Your Way to the Top

Your Way to the Top

Since 1997 the artist couple Helmut and Johanna Kandl have been working together on projects dealing with concrete social questions and problems. In these co-productions Helmut Kandl, who as a photographic artist and Johanna, who as a painter occupy an important position in Austrian contemporary art, document 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 world and translate the results of their research into the language of art and potential for dialogue.

"Your Way to the Top" deals with the theme "worlds of work". The wish of the Chamber of Labour to open up socially relevant questions for discussion in the format of art, matches the artistic intentions of Helmut and Johanna Kandl. The result of cooperation between the two artists makes apparent the symbiotic connection between theme (Johanna) and method (Helmut). Whereas Johanna Kandl has devoted herself for many years to our relationship to reality and place in the form of cooperative dialogues, Helmut Kandl is the impresario of found filing systems.

The material for "Your Way to the Top" is a collection of glass negatives from the Lower Austrian Landesmuseum. They are teaching aids containing a wide-ranging convolute of over 400 coloured photos depicting various work situations and means of production. Helmut Kandl selected various motifs from the archive covering the inter-war years – workers at a blast furnace, in leather processing, in dairies, mills and mines. Beside these, pictures tell the story of the deceptive of women, children and housework. Johanna Kandl refutes the suggestive romance of the historical photo material with quotations from the world of business. They are the often so trivial sayings of the powerful, the tycoons with their leadership fantasies and the no less cynical statements of the advertising gurus which openly reveal their strategies. For example, Bodo Schäfer, Germany's first money coach says, "Money really does women good," and George Soros admits, "In capitalism it's all about getting rich." The Kandls deconstruct the myth of supposed progress with critical understanding and the appropriate portion of subversion. Messages from the affluent society appear in various languages – German, English, Serbo-Croat and Turkish, whereby a link is established between visual organisation and the various levels of reception.

The shifts between word and image, between signs and what is signified, set up a complex hall of mirrors of past and present, aesthetic system, social questions and the many misunderstandings between them. That this is a highly critical analysis is made clear, not least by the jarring exaggeration which reduces what is symbolic to an extremely cankerous level.