|Frequently Asked Questions
What do WochenKlausur's projects have to do with art?
Art is always what people want it to be. It is not a question of consensus;
everyone does not have to share a single view on art. It is more that
people who use the same definition for art find themselves in groups.
They find themselves united on the basis of their common conception
of art, as they do on the basis of their views on religion, morality
or tulip cultivation. If under the heading art a group understands
the academic conception of the nineteenth century, in other words
the mastery of craftsmanship, a universal ideal of beauty, and the
material art object, then it will get into disagreements with others
who see art as the process instead of the tangible artwork. If a group
wants diversions, spectacles, events and thrills to fatten up its
free time, then it is in disagreement with another group that approaches
art with respect, devotion and contemplation. Yet another understanding
of art is the following: enough consumption and enough genuflection.
This is a conception of art that feels responsible for the social,
political and economic conditions under which we live.
Words change their meaning according to who is using them. Take the
word common, which has acquired an additional pejorative meaning over
the years. Originally associated with community, it has a social meaning.
Various associations with the ordinary and average - in other words
with that which people have in common, with that which is not unusual
- have added a meaning to this adjective which implies coarse, asocial
and even underhanded.
Changes of meaning don't necessarily have to occur unintentionally.
The word tree has been understood to mean the same thing for a long
time. But if a poet were to jokingly describe a telephone pole as
a tree, the description would be accepted. If the readers were amused
by this description and used it themselves wherever they found the
opportunity, and if eventually Webster's added a corresponding entry
("slang for telephone pole"), then the tree would no longer
be just what it once was.
The understanding of a word like art can be influenced. It is permanently
being influenced and constantly being "negotiated" anew.
With every change in the word's meaning, the functions of art also
change. In view of the American philosopher Richard Rorty's claim
that concepts are continually being implemented as means of achieving
certain purposes, all that remains in the end is the question: What
is the word art used for? Who achieves what with it?
If the word art is used to indicate something extraordinary, an exalted
entity created by humans, then the stipulation is likely to be included
that art should not have anything to do with everyday mundane situations,
that it must remain untouched by reality, just as it leaves real circumstances
untouched. By contrast, there have been efforts since the beginning
of the twentieth century to develop another understanding of art.
Since then actions, ideas or processes that involve themselves in
the circumstances under which we live have also been considered art.
Just as traditional artworks, material objects, whether paintings
or bottle drying racks, cannot initially be art per se, but rather
are awarded this appellation through special sanctioning, perfectly
normal actions or sociopolitical interventions can be given this appellation.
Following their presentation within the context of art and after the
acceptance of their petition to be recognized as art, these actions
mutate and suddenly are art. When something like medical care for
the homeless is made available, or when conditions in a deportation
detention facility can be improved, then these are interventions that
in no way differentiate themselves from similar activist measures
taken outside of the realm of art. They first become art when this
is demanded by the activists and confirmed by a community.
There of course instantly arises the question of who in society determines
what is to be recognized as art and which criteria are used thereby.
Is it the majority? Is it an elite group or a "mafia of experts"
who make all decisions within a closed circle of insiders? Marcel
Duchamp always pointed out that other paintings could just as well
hang in the Louvre. Still there must be some determining forces at
work, because although everything can be art, in the end everything
is not really art after all. Clearly there are notions and criteria
in the background, whose functioning is responsible for what is given
Powerful institutions like museums, schools and media are decisive
for what becomes art. The economy has an influence as well as politics
and scholarship. All of these factors establish the appellation art.
WochenKlausur's work is thus not a priori art or non-art. It becomes
art through its recognition, and that comes about within institutional
mechanisms. Every art remains a fully harmless raw material until
these mechanisms take this raw material and circulate an opinion about
Is there something like an artistic quality in activism?
Because there are no universally valid norms for art, there can also
be no absolute "artistic quality". Quality must always serve
as a stand in when no absolute criteria for good art are admitted
and yet these are still tacitly being clung to.
Quality, like art, needs criteria to which it must conform. For the
art of intervention it is easy to establish criteria for quality.
It is simpler to delineate criteria for an art whose declared goal
is to bring about concrete improvements in social coexistence than
it is for traditional art, whose quality judgement remains subjective
as long as precise criteria do not exist. The quality of WochenKlausur's
art can be recognized by comparing the results achieved with the intentions
declared. Whether a project has succeeded or not, and to what degree
it has, is easier to assess than the question of whether a painting
is pleasing or not.
Efficiency is a criteria that is not compatible with certain notions
of art. According to these notions, art is something of genius. It
goes beyond conventional standards and thus cannot be measured by
these standards. WochenKlausur's activist art has little in common
with such conceptions of artistic quality. It seeks to achieve results
through concentrated effort and certainly does involve innovation
and creativity. In contrast to conventional art, which can present
every result as a success, interventionist art must establish its
intentions at the start of its work.
When differing conceptions are at the basis of art, then qualities
cannot be weighed against one another. If someone wants to jump over
a two meter bar, then one measures their performance by seeing if
they succeed and not by considering how beautifully they jump or how
far. Whether art has quality or not is merely a question of whether
it conforms to certain predefined criteria.
What is it about the activist interventions that is art: the result,
the process, the idea?
In traditional art, a great diversity of materials were formed and
manipulated. Marble, canvas, pigments and other materials were the
point of departure for every creation of form. They helped the artist's
imagination take on tangible shape. In activist art, sociopolitical
relationships have taken the place of these material substances. Like
the old materials that were given formal shape, they are the substance
that is manipulated. As with marble or the painting surface, this
substance is not arbitrarily formable. In order to transform existing
circumstances, the limits of variability must be recognized, just
as they must be in traditional art. This means that the hurdle - the
envisioned transformation - must not be set too high. It must be high
enough that one can speak of a noticeable change while still being
low enough to be jumped over. The art is in aiming for a recognizable
and sensible change and then bringing it about. For example, an artist
could take it upon herself to get a one-way traffic regulation for
her street repealed because she had recognized the senselessness of
the regulation. She would then make an effort and do everything possible
to realize her plan, just as the Baroque master made an effort to
realize his plan for a ceiling fresco in a cathedral, regardless of
whether he personally put his hand to the task or not.
Why must a sociopolitical intervention be art? Can it not simply remain
what it is?
Why must Beuys' chair of fat be art? Why the polyester figures from
Duane Hanson, which more than one hundred years after Madame Taussaud
started making wax figures are also nothing more than hyperrealistic
renderings of people. Why must a black square be art if it could just
as well have been painted by a house painter as a color sample? Or
why a childhood drawing from Paul Klee, which doesn't look any different
than many other children's drawings outside of art. Of course: A sociopolitical
process can also have nothing to do with art. All around the world
at all times, projects and initiatives are successfully completed
without even the slightest consideration of art. People have always
been coming up with new solutions, also when it was simply a matter
of helping others without any mention at all in the newspaper's art
and culture section. The shelter director Gregor Hilvary, for example,
thought out an ingenious system of rotating sleeping places in order
to offer more refugees beds than the law allowed, thus protecting
them from deportation. He didn't receive any art professorship for
his achievement. His efforts could not even be mentioned publicly
because that would have endangered the execution of his plans. Why
First, with every successful project that is recognized as art, intervention
in existing social circumstances wins increased significance. The
word "social" is then used more positively again. Just as
certain "revolting" materials can suddenly be made more
appealing through art, social activism can also decrease the nimbus
of pathos and presumptuous "do-gooder syndrome" that often
surrounds social efforts by revaluating them in the context of art?
Second, the mythos "art" is of assistance when one is interested
in helping realize an intention - in the political field, for example.
In 1989 the artist Patricia L.A. Paris designed a light installation.
A long, poorly lit underground passage in Whitechapel, meeting point
for all the muggers and cutthroats in London, was to be lit up with
four floodlights, brighter than the light of day. The artist actually
won a competition with her design, but unfortunately was never able
to execute her installation. Shortly before the planned setup, lighting
was installed in the passageway by the community itself, which also
took the opportunity to clean up the trash and pigeon corpses. Paris
was infuriated. The planned floodlights had lost their purpose, and
so she withdrew the project. And yet it had been her idea to improve
the passageway's lighting. Her intention was realized and had the
desired success, even though she had contributed nothing more than
her "planned" artwork. With the help of her art, the authorities
had been compelled to take action. As an average citizen she might
also have achieved that, only she would have had to place an official
request for better lighting, like eighty others before her. With forms,
waiting lists and fees. Months later she would have received a letter
in which it would be called to her attention that at the moment circumstances
make it impossible to...
Third, the media reports less about the most exciting social work
than about the dullest cultural events. Thus WochenKlausur uses the
media in any way it can. Through newspaper articles and radio and
television coverage, pressure can be put on decision makers. For instance,
it helped WochenKlausur that the culture moderator of a Viennese radio
program called up a city councilor live on the air and asked her why
the doctor for a project to provide medical care to the homeless was
not being subsidized, when such a measure must be fully in the spirit
of a community governed by the Social Democrats, and moreover when
the artists had already taken care of all the arrangements.
Fourth, experience from the completed projects shows that in many
fields an unorthodox approach opens doors and offers usable solutions
that would not have been recognized in conventional modes of thinking,
such as those of science, social work or ecology. When in a project
to improve the sense of well-being in a Viennese secondary school
classroom WochenKlausur simply ignored the Austrian standards for
school construction, because they were completely inappropriate in
meeting the pupils needs, then this is an approach that had never
been tried by the experts, architects and interior designers. In order
to avoid potential difficulties in their professions, experts must
stick to the existing guidelines, even when they are clearly preposterous.
Community facilities and social institutions are sometimes overloaded.
A backlog of items then remain unprocessed. Even if solutions are
near at hand, many problems also remain unsolved because the departments
responsible are unwilling to cooperate, because of partisan agendas
or because conflicts over jurisdiction, strategic considerations,
or hierarchical structures are in the way. Often deficiencies can
only be recognized from an external perspective. Through certain freedoms
that art has been granted, an area is opening for art where the deficiencies
of codified politics can be pointed out and their resolutions can
be paradigmatically demonstrated. Art's opportunity to approach a
problem unconventionally, naively and open-mindedly is in principle
an opportunity open to anyone who approaches a problem from outside.
When too many people tinker around too long on a project, average
difficulties often become irresolvable deadlocks. Example: After the
City of Vienna informed WochenKlausur of the difficulties involved
in finding a doctor who would be willing to work in a situation envisioned
by the group's project to provide medical care to the homeless, and
after the city administration reported that years of effort in this
direction had proven fruitless, the obstacle seemed insurmountable
to the group. How should the artists find such a doctor when the community
had already been searching for years without success? The group tried
it nonetheless and for a start put advertisements in the relevant
medical journals. It worked! Thirty serious applicants responded within
a few days. Despite extensive efforts on the part of the responsible
officials, no one had thought to put a simple notice in a professional
This is central to the psychology of the artist and to the abilities
that differentiate him or her from others. At first artists do not
differentiate themselves from others at all. But then at some point
they do, at least in the decision to be an artist. Occasionally more
basal causes are at the root of this decision. If one asks - not very
psychoanalytically - what they are, then the answer is a rich and
unusable palette. That artists' sensibilities lead them to notice
where trends are heading before others do, that they have the ability
to draw attention to problems that are not seen by others, that they
make finer distinctions in certain areas, originate issues that attract
attention and the like.
None of that can be proven. Still, the word art draws in unconventional
minds and nonconformist potential like a magnet. It attracts people
who do not want to integrate themselves in a regulated work process,
in a preprogrammed career with retirement thinking and safety nets.
The conception and execution of sociopolitical programs does not unconditionally
need art. There are, after all, also trained specialist who make similar
efforts. Still, why does no one think rebuke the publishers of newspapers
and tell them that they should leave politics up to the politicians?
In fact there is no reason why artists should have better ideas and
problem-solving strategies. On the other hand, there also aren't many
reasons why such interventions shouldn't be carried out by artists
- as well as by all other people - if they are efficient. Taking responsibility
outside of the framework of official directives and organizational
structures can become a matter of duty when extremely obvious deficiencies,
whose resolution does not require years of training or special experience,
are awaiting action. When these activities are carried out by artists
at the invitation of art institutions and are recognized by a community
as art, then they are art.
Does the external form, the outward appearance, still have any significance
at all for activist art?
That the dog comb became art is not to be explained through its formal
structure. Although form historically played a major role in the bestowal
of the appellation art, it is of tertiary importance today. If formal
discussions are necessary, then only in the context of function. For
instance, it is better to work in an office that has a pleasant atmosphere
and it is more appealing to maintain clarity when designing a graphic
Are not social issues being brought into today's art because all of
the others have been used up?
To a degree matched by hardly any other field, the visual arts have
brought themselves to a conclusion. They have become aware of the
infinite possibilities for aestheticization and have played out every
last avantgardistic strategy. It's like good fun at a jolly gathering,
which outdoes itself through further excesses and can always take
on new forms until it collapses.
After this magnificent feast for the eye, one can say without a bit
of put-on social consciousness that art's self-referential summersaults
have in the face of real hardship become vanity. An art debate that
merely serves as entertaining reading between two political outrages,
such as cuts in subvention for disabled people and the ever-increasing
cruelty of the laws on political asylum, is nothing more than a hand
warmer for the self-satisfied bourgeoisie.
Can WochenKlausur's activity be effective as a critique of the art
business when it still plays along with the art game?
WochenKlausur's intention is doubly political. On the one hand, a
small contribution to the transformation of society is made with each
project. It makes more sense to have a modest influence on existing
circumstances than to only talk about them and criticize them in other
On the other hand, all of these projects bear witness to the opportunity
art has to intervene in real events. Thus the notion of what art is
can experience a shift. This shift into the realpolitical field of
action should - beyond the scope of the WochenKlausur projects - also
become apparent in the transformation of the art business. WochenKlausur's
intention is just that: If acceptance can be assured for art that
opens small fields of concrete action, then the current conception
of art will be shaken. This approach will achieve more than polemics
and spiteful opposition or an emigration into other disciplines ever
WochenKlausur works consciously within the art system. If the art
system is to change, then the rules of the game that determine it
must at first be recognized. The rules of the game cannot be radically
changed, only in small steps. Radical changes disturb the continuity
with previous notions of art, and thus inhibit the use of a common
conception of art. Using the word art with a changed meaning and yet
in a way that is understandable to a large number of people is a prerequisite
for admitting any shift in the conception of art.
A transformation of the possibilities open to artistic activity is
the real political goal of WochenKlausur and much other activist,
interventionist and littoralist art today. If the conception of art
changes, then the art business will also change. Polemics and criticism
alone will not alter the art business.
Denial doesn't change anything either. Today many people uncompromisingly
renounce the art business. They quit the field and devote themselves
to other tasks. Yet this denial only strengthens the traditional structures,
because those energies that would have liked to have changed the structures
are thereby dissipated. This is a mistake that was not recognized
in the seventies. It is like the representatives of an opposition
party who occasionally make a statement by leaving the parliamentary
chambers out of frustration over their powerlessness. Their behavior
only makes the result of the vote even more unequivocal. Leaving the
rigid art business only results in its being strengthened.
The art business can only be changed through uncompromising practice
that operates according to an altered conception of art. The existing
art business is still propped up by the marketable artwork, by the
original and the commodity. The most effective critique of the traditional
position is the constant advocacy of a new conception of art that
also gets by without material artworks. If it is not developed and
supported by those who are active in art, then such an attack doesn't
make much sense. The transformation of the concept art is only possible
when art itself changes its own rules and practices. The situation
follows a logic similar to that of the referendum among Swiss men
concerning the voting rights of Swiss women some years ago. If the
men don't want the women to vote, then they will not be allowed to
vote, even if admission of both sexes to this referendum would have
produced a different outcome.
If art does not realize of its own accord that its rules and definitions
are no longer up to date, then everything will remain as it has been.
The transformation of the concept art without the agreement of those
active in art is impossible, even though this transformation would
produce a completely different "art constituency" that would
then be responsible for this conception.
Does not WochenKlausur encourage the trend in government toward abandoning
responsibility for social issues? Are WochenKlausur's interventions
not simply "Band-Aids" that fight the symptoms but do nothing
to change the status quo, or maybe even support it?
Doubtlessly there are problems whose apparent solutions give rise
to other problems that are worse than the original problems. The criticism
that WochenKlausur's efforts could be merely treating and hiding the
symptoms - where the state should have acted to bring about fundamental
improvements - is justified.
And yet this criticism misses two important points: Firstly, most
of the art institutions that invite WochenKlausur are supported by
government subsidies. Public obligations are thus in fact being called
in when these funds are then used to bring about improvements. Secondly,
there is a still greater danger that neither the symptoms nor their
causes get treated. This is always the case when the root of the problem
is sought, but nothing is done about it due to our feelings of powerlessness
upon finding the huge root bales below, whose dimensions cannot even
All problems can be traced back to more fundamental ones. The conviction
that it one day will be possible to change the absolute fundamental
basis - if only these small helping measures were not always delaying
the coming of this final day - remains an illusion that prevents the
small steps. The excuse that the individual is powerless to change
anything concretely about exiting circumstances causes many to take
the easy route and do nothing. This excuse is similar to that of the
apathetic voter, who argues that the individual vote has little effect
and could just as well be abandoned. If everyone stayed home from
the polls and leaned back with this comforting excuse, then that would
be the end of democracy.
This can be illustrated through the problems faced by a wheelchair
user. If he cannot make it up the stairs because there is no lift,
then he can be helped if two strong arms take up his cause. But this
feeds the criticism that a general solution to the problem is being
put off. The landlord sees that one can do without a lift after all
and avoids an expenditure. Accordingly, it would be better to leave
the wheelchair user on the stairs and start a political petition instead
of helping him. Or one can help him and at the same time demand that
a lift be installed. Agitational art often takes the easy way out
and sticks to denunciations. But every successful tangible improvement
is really a supporting argument for political demands.
From the comfortable position of prosperity, it is easy to speak out
for a general change in the system and reject small steps because
they "only support existing circumstances, which must made to
boil over so that something happens." This overflooding theory
has seldom led to success. If one must first wait for a catastrophe
before everything changes for the better, it could well come a little
too late in never-never land.
How much resistance comes from professional groups that are traditionally
associated with the sorts of activity (politics and social work) that
are practiced by WochenKlausur? What is the level of acceptance in
the art world?
In fact it is less the specialists in fields outside of art who fear
that someone could be muddling around in their business. It has always
been much more the art establishment itself that feels threatened.
There is the fear that art could simply dissolve if it wanders too
far into the sociopolitical terrain. The art scene is worried that
through an acceptance of politically activist art it could forever
leave its publicly sanctioned avenues, which are pleasantly privileged
even if they don't necessarily lead anywhere. The art community is
afraid of losing its identity and its existence.
Why, then, should our conception of art not be allowed to dissolve?
If it is important, then it will continue to exist. If it is obsolete,
then it doesn't make much sense to prop it up for its own sake. Besides,
this fear is unjustified: It merely reveals that a conservative establishment
is clutching on to its elitist privileges. In this century there have
been innumerable fruitless attempts to do away with the manifest conception
of art. When it was still easy to shock with something "new",
the conception of art was widened to include everyday or technoid
objects, to include things that were considered disgusting or forbidden.
Most of these attempts were finally taken up by the traditional arbiters
of art and landed in museums, where they are conscientiously attended
to in the writing of art history. Activities that sought to dissolve
the art concept into the field of mysticism have in hindsight merely
extended it. Today as well there is no need to talk about the dissolution
of our conception of art, but rather about its transformation. That
can only do it good.