Taking part in art

Everywhere he goes, Werner Reiterer carries a small loose-leaf notebook in the inside pocket of his blazer. The notebook, a journal of his every interaction, serves as his miniaturized canvas.

“They’re all right here,” Reiterer said, patting the left side of his chest. “Some of the ideas I’ll draw and then realize they could not work on display, and others end up exactly as I’d imagined.”

Raw Loop, Reiterer’s exhibit now on display at the USF Contemporary Art Museum (CAM), offers a look at some of these notebook pages as they have made their way into the real world.

Reiterer has been practicing art out of his hometown of Vienna, Austria, where he lives with his girlfriend and her 14-year-old son.

In 2005, just a year after Reiterer’s first U.S. solo gallery in New York, he and museum curator Julien Robsen met at the Basel Art Fair in  Switzerland.

“Julien approached me and told me that he liked my work and was wondering if I was interested in doing a show in America, which I was very excited about hearing,” Reiterer said.

Reiterer’s exhibit was first displayed in the Speed Art Museum in Robsen’s home of Louisville, Ky., before making its way to CAM.

“Werner’s exhibits are all about interactivity,” said Alexa Favata, associate director of the USF Institute of Research in Art. “There’s a lot of irony and comedy in his pieces, and that makes his art more approachable and welcoming to anyone.”

In fact, for most of the pieces in the exhibit to work, viewers must participate. One such exhibit, “Breath,” at first looks like a cheesy call for liberation: a piece of paper that reads “Yell as loud as you can, now!” When viewers do so, however, the lights in the room dim and a voice recording breathes heavily in sequence, surprising most anyone who uses it.

The unexpected is everywhere in Raw Loop, and amid playful activity Reiterer throws in doses of reality. The piece “Life Counts Death” is a large wooden box attached to a bass drum pedal. Participants are instructed to use the kick pedal, which results in the chiming of a loud, gothic-sounding church bell.

What seems funny at first, Reiterer said, is actually a reminder of a more somber fact of life.

“In the instant that bell is rung, two people die on this earth and two people are born,” he said. “What I want that piece — along with all of the pieces in this collection — to do is to get people to focus on finding solutions in their daily lives rather than focusing on the piece itself.”

Though these points may not be understood immediately after use of the bell, Reiterer leaves clues throughout the exhibit in the form of his notebook sketches.

Along the right wall of Raw Loop’s portion of CAM is a series of ideas from Reiterer’s notebook that became sketches. A large majority of the sketches never came to fruition, but of those that did, explanations of how they work and what some of them mean are included.

Inclusion in art was a main theme in a show also running on the evening during Raw Loop’s reception Friday. March on Washington, put on by USF art students with help from Reiterer, was held in honor of the inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama. The display involved artists and students marching around the front entrance of CAM with signs demanding the same things as those who marched on Washington with Martin Luther King Jr. in 1963.

“I think we are all aware that we are at a critical juncture in our history,” said Noel Smith, one of the curators for Raw Loop. “I was very touched when speaking with Werner (Reiterer) to hear how rooted he was in America’s history and how much of an important time this was to him as well.”

Reiterer’s interest in America stems largely from the country’s openness to new ideas, which is necessary for contemporary art to flourish, he said.

“Contemporary art is about creating a dialogue about culture and society,” Reiterer said. “I think what people need to realize is that we are situated in our time where we have the most freedom and that is something we all should utilize.”

Raw Loop will be on display at CAM until March 7. For more information on the artist and other exhibits, visit ira.usf.edu.