by Christiane Mennicke, director of Kunst Haus Dresden
Speech on the occasion of the opening of the exhibition Work/Life Balance in the Gallery Patrick Daniel Baer
July 20, 2004
Good evening, I am glad to be able to speak to you tonight - all of you that found their way here in your precious spare time.
Is your being here tonight spare time? Or just kind of spare time? With this question I managed to scare a young student of sociology during an opening party in Vilnius when I tried to explain to her that in the sociological field of art the transition from work to spare time has always been extremely fluent. A kind of reading that boringly functionally explains the principles of the glamorous Bohemian which by doing so is not at all kept from being glamorous.
The REINIGUNGSGESELLSCHAFT with or without Henrik Schrat has dealt with the topic work for such a long time that they have accomplished something, which is usually the goal of every enterprise: An undoable connection between product and producer in the consciousness of a wide target group, in this case cultural activities. It is like soft drink and Coca Cola - whenever one talks about art and work your dialogue partner will inescapably ask: Do you know the REINIGUNGSGESELLSCHAFT?
The climax of this marketing concept could only be the equalisation of trademark and product: On January 29 in 1929 the "Vereinigten Papierwerke Nürnberg" (producers of paper) registered the first German handkerchief under the trademark "Tempo" at the "Reichspatentamt" (patent office). This handy disposable handkerchief made of cellulose and the catchy name corresponded with the zeitgeist of the 20s and thus the hygienic handkerchief had its break-through. Only four years after the launch already 35 million Tempo were produced and in the anniversary year 2004 about 20 billion Tempos reached the customer worldwide.
How about cleaning art then? Part of this successful concept is of course that nobody really knows who is behind all that and that this German trademark meanwhile belongs to the multinational corporation Procter & Gamble. And about the REINIGUNGSGESELLSCHAFT most people are not sure who or what it really is and the new question arising due to this presentation is: Has the REINIGUNGSGESELLSCHAFT been bought in by Patrick Baer?
No kidding - I think there is more to this simile than just a joke. Not without reason the REINIGUNGSGESELLSCHAFT was founded in the 90s in a vacant factory building which can be found everywhere in Eastern Germany since the reunification. This was not just an isolated and pragmatic move of self organisation but it corresponded to the zeitgeist and the historical situation. Throughout western Europe in the 90s artist groups and galleries established themselves in these abandoned places and often even took over the name of the vacant factories or created another similar corporate identity for their product with a special design, a website and description of their offered services.
This still ongoing trend was worth an intensive study by now and I am sure or hoping that diplomats around Germany are working on this right now. In any case this trend started shortly after callings in the early 90s being called "neoliberal" in some circles: "Take your destiny in your own hands!" - "Found an enterprise!" - In Germany those callings led to a economic and linguistic construction which was considered a joke just before: the often quoted and now existing "Me-PLC".
The REINIGUNGSGESELLSCHAFT thus exists like many other services that apeared in the last 15 years as life in the ruins of Fordism, explicable or not explicable to the normal citizen. Industrial production connected to the name Ford, that means workers drudging on the assembly line, is outsourced or automatised and the new products cannot be touched and in many cases not even be seen unless it is visualised.
This visualisation - this is important for the understanding of the work of the REINIGUNGSGESELLSCHAFT and everybody trying to comprehend the artistic effort - is merely a surface for communication; it is not the product itself but just a reference to it. Like the producers standing behind the product are only vaguely indicated and subjectivity is not really reached, the communication or offer surface of the product - which mostly consists of the creation of communicative situations - can only be described in general and unspecified. This is the necessary basic condition for the offer to stay transferable for different situations and customers.
Facing such exchangeability the trademark becomes more important - and here we are back with the "cleaning art" since there is no other obligation than the trust in the competence of its producers.
The REINIGUNGSGESELLSCHAFT invited us today to watch a risky experiment: the presentation of the product outline without a description of its usual service, which is communication. What evolves around these pictures and what is the usual work of the REINIGUNGSGESELLSCHAFT - the talking to people, the travelling, the creation of situations and the exchange of information - cannot be seen and is not described elsewhere.
What we see is merely a brochure of the offer with no text explaining the isolated pictures.
A misprint? If it is or not will be seen.
The REINIGUNGSGESELLSCHAFT is not just an enterprise, it also deals artisticaly with enterprises, corporate culture and the transformation of the "working" society into a "non-working" or at least not traditionally fordistic working society.
What we are seeing are pictures generated in different working contexts during the past 2 years: From left to right you see
Service in Japan - two young women at a service point of Tokyo subway
Young women at cleaning work - the artist organisation "Clean Brothers" in Tokyo
Workers´ protests in Turin in 2002 - on the occasion of the suspension of dismissal protection
Also in Turin - celebrating fans after the victory of Juventus Turin
An assumed job interview in the form of a picture story
A man in a suit at a river
A residential area in Columbus, Ohio - at second view the dignity of the place seems to be strangely artificial
A TV - and some people on motorway bridges Germany, the Czech Republic and Slovacia
And a hotel in Bratislava,
a gas station,
the beach on the Polish Baltic Sea coast
and an industrial chimney hidden behind a hill making it look like a bypassing old locomotive.
What is the connection between these pictures? First, that most of them pose the question of illusion or reality: Are the smiling girls at the the information counter really that happy like they seem to be? Is the interview really an interview - or who is selling what to whom? At least the Clean Brothers are no cleaners but artists as one learns in the conversation; but doubts arise when one looks at the workers and massively demonstrated labour union CI - is the union a corporation too? It is normal such question arise since the pictures are hanging next to each other which goes for the fans too.
Is the man in the suit really a white collar employee thinking about his "work/life balance" (the title of the exhibition) and thus is taking some time off for himself? Or was he rebuffed at a job interview and is now thinking less about the harmonic sense of the flow of life but about ending his life? Who is what - nothing seems to be what it used to be - even the beach becomes advertising space. This is the second thing the picture have in common - what one sees could be happening everywhere, the geographic place of these pictures showing the increasing globalising capitalism - yes, one has to say this, at least once tonight - is exchangeable.
What is interesting is that the REINIGUNGSGESELLSCHAFT does not refer provacatively yet hopeful to "being active" as the contradiction to gainful employment in terms of Hannah Arendt as it did in the project "Neue Eliten" (New Elites), trying to reevaluate the increasing unemployment positively, but is focussing on the still dominant principle of gainful employment - which is more and more difficult to picture - and is even looking at the "Old Economy", the industrial production (in its automatised form).
The machines in the computerised production processes we are seeing on the monitors, seem to perform an ambitius ballet - a kind of aesthetics that appealed so much to the futurists at the beginning of the last century - but now the human beings who are difficult to integrate in the purely machinistic image formation (because of that one liked to focuss on details before as well) are missing almost completely. Workers have left the factories and now seem to take delight in Tai-Chi courses in order to achieve harmony of body and nature now that they are free after the life reform.
Unfortunately we are not that close to the realisation of this utopia - the empty machine halls find their match in the previously described almost caricatured scenarious of presumable working situations visible on the wall in which the former workers are searching more or less despaired their place and a new "work/life balance". In the wonderful new world regular working hours will have disappeared and borders between work and non-work will be invisible. Therefore one does not only need governmental campaigns trying to communicate this like the campaign launched in 2000 by the British Department of Trade and Industry - one does also need numerous private services offering this kind of guidance for harmonising work and life.
Amazed one witnesses offers like this:"Through highly interactive learning processes participants master easy to use "work/life balance" tools and abilities allowing them to better manage both work projects and private relationships. The results for the individual participant are more control, more value, more balance in his or her professional and private lives."
The German equivalent is this:
Familienservice GmbH (Family Service Ltd.): European market leader in Work-Life-Balance, better compatibility of profession and private life. Part of their product range is: highly flexible childcare, counseling in case of emergencies, fiscal planning, job training, Au-Pair services.
At second glance the ballet of the Tai Chi group is not self-sufficient and introversive anymore: As most of you know Tai Chi is not only an old Chinese system of moves beneficial to health but also a highly effective martial art seen as the pride of the three "Inner Martial Arts" in China. It is interesting that it is not important whether one practises Tai Chi as a martial art or a health system. Since the opponent is not just visible but the combat zone spreads through the whole individual the student always achieves the same goals by his exercises. On the uncertain ground where one does no longer know which side one is on, whether one is a corporation or a private person and in which state of aggregation, the moves of Tai Chi are not only a compensation for the nearly motionless professional life, they are also a survival training, a combat against invisible foes.
Maybe this is the reason the text in the product presentation of the REINIGUNGSGESELLSCHAFT has vanished - we do not know - but we have the possibility to ask them face to face.
I thank you for your attention and wish you a nice summer evening wherever this event is placed on your personal work/life balance scale.