Political Art/Critical Aesthetics – Ruediger John
Interview of the artist Ruediger John by Martin Piaček
Martin Piaček: How would you characterise your work, both theoretical and practical, and how one effects the other?
Ruediger John: Concerning the practice of my work, I think the attribute “situative” describes it best – meaning, the work implies making the conditions of its context and my attempt to associate a broader horizon of topics a core theme, may it be by a traditional object, a text or book, an installation or simply a temporal gesture – and it is a process-oriented work.
My relation as an artist to my work, the work of other artists, to the art world in general and to society the term “Systemic Art”, relating to Systems Theory, describes best that it is focused on relations (differences, interactions, values) between subsystems and contexts in society, rather than the creation of objects as mythical manifestations and post-modern religious and representational surrogates or as a way of self-identification.
Both descriptions have in common, that there is no conditional reference to the traditional way art historians classify artistic work in a canon according to the media being used and there is also no need to break down the term “artist” into specialized sub-types like installation-artist, media-artist, curator/author/artist or whatsoever, which is commonly done within the art system as delimitations. I call myself an artist, because my profession and passion follows a phenomenological-selfreflexive-practical-aesthetic way of perception and creation.
Martin Piaček: Could you describe closer some of your projects?
Ruediger John: The scope of works cover different methods and media. For example a video tape with a chimney fire for your home TV, but turning the picture upside down and altering some more parameters. It was sold in galleries and video stores intended for private persons to put it on when inviting to a private party or the like, possibly nudging the conversations at the table towards topics other than usual and challenging the common perception and triggering a different reflexion and dialogue.
In a different work I secretly manipulated the trailer previews on regular rental video tapes to create an irritative situation for the following customers.
In 1994 I created a mobile TV station kit to broadcast within neigborhoods statements and questions on privacy, lethargy and the controlling of masses, occupying a private TV channel. A small manual on how one can create a TV station on your own was published. I also used this kit to make internal discussions of board meetings at the academy public, broadcasting on its campus.
Different processes and media: I did a research on IQ-tests, examining the criteria and mathematics behind their analysis and took part in two tests, manipulating the results to a maximum simply by training myself accordingly. This work for example resulted in nothing more than a small publication and an interview for a show. Other works include creating soundscapes in public space, importing an exotic atmosphere at night into the city, documenting the positions of a seating area and reconstructing it exactly the day after, creating a notation and visual linking code and combining newspaper clippings and publications on a associative desktop, installing a CCTV system to show live what was going on behind the scenes in a theater production and so on.
Different contexts: Since 1997 at times I am working within several organizations as a “Critical Aesthetic Coach and Consultant” manipulating social dynamics to make the employees, the management and ultimately the organization aware of aesthetic implications and ethical criteria in everyday business. These projects included for example creating a temporary jungle by emptying out an open-plan office completely for all the plants within the company to be put in and at the same time crowding the employees within the limited space left. I induced this by using a communication gap between management and employees and this intervention provoked several strong reactions and changes. More projects involved such actions as to create a library within a company, moderating and implicitly influencing discourses, individually coaching CEOs that are concerned in questions of sense, meaning and identification and so on.
In a faculty exhibition I challenged as visiting professor colleagues with my contribution in questioning the habitual, ritual ways of teaching withing a constructive confrontation to create awareness on a contemporary way art academies should understand their role in society – for example claiming and fostering a professional way of aesthetic thinking.
And lately we conducted in as a team an artistic research project on ways and visions, failures and reflexions on the interaction of art, science and economy, publishing a book that continues along the lines of a speech and publication I did within the Artists In Discourse Initiative earlier.
Martin Piaček: Do you consider your work to be primarily political, or politically motivated, or what are other main motives?
Ruediger John: My way of working follows an aesthetic approach – which means for example I examine phenomena and I examine what/who relates to them under what kind of criteria and values, as well as how it affects myself. If you take “political” in the sense of the greek “zoon politikon”, of course it is political – since I try to intervene and intrude into relations between different groups and interests, focusing on making complexity, different value-bases and constructions of reality perceptible.
In my opinion most of the so-called “Political Art” plays forms of simplifying protests or provocations, often in a purely symbolic way, and could be called merely an “Agitatory Art” that does not try to cope with responsibility – which is intrinsic to being political. Generally, more modesty would do good to most of the art field, which tends to develop into being a plain spectacle of parts of society. Most artists lack the basic knowledge or are too narcissistic to be political with a momentum.
My interests of working are diverse; when I address the art system and art market it could be that I point out the lack of self-reflection, incrusted hierarchies and structures of power, the lack of self-esteem of artists and how they let themselves being put into the role of craftsmen creating examples for curatorial concepts or articles of commerce for representational purposes. When I address the topic of economy I try to intrude into that part of society, sometimes using forms of camouflage and creating a way of communication to infiltrate aesthetic values into the everyday routine of that context.
I define my artistic way of working as “Critical Aesthetics” to differentiate it towards the decorative, object-centric, representation-oriented self-identification, self-sufficient and easily misused way of works in art and to point out, that it needs more and other qualifications to make aesthetics a momentum in society.
Martin Piaček: What are the main ways of presentation of your work, how do you want to be seen by others?
Ruediger John: The ways of presentation depend on the topic and situation of the process of creation. Sometimes a gallery is just the right place because I want to address people going there or work on a topic that is relevant just in that field, sometimes a public place is the location for unannonced interventions because it might be crucial that passers-by do not identify it as art at once, sometimes it fits perfectly into the realms of a company because in this relatively closed area it effects just at that intensity it needs. I do not care much if people see me as an artist first or as a coach/consultant or whatsoever – it is important to me that I know why I am doing something, meaning that I have a vision or goal that emerges out of my artistic/aesthetic intention.
So I am quite often being critizised by (so-called) art theorists of being somewhat a traitor to art just because they cannot apply their dogmatic criteria of judgement – which I am aware of contending – and sometimes corporate managers see me more as an entrepreneur. They both help me indirectly to prove my standpoint, although it is often hard to put something in opposition to their powers of multiplication to affect opinions in public.
Martin Piaček: Ruediger, thank you for this interview.
CITATION/BIBLIOGRAPHY Piaček, Martin: ›Ruediger John – Political Art/Critical Aesthetics‹, Bratislava/New York City 2005