Using the phrase “How we aim to work”, the June issue of Texte zur Kunst brings together contributions by authors who have been associated with the magazine for a long time and who have shaped its debates along the way. Instead of specifying a thematic focus, we left it to the contributors to decide which questions relating to their current research interests they wanted to address. The selected texts are mostly extracts from long-term research projects and therefore function as “work samples”. They expand on topics for which, faced with the deadlines always bearing down on them, the authors usually don’t find time. Thus, this issue contains drafts of texts – “goodies from the study”, if you like – that would otherwise remain in the drawer and that for now avoid the logic of direct exploitation. We invited the authors to develop these texts without requiring that they align, as is so often the case, with a designated theme.
It is precisely the conditions out of which they developed and the different formats of these contributions – from collaborative authorship; to narrative, literary essays; all the way to monographic and performative, artistic treatises – that stand for a different approach to the fields of university research, project-oriented collaborations, artistic dealings, and the thematic “private passions” of our authors. Such an approach would run counter to the often sobering coercion of activity and effectiveness that characterizes working conditions today. The authors' willingness to share “work samples” from their ongoing projects can also be understood as a reaction against the pressure of having to be flexible and active in various ways in both one’s professional and private life – in order to expand one’s network through a quick succession of projects and to ensure the existence of future projects. Especially in the field of immaterial labor, the “projective city” diagnosed by Luc Boltanski and Ève Chiapello in 1999 is more effective than ever.
The motto “How we aim to work” also raises the question of which themes can be brought forth in project-based artistic or academic contexts, which overarching debates they follow, and which forms they can take. In their propositional essay – which arose from a seminar and a conference in Vienna that they conceived – Sabeth Buchmann and Constanze Ruhm examine the rehearsal as an artistic format in which the seemingly controllable relationship between stagnation and routine becomes evident. Buchmann and Ruhm argue that the rehearsal can, for this reason, be used as a field for contemplating the “tension between the autonomy and the determinateness of artistic decisions.” Jutta Koether’s contribution also questions the extent to which art is suitable as a project of self-definition and self-differentiation; it does so by using a drawing by Jo Baer to project an artistic self-understanding characterized by the will to contradict. Jo Baer’s legacy, which Koether defends, can be understood as enduring fragility in one’s work, or rather pushing it forward in order to arrive at other decisions. It is a legacy that manifests itself equally in Baer’s writing and in her artistic work.
In her outline for a project that she has planned concerning Denis Diderot’s “Salons”, Beate Söntgen traces how the subject of art criticism, and with it the process of judgment, is revealed through writing. Söntgen’s argument is part of a collective, long-term research project focusing on art criticism’s oscillation between involvement and critical distance, and according to which Diderot’s self-reflective reviews of the Salons serve as a model for present-day art criticism.
Ironically, the point of departure for Tom Holert’s research, which he has so far developed without any institutional affiliation, was located within the academy. Franz West’s remarkably uncomfortable metal chairs, which the author sat in for stretches of time lasting several hours at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna, prompted Holert to note down several propositions concerning the modernist ideology of a “comfort society” – which has influenced art production in the past decades – and thus some fundamental thoughts on the aesthetic and political preconditions of a “pain-free life.” Sven Lütticken’s contribution shows that research goals need not merge with a belief in the contingency of the object in question, but that the agency of things should be analyzed under the keyword of “obstruction”. It also outlines a long-term project in which he is conducting research on the subject of research, as it were. Helmut Draxler, in turn, presents a revised version of a lecture seeking to elucidate the concept of ambivalence; it is precisely in the exchange between two opposite poles that he sees the potential for demarcation going beyond phantasms of autonomy.
This issue also includes monographic texts written outside of a secure, institutional framework. In response to two exhibitions, in Düsseldorf and Karlsruhe, Clemens Krümmel concerns himself with the recontextualization of American avant-garde artist Henry Flynt. He formulates a contribution to the history of Conceptual Art that deviates from the conventional assumption regarding a widespread fixation on language in the 1960s. Rainer Bellenbaum examines the cinematographic dispositif employed by the video artist Elizabeth Price in regard to its permeable production of meaning. Finally, on the occasion of the current Martin Kippenberger retrospective in Berlin, Isabelle Graw asks what can be learned from the artist’s œuvre and what insights can be gained from his works’ entwinement of biographical and social aspects given a present-day perspective. Julia Gelshorn, Sebastian Egenhofer, Fiona McGovern, and Chris Reitz offer responses.
All of the contributions show that a strategy of countering the imperative of activity can derive from pursuing long-term modes of working and thought in a targeted way and from investing in a project intensively over a longer period of time. Not only does the longstanding commitment of these authors to Texte zur Kunst mark such an endeavor, but with their “work samples” in this issue, they also grant us insight into the themes they are currently working on: Instead of bowing to the pressure of presenting only finished products, they stress the potential that lies in making work processes visible and putting them up for debate. “How we aim to work” can therefore be understood as both a question that we pose ourselves and as a public appeal.
(Translation: Karl Hoffmann)