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Art at work, by hand and in your heart
In: Learning Lab Denmark Quarterly, vol. 2, 2005
English | Danish | English PDF | Danish PDF |

Contemporary artists who work with companies as subject matter and co-creators draw upon a legacy from the political artists of the 1960’s. The artists’ aim is not to serve as consultants, but to create art, but the collaboration can also lead to innovation and may help rid the organisations of habitual thought.

The scene is Tate Britain Art Gallery in London. The date is some time in March 2005, and after walking in the shadows for four decades, the pioneers of the Artist Placement Group are finally welcomed as the great artists that they are: The museum has recently acquired the archives from forty years of artistic labour in companies and government offices.

In the 1960’s, the Artist Placement Group were among the first to step out of their studios to produce art in workplaces in accordance with their motto ‘The context is half the work of art’, which meant that the artists successfully included the company, and often even the individual employees, in the artistic process. The potential of this process was an increased and more unrestricted influence for the arts. The down side was that the approach led to accusations of ‘dirty’ art and political activism, and a resulting banishment from the hallowed halls of respectable art.

The title of the exhibition is ‘Animate the Legacy’. A fitting title it seems, since a recent project at Learning Lab Denmark has amply proven that the baton has been passed on to and reinvented by new generations of artists.

Last autumn, twenty artists, practitioners and researchers from seven nations met in a secluded place in Denmark to map out this art form, which we gave the provisional title ‘Organisational Art’. At this summit, we soon found that artists all over the world are rapidly expanding the domain of art in the social sphere. Rather than indirect and symbolic-aesthetic manifestations, the artists directly approach the reality that is the subject of their critical artistic endeavours.

The French group Access Local, for example, have developed a system, which simulates the challenges that an organisation face. In this system, which is called ‘Simulation’, the organisations can simulate stressful and tumultuous situations that, were they real, might threaten the very existence of the organisation.

In the simulation, a dangerous situation is turned into a safe, but seminal learning experience, one that has led to drastic, but highly successful, strategic changes, e.g. for the French brewery Fischer. Aside from showing bottom-line results, this demonstrates that art can contribute in ways and areas that go far beyond the traditional notion of art as ‘merely’ an aesthetic phenomenon.

democratic innovation
The role of art and artists today is comparable to that of any other profession: It involves a certain set of competencies, a set of rules and some practitioners. To find the romantic loner or the creative genius is, therefore, not easily done.

And yet these competencies are not fundamentally different from what you would normally associate with art: Innovative, different and cleansed of thinking in fixed patterns. The observant reader will have noted that these terms are lifted straight out of current management gospel, which may be one reason why many companies now turn to the arts for answers. Actually the new, insofar as there is anything new here, consists of the circumstances surrounding this new art form. There is a world of difference between buying a work of art and putting it up in the company headquarters and working face to face with an artist in a cross-disciplinary art project where the company provides the resources, the reputation and the subject matter.

Another example, and one of the largest projects of this kind in Denmark, is the artist Kent Hansen and his organisation ‘democratic innovation’, through which he collaborated with, among others, the artist groups Superflex and N55 and the manufacturing companies LK and Basta on the art project ‘Industries of Vision’.

Kent Hansen had long wondered why, at some workplaces, the workers’ democratic rights are left in the wardrobe along with the overcoat. He is trained as a painter, but rather than producing a painting to express his criticism, he chose to set up a combined art- and development project where artists, employees, managers and workplace consultants collaborated in an artistic process at the two production facilities.

By placing art in the workplace, Kent Hansen established a very direct type of dialogue with the employees, a gesture far more effective than acrylic paint on a canvas in some gallery where the workers rarely come anyway. When ‘Industries of Vision’ was later on exhibition at Western Zealand’s Art Museum, the employees helped put up the installations, whereby the usually very exclusive space was opened for people with non-artistic competencies. Bluntly put; art into everyday life, and everyday life into the arts.

In ‘Industries of Vision’, the employees were the participants and the audience at one and the same time, which resulted in a degree of commitment, engagement and even ownership for the employees which far exceeded what they would have felt, had they just gotten in their car and gone to see an exhibition in some random gallery.

The proper setting for art is therefore no longer restricted to the lonesome studio, the back-alley gallery or the art museum. More and more artists are equally familiar with both boardrooms and factory floors; some have taken to call themselves ‘entrepreneur’, ‘businessman’ or ‘service provider’; when in Rome…

In an ordinary company, art is often interpreted as chaotic, random ideas and plain old fooling around. Since it has been decades since art was only like this, new labels are necessary to avoid obfuscating and dated associations.

The aim is still art
People tend to notice when art leaves the beaten path. When an artist first sets foot in a company, he must operate on the special conditions and experiences of the corporate world. The lack of a common language and background is often a major obstacle, and may lead to endless misunderstandings and frustrations between the artist and the employees. This is common in any kind of cross-disciplinary endeavour, but is often particularly evident in collaborations between artists and corporate systems due to the lack of an established method for exchange and interaction between the artists and the organisations.

The artist, however, does more than just step into something new; he also partially takes leave of the old, the art institution; that is the galleries, the museums and the various functions that determine what constitutes art and what does not. This may be somewhat dangerous, because if an artist loses his standing in the community, is he still an artist? This was, to some degree, what happened to the Artist Placement Group. Of course, we should keep in mind that art was never a fixed idea with clearly defined objectives and means – but often the rest of the world is lagging behind the arts.

In engaging in such art projects as outlined above, an organisation stands to gain a lot, particularly in terms of learning, branding and innovation. But what is in it for the artists? As demonstrated by the examples, the aim is certainly not to slip unnoticed into the organisation as some sort of undercover agent. The answer is quite obviously – art.
The one key requirement is, however, that the artist is able to translate his or her endeavours into the common currency of organisations; competencies, success parameters and bottom line results. This because outside the beaten path, art is by no means a natural sight yet.

Art at work
Back in Tate Britain, the no longer quite so young members of the Artist Placement Group sit alongside their younger colleagues, deeply engaged in a discussion about therelevance of art moving into the workplaces.

Also contemporary art has to compete with the media maelstrom, the advertising avalanche and the dogwagging politics as it continues the age-old quest to improve the world in incremental steps. In this situation, it makes plenty of sense that art strike our hearts and minds alike, right there on the factory floor, in the boardroom or during the seminar, rather than being hidden away in the ‘white box’ of some museum. And that is why it makes sense to send art off to work – because that is where people generally are to be found.

Organisational Art (OA) is the name of a project at Learning Lab Denmark and an art form characterised by being, among other things, conceptual, socially engaged, and site-specific. The first part of the project was recently concluded with a Master’s thesis about OA; the next step is the publication of a ‘Thin Book’, co-authored by twenty artists, researchers and practitioners.

Download this article as PDF.

Get the entire thesis.

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Kunsten på arbejde, mellem hænderne, midt i hjertekulen
I: Learning Lab Denmark Quarterly, nr. 2, 2005
English | Danish | English PDF | Danish PDF |

Der går en lige linje fra 1960’ernes politiske kunst til nogle af nutidens kunstnere, der arbejder med virksomheder som råstof og medskabere. For kunstnerne er målet ikke at være konsulenter, men at lave kunst. Alligevel kan samarbejdet føre til innovation og befri virksomhederne fra vanetænkning.

Vi befinder os på Tate Britain i London. Det er marts 2005, og efter fyrre år i parnassets skygge er kunstpionererne Artist Placement Group omsider blevet optaget i det gode selskab. Museet har nemlig købt kunstnergruppens arkiver fra fyrre års kunstneriske strabadser i virksomheder og ministerier. I 1960’erne var de blandt de første kunstnere til at forlade ateliererne og lave kunst på arbejdspladser under mottoet ‘Konteksten er halvdelen af værket’. Et udsagn der betød, at kunstnerne med succes inddrog organisationen og ofte dens medarbejdere direkte i kunstprocessen. Potentialet var større og mere direkte indflydelse for kunsten. Samtidig medførte det beskyldninger om både ‘uren’ kunst og politisk aktivisme med udelukkelse fra kunstverdenens bonede gulve til følge.

‘Animate the Legacy’ er arrangementets titel. Den synes velvalgt, for et aktuelt projekt på Learning Lab Denmark viser, at depechen i høj grad er givet videre og omfortolket af yngre generationer af kunstnere.

I efteråret mødtes tyve kunstnere, praktikere og forskere fra syv lande i Liseleje for at kortlægge denne kunstform, som vi forsøgsvis kaldte ‘Organisational Art’. Her blev det tydeligt, at kunstnere verden over er i fuld gang med at udvide kunstens domæne i det sociale rum. I stedet for indirekte og symbolsk-æstetiske manifestationer, går kunsterne direkte i kødet på den virkelighed, der er genstand for deres kritiske kunstpraksis.
For eksempel har den franske kunstnergruppe Access Local udviklet et system, der simulerer de udfordringer, som en organisation møder i virkeligheden. I systemet ‘Simulation’ gennemlever virksomheder stressende og tumultariske situationer, som i det virkelige liv kunne betyde virksomhedens død.

Her bliver det en ufarlig, men skelsættende læringsoplevelse, der har ført til drastiske, men succesfulde strategiændringer, for eksempel hos det franske bryggeri Fischer.

Ud over at resultatet kan ses på bundlinien, bliver det samtidig demonstreret at kunsten kan bidrage på måder og områder, der går langt hinsides den traditionelle opfattelse af kunsten som ‘blot’ et æstetisk objekt.

demokratisk innovation
I dag er kunstnerrollen at sammenligne med en profession på lige fod med andre professioner: Der er nogle kompetencer, nogle bestemte regler og naturligvis nogle udøvere. Man skal med andre ord lede længe efter både den romantiske ener og det vilde geni.

Alligevel er disse kompetencer ikke så væsensforskellige fra det, man traditionelt forstår ved kunst: Nyskabende, anderledes og befriet fra vanetænkning. Som mange vil bemærke, er disse ord samtidig mere eller mindre synonyme med management- diskursens evangelium. Det kan være en del af forklaringen på, hvorfor mange virksomheder i disse år bejler til kunsten.

I virkeligheden består det nye, såfremt der er noget nyt, måske snarere i omstændighederne for denne kunstform. I hvert fald er der en verden til forskel på at købe færdiglavede kunstværker og installere dem i virksomhedens lokaler, og så at arbejde ansigt til ansigt med kunstnere i et tværfagligt kunstprojekt, hvor virksomheden selv lægger ryg, ry og råstof til.

Et andet eksempel, og samtidig et af de største projekter på dansk jord, er af kunstneren Kent Hansen og hans organisation Demokratisk Innovation. Her samarbejdede han blandt andet med kunstnerne Superflex og N55 og de to produktionsvirksomheder LK og Basta om kunstprojektet ‘Visionsindustri’.

Kent Hansen havde længe undret sig over, at man på visse arbejdspladser hænger sine demokratiske rettigheder på knagen sammen med overtøjet. Han er uddannet kunstmaler, men i stedet for at lave en kritisk kommentar i maleriets form, valgte han at organisere dette kombinerede kunst- og udviklingsprojekt, hvor kunstnere, medarbejdere, direktører og arbejdspladskonsulenter arbejdede sammen i en kunstnerisk proces på de to fabrikker. Ved at placere kunsten på arbejdspladsen gik Kent Hansen i direkte dialog med medarbejderne, en gestus langt mere effektiv end den, akrylfarve på et lærred afstedkommer for eksempel i et galleri, hvor fabriksarbejdere kun sjældent sætter deres ben. Da ‘Visionsindustri’ efterfølgende blev udstillet på Vestsjællands Kunstmuseum var medarbejderne ligeledes med til at sætte udstillingen op, hvorved det ellers så eksklusive kunstrum åbnedes for ikke-kunstneriske kompetencer. Lidt firkantet sagt: Kunsten ind i hverdagslivet og hverdagslivet ind i kunsten.

I ‘Visionsindustri’ var medarbejderne således deltagere og publikum på samme tid, hvilket betyder at graden af involvering, engagement og endda ejerskab er meget højere for medarbejderne, end hvis de tog firmabilen ind til et tilfældigt galleri. Kunstens sted er altså ikke længere kun loftsatelieret, baggårdsgalleriet eller kunstmuseet. Mange kunstnere færdes hjemmevant i bestyrelseslokaler og på fabriksgulve, ofte under selvvalgte titler såsom entreprenør, forretningsmand og serviceyder.
For man må ligne de ulve, man vil hyle iblandt. For den gennemsnitlige virksomhed handler kunst nemlig oftest om vildskab, skøre ideer og spas. Da det er mange årtier siden, kunsten kun har været sådan, er det ofte nødvendigt med nye betegnelser for at undgå forstyrrende og forældede kunstassociationer.

Målet er stadig kunst
Det går ikke ubemærket hen, når kunsten forlader sine historiske græsgange. Når kunstneren træder ind i en virksomhed, skal han fungere med erhvervslivets helt særlige erfaringer og traditioner. Manglen på fælles sprog og baggrund er ofte udtalt og kan føre til mange misforståelser og frustrationer mellem ham og medarbejderne. Det kender man allerede fra sædvanligt tværfagligt arbejde, men her er det særlig tydeligt, da der ikke findes en etableret praksis for udveksling og interaktion mellem kunstnere og organisationer.

Men kunstneren træder ikke kun ind i noget nyt. Han forlader også delvist det ‘gamle’, nemlig kunstinstitutionen – altså gallerierne, museerne og de instanser, der er medbestemmende for, hvad der bliver opfattet som kunst. Det kan være en farlig manøvre, for hvis en kunstner mister status i institutionel forstand, er han så stadig kunstner? Det skete til dels for Artist Placement Group. Man må dog ikke glemme, at kunsten aldrig har været en fast størrelse med klart definerede rammer. Blot tager det ofte tid, før omverdenen indhenter kunsten.

Fordelene for en organisation ved at deltage i et kunstprojekt som de ovennævnte er mange, mest oplagt er læring, branding og innovation. Men hvad får kunstneren ud af det? Som eksemplerne demonstrerer, er målet selvfølgelig ikke at infiltrere organisationens liv som en hemmelig agent. Svaret er naturligvis, helt åbenlyst: Kunst.

Blot skal kunstneren vænne sig til at oversætte sit arbejde til organisationers gængse mønt – kompetence, succesparameter og bundlinie. Uden for de traditionelle græsgange er kunsten nemlig stadigvæk langtfra en selvfølgelighed.

Kunsten på arbejde
Tilbage på Tate Britain sidder de gamle medlemmer af Artist Placement Group side om side med yngre kunstnergenerationer og diskuterer, hvorfor det giver mening, at kunsten bevæger sig ud på arbejdspladserne.

Også samtidskunsten skal konkurrere med mediehysteri, reklame-malstrømme og mainstreampolitik, når den fortsætter sit urgamle projekt med i det små at forbedre verden. Der er det da en klar fordel, at kunsten rammer os i hjertekulen og pandelappen, dér midt på fabriksgulvet, i direktørstolen eller under gruppemødet – frem for at være gemt væk i museets ‘hvide kasse’. Derfor giver det mening at sende kunsten på arbejde. Det er nemlig der, folk befinder sig mest.

Organisational Art (OA) er navnet på et projekt hos Learning Lab Denmark samt en kunstform, der blandt andet er karakteriseret som socialt engageret, konceptuel og steds-specifik. Første etape af projektet er netop afsluttet med en afhandling om OA. Næste skridt er udgivelsen af en såkaldt ‘Thin Book’ om OA, som 20 kunstnere, forskere og praktikere skriver sammen.

Download artiklen som PDF.

Hent hele afhandlingen.

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Here's a semi-academic feature from Learning Lab's journal about some issues, which stem from my MA thesis. Basically it's a short version of it ... with a few new thoughts too.

ferro.dk / academic / art at work, by hand and in you heart
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