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Dr.Holger Birkholz, art historian

How does REINIGUNGSGESELLSCHAFT work?
model / labour / communication

 

On 21st of September 2004, 11am two cars drive up in front of the former canteen of VEB Verpackungsmaschinenbau (Nationally Owned Enterprise for Building of Packing Machines) in Dresden. Four people get out of the cars. Two take position with video and photo cameras and two others get back into the cars, to drive up again, now documented by the cameras. The reason is the recovery of a mural, painted on porcelain tiles, created for the firm by the painter Erich Gerlach in the early nineteen sixties.
Henrik Mayer and Martin Keil of REINIGUNGSGESELLSCHAFT, wearing blue work clothes, cap and at times breathing protection, are very careful while taking off the tiles. Like on an archaeological recovery the tiles are numbered and are packed accurately in protection foil. The several steps of the removal are documented to enable the mural to be put together again easily. The two artists work with technical precision and scientific wholeheartedness. The presence of the camera turns the activities into performance. The atmosphere changes during the shooting breaks and the relaxed coffee breaks. The half decayed place - plants already loom through the partially broken windows - makes the activities somehow mysterious: a rescue from a transient ground.
The two artists consciously mix different patterns of behaviour. The textual profile of those behaviours causes various focuses to the mural as well as to the act of recovery. The archaeological approach testifies to the particularity towards the object and to the responsibility for a past, which is almost still present in comparison to excavations from the ancient world.
The technical precision and the work clothes point to the nature of the recovery as an act of labour. The invasion into the building reminds of trespassing. The removal of the picture can also be understood as robbery in a certain way: a symbolic moment in context to the reunification of East and West.
The artistic position, which uses and quotes the other attitudes, lets the activities seem improper and demands a critical examination of the meaning of the chosen roles and hence brings up the question: How does the REINIGUNGSGESELLSCHAFT work?

The work of REINIGUNGSGESELLSCHAFT (est. 1996) is based on the concepts of model, labour and communication. Their artists practice relates to social processes and reacts to them with certain themes. Martin Keil and Henrik Mayer consciously choose contexts, in which their critical approaches to themes like "labour" and "society" find concrete links. Those links usually result from co-operations.
REINIGUNGSGESELLSCHAFT's way of working is based on forms of co-operations with cultural institutions, staff of firms, student work groups or other artists and their competencies. From those networks arise the individual structures of each exhibition and the workshops, working groups or discussion forums connected to it. The Media used by the artists are at first the modern mass communication, photography and video, but as well exhibition displays, and on the other hand patterns of communication, based on direct exchange and personal mediation, like work groups, panels or personal consultation.

In this field of mediation the artists take on various roles by initiation of processes and following observation of their self dynamics. Or they play with the perceived roles, which the society assigns to artists and their work by using concepts of employment and artistic work in the same sense. The fruitful discussion or the instructed working group are not only to be understood in their topical focus, but embody strong visuals in their structure. The understanding of REINIGUNGSGSGESELLSCHAFT should not only be reduced to its service offer - it also creates an image, that reflects and relativises its own conditions.
The model that tries to exemplify common concepts of labour in a three dimensional form, does not only serve this strategy of visualisation. At the same time it is an image for the attempts of various disciplines to formulate conclusions about coherent subjects. As a model it serves the purpose of visualisation. It has a symbolic character by standing for something else, which is incorporated by its form. At the same time still stays as a model, what it is: an object that cannot replace the subject matter. As a three dimensional object, resulting from an artistic process, it is in a broader sense a sculpture.
The topic of "work" is one of the most important for today's society. It is the subject of discussions everywhere, most of all the lack of work. The condition of our society is measured by the employment figures. The right of free choice for the place of work and profession is part of the German constitution. The figure of work is symptomatic for society's order.
The Book of Hours, created by Duc de Berry in the early fifteenth century shows work as an activity agreeable to God. The Book of Estates by Jost Ammann from 1568 makes work evident as the order of a social hierarchy in the form of estates. In the nineteenth century the picture of work becomes a critique on the miserable working and living conditions of the common people.
REINIGUNGSGESELLSCHAFT has been concerned with the image of work in our society in various ways: for example the series of photos of a job interview or of demonstrations. . (see catalogue Work Life Balance, REINIGUNGSGESELLSCHAFT, 2004). They also produce the aforementioned three dimensional model of work. In another small model they reproduced the waiting room of the job agency in Dresden. They dig up the aforementioned Socialist Realism mural, which shows a "Project Schedule" and confront it with PR photos of a company of today showing idealised work situations.
The Installation "Work Life Balance" from 2004" shows on four monitors images from the mass production of cars, medicine and steel, confronted to people being active in sports. It is a question of perspective if the modern forms of production contrast or go together with the leisure time activities. Sure, from the traditional points of view the leisure time serves the recreation, but in the understanding of modern corporate philosophy free time becomes a phase regeneration, a retrieval of the ability to work. Today companies consciously offer their employees so-called leisure time activities, in which they are further prepared for creative work by being active in sports or games.
The question of the representation of work is asked by REINIGUNGSGSGESELLSCHAFT not only in relation to the present. The Socialist Realism mural rescued from an abandoned canteen was made at the beginning of the nineteen sixties. It shows work in an ideal situation, people of different ages and sexes work harmoniously, unified around a table.
The Slogan "Arbeit mit, plane mit, regiere mit!" (roughly: Take Part In Work, Take Part In Planning, Take Part in Governing") is the title of the exhibition in Kasseler Kunstverein 2004, in which the mural was also re-assembled. On closer examination it does not differ so much from the attempts of today´s enterprises to provide strategies of worker participation and possibilities of identification for employees. A research in which the relation these forms of "Company Culture" have towards real work conditions and the existential mood of the employees was carried out by REINIGUNGSGESELLSCHAFT in a questionnaire in 2004 in Hamburg and in a workshop in the same year in the German town of Melsungen.
The visitors of the exhibition space Hinterconti in Hamburg were asked "What does work mean to you?" The answers were displayed successively. The workshop with employees from different departments of the B.Braun Melsungen AG reflected first the working conditions and ended in a questionnaire on desires and proposals to improve them. The starting point for the workshop participants to make a theme of the situation at the workplace was the combination of three images from a collection of photographs by REINIGUNGSGESSELLSCHAFT, icons and terms from contemporary living and the world of work.
The results of the workshop were presented at the Kasseler Kunstverein in individual combinations of the images (without the workshop participants' descriptive statements) and also through hand written notes, which provide information about ideas for positive changes in the participants' working environment.
With methods of this kind, the REINIGUNGSGESESELLSCHAFT becomes the organ for opinions and creates possibilities for displaying the different, individual aspects of the working world. The hand written statements in the exhibition, or those in the form of videos, should not be understood as a general message about REINIGUNGSGESELLSCHAFT's particular installation or project, especially because an exhibition like in the Kassseler Kunstverein brings up even contradictory views, like the one by entrepreneur Dr. Ludwig Georg Braun and another by art historian Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich.
The introduced views have to face the conflict, that they represent only a subset, because of their cut out character and follow at the same the tendency to claim universal validity because of the generally admitted nature of the exhibition in an art institution. The artists avoid this contradiction partly by a focused choice and naming of the particular subsets. In Hamburg these were the visitors of the exhibition space, above all culturally interested people and self employed persons engaged in the cultural sector and in Kassel these were the employees of a certain company.

REINIGUNGSGESELLSCHAFT: producing the video The Recovery, 7.28 min, 2004

 
Brothers Limburg: The Month of June, from the Book Of Hours of the Duke of Berry, 1413-16
 
Jost Ammann: The Sculptor, from the Book of Estates, Frankfurt 1568
 
Gustave Courbet: Stonecrashers, 1851
 

REINIGUNGSGESELLSCHAFT: The Threedimensional Concept Of Work, sculpture/installation, 2004

 
REINIGUNGSGESELLSCHAFT: The City Of Cool, installation of street signs in Leipzig, 2005

In addition, the value added by individual ideas in the art context is used precisely in order to taper the discussion exemplarily and to claim a relevance on the political stage. The constitution of significance is reached by the REINIGUNGSGESELLSCHAFT on the basis of the axiomatic choice of topic and by the spatial and artistic solution. This functional aspect corresponds to the arrangement of communication structures.
Two of those structures were already named: the survey and the workshop. Additionally further communication strategies can be mentioned, like the conscious integration of external expertise, i.e. in interviews or working groups, the discussion with responsible public authorities, charges and archives, as well as economic corporations and cultural institutions.
At this point there accrues a further task for the REINIGUNGSGESELLSCAHFT: the role of a curator. In the art context this concept relates originally to care (lat. curare: to care) for the assets of a museum. In the current cultural activities, the curator is the author of the exhibition in a wider sense. He is not only responsible for the choice of the art positions and for the planning of the show, but additionally his curatorial work includes a finding of and working on topics, based on Weltanschauung.
The curatorial work is also exemplified by the choice of artistic positions and the exchange with them. Their social context shows up with the artworks and is illustrated by classical media of documentation. The REINIGUNGSGESELLSCHAFT was directly active as curators i.e. in 2005 in Munich within the project Not Even The Moon Is Autonomous at the exhibition hall Lothringer Dreizehn. The presentation focused on current art positions from Japan and strategies aiming towards their social coherences and that are conscious of the traditional Japanese roots and the position of the country on the global market.
For the realisation of the project, REINIGUNGSGESELLSCHAFT went on a research trip to Japan, to study the rapid social and cultural changes, which arise from the positioning of the country as one of the most important global economic forces, and their reflection in contemporary Japanese art. Such a curatorial conception participates in scientific research methods - a further field in the group's artistic practice.
If the curatorial activities of REINIGUNGSGESELLSCHAFT can be understood as part of the artistic strategy, so the curatorial achievement has to be seen also in collecting and processing of the materials, interviews, statements and documents in their other exhibitions. With every show the artists formulate a kind of structure to make things possible, which partly have the character of interactions, to that effect, that the statements of the participants find their place in the whole structure in their original form, just commented by the context.
The artistic work of REINIGUNGSGESELLSCHAFT is comparable to a work on the display, that means on the possibilities of representation in the exhibition. This curatorial work is continued in a project space in Dresden in 2006. Initiated by REINIGUNGSGESELLSCHAFT, different agents of various disciplines get a forum there and artists can show their work.
The approach of REINIGUNGSGESELLSCHAFT to their themes has the nature of a model. Not only that models belong to their forms of articulation, like for instance the model Three Dimensional Concept Of Work, produced in 2004 for the Kunsthalle Exnergasse in Vienna or the model of a waiting zone at the Dresden Job Agency, displayed 2005 at Kunsthaus Dresden - also the combinations of the installation with the representation of different statements can be understood as a discussion of models and notions on a theme.
The model like aspect becomes programmatic, when the model imposes on reality and leaves the dimension of theory to get a direct experience of the environment. In June 2005, the REINIGUNGSGESELLSCHAFT renamed streets of the Leipzig city district Plagwitz to i.e.: Street of Critical Consumer, Zone Of Loss, Street Of Creative Capital, Avenue of Public Utility, Street of Hard-working Artists… Wearing blue working clothes and a signal-red jacket, the artists set to work in Leipzig. They mount the signs, observed by a camera, which doesn´t only record the artists, but also discussions with passengers: the REINIGUNGSGESELLSCHAFT at work.

Dresden, January 2006

 

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