Arbeit macht froh (Work brings happiness)

Arbeit macht froh (Work brings happiness)

"Arbeit macht froh" ("Work brings happiness") say Julius Deutschbauer and Gerhard Spring who, in tandem, with "Kunst als Serviceleistung" ("Art as a Service"), pester those in work but also people of leisure. In 2001 they began the launch of their brand, the "Doppelconférence" (comedy duo): Under their direction the smash hit genre – well-known from radio and television – has fixed itself in the post-post-Dadaist art context. Together they perform their sketches in the trades of performance, exhibition, poster, book and video.

It all began with their appearance as stuntmen for Federal Chancellor Schüssel and Secretary of State for Art Morak, for whom they stood in as inaugural speaker and interview partner. Just as the government coalition of the People's Party and the Freedom Party generally prompted a deeper look at Austrian (cultural) politics. With almost documentary scripts – nothing is added to the original soundtracks of politicians, curators and gallery owners, but they are craftily rearranged – Deutschbauer/Spring expose an oversupply of formulae for pathos as what it is: hollow claptrap. In doing so they prove themselves to be obsessive realists who make their points with playful ease, stand-up comedians as socially critical moralists who strip down the national psyche.

Deutschbauer/Spring also carry out precision work on texts as interpreters of world literature. They have applied the technique of subtraction – three-minus-one-is-two – to, for example, Anton Chekhov and James Joyce. They ask for the participation of a willing audience for the theatre or video karaoke "Zwei Schwestern" ("Two Sisters") and "Twolysses", and the reception side is pleased to play along. For their part the artists work on an announced art concept – in a practical way. And very casually, in answer to Lenin's question "What is to be Done?" Deutschbauer/Spring offer the "Successful Political Artist Training Course" in twelve lessons.

The subservient commission and assistant artists Deutschbauer/Spring prefer to describe themselves as poster artists. There are already more than one hundred such posters. "Posters are most fun, posters are material for everybody," they say and generously hand out the A1 sheets among their steadfast following. For "Arbeit macht froh", their biggest poster project so far, the artists appear in their special company mechanics' overalls and deploy 33 different types of gestures and postures. The satire works on three levels – picture, text and subtext – stretching from the comic techniques of slapstick and the witty rapid fire dialogue of screwball comedy to virtually Brechtian political and social criticism. Every escalation is justified for the sake of the message: The apparently harmless but explosive, deliberately incorrect title describes to the letter precisely that amnesia which threatens to run rampant in "Commemoration Year 05".

The fact that body language and gestures can be variously interpreted can be read in Gilles Deleuze and Aby Warburg. On this note Deutschbauer/Spring demonstrate the potential of gestures for political action. Each of the "actions" they show is ambiguous. "The ambiguous body also incorporates a possible subversive level," writes Hemma Schmutz in an essay on the subject. Deutschbauer/Spring are world champions on this level and they carefully mark out their very own territory with provocative captions: terms of political jargon, banality, ugly undertones, contradictions and ambivalence. "Unproductive freedom instead of productive servitude" they pun and they elucidate for us the nonsense of social relationships. Only then quickly to add: "Paid leisure instead of unpaid work."