrative, whose meaningful explanation influences our way of seeing and thinking. In particular also our view on other cultures, which leads us back to the initial question. Ponger’s answer, to undermining the narrative of National Museums as the main narrative, is readable already after entering the Weltmuseum. The Master Narrative has been realized in Lisl Ponger’s fictional museum, the MuKul. It’s a separate room, that intended to demarcate itself from the World Museum by its black, twisted walls.

This photography shows the so-called MuKulMuseum, it was taken from the first floor of Weltmuseum Vienna.
The so-called MuKulMuseum, by Lisl Ponger at Weltmuseum Vienna. Photo taken from the first floor of Weltmuseum Vienna.

It is an attempt to solve a basic problem: Presenting ethnological criticism in an ethnology museum is, as Lisl Ponger put it in our meeting, a “work in the den of the lion”. Accordingly, The Master Narrative works with the conqueror’s aesthetics. The intuitive feeling of a predator marveling at a prey. In an ironic way, the hidden triumph we hide behind our culturally touched amazement, is processed.

The Master Narrativ exhibited photograph "Wild Places" at MuKul, Weltmuseum Vienna. Analogue C-Print on Duratrans, Light box. 120 x 140 cm. 2001.
Exhibited photograph "Wild Places" at MuKul, Weltmuseum Vienna. Analogue C-Print on Duratrans, Light box.

The six exhibited, analogue photographs inside light boxes and the eight-hour film (the centerpiece of the exhibition) play around with the smile of cosmopolitan visitors. The central element in Ponger’s exhibition is little surprising in her own words: “Discourse”. 

“Ethnographers say a lot more about their own culture than about the one they work with.”

This photography called "Indian(er) Jones II" displays a young man in front of a red curtain, surrounded by the artifacts he collected. I am standing in front of the photograph, examining it.
The Master Narrative: photography "Indian(er) Jones II" at MuKul, Weltmuseum Vienna.

Especially beautiful in this exhibition is the depth of the analogue pictures, which are showed in light boxes. Color and a rich variety of content pull us inside, in the dark slackness of the MuKu. In this sense, the cooperation with the lion, which left Lisl Ponger amazingly free hand (which Lisl Ponger summarizes as “artist’s heaven”), is a successful one.

Indian(er) Jones II at The Master Narrative
Lisl Ponger's pretty son as Indian(er) Jones II at The Master Narrative

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