2015 Type: Archive Matter

In a talk about the future between Hans Magnus Enzensberger and Rudi Dutschke in the autumn of 1967, 1 the later formulated the case that a new subject was required for revolutionary change. He argued that this goal could only be attained through a universal, social self-organisation that could be effected by abolishing the division of labour. Every member of the commune would be a politician and “also tend toward being […] an artist.” 2

On the other hand, artists demanded that art be realised in life, which would lead to a removal of the limits of the work of art and to a great number of new formats. Beuys swept canvasses, rather than painting on them and Valie Export integrated her body in art, which earned her allegations of pornography in the early 1960s. Talk was of “work” rather than artwork, as Peter Funken reported in the catalogue Faktor Arbeit that accompanied the eponymous exhibition at the nGbK in 1997. “With Beuys, I learned how closely art ought to be connected to its own demands of life, demands for an everyday life, for its process, formation and improvement.” 3 The artwork took on the character of production and activity/producing and acting and lost its objecthood in the process.

The direct comparison between art and wage labour always drew criticism with regard to the question of whether art’s promise of autonomy could withstand the principle of utilisation. In 1975, the working group Theorie und Praxis demokratischer Kulturarbeit used an eponymously titled text book in an attempt to oppose the pessimistic interpretation of culture of the Frankfurter Schule 4 , which considered culture as a good and a fetish. Klaus Betz argued that “democratic cultural work in the Federal Republic and West Berlin [could] represent a contribution to the transformation of society in general.” 5 Betz described cultural work as a possible reshaping of the capitalist system, in which culture would no longer be regarded as “beautiful art” but as an area “in which the alliance of the working class with progressive sections of the middle classes […] has an objective basis.” 6

In the nGbK, especially in the 1970s, workers’ conditions of life were addressed, as the many projects on Realist Painting demonstrate. To mark the centenary of the introduction of the Labour Day (May Day) holiday, there was an exhibition in 1986 entitled Mein Vaterland ist international, which showed exhibits from forty countries. The preface of the catalogue accompanying the exhibition read: “Beyond individual national conditions, May Day has always reflected the state of the internationalist consciousness of the workers’ movement”. 7

With the increase in unemployment in the 1990s and the social welfare and labour market reforms of the Social-Democrat/Green coalition, there were more projects at the nGbK aimed at resisting the stigmatisation of those who could not find work, could not work or did not want to work. The Vienna-based group of artists WochenKlausur had been conducting social interventions since 1993. At the invitation of the nGbK and the Kunstamt Kreuzberg, they set up an information centre entitled workstation – Ideenwerkstatt Berlin e.V. in order to “counteract the lack of information, the helplessness, the isolation and [the] accompanying loss of self-esteem” 8 of those people who had no job to go to. The WochenKlausur explained what motivated them in a piece entitled “Kunst?”: We “understand art as a bearer of social responsibility and a motor of change.” 9

In 2008, workstation − Ideenwerkstatt Berlin e.V. marked its tenth anniversary with the project /unvermittelt and launched a new campaign for an understanding of labour going beyond overwork, scarcity and the consumption of life energy. In an accompanying text book, Joseph Vogl used an exaggerated formulation: “Work, which began to become economically virulent around 1800, is always work on one’s own death.” 10 The turn of the century also resulted in changes to how the topic of work was approached. For example, the project Nichtstun … in der neuen Gesellschaft addressed the possibility of constructive refusal with the aim of effecting an “interruption of everyday life itself” 11 . Treatment of the status of work in society once again demonstrated “the need for an appropriation that was not finite and could not be controlled by any apparatus, be it that of a state, party or trade union” 12 .

After reading works by post-Fordists and post-operaists like Paolo Virno and Maurizio Lazzarato, the working groups Office Hours, Tätig sein, Prekäre Perspektiven, fast um$onst and Die Irregulären addressed the conditions of immaterial work, the changing of the service sector and the accompanying imperative of creativity. In contrast to the projects in the 1970s and 1980s, there was no more talk of a working “class”. The progressive precarization of workers’ situations was ascribed to a knowledge proletariat, independent of social affiliation. 13 In her piece for Glossar inflationärer Begriffe, Judith Siegmund noted that successful emancipation, which has to do with self-determination, always comprises uncertainties. Autonomy, she writes, becomes a hollow demand if “no substantial social room for manoeuvre remains” 14 , which can make a decision meaningful.


Sara Hillnhütter, 2015, revised 2019
Translation: Don Mac Coitir

  1. Kursbuch 14. August 1968, Kritik der Zukunft, H. M. Enzensberger (ed.), Westberlin 1968. See Gerd Koenen in: Das rote Jahrzehnt, Fischer, Frankfurt am Main 2001, p. 53.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Peter Funken: Arbeit spielen, in: Faktor Arbeit, NGBK, Berlin 1997, p. 9.
  4. See Adorno, Theodor W.: Résumé über Kulturindustrie, in: Pias, Claus et al. (ed.): Kursbuch Medienkultur – Die maßgeblichen Theorien von Brecht bis Baudrillard, DVA, Stuttgart 2002, pp. 202-208. Jürgen Habermas, Notizen zum Mißverhältnis von Kultur und Konsum, in: Merkur, issue 3 (March 1956), p. 212.
  5. Klaus Betz: Demokratische Kulturarbeit, in: Theorie und Praxis demokratischer Kulturarbeit, NGBK, Berlin 1975, p. 155.
  6. Ibid.
  7. Vorwort, in: Mein Vaterland ist international, Asso Verlag, Berlin 1986, p. 9.
  8. Handout Workstation, September 1998, p. 1.
  9. WochenKlausur: Eine konkrete Intervention zum Thema Arbeit und Arbeitslosigkeit, Broschüre zu Veranstaltungen in der nGbK und dem Kunstamt Kreuzberg, Berlin 1998, p. 3.
  10. Joseph Vogl: Die Arbeit, der Tod, in: /unvermittelt. Kampagne für einen Arbeitsbegriff jenseits von Überarbeitung und Mangel, NGBK, Berlin 2008, p. 33.
  11. LIGNA: Der wilde Streik der Repräsentation. Das performative Hörspiel Odyssee N&K, in: Nichtstun, NGBK, Berlin 2008, p. 40.
  12. Ibid.
  13. Among others Oliver Marchart: Kreativität als Kommando, in: Tätig sein, NGBK, Berlin 2004, n.p.
  14. Judith Siegmund, Prekär, in: Glossar inflationärer Begriffe. Von (dilettantisch) bis (virtuos), NGBK, Berlin 2013, p. 112.



Grafik aus dem Katalog: Der Doppelcharakter der in Waren dargestellten Arbeit. Urheber_in: Dieter Ruckhaberle (pdf) Udo Achten: Vom Recht auf Arbeit zum Zwang auf Arbeit?, in: Faktor Arbeit, NGBK, Berlin 1997 (pdf) Leonie Baumann: Zusammenfassung der Panels zum Thema „Ökonomien“ im Rahmen des Symposiums Inventing the Wheel, 2005 (pdf) Valie Djordevic: Gegen die Durchökonomisierung des Daseins – Ein Überblick über die Ausstellung fast um$onst, in: fast um$onst, NGBK, Berlin 2004 (pdf) Kolja Kohlhoff: Künstler als Modell der Ökonomie - die Ökonomie als Modell der Kunst, in: fast um$onst, NGBK, Berlin 2004 (pdf) Frauke Hehl: Neue Strategien, Kampagnen und Arbeitsbegriff. WochenKlausur, workstation und /unvermittelt, in NGBK 40 Jahre, Berlin 2009 (pdf) Peter Funken: Arbeiten spielen, in: Faktor Arbeit NGBK, Berlin 1997 (pdf) Vorwort aus der Publikation „Prekäre Perspektiven … in der neuen Gesellschaft“, Berlin 2006 (pdf) Jan Verwoert: Selbstverdächtigung als Mittel zur Kritik der Arbeitsverhältnisse in Kunst und Kultur, in: Tätig Sein, NGBK, Berlin 2004 (pdf) Leonie Baumann: Vorwort - oder Ene, mene, muh - und raus bist DU! in: Faktor Arbeit, NGBK, Berlin 1997 (pdf) Sophie Ehrmanntraut: Cyborg der Arbeit, in: Multitasking. Synchronität als kulturelle Praxis, NGBK, Berlin 2007 (pdf) Mark Terkessidis: Warum das Prekariat schweigt, in: Prekäre Perspektiven … in der neuen Gesellschaft, NGBK, Berlin 2006 (pdf) Informationsblätter zur Workstation, 1996 (pdf)