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May 16, 2019

TV-Helmet (Portable Living Room) by Walter Pichler, 1967

Around fifty years ago, a man wore a submarine-like white helmet that extended from front to back. His entire head disappeared into the futurist capsule; only the title betraying what was happening. TV Helmet created in 1967 is a technical device that isolates the user while imbedding him or her in an endless web of information: closed off against the outside world, the wearer was completely focused on the screen before his eyes.

TV Helmet is the work of Walter Pichler and it doesn’t merely formally anticipate the cyber glasses developed decades later; Pichler also articulated questions of content in relation to the media experience long before the “virtual world” was even discovered. Even back then, Walter Pichler was probably already a media critic as he’s remained one to this day. But he is also a conceptually thinking artist who explored space early on—beyond the four walls and the structures of cities. Pichler called his invention a Portable Living Room.

His pioneering designs, The Prototypes, are pneumatic plastic living bubbles from the sixties that sought answers to the questions of tomorrow’s individualized life somewhere between the areas of design, architecture, and art. With their reference to space travel and modernist materials, Pichler’s futurist sculptures inspire a desire for the future— even if his messages are said to possess a sceptical or sarcastic undertone.

Walter Pichler, Austrian artist and architect (Oct. 1, 1936 – July 16, 2012), rose to prominence in the 1960s as a central figure among Vienna’s post-World War II avant-garde architects, but in the 1970s he turned away from the art establishment to focus on his sculptural works in relative isolation in the Austrian countryside.

Pichler worked as an architect in the 1950s after having studied art at the Hochschule für Architektur in Vienna. In the 1960s he became known for his architectural drawings, which were at odds with the current styles of modernism and functionalism, and he began to experiment with melding sculpture and architecture. One of his best-known pieces, from his Prototypes series, was TV-Helm (Tragbares Wohnzimmer) (1967; TV Helmet or Portable Living Room), a large white torpedo-shaped helmet containing a television screen. Pichler’s drawings and sculptures were occasionally loaned out for exhibition, and his work was featured at the 1982 Venice Biennale.

Walter Pichler (Courtesy Contenporary Fine Arts, Berlin. Photo: Elfie Semotan)

To understand the cultural significance of Pichler’s TV Helmet, it is irrelevant whether or not the work was conceived as a cynical commentary on the social isolation resulting from excessive TV viewing—even while it seems improbable that the studied architect, a perfectionist, would have been satisfied with a work motivated solely by sociological concerns. Whatever his intentions, the work—together with only a very few other works, such as Ivan Sutherland’s Head mounted display of the same year—marks the quantum leap of the physical into the virtual world. It addresses less the individual psyche than it seeks to redefine space.

To this day, Walter Pichler has remained true to the motif of imbedding, even if his means have changed dramatically. Pichler is one of Austria’s most important living artists, although he'd rather not be. “I haven’t wished to be called an artist for a long time now,” he said in an interview. “Most people aren’t interested in anything but getting rich and famous.”

Walter Pichler, Small Room Prototype no.4, 1967

Walter Pilcher, Small Room Prototype no.4, 1967.

Walter Pichler, Drawing for “Intensivbox,” 1967.



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