Group exhibition, Berlin/Germany
After the Project is Before the Project is
“The formulation of diverse projects has now become the major preoccupation of contemporary man. These days, whatever endeavor one sets out to pursue in the economic, political or cultural field, one first has to formulate a fitting project in order to apply for official approval or funding of the project from one or several public authorities.”
The start of the project. Idea – submission – planning – execution – publication – documentation – evaluation – archiving. The course of projects can be strategic, linear and correspondingly friction-free, but do not always go like that. Alongside the task of cultural initiators and art producers to develop a concept out of a potential of ideas that is open in all directions and, in the process, to realise themselves, there is the necessity to manage the project generated in this way within the boundaries of everyday reality. Here they are inevitably confronted with the economic, social and political implications that are linked to the realisation of the project – from the literal nothing to the proverbial something.
“Accordingly, this mode of project formulation is gradually advancing to an art form in its own right whose significance for our society is still all too little acknowledged. For, regardless of whether or not it is actually carried out, each project in fact represents a draft for a particular vision of the future, and in each case one that can be fascinating and instructive.”
From the moment the idea of the project is born, the producers inevitably have its end in sight. The duration required for the development is here subject to limitations that lie both within and outside of the project: from the perspective of the producers projects want to be completed in order to be labelled “successfully completed”, documented and finally archived. From the perspective of the institutional sponsors – for the sake of the evaluation and justification to the superior institutions – they must be completed: always with the formulations for the next project at the ready and always prepared to join in the endlessly revolving movement of cultural production and to participate in the all-pervasive project loop.
“In the prevailing conditions of daily life, individuals who are not prepared to enter into communication at any moment with their fellow men rate as difficult, antisocial and unfriendly, and are subject to social censure. But this situation undergoes a volte-face whenever someone can present a socially sanctioned individual project as the reason for his self-isolation and renunciation of any form of communication.”
The exhibition “After the Project is Before the Project is” itself comes from a circular project completion in which a potential new beginning is inherent. After six years of collaborative practice (editorial, curatorial and artistic) and after the continual – if not always linear – process of conception, planning, communication and compilation of the sub-projects within a common idea, the exhibition is drawing on the archive of the CONT3XT.NET collective. A selection of art works will be shown that contributed to the successful course of the collective project in that the artists – during the various production phases – integrated themselves into the structure of the collective and, by means of art, reflected the respective exhibition theme at a higher level.
“We all understand that when somebody has to carry out a project, he is under immense time pressure that leaves him no time whatsoever for anything else. It is commonly accepted that writing a book, preparing an exhibition or striving to make a scientific discovery are pastimes that permit the individual to avoid social contact, to discommunicate, if not to excommunicate himself – yet without automatically being judged to be a bad person.”
Both the content as well as the formal and material general conditions of project-based production in a contemporary artistic environment are up for discussion. What are the fundamental preconditions for the development of a project? What restrictions does the context of “art” necessarily prescribe? The temporal and local elements of art production are as important as the different relations between the producing and receiving subjects as determining factors in the course of the project or the modalities of project communication in the field of tension between failure and success, in which every artistic production is embedded. Thus it concerns a process that leads to a project and that – as the actual project – is the theme in the exhibition “After the Project is Before the Project is”.
“Someone in avid pursuit of a particular goal of knowledge or of artistic activity is permitted to have no time for his social environment for an unlimited duration. What is nonetheless still expected of him is that, at least by the final moment of his life, he has some form of finished product to show for – namely, a work – that will retrospectively offer social justification for the life he has spent in isolation.”
In his video “Unicode” (2012) Jörg Piringer critically examines the fundamental preconditions for every project design, the distilling of an idea from all the potential directions open to it as well as the formulation of linguistic concepts in a digitally networked world. With standard black typography on a white background, the artist shows all the Unicode symbols that are possible on a computer in an apparently endless sequence of floating images. As an international standard aimed at organising all known script cultures into digital code and thus countering incompatibility, “Unicode” should be understood as a political project whose standardising function is put up for discussion by Jörg Piringer. The infinite space of possibilities ultimately appears to come up against its limits faster than expected.
“Of course, all these projects can now be safely said to have failed since they have no finished product to show for, and because at a certain point in history their proponents also eschewed their self-isolation in favor of re-entering general communication. Accordingly, modernization is generally understood as the constant expansion of communication, as a process of progressive secularization that disperses all states of loneliness and self-isolation.”
The linguistic and conceptual limitations inherent in the field of art, to which the development of artistic projects is subject, are addressed in Miriam Laussegger’s and Eva Beierheimer’s text generator “art-words.net” (since 2006). Based on a collection of some 3,500 specific technical terms from art magazines, catalogues, lectures and talks, which is freely accessible on the Internet as well as presented as an installation in the gallery, the artists point to the fact that art producers are compelled to fit in with the language of the current discourse. By subordinating themselves to the theoretical vocabulary and adapting to the respective context – in advance – they counteract the failure of a project.
“But in order to induce such a new future one first has to take a period of leave or absence for oneself, with which the project has transferred its agent into a parallel state of heterogeneous time. This other time frame, in turn, is undocked from time as experienced by society: it is de- synchronized. Society’s life carries on regardless thereof; the usual run of things remains unimpinged. But unnoticed somewhere beyond this general flow of time, somebody has begun working on another project.”
Artists describe their works with the word “untitled” if they do not want to give them a narrow interpretation through linguistic signs and wish to direct the viewer’s gaze more closely to the form of the image. In “arbeiten für ohne titel” (2008/2009) [works designed as untitled] Miriam Bajtala reverses this process: fictional series serve the artist to draft works exclusively in the form of titles, such as “desire was a measure of length” or “lying on the ground, she doesn’t see the sky”. Through oscillating between the art object and its linguistic form of representation, the viewers are confronted with an expectant offer, which, however, remains in the conception phase of its project process, without its visual fulfilment, without the realisation of the project.
“The project allows one to emigrate from the present into a virtual future, thereby causing a temporal rupture between oneself and everyone else, for they have not yet arrived in this future and are still waiting for the future to happen. But the author of the project already knows what the future will look like, since his project is nothing other than a description of this future.”
In Arnold Reinthaler’s Video “the broken minute” (since 2009) the temporally defined work process that leads to a project becomes the actual artistic project in which the producing subject and the produced object are equally integrated. The video is an excerpt from a not yet completed project that consists of 144 five-minute books and a video. On the screen a clock face can be seen that is photographed 43,200 times over a period of 12 hours, printed out, flicked through by the artist and filmed again in the process. The artist’s hand replaces the clock hand and flicks at one second intervals lagging behind the here and now of his own art production. The end of the project can ultimately only be decided by the artist himself.
“Yet, success and failure of the project both have one thing in common: both outcomes terminate the project, and both lead to the resynchronization of the project’s parallel state of time with that of the general run of things. And in both cases this resynchronization familiarly causes a malaise, even prompting despondency.”
As well as the period during which the course of the project elapses, above all the location of the project plays a central role: whether this is the artist’s studio as the production site, the gallery in its diverse design or whether it is any location of artistic intervention. Stefan Riebel’s performance “I am here because you are here (7)” (since 2010) places the artistic project not just in a temporal but above all in a local context. By handing out visiting cards in the gallery with the inscription “I am here because you are here”, Stefan Riebel presents the relationship between the artist and the gallery visitors as a spatial dimension. The performance lasts until all 250 cards have been given to different people and the “life in the project” has been ended.
“Hence, in the eyes of any author of a project, the most agreeable projects are those, which, from their very inception, are conceived never to be completed, since these are the ones that are more likely to maintain the gap between the future and the present for an unspecified length of time. Such projects are never carried out, never generate an end result, never bring about a final project.”
From the point in time when an idea is born it simultaneously disappears into a sequential structure of planning and realisation steps – it merges into its own process. In his work “dimensionsminimum” [dimensional mininum] (2012) Michael Kargl leaves the majority of the course of his project to his collaborators, the curators who invited him to participate in the exhibition. In the e-mail communications between the participants, Michael Kargl characterises his own artistic project with the words “a sheet of paper, folded as small as possible and packed by me will be unpacked by you at the exhibition site, spread out and hung up” and completes his explanations succinctly with the question “Irony or fate? Empty form vs. formless content etc.” All further work steps – apart from the folding of the paper – come under curatorial decision.
“But while the heterogeneous time of the project cannot be brought to a conclusion, it can, as previously observed, be documented. One could even claim that art is nothing other than the documentation and representation of such project-based heterogeneous time. Long ago, this meant documenting divine history as a project for world redemption. Nowadays, it is about individual and collective projects for diverse futures.”
For “Umsätze im Detail” [Turnover in Detail] (2007) Barbara Musil and Karo Szmit draw on a special digital network – over a period of several months – to communicate with one another. The interaction between the artists did not take place on Twitter, Facebook or similar communication platforms but by money transfer in their bank accounts. Mutual bagatelle transfers were used to exhaust the “purpose of transaction” field for their messages and to entrust their communication to a network that is known for its discretion. Personal trivialities couple with intimate confessions, the elation about a positive result complements displeasure over a lack of money and ultimately dissolves the boundaries between a life as an artist within the project and the banality of everyday life.
“The archivists and bureaucrats in charge of documentation are widely regarded as the enemies of true life, favoring the compilation and administration of dead documents over the direct experience of life. In particular, the bureaucrat is viewed as an agent of death who wields the chilling power of documentation to render life grey, monotonous, uneventful and bloodless – in brief, deathlike.”
There are so far 25 copies of the series “invoice” (since 2009) – with an open end. The ink drawings on paper, which are produced on demand by Ruben Aubrecht, are adapted from the appearance of common till receipts. With the date, receipt number and VAT, it is however not a question of a receipt for everyday things, because the receipts relate to themselves. They thus stand not just in a 1:1 relationship to the conceptual and manual work that the artist has performed in making them – the receipts are the artistic work itself. With his self-analytical work, Ruben Aubrecht raises the economic conditions of contemporary art production for discussion and confronts the changeability of the value of art with an absolutely economic artistic strategy.
“The art project that addresses the impossibility of being concluded offers a constantly changing definition of the figure of the author. In this case, the author is no longer the producer of an art object, but the person who is documenting – and thereby authorizing – the heterogeneous time of a life in the project, including his own life as well. But the author is not being occasioned to do this by some public body or institution that possesses the power to authorize in the sense of granting permission.”
Maria Anwander’s work “sold” (2011) also deals with the commercial component of artistic projects: from the beginning the end is the actual aim of the project. What comes afterwards is a new project, whose process captivates the producer as long as he or she is working on it. With a series of 15 signs, which alongside the title of the work – “sold” – contain a brief biography of the artist and details of the material composition of the artwork, Maria Anwander escapes from the financial failure inherent in every work of art. By sticking the famous art-gallery red spot on the work and thus pretending to viewers that it has been sold, the project ends in the conception phase: there is no longer any objective that would ever go beyond the production of the work. End of project.
“Rather, this is more like an authorization provided at one’s own risk, one that not only admits the possibility of failure, but indeed explicitly celebrates it. In any case, though, this kind of authorization of life-in-the-project opens up another, heterogeneous parallel time frame – the time of desirable and socially legitimate loneliness.” (Boris Groys, The Loneliness of the Project, 2003)