“Arbeit Essen Angst”

Kokerei Zollverein

More and more, art addresses the human and economic conditions of society. Since the G8 summit in Genoa, there have been efforts to formulate a viable basis for critiquing globalization in cultural as well as economic terms. This trend remains unchanged by the events of September 11; indeed, the crisis of a world defined by economic dependencies has become all the more visible.

Up until the ’90s, the building housing the Kokerei Zollverein was used to process coal. Then the factory closed, finally reopening last year as a venue for cultural activities. In addition to the newly founded Kunstverein. its extensive grounds house a stage for modern dance; concert halls and museum-style exhibition halls are also planned. For “Arbeit Essen Angst,” twenty-seven artists from around the world were invited to cover the themes of work, leisure, and fear. Among the older works shown were Patricia Hearst A Thru Z, 1979-89, Dennis Adams’s media-based study of representations of William Randolph Hearst’s granddaughter; and Stephen Willats’s photo-text research piece Vier Inseln in Berlin (Four islands in Berlin), 1980, about life in Berlin’s high-rise developments. Olaf Metzel hung his installation Im Grünen (In the country), 1992 made of camping tents and camouflage netting—which formerly stood as a sharp commentary on the nonchalant reportage from the world’s civil war zones—inside an open shaftway, as a symbol for “leisure-park Germany.”

But for the most part, “Arbeit Essen Angst” relied on artists in their twenties and thirties. Laura Horelli from Finland was last seen in the Venice Biennale, with photo collages of women in politics. Here she exhibited several videos on local residents: The viewer quickly notes that the protagonists’ respective jobs—or unemployment—dominate their leisure activities too. The economy orders private life. Two Frankfurt artists, Dirk Paschke and Daniel Milohnic, translate this private sphere back into public strategies. Because the city of Essen had closed its public pools for lack of funds, Paschke and Milohnic constructed one by welding freight containers together. Werksschwimmbad (Works swimming pool), 1996/2001, thematizes, qua sculpture, the same rededication of industrial remnants to leisure services that the complex itself exemplifies. This shows how well constructive critique can function in a contextual framework.

Above all, the exhibition sought to develop viable viewpoints on the nature of work. For Tobias Rehberger’s Sweatshop, 2001, each day the exhibition staff had to transpose the designs of skulls and bright, neon-colored ornaments from his wall painting into knitting patterns for sweaters. Overseeing this transposition thus became a part of the artistic procedure and referred to exploitation in other fields of work. Collaborating with local youth, Christine and Irene Hohenbüchler constructed a Kinder-Hüttendorf (Children’s cabin village), 2001. In the course of this intervention, the group of participants grew ever larger, as the fathers—most of whom were unemployed—started helping out with the project. Silke Wagner, too, shifted her mode of action to the concrete public realm with bürgersteig (Pavement), 2001. She gave the local antifascistic and antiracist organizations the use of a small bus and used photography and video to document the different situations that arose. The result is reminiscent of an independent media project beyond the pale of today’s docusoaps and their high-tech aesthetic. For Wagner, art is not a seismograph but rather the very glue of reality.

Harald Fricke

Translated from Gennan by Sara Ogger.