Frank Motz, Kurator; Weimar / Leipzig / New YorkEmployees must wash hands before returning to work
The everyday act of cleaning is one of our deepest basic needs. When I revolved around this thought associative moments like "pore refining cleanser", Rühmann´s "...it can also be used for brushing your teeth", "scraping the dirt from your hocks" and clean German sidewalks were quickly replaced by other things getting into my mind, or better-said, in my way: Scenes of the Hitlerjugend (youth organisation in Nazi Germany) washing themselves in the morning in Leni Riefenstahl´s "Triumph des Willens" (Triumph of the will, Nazi propaganda movie) and by that commandments like "Us Thälmannpioniere (Thälmann pioneers, youth organisation in the GDR) keep our bodies clean and healthy, we work out regularly and we are happy. We steel our body through sports, games and tours." appeared before my eyes. Also the long serving "Cleanliness is an obligation of honour" whirred through the room as a mind shred. Not to forget the negative buzzword of "ethnic cleansing". And the "Big cleansing of the soldier's parlour" in the Nationale Volksarmee (national people's army, military of the GDR). "Washroom white" was the name of an action taking place every evening in the 7th Company of my garrison in Döbeln. To extensively clean the latrine the "Spund" (new recruit) had to cover it with Ata cleansing powder. Other "Spunds" had to mop the barracks´ floors with their "hobby gadgets" which was called "WBK" (Wischen Bohnern Keulen; Wipe Wax Cull). Somehow the usually positive connotation of the word "cleaning" had been politically misused and thus had afflicted massively which made me brood more:
Figuratively "cleaning" can emblematise a process of purification and renewal. In the last century the historical importance of the square in front of the New Museum in Weimar was reinterpreted four times through linguistic cleaning processes and the collective remembrance madness was corrected in terms the particular political rulers. The name odyssey from Museum Square over Adolf Hitler Square, Karl Marx Square to the recently named Weimar Square looks like a fast forward turbo run through younger German history. It does make one thing clear though: In what kind of relationship whatsoever - we live in a REINIGUNGSGESELLSCHAFT (cleansing/purifying society).
I do not know what kind of intuition the art activists Henrik Mayer from Freiberg (Saxony) and Martin Keil from Schlema (Ore Mountains) were following when they founded their label REINIGUNGSGESELLSCHAFT five years ago. As trained cultural managers prophylactically equipped with medial tools and advertisal strategies of the common corporate marketing - used as well by the MÜNCHNER HEINZELMÄNNCHEN (Munich Leprechauns), PUTZ-BÄR GEBÄUDEREINIGUNG GMBH (Cleaning Bear Janitorial Services) and the GÜTEGEMEINSCHAFT SACHGEMÄßE WÄSCHEPFLEGE E.V. (Quality Community for the appropriate laundry care, incorporated society) - they investigate and infiltrate their own and foreign social behaviour ever since. Often they locate themselves "where the toothbrush does not reach", the neuralgic point of intersection of society. The linguistic know-how seems to be a little excessive and prolate ("Cleaning is easier than you think" replaces the usual "Rely on us and you will witness how clean clean can be"); this also goes for the offered services - procurement of temporary work and an all-out communication workshop replace the obligatory tidying up and carpet cleaning - thus creating a first public insecurity.
Who knows if public responsiveness and public spirit, being humorous about oneself and ability to improvise, naivety and chutzpah of the two associates result from growing up in the country of Adolf Hennecke and Sigmund Jähn, WOFALOR and ELSTERGLANZ, Angelika Unterlauf and Karl-Eduard von Schnitzler. If we assume that they - "guided by the personal experience in socialism" (RG) - tried to escape the ideology of the socialist party and its "Tomorrow's champions´ fair" already in school by finding themselves some niches with sarcastical and critical approaches instead of participating in the "Make our cities and communities more beautiful" movement, we may wrong them. Without doubt however, the doing of the "diligent folklorists from Dresden" - like curator Susanne Altmann calls them - is to be interpreted as social engagement that centres on the human being, trying to impart forms of awareness "that encourage action through visionary will to create" (RG).
A shot of subtle irony has never been missing in the Storm-and-Stress baggage of the relaxed and smart guys from the "Valley of the Clueless". This irony probably accompanied many other passengers on the boat GDR after havary en route to the perfumed western shore temporarily surrounded by a breeze of denunciatory appetite for destruction. The projects of the "open artistic federation" (RG) - usually without a didactic pointer and far away from art historical effusions - are not lacking humour known from beer gardens, bowling alleys and company parties that allow the normal visitor to understand this conceptual form of art. Thus the offer "If you desire a special motif made of bobbin lace do not hesitate to contact us" does not read like an abstract of the product range of a folkloristic old-fashioned Ore Mountain corporation but like the typical service offer of two Mr. Cleans that roam the land as New-Age missionaries with their cheery message of "homeland" and "identity" on their flittering flag.
Broken out of the art circus with its mellow incestuous agglomerations in Central Berlin or Manhattan-Chelsea their action radius spreads into the urban area that becomes the playground of their interventions, their open-plan studio, an investigation office, a new forum for artistic creation, a "laboratory in the thinking sphere of art, on the search for connections and joints in different social areas" (RG). Methods used in the fields of sociology, philosophy and statistics are part of the supporting apparatus of the cleaners. In the everyday chaos of unemployment and free time fun, corporate culture and commerce, art and happiness the intention of their "open artistic union" (RG) matches with everyday life on-site. Their fieldwork often starts with opinion polls like "What potential do enterprisers grant artistic visions while strategically planning the future of their enterprise?" Hollowing out and everting conventional ways of acting and perception on artistic detours is able to uncover or even invent alternative methods of resolution in marketing floors of the industry. It would not be the first time - which makes the partnership between the RG and enterprises, profitable or not, reasonable.
Since the matching of Lindenberg´s "Likörellen" with the art collections of Weimar, of castle courtyard and Cranach´s "Sybille" with panic orchestra Udo´s "Mädchen aus Ostberlin" (Girl from East Berlin; popular song of German singer Udo Lindenberg which he, among others, pitched in the castle courtyard after his exhibition had been opened and moved hundreds of mid-forty agers to tears in the year of Weimar being cultural city). Weimar´s most famous artistic institution can now be found on the entertainment sector as well. The popularity of a TV channel is measured by viewer levels, the capacity of a museum - be it the Wehrmacht exhibition or Körperwelten (Body Worlds; exhibition of dead human bodies primed in an artistic way) - is measured by visitor numbers. A growing competition for the audience's favour among public and private non-profit organisations, the growing number of uncommercial offerers, grown demands and decreasing financial funds along with the omnipresent request for autonomous funding are forcing curators to use catch phrases like social marketing, attention economy, analyses of customers and advertising impact, customer integration and profit maximisation - although in a more social less monetary success.
Living up to its global pioneering task is the ordinary US museum. Here the covered intention of selling is more visible than anywhere else. Museums are no longer just museums. They mutated to rentable entertainment colossuses, to shopping centres without price tags, to shells for a "Let's entertain" event culture with kids, that skateboard next to Picassos and Kiefers, their HAAGENDASZ, PALM PILOT and Discman with them. BMW motorcycles, velvet Armani clothes and Shiseido flacons becoming exhibits on the rotunda of Thomas Krens´ Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum after donations worth millions pretending to be art and avant-garde are just the beginning. Art turns into kindergarten, Documenta (art exhibition in Kassel) into Oktoberfest, Pinakothek (gallery in Munich) into discotheque and once again children of every age are holding hands in their danse macabre, celebrating the arrival of a new cybernetic era. The strategy of "follow the money" of the museums is matched by the artists´ answer of "the bigger, the better" in our "society of spectacle" (like French situationist Guy Debord called its radical criticism of the capitalism we are living in); demonstrated impressively by Young British Art pop star Damien Hirst in his show in New York at Larry Gagosian in fall 2000. Galleries are no longer just galleries. German-American art theorist Benjamin Buchloh calls this phenomenon "end of art" as Guy Debord diagnosed the end of art after Dadaism and surrealism. Differences between art and fashion (or between art and design, art and computer programming, art and advertising) seem to be nullified. The fusion of numerous commercial outputs in the form or the context of art seems to evolve into a totalitarism who is less suppressing freedom of speech and thought but is rather limiting freedom of choice and the right of self-determination by means of free time and amusement, offering nothing more than escape.
The Reinigungsgesellschaft is not looking for wideness but is integrating their art in those social processes. More because of lust for expanding the action field art than due to the wish for manifesting their critical distance to the good exchange society they are "branding" their own artistic trademark with a metaphysical market value, implementing themselves in the economical circulation sphere, thus facing the conditions of market economy. The becoming-a-good of art and culture does not only mean integration in the market and monopolisation of it for profit purposes but also art products are structured in a way that represent and perpetuate the good fetish character. Realising, accepting and instrumentalising the artist group as a product in this case makes their existence in a social context relevant and efficient. To draw attention to the advantages of the RG (or the purchase of their product, whatever it may be) their message has to be advertised relentlessly. For this purpose the museum is instrumentalised as a partner with the same interest and as an advertising platform fighting for the target group of museum visitors. The way, means and aesthetics of the advertisement are borrowed from classical progenitors: they communicate the RG´s profile.
For art and advertising are striving for the same goal: They draw attention. This feature could even be a universal definition of art that has to be realised in order to be art. Aura and autonomy of the artist group are knowingly eclipsed, even lost. Are Mayer and Keil disrating themselves to a tiny wheel in the gear of the immanent network of circumstances, which only follow the logic of the market? Or do they promote themselves as the product REINIGUNGSGESELLSCHAFT, a buyable good in order to survive? It is neither resignation nor euphoria, neither acceptance nor refusal but the almost loving attempt of a positioning of the artist group itself as well as the institution museum and to seize a chance to actively participate in this process of the cycle of goods and values, that is the basis of the RG´s work to de-elitilise art. In this context art does not seek to be a possible place of radical critical practise against capitalism beyond universitary philosophy, nor does it want to be used as a mere ironic state description.
Norman Mailer published a collection of essays in the mid-60s entitled "Advertisements for Myself". And by this stands in line with dozens of examples of the fine arts. Self-promotion is not new in art. But the RG replaces the aid of critical theories of good exchange society by Adorno, Horkheimer, Marcuse or Benjamin and a discourse that is able to deprive art of its energy with a reaction to self-experienced authentic vibrations whose epicentre is and stays the artist himself. The topics tackled by different artists (like "advertising and art") are by all means similar. The readable surface of the communication spheres for modern art coming into existence through programmatic statements of the RG here is targeted to a public civil discourse. Which is new.
The recipe of the present campaign packet - Get the Message - is similar to conventional tools of the media to spread an advertising message: video, advert, radio spot and poster. Slogans from a new image movie like "Cleansing is easier than you think", "You can do it", "Lust for motion, freedom and vision" and "REINIGUNGSGESELLSCHAFT is always in your neighbourhood" are projected on the floor by laser beamer in a dimmed roof light hall of the New Museum. Furthermore a poster presented in ten giant advertising spaces in the area of Weimar shows two cheerleaders of the MIGHTY LIONS DRESDEN proclaiming "You can do it" and "Cleansing is easier than you think", their arms euphorically in the air. Several times a day the jingle of the REINIGUNGSGESELLSCHAFT can be heard in Weimar´s local radio station RADIO LOTTE. Heart of the set is the image movie mentioned before; including five several minutes long episodes with different actors in different places.
In the first clip we meet a charming, good-looking gentleman in respectable clothing with tie and short hair in a kitchen studio. In a juvenile "Cross my heart" pathos, very communicatively talking about teakettles and salad bowls, he is assuring us: "What things did we have to experience in the past? What ups and downs mankind had to face? Winners and losers are the result. Life is beautiful. We will prove it to you. Beauty through cleanliness. Just a clean tidy kitchen is able not only to let you enjoy your home and thus raise your life quality, but to bring you back on track."
In the second clip we watch a young woman with blonde fringe and ponytail in a 70s dot costume wearing a "Yours" golden necklace in a Laundromat. After loading the machine her happy face turns into a bored one. She takes a seat and takes a crossword out of her bag to kill time until the washing programme is done. During an internal dialogue we may follow her thoughts: "Australian flightless bird with three letters...Emu...Germany's cleanest project group..." Strained she is chewing on her pencil and thinks...it is on the tip of her tongue but she cannot hit on it...that is when a sticker with the initials "RG" on it affixed on her bag helps her: "Aaah, REINIGUNGSGESELLSCHAFT" she screams in the Laundromat. Her face turns to happiness again because of the enlightenment.
The third clip is animated. A rabbit nibbles on a carrot, with heartthrob hobbles to a washing machine and finally makes a giant leap on this fully automated cleansing apparatus whereon one can see the logo of the REINIGUNGSGESELLSCHAFT. With a flourish a circle closes around rabbit and machine - the logo is complete.
Clip number four shows the protagonists of the REINIGUNGSGESELLSCHAFT themselves as actors. Wearing bright orange uniform with silver reflector stripes like workers of the sanitation department we accompany them on a trip in an orange refuse collector, a close-up shows them in the middle of a sea of blossoms, active and in harmony with nature. If the beautiful GDR folk song "Uns're Heimat, das sind nicht nur die Städte und Dörfer " (Our homeland, it is not just the cities and villages...) is ever made into a music video I can imagine this landscape as the perfect scenery. The slogans fading in between the yellow fields and the blue sky confirm what we already know: "REINIGUNGSGESELLSCHAFT is on the road for you" and "REINIGUNGSGESELLSCHAFT is always in your neighbourhood".
The plot of the fifth clip lets us attend a show by cheerleaders of the MIGHTY LIONS from the bird perspective and as close-up, accompanied by 70s music. "Their shows transport power, joy and energy" (RG). In the Rudolf Harbig stadium, playground of DYNAMO DRESDEN (football team), the nine young women form a line after their other formations. By turning around one after another the writing "REINIGUNGSGESELLSCHAFT" made of pairs of letters can be seen. Furthermore the slogan "Lust for motion, freedom and vision" appears.
The REINIGUNGSGESELLSCHAFT is working with co-operative structures under concrete social conditions. Co-operation of art and commerce in a social and pseudo-social context has a known past in otherwise not so modern Weimar. Remember project groups like ACTIVE MEN and videos of DIY, fitness and health, DIXIELAND with their toilet boxes turned into peepshow boxes and model railway platforms and AKTIVPOSTEN with their assembly line for presents in the main building of Weimar´s post; groups that partially had similar casts. Not to forget Weimar-based New York E-TEAM which caused uproar recently with a fotoshooting of the (yet undestroyed) World Trade Centre from a helicopter or the team of PROTOPLAST from Basel with a planning office for redesigning Weimar´s city. Especially the latter used mechanisms of advertisement common in the market to promote their art.
For many commercials are more interesting than the TV shows. More and more people are needed to produce advertisements. Not least due to the Internet semiotics and technology of advertising become more obvious and available. Not just to promote products but even to promote ourselves as a product we may use them. The REINIGUNGSGESELLSCHAFT is an archetype for this. Advertisements and commercial spots as a stand-alone form of art already are objects of award shows and critics, just like novels, movies, concerts our galleries. More and more money used for buying a certain product will go straight into the wallets of advertisement artists. The attention for a product, however, will not be drawn to it by the product itself but by persons, stars, whose images will be connected to it. tTherefore art will be a less political, more economical "weapon", able to reach its main goal, which is to draw attention. Thus it will become the key element in the new economy.