Learning from ...

Lifelong learning and the emergence of a knowledge society—these are the buzzwords ringing in the sociopolitical utopias at the turn of the present century. In recent years, however, not only studies in all disciplines that embody efficiency as formula for success have been enjoying a boom. Anything and everything is suddenly being viewed through the lens of cost-effectiveness, with society and its institutions surveyed a new, fragmented and skeletonized, measured according to economists’ magic spells. Even education, long a sacrosanct fundamental right and a highly esteemed value of modern societies, has not escaped the reach of the autarchic economic yardsticks. Whereas in the first period of Modernism— with the evolution of industrial society—the education scene was marked by a movement toward greater formalization, today it has assumed a more reflective stance toward itself, toward others and toward the world at large, making way for an informalization of frames of reference. Nor have educational institutions remained untouched. More importance is attached today to informal learning, to learning by doing. Into which corset, then, is the all-pervasive logic of budgetary efficiency now forcing the classical educational institutions?

In an effort to answer this question, Russian/Swedish
artist Alexander Vaindorf discussed a painting by Peter Tillberg called «Will You
Be Profitable, Little Friend?», well-known throughout Sweden, with the graduating class at a Swedish high school. The neo - realistic picture from 1972 evokes the conservative torpor of an educational institution, the isolation of individuals in an aesthetically sterile environment. Vaindorf asked the pupils to write a collective letter to the government. The individual letters sparked a lively debate in the classroom, which was recorded by three video cameras. Vaindorf’s film is on view at the Kunstraum as part of the exhibition «Useless/Open Letter to the Government #2, Will You Be Profitable, Little Friend?» Vaindorf suggested repeating this action with a graduating class in Klagenfurt. Rather than a comparison along the lines of the PISA study or other EU rankings, the focus is instead on Vaindorf’s own unique participatory observation and the question of responsibility for this social experiment. Not least due to the recent crisis on the capital markets, discussions of what the concept of education entails have gained new currency of late and taken off in new directions—away from marketability, usability and efficiency and toward aspects such as access, complexity and urgency. This new urgency is addressed by this year’s semester program, «Learning from …» which both investigates the conventional school system and provides some fresh views on the concept of learning, for example in the work of Villach-born artist, author and curator Tanja Widmann. Her artistic practice spans the fields of performance, language, text, theory and communication, devoted primarily to exploring two rhetorical figures: appropriation and mimesis. The first concept, appropriation, came to the fore in the 1980s as a seminal trope in the visual arts. Existing ideas and borrowed stylistic elements were assembled to create new artworks, with even copies being propagated as something original. These ostensibly new works cloaked in old forms were able to prevail in many copyright disputes. Mimesis (imitation) in turn originally referred to the ability to achieve an effect through a physical gesture. Appropriation and intervention are topics that not only occupies Tanja Widmann in her installation, but also play an essential role in an open-ended Reading Session at Kunstraum Lakeside entitled «Hiatus Gag Gesture,» with Sönke Hallmann and Inga Zimperich. Finally, the third focus this semester is how art and industry negotiate the concepts of innovation and learning in a direct contractual relationship with one another—illustrated by a film program put together by Florian Wüst using historical examples of corporate image films. In the interplay between avant-garde and industry there develops at best a conditional kind of learning for both sides. Corporate image films are based on «economic interests, moral positioning and strategies for image creation, but they also give us insights into collective ideals.» (Wüst) The visualization of technical and social innovations was an open field of experimentation for artistic approaches, but not of course without the need to heed the client’s interests. In this sense, the other projects presented in winter semester 2008/09 at Kunstraum Lakeside likewise shed light on how diverse and contradictory the various interests in «Learning from …» can be, and yet how they are often interrelated, for example in the field of art in a postindustrial society. Going beyond mere efficiency rhetoric.

Christian Kravagna, Hedwig Saxenhuber