24 02 06

minimal institutions

academy of breadless arts

Klaus Neundlinger

I admit – I am enthusiastic about institutions. I like them, maybe not the already existing ones, but the „idea“ of institutions stimulates my imagination. One should try to create an institution at least once a week. They can be temporary or permanent, according to the purpose they have been founded for. It's like in a museum: You have to deal (1) with a certain heritage, the „stock“ of works in the possession of your museum (or the foundation – I really like this word – that runs the museum). “Permanent” in this sense means that you can reorganize a given number of elements, putting them in a certain order and – above all – leaving out those elements you consider „not inherent“ to the topic of the exposition. And you have to face (2) a certain „flow“ of temporary elements that do not circulate by chance or destiny, but on base of the activities of a community of artists, critics, curators and so on.

To found an institution thus means combining given systems of creative expressions with streams of changing systems and, even more exciting and difficult, system changes. The comparison to the museum inevitably links the concept of expression in general to the concept of expression (and valuation) of creative abilities. Notwithstanding, an institution can be founded also out of concrete needs, out of the absence of abilities, the lack of possibilities, works, power etc. Institutions are often identified with the expression and representation of power, but we also know a lot of examples of forms of association, that have been set up in order to cope with severe social problems, difficulties, processes of destruction, ... my enthusiasm regarding institutions probably has to do with those forms of dealing with lacks, failures and problems more than dealing with abundance. In this sense, if there is a contemporary art movement I would like to take as an example for the process of founding institutions, it's certainly minimal art. Coming back to the two fundamental modes of producing institutions, we can see that what remains in the first mode (permanent) are frames, several slightly different versions of the same idea, the smallest number of elements that is necessary to say something. The second mode (temporary) provides us, in a similar way, with a lacking, failing, interrupted flow of elements, the circulation of a few absolutely necessary ideas, the substitution of exceeding signifying process by the repetition of a minimum-variety of signs.

What is a minimal institution? It seems as if it has to do a lot with the reflection of the conditions that make institutions possible. Imagine a curator that has been convinced by the whole community of artists, critics and other curators to engage a young artist for a temporary exhibition. The problem is that this artist has never created any „work“, neither a painting, nor a sculpture, nor an installation, nor a piece of conceptual art. There is nothing you could put into the gallery, the museum, the showroom. So how will the institution react? It will create a fabulous discourse about the complete absence of any traditional artistic expression in the work of the young artist and in this way it is part of the codification process of what I called the temporary „flow“ and the „circulation“ of elements (like in the fairy tale „The emperor's new clothes“). And in this way it will inevitably fail in the attempt to grasp the essence of what I define a minimal institution! It has not had the courage to show us frames without filling them, to participate in sign flows by interrupting them, it simply has accumulated symbolic and creative abilities instead of really dealing with the desintegration of symbolic structures.

Recently, the neoliberal attempt to dismantle the european welfare state has led to a discussion of a radical reorganization of the universities in Germany and Austria. The mythical principle of the „freier Hochschulzugang“, the free access to the university had been attacked by liberals and conservatives. It was accused of not being efficient, because after 30 years there is still a very low percentage of students from lower social classes attending university lessons. So why bother abolishing this principle, since it has never worked?Fees for attending the university are being introduced, and the whole system is being restructured under the neoliberal agenda of „competition“. Students are now seen as customers of the universities, which are competing for the best students. But the students themselves are seen as competitors against all others as well, because they have to try to accede to the best universities (like in the fairy tale „The rabbit and the hedgehog“). The latest fashion concerning this process of restructuring is the differentiation of several “classes” of universities. Since it has been proved that not all people have the need (or was it the right?) to study, it is only natural that inside the field of university there should be a further distinction. There should be, “like in the United States”, Universities of Excellence! For the best, only the best, or as we use to put it: Who pays, commands. In a recent article on “Work Theory”, published in the Journal Critical Inquiry (31, 2, 2004/5), V. B. Leitch shows up the “other side” of the introduction of competition in the academic field: 50 % of the lessons held at the universities are done by stuff in precarious working conditions, while up to 40 % of the employed at the university do not have anything to do with teaching or research work, but with marketing and the purchase of possible sponsors (so much for the emperor's new clothes). Excellent! Shouldn't we go for that? As I said, I am fond of institutions. Since the existing ones constantly lose their ability to redistribute “social capital”, the worst thing to do would be if we desperately try to compensate this lack by accumulating more and more “cultural capital”. We are competitors only as long as we do not develop our forms of social faculty ... as long as we don't organize our needs.

For that, I now announce the foundation of a minimal institution. I shall call it “Akademie der brotlosen Künste” (Academy of Breadless Arts. “Brotlose Kunst” is a german expression for professions that are not likely to provide you a good job [philosophy, humanities, arts, music, ...]. For that, they are considered “interesting” (i. e. Arts), but “useless”). It should deal with concrete needs having to do with knowledge in a very broad sense; if anyone is trying to write his or her thesis and for reasons of work has got no time to attend to university seminars (with stuff that is not able to give any useful feedback), just join in. Writing (in all forms), talking in public (which is a big problem for the author of this article), discussing, preparing exams, exchanging experiences in precarious forms of working, educating children, doing projects in performing arts, whatever you want to tackle, just come and tell! Subscription is opened, everyone will be admitted, provided that you have a concrete need. If you keep in touch with me, I will confer you the title of MBA, Master of Breadless Arts; I'm serious!
Write to:

Klaus Neundlinger