Worlds of Work

Worlds of Work

From June 2001 to the end of 2005 Prinz Eugen Straße in Vienna was the scene of a remarkable art project: "Worlds of Work" took place on the forecourt and along the facade of the Chamber of Labour headquarters. It was not least prompted by the fact that at the beginning of the 21st century the concept and structures of "work" had radically changed. The mentor of the initiative, the director of the Chamber of Labour, Werner Muhm, and his confederate Ilse Wintersberger accompanied the project from beginning to end with resolution and enthusiasm and committed themselves to a scheme intended to create references and cross-references between the socio-political substance and concerns of the Chamber of Labour and current art production.

The Chamber of Labour and museum in progress were agreed; nothing less than the ultimate in the arts, art in public space, would be suitable to formulate and open up to discussion the decisive changes in worlds of work as a socially relevant issue in the format of fine art and to transport them into urban public space and thereby to workers.

Worlds of Work was intended to be played out on a traditional medium for propaganda – on posters. For displaying the works the architect Walter Kirpiscenko developed a billboard construction that leads to the main entrance like a sluice along the facade of the building in Prinz Eugen Straße – a panorama-like strip, easily visible for pedestrians, drivers and tram passengers. During the course of the last four years 15 exhibitions have been presented on these billboards. In addition – following the practice of museum in progress – the presentation space extended into the communication field of the media, such as on infoscreens in the Vienna underground, the "City Lights" at tram-stops and in the pages of the daily newspaper DER STANDARD.

The series began in June 2001 with a work by Helmut and Johanna Kandl. "Your Way to the Top" crossed historical photo material with modern business advertising strategies. Then followed "Remix", a construction of the photo and media artist Herwig Kempinger, who threw bright lights on the Chamber of Labour logo at the interface of form and function. Dorit Margreiter examined the influence of fictions from the film and television industry on the reality of our lives with "some establishing shots (labour)". There followed Andreas Siekmann's picture cycle "ABMachine" and "Ne travaillez jamais". His felt pen drawings could be read as linear picture chains and they described the effects on society of the economic paradigm shift from the social market economy to neoliberalism. Urban public space also became the stage for social remodelling for the Austrian documenta participant Lisl Ponger. Her work "Die große Schere" (The Big Scissors) dealt with the theme of women's work and the grass roots demand for "the same pay for the same job". With "White Wall Travelling" Melik Ohanian went to the docks of Liverpool where a trend-setting strike for the European workers' movement took place in 1995. The artist Marko Lulić, an Austrian with Serbo-Croat roots, took as his theme the iconic "Kolaric" poster from 1973, which has since then been regarded as a symbol and parable of the "Gastarbeiter". In Politics of Communication, Thomas Locher, whose work revolves around language and communication, examined what offices and conference rooms tell us about hierarchies and power structures. With "Women's Work is Never Done" the charismatic group of female artists "Die Damen" staged the role play of the sexes in tableau vivant. With "Arbeit Kino" (Work Cinema) the curator Christian Höller showed snapshots from 100 years of cinema history in which various worlds of work and work processes are depicted, as well as their historical transformation. In "Schnitzel Company" the Canadian Ken Lum took up the genre of "employee of the month". The Danish artist Jakob Kolding made collages of text and picture from such different fields as architecture, politics, music, comics and sport into topographies of public space. After Deutschbauer/Spring's controversial comedy duo "Arbeit macht froh" (Work Brings Happiness) and Anderwald/Grond's relativisation of bodily and social processes "Relative Strength", "Worlds of Work" came to a great conclusion with "Shipwreck and Workers" by the American artist Allan Sekula with his critical contribution to the social realities of economic and cultural globalisation.

The "Worlds of Work" exhibition series also documented a new understanding of the artist's role: Artists intervene in economic, political and social contexts, they examine the most varied fields of our directly experienced environment and translate the findings of their research into the language of art, into aesthetic aggregations which also communicate knowledge of reflection and orientation beyond the format of a visa and use the visual as a surface for experience and dialogue.

I generally tend to read "Worlds of Work" as a call to resistance against the many forms of manipulation, indoctrination and exhortation. As a call not to allow oneself be pocketed by dominant economic systems.

An audacious sleight of hand could also interpret the qualifications demanded by business – such as specialised knowledge, being a self-starter, teamwork and communication skills, social competence, flexibility etc. – as good prerequisites for resistance and solidarity action. The demand does not only apply to the majority of employees, it also applies to those artists who attempt to defend the autonomy of art in the face of politics and the economy. A position that abstracts an important tendency in social development: namely that knowledge, creativity, feeling for connoisseurship and lifestyle are no longer in sole possession of a single in western urban centres but have experienced a radical democratisation through the new technologies and the culture industry. That is why the protected territories of art remain suspicious, because they mask life.

"Worlds of Work" wanted to maintain the relationship to social reality and remain comprehensible for many people, not only for club members of an enigmatic secret society. "Worlds of Work" removed the spangles from the luxury item culture and distinguished itself as a catalyst between art and the world. If "Worlds of Work" clarified one thing, it was this: It must be a matter of new economic concepts, and thereby of new social concepts.