Katharina Cibulka "For Margretha, Johanna, Sophia..." donumenta AiR Intervention in Public Space

Katharina Cibulka "For Margretha, Johanna, Sophia..."

Until about 1600, the place of execution for water punishments was located at the 13th bridge yoke of the Stone Bridge in Regensburg. Women were often sentenced to death by drowning for killing a child, as well as for incest and adultery. In the case of multiple infanticide, the woman was additionally publicly tortured, for example by having her breasts "torn" with red-hot tongs. There is only scanty information about death by drowning of women. In the legal conception of the time, the punishment of a perpetrator by drowning was based on a sacrificial and cleansing character: water as a cleansing element removed the culprit together with her guilt and freed the community from the wrath of the powers of fate.


Rescue poles line the riverbank along the Danube in Regensburg to save lives that are in danger. Everyone in distress has the right to be rescued. A woman, a girl, a trans woman has the right to make all decisions affecting her body herself and without the influence of external decision makers. In the USA we are currently witnessing the worrying development of how this human right to determine one's own body is being radically curtailed or denied. Reproductive rights that were fought for decades ago are being reversed - not only in the USA, but also in right-wing conservative countries such as Hungary and Poland. Those affected are denied the ability to make a responsible decision in such an intimate and personal situation. It is insinuated that the decision against pregnancy is taken lightly, which is rarely true - on the contrary, it is almost always a very painful and difficult process that precedes abortion. All studies on the subject show that prohibitions do not prevent abortions, but only make them more unsafe and dangerous for health.


The sculpture
The hybrid of a rescue pole, coat hanger and knitting needle designed by Katharina Cibulka represents the opposites of this highly ideological debate about the reproductive rights of women, girls and trans people. The sculpture forms a bracket between the Middle Ages and the present. It points to the shades of cruelty when it comes to cementing hierarchies and generating mechanisms of exclusion. Cibulka questions regularities and their genesis of development. She scratches at the apparent objectivity of laws that pose as timeless and all-encompassing, but in every historical epoch had or have a highly political and strongly ideological character.

"The saving ring turns into a threatening coat hanger that pregnant women have to resort to when the framework conditions for a medically and legally secured abortion are not in place. This is an act of supreme desperation, a way out of an unsolvable dilemma," the artist describes the idea underlying the sculpture.

The coat hanger represents a tragic form of self-empowerment in the process of an unwanted pregnancy. It is transformed into an instrument of liberation that pregnant women resort to when they see no way out and no access to a safe abortion is guaranteed.

Katharina Cibulka's sculpture can also be read as a symbol of rescue and liberation:

  • The medical care of an involuntarily pregnant woman must be "saved."
  • Freedom of personal choice must be "saved."
  • Liberal rights must be "saved."
  • Humanity must be "saved."
  • The honor of all women who suffered horrible deaths in the Middle Ages because they would not or could not be pregnant must be "saved."

The saving and the destroying, forged in iron, oversized and bulky, the bracket between the Middle Ages and the present, weighing heavily between two bridge piers - the place where the unfortunate, the desperate, the violated were thrown tied up into the water. Only they were called to account. Men did not have to face any consequences for their coercion and for their actions, it usually remained with a simple admonition.

Were the Middle Ages more cruel than the present? Have we learned from history or are we repeating the same thing in cycles with variations?


From the rescue rod with ring, the dangerously rescuing coat hanger with pointed knitting needle is forged from iron. Laws are not carved in stone. Laws are malleable and bendable - similar to a hot piece of iron. Depending on ideology, they are one way or the other, saving in their humane interpretation or crushing in their cold harshness. The sculpture weighs heavily between two bridge pillars, a decision weighs heavily on the shoulders of those who have to make it. Laws are pillars of our social order, create legal security; but what kind of security is this supposed to be and for whom, when women than half the population are hardly represented in the decision-making bodies?

Having a say
In all her artistic works, Katharina Cibulka addresses social ills and invites us to be part of a change committed to the principles of humanity and equality. Democracy is the strong foundation for a just society. However, the centers of power are still male dominated, important decisions are largely made by men, even if they affect a majority of women. This must be changed consistently, with all means, also and especially with those of art in public space, which can create attention. The artist describes how this could look in concrete terms: "Fortunately, we no longer live in the Middle Ages. We live in a democracy and can have a say in who governs us. In this respect, we have far more in our hands than we sometimes seem to. We are all part of the whole and bear responsibility that extends beyond the individual. There are more reasons than ever to get involved, to participate, and to stand up for those who are powerless. We can all exercise power in a positive sense to keep a hanger just a hanger.



Katharina Cibulka pursues a consistent political agenda in her work, focusing on aspects such as feminism, social justice, communality, and questions about aesthetic processes and the role of art itself. She often takes as her point of departure stories and motifs in which fundamental social issues and demands are reflected upon in a personal way. Her works take various forms in this exploration of emancipatory and social perspectives: Interventions in public space, works with film, photography, texts or sound, with actions and performances.

Lives in Innsbruck and works in Innsbruck and Vienna. Educated at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna (media and performance art), School of Artistic Photography Vienna, at the International College SAE (digital film producer) and at the New York Film Academy. Co-founder of the women's band telenovela and the artist group peek a corner. Works as an artist, filmmaker, photographer and project developer & leader for artistic and sustainable processes.

Her work has been shown at national and international exhibitions and film festivals, including Glucksman Gallery / Cork, Künstlerhaus / Vienna, St. Claude Gallery / New Orleans, Kunstverein / Bonn, Shedhalle / Zurich, Secession / Vienna, Neue Galerie / Innsbruck, Lidget Gallery / Budapest, Golden Thread Gallery / Belfast, Museum of Applied Arts / Belgrade as well as at the St. Petersburg Biennial in 2006, the International Student Triennial in Istanbul in 2010, the 1st Rabat Biennial of Contemporary Art in 2019 (female only) and the Vierzon Biennial, France in 2022.

She received, among others, the Provincial Prize for Contemporary Art of the Province of Tyrol in 2021, the Hilde Zach Art Scholarship of the City of Innsbruck in 2020, the State Scholarship for Visual Arts in 2019, the Promotional Prize for Contemporary Art of the Province of Tyrol in 2014, the Promotional Prize of the City of Innsbruck for Photography / New Media in 2012, the Würdigungspreis of the Federal Ministry of Science and Research in 2010 and the Prize of the Friends of the Visual Arts in 2010.

Text: Tina Themel, Vienna

Artistic Intervention "For Margretha, Johanna, Sophia..."

In her work for the 13th bridge yoke on the Stone Bridge in Regensburg, Katharina Cibulka refers to the death penalty by drowning in the Middle Ages.

As artist in residence in the donumenta program "HERITAGE TODAY / TOMORROW", she thus creates a connection between the history of the UNESCO World Heritage City of Regensburg, its present and its future. It is always the view from the outside, the new, unbiased perspective, that makes this Artist in Residence program so valuable.

Cibulka's work relates to history while creating a contribution to the current debate on women's self-determination in the context of unwanted pregnancies. The artist is known for her interventions and performances in public spaces. During her artist-in-residence stay in Regensburg under the motto "HERTITAGE TODAY / TOMORROW", the Austrian artist was inspired by a video in the UNESCO World Heritage Center at the Stone Bridge. There, the famous copperplate engraving of Matthäus Merian from the 16th century is shown animated, enriched with many other image sources.

The engraving thus shows life and - it must be added - death on the Stone Bridge. So-called water punishments took place at the 13th bridge yoke until around 1600. Cibulka links the medieval practice with the death penalty to the life poles that line the banks of the Danube in the city today. Two diametrically opposed perspectives on life combine to create a sculpture that is equally reminiscent of life bars and abortion instruments.

The temporary installation by Katharina Cibulka will be on display at the 13th bridge bay of the Stone Bridge until the end of October 2022.