11 09 07

a kind of summer summary

elisabet steger

1. Multitudes asked: Is modernity your aftermath ?

Travelling to the family to Bavaria and back to Vienna by train on a day when the German union of engine drivers performed a warning strike I was forced to wait some hours in the city of Passau for the next connection. First I had a dialogue with a working woman at the office about the strike (a boring strike: the fighters fight for higher income in the first place, they do not fight for less work), then walked outside the station and thought about what to do in these granted hours. A poster of the museum of modern art caught my eye. Decided to visit the show with works of Joseph Beuys -collected by a friend of the artist, the professor of medicine Axel Hinrich Murken who was especially interested in Beuys labours dealing with "healing powers of art" - that´ s the title of the exhibition. The marvellous building fits very well to (modern) art - it had been used for praying purposes in former times. A video in the centre of the exhibition space with possibilities to sit in front on a bench without backrests, a none- individual seat, invited me to look at it: Charismatic Beuys, an artist who had a certain influence on me as a drawer is asked by the interviewer in the darkness about his definition of art: Beuys is speaking, but suddenly a woman, I guess his wife, enters the room in which the interview took place, says something to Beuys and brings also some material putting it into his hands: It is a kohlrabi. Beuys continues talking seriously about art while simultaneously he sets in peeling the vegetable (That´ s a real proof for the untruth of the prejudice that Germans are not able to joke, I think. In any case I had to laugh about that). Very interesting is moreover how perception is changing: I did not get anything about Beuys understatements of art, was obviously disturbed by the interruption, the peeling action and naturally by laughing. The pictures of the process claimed my close attention - in principle I try to face authoritarian artists like "Great Master" Beuys with the utmost caution -while they closed my ears.
Furthermore a great little work is part of this exhibition: A copy of Immanuel Kant´ s book "Kritik der reinen Vernunft" in the famous Reclam book size and in the just as famous Reclam Yellow with the sentence and signification "Beuys - Ich kenne kein weekend" stamped on the front page in Red colour- this popular cheep copy of Kant´ s book is placed next to an equally levelled bottle of Maggi. The herb liquid for spicing the dishes, especially the main substance Levisticum officinale, is qualified for every diet says the book of herbs. And this obviously comparable bottle has probably standing on almost every German public house table in those days when the work has been produced, in 1972. Think, that the title of the work refers to the weekend- culture of employed people (as Walter Benjamin already had described it in his essay on S. Kracauers "The employees" in 1930) and the work itself asks about the possibility of giving people mental content like a handy spicy liquid. Both things, the book and the bottle, are cultural goods of a market and the art piece speaks concretely about the problem of Verdinglichung, shows it on the level of a solid example. Moreover it is clear that working conditions (of an artist) are touched upon and through giving this title to the ready made they are choose as subject of public interest. Kennst Du ein weekend? The title of the exhibition maybe involves a certain danger of misleading - it could be called as well "Beuys and the term of labour", it depends on reception and the connection between "healing" and "(not)working" could have been easily worked out.

2. Multitudes asked: is bare life your apocalyptic political dimension ?

One of my jobs for more than 10 years is to accompany old women in every day life. A few weeks ago I accompanied my actual client, an 90 year old woman, who is living in the sanatorium Maimonides in Vienna, on a trip to the Wachau within a group of old people (the eldest is 104!) and their care-workers. First we travelled with busses then with a ship on the Danube river. The announcements for tourists on the ship like "on the left side you can see ..." are called out in the languages: German, French, English, Italian, Spanish and Japanese. The physiotherapist who was companion at our table and is speaking at least two languages (like most of the care-workers, because care-workers = migrants, if it is allowed to overact a little bit), in her case Czech and German, commented on ironically: "Well, all languages are represented again".
Apropos "bare life": Giorgio Agamben wrote several books and I favour his book "Stanzen" - because Agamben is continuing through it the immense work of Klibansky, Panofsky and Saxl about the history of melancholy in nature- philosophy, medicine, religion and art. But let me mention that here in Vienna we have a group of theorists next to the magazine Grundrisse who are working on Agambens philosophical /political state theory which is probably an brilliant exception itself. And we have also a highly contested camp/Lager- project initiated by Katerina Zakravsky and Karl Bruckschwaiger some years ago (the project is in the state of a coma, as I heard).

3. Multitudes asked: what is to be done after the D12 Bildung programme?

I have not been in Kassel but was asked very often, indeed more often than in other Documenta- years: Do you go there? Have you been there? and got also reflected narrations from well- behaved visitors, and because I appreciate the counter project of Multitudes I told them about in a countermove. I even got some insider information: the opening speech of the directors is honoured with 1000 € - but I do not know the length of the speech: did it last 10 minutes or 11 ? Well, I prefer the minor art machines and made minor trips - to mention shortly the shuttle- bus travels to art events I went on this summer and to ask: Is there already somebody who is writing a history of the culture of arty shuttle- bus voyages ? Think this could be a quite interesting post- modern phenomenon to be examined, shuttle- busses are probably heterotopias.
Let me tell you at last about experiences with some pictures -at least Bildung comes from Bild- shown in "Held together with water" in the museum of applied arts in Vienna which is presenting the first time at all a collection of a company. Picking out a few landscape photos of a large collection which contains great feministic art results from my needs as an urbanite which have been satisfied through looking at them. Am I allowed to ignore the master pieces of feminist artists here?
I got the catalogue of the running exhibition in Vienna as a present. At home lying in bed in the room I had kept the too strong sunlight out and taking the catalogue of "Held together with water" in my hands (The jacket of the book is made out of a folded poster - a beautiful idea!) I searched for nothing special in the book, without the pressure of being orientated to something at all in the state of holidays, and the surprise was so much more: Brightly red light shone out of the photos which I "discovered". Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller actually discovered the series of photos the grandfather of G.B. Miller made in the 50s. This man had made a trip through whole Canada on the way to a doctor in New York searching for help as a cancer patient. And these photo series he had shot on his trip- there is a red and a blue one because some photos got red through aging, the others blue - are shown in the catalogue as well as in the exhibition itself. But in the dark room of the MAK, which I can reach by foot and without admission, they are installed as a slide show directed by the artists voices who are leading a dialogue about these photos and the trip of the fatally ill man. Following the slide-show several times you will reach a point where you are no longer astonished about gigantic views of red shining coniferous forests or sharp clear super-blue mountains appearing like gigantic whales swimming through the sky. After some time it seams to be the most normal fact that photos of trees, rocks, fields, surfaces of water and skies invite you to differentiate a spectre of red colours. What a remarkable perception we humans have adjusting so quickly. But our glances like to wander!

ps: dear readers, please bear in mind: my English comes from a school in Bavaria.

Thanks to Patricia Grzonka.

Elisabeth Steger