By Elke Bippus
Art and life praxis – a prehistory
“Into Production!” was the title of an article written in 1923 by Constructivist theorist Osip Brik; drawing on ideas by Alexander Rodchenko he set out to describe changes taking place in creative practice. 
As did a number of other Constructivist artists – Vladimir J. Tatlin, Varvara F. Stepanova or Lyuboy S.Popoya, for instance – with the end of the Russian Revolution Rodchenko ventured the leap into the Soviet mass production industry; the focus at the time being to transform what had formerly predominantly been an agricultural society into a modern industrialized nation. The Russian avant-garde movement’s contributions to social production came in the form of designs of objects for everyday use: kitchenware (Talin), clothing (Stepanova), or those destined to be the hubs of politicization in Russia, the working men’s club (Rodchenko).
In the late 1920s, the artists found their scope for design inhibited by the Stalinist regime, as it strived to convey a purportedly coherent and persuasive message to the masses. The initially cutting edge geometric formal language became the subject of increasing scrutiny and those who had once studied under the founders of the Russian avant-garde turned to objectivity or even a kind of reactionary naturalism, having identified the tastes of the wider population. Their main intention of course was to establish their designs within the textile industry. In his now classic text Theory of the Avant-Garde, Peter Bürger attributes the failure of this historical avant-garde movement to its objective – to annul the differentiation between artistic production and social production; more precisely between art and lived praxis. According to Bürger, an attempt to bring art closer to lived praxis strips art of its capacity for critique. While the bid to eliminate this ‘distance’ could “at the time of the historical avant-garde movements still make unrestricted recourse to the pathos of historical progress,” taking into account the culture industry’s impact leveling this divide the “inconsistency of the avant-gardist endeavor”soon became apparent. Bürger concludes his reflections on the nullification of the autonomous state of art by asking “whether the praxis for life is not requisite for that free space within which alternatives to what exists become conceivable.” 
Anneli Käsmayr’s dreijahre Gastraumprojekt or three-year dining-room projectis an artistic company that is economically independent, forsakes the cultural institution and explicitly forgoes any hallmark of art. And in light of Bürger’s weighty critique, surely it comes under heavy fire. By presenting my own reflections, I would like to redirect the broadside, weigh up the various arguments in favor and against Anneli Käsmayr’s project and produce less an assessment of this endeavor based on historical categories and instead reflect on such categories in combination with the project in its present state.
I only know of dreijahre after visiting the restaurant as a guest on one or two occasions but the project in fact represents Anneli Käsmayr’s consistent and continuous dedication to those issues she had already highlighted as a student and young graduate. Anneli Käsmayr displayed a particular readiness to tackle those criteria for art that enjoy an accepted and conventionalized status in society, and then raise that precarious question: What is art?
In 2003, she founded the dilettantin produktionsbüro “a conceptual research field operating in the space between art and everyday life. Terms like space, sensory experience, work, repetition, taste and sound are explored in the relationship of art to non-art. Perceptions of every-day life in relation to artistic positioning are also the subject of investigations. It provides a voice to the question of art in work: ‘Is it the act, the product or the view?’.”
Every single area of society is shaped by its struggle for recognition and legitimacy, and the art world is no exception. Cultural institutions such as the museum, art critique, markets and educational establishments as well as professors represent (and this has always been the case) entities which contribute to the acknowledgment and legitimization of something as a work of art. But the struggle between old and new avant-garde or cutting-edge art also has its place here, for all the dubiousness and constant reassessment of these terms. It is precisely this game of reference and differentiation that leads to the increasing need within artistic practice to feed off the specific history of art. Whether implicitly or explicitly, the artists adopt, imitate, appropriate and make use of past examples from art’s history, while in reality they are striving to break away from it. “As a result there is a trend towards an increasing independence of what happens in the world and what occurs in the field [of art]…
“ Only those equipped with a knowledge of history are able to estimate and play into this free, untouched space within artistic production and thus take pleasure in the deviation, insubordination and transgression possible in this space. Similarly, unless one is aware of the history it is impossible to appraise whether an artistic work is capable of making a contribution to art history. “The process whereby art becomes autonomous, which links art more and more to its own history, simultaneously severs its ties to the general historical picture.”
Indeed, the artistic practices at and questions posed by the dilettantin produktionsbüro are clearly marked by Modernist art history, by postmodern theories, and likewise by those practices and discourses that came into being at the end of the 1990s along with art as consumer service and led to lasting changes in the art field. It was in 1997 that thanks to the Skultur Projekte Münster art as consumer service gained public acceptance in Germany; that year also saw Basel, Venice, Kassel and Münster receive invitations to take place in an art marathon. But the exhibition The end of the avant-garde. Art as a service  had already triggered heated debate. This term was rejected by numerous artists and can be traced back to art practices and projects such as those from the Wochenklausur artist collective initiated by Viennese arts scholar Wolfgang Zinggl in 1993. The collective’s interventionist practices were initially prompted by socially problematic areas affecting the disadvantaged, whereby the artists made strategic use of the resources and structures of the art system. Budgets for culture and exhibitions are pumped into (social) initiatives in the form of institutional premises, and the names of these often award-winning art institutions then employed for PR purposes. Wochenkultur are rather aggressive in their approach; building on the foundations for the dissolution of this concept of art, they strategically infiltrate the social institution that is art and establish their social work as art in terms of discourse theory. This enables them to exploit those free spaces for their own causes that otherwise remain closed off to interventions in the name of social work. By contrast, from the very start, Thomas Hirschhorn decisively distanced the mode of practice he used to produce the Bataille Monument at documenta 11 from that used for social work and implicitly claimed the autonomy of art for his practice: “I’m not a social worker. My aim is not to bring salvation to the people. I just want to do my work, but I can’t do that alone. It was not I who helped the people here; they were the ones who helped me. And they will be paid for that. As usual.”
The practice of art as consumer service should not be reduced to social work, a kind of salvation or a service in the conventional sense, it is however distinguished in its working practices, approaches and ways of thinking, which highlight the dubious nature of those concepts of art that we assume from past generations and provoke an aesthetic discourse as well as an examination of the tradition of art. It proceeds with a focus on context; it is tied in with the approaches of the institutional critique of the 1960s or often community based. Here, it is a question of “questioning and redefining […] the relationship to art and artists, to other professionals within the field, to institutions […] on the basis of an understanding of artistic practice as project work.” Furthermore, art as consumer service served to actuate the once codified roles assigned to figures in the art world: previously essentially tied to the research or intermediary activities of academics, theorists and curators, artistic working practices have now evolved and established themselves.
Anneli Käsmayr’s interest in art as consumer service is clearly directed towards its particular working methods and organizational structures, which identify the change in practices, techniques and concerns in comparison to Modernist concepts. The critical examination of “immaterial work”, which is likewise related to the term “service”, plays a less significant role. Her choice of the term “dilettantin” identifies the office’s products as the outcome of an activity committed to pleasure and pursuit. According to Anneli Käsmayr, the dilettante is someone “who does something because he or she loves it. The actions are driven by passion, not by skill or craftsmanship.” 
The juxtaposition of passion to skill and craftsmanship is a statement on the obligation created by Modernist art terminology: around 1800, skill as the bedrock for the production of art was called into question, many artists subsequently viewed the academies and their educational approaches as an “expensive institution, which would do no more than train craftsmen being incapable of producing artists.”  From here on a true artist was someone who created works “driven by an impulse towards art”, meaning out of passion. However this passion was clearly distinguished from the love of the dilettante. In his “mediocrity” the dilettante would never be able to achieve the greatness of the artist.
Thus the dilettante’s passion as an artist would conceive is not incompatible with that demonic feeling or emotion blind in its creation, as per the dictionary definition. Indeed, Anneli Käsmayr’s practice often takes place in a collective, in a production office and not in a production atelier and the art product is deemed the outcome of a collective working process and not an eruptive expression of emotion.
The dilettantin produktionsbüro has put the modern concept of art up for debate and reflected on its traditional conceptual framing (the ‘work’ and the ‘artist’) in and by artistic practice. In other words, the artist (Anneli Käsmayr) has adapted these working methods to suit art movements that currently find themselves in public discourse, in order (and I believe this is the crucial point) to actively examine normative notions of art and to answer that question for herself: “What is art?” If in Modernist theory reflexivity is above all relevant to the purportedly essential, that is formal components of art, then the dilettantin produktionsbüro is aiming for a historical and theoretical reflexivity, so to speak. This self-empowerment contradicts the commonplace division of labor between artistic practice and theory production, which is perceived as an undertaking after the event. Providing a “definitive answer” to the question “What is art?”, as offered up by Timm Ulrich in 1964 in Totalkunstzentrale, proves itself an impossible endeavor, for art repels or “in-forms” in a constantly changing force field of diverse practices.
Economic acquisition processes, self-organization and spaces of the imaginable.
“Food was born out of the hunger for change and the excitement of experimental […]. Different spaces, different stimulation, different food. […] Though we consumed food, Food consumed us. It was a free enterprise which gave food away much too freely. Food (me) was much more concerned with how it looked than how economically it ran and it (Gordon) was much more concerned about how charming, stimulating and friendly it was than how much customers and workers followed the rules.
The joy is the idea. The idea, as an idea, worked. It was a beautiful, nourishing, vital, stimulating new concept which was a living, pulsating hub of creative energy and piles of fresh parsley.” 
Gordon Matta-Clark founded the restaurant Food together with Caroline Gooden, Tina Girouard, Suzanne Harris and Rachel Lew in 1971, bringing with it the birth of a “meeting place, a business and a conceptual work of art”. The restaurant was part of a network, which also included the magazine Avalanche, performance and exhibition space 112 Greene Street and the Anarchitecture artists’ group. The restaurant’s operators made for a creative environment in which artists worked as chefs, films were produced, dances performed and where art was discussed, conceived and created. But it was also a place where artists found jobs that “had no restrictions on how many hours a day or days a week the artist worked so that they could be free to suddenly drop out as needed to produce their show and still have a job when they were through. It was successful on all counts. Food supported 300 people during our time.” Food’s characterization as a place to work and live in-keeping with a creative lifestyle, as a living, pulsating hub, sounds like an echo from distant times.
In the face of the precarious social processes in the post-Fordist service and creative industries and with flexibility and mobility becoming an indispensible component of the working world, every kind of collective process became the focus of suspicion. This “culturalization of the economic” makes clear that the conditions of artistic work took on an exemplary role: “self-determination, freedom and self-fulfillment – important values in their association with art – assume an increased relevance and attractiveness for post-Fordist working methods and structures.”
With her dreijahre project, Anneli Käsmayr reverses this process of acquisition, she entered the economic arena, made use of the professional advice provided by management consultants just like everybody else and finally together with business partners established a limited liability company as general partner. Their assistance enabled her to open a restaurant that is economically independent and in fact making a profit within three years (so at that point in time when the artist closes the restaurant), bringing the company into the black.
Is dreijahrethe outcome of distrust towards ‘resistive’ operation and practice models, which have become an integral part of the globalized economy? Or is it a counter-strategy? It is certainly much more than this; the project was also a part of those modified social conditions, whereby the result was a striking convergence of the economic and the artistic. In the light of this prospect, dreijahre is once again sounding out the capacity of certain practices to be regarded as art. In order to do so, Anneli Käsmayr decisively distances herself from those criteria that would allow the business to identify itself as art. “Thus dreijahreradically treads that narrow line between everyday life and art, since it no longer looks anything like art and is only opened up to the potential space of within art as a result of the artist’s own assertions. It is not merely pretending to be a restaurant, it IS a restaurant. Nor is it otherwise described as art, as it would be in the larger context of an art exhibition or based upon a museum setting, for example. It therefore completely removes itself from the obvious criteria according to which one could distinct identify it as art.” It was the artist herself who called it such and she upholds this: “Here, it is the artist who affirms the art, only this ‘baptism’ can provide the work of art with access to the realm of ‘being art’. The underlying, conceptual approach assumes that art happens in the mind and is not privy to material existence.”
By positing this assertion, Anneli Käsmayr places herself in a topical discourse dominated definitively by philosopher Marcus Steinweg who postulates art in the same way as philosophy as “a radical form of assertion, not backed in any general principle and outside the order of feasibility,” and attempts to place these assertions “in another horizon, in a horizon of eternity and impossibility.”According to Steinweg, art and philosophy both purport an unfounded truth. “Art claims truth in its assertion of a form,” in that it eludes “the relativism of factual truths and the regime of evidence and argumentative assurance.” In his advocacy of a sovereign or autonomous art, the philosopher also delivers a hard blow to ‘political art’: “Political art refuses to bow down to the factual so that it is not required to justify itself in terms of a truth. It finds its solace in the illustrative, pedagogic (pseudo-emancipatory) processing of so-called political problems. Politic art is the art of conscience.”In contrast, art and philosophy operate beyond argumentation, communication and self-protection as “forms of self-acceleration” pertaining to a “greed for assertion”: “There is art and philosophy that operates as nothing more than this penetration, as the violence of transgression, as the violence of assertion of he who makes the decision.”
In face of this declaration of a “contact with truth” via art and philosophy, the case made by Anneli Käsmayr for a strategy of assertion comes across as nothing less than bureaucratic, albeit only from the vantage point of a dichotomous concept of classical aesthetics; for the logical, persuasive and strategic project, dreijahre, presents itself as a paradoxical, passion-driven and (im)possible endeavor – an (art)restaurant. Anneli Käsmayr did not found her project based on the modernist criteria of freedom (autonomy), originality (work) or authenticity (artist subject), her project makes use of art rather as a political and economic matter, which introduces the new subjects (new public spheres) and new “objects” (artistic techniques and procedures) into society. The negation of a difference between commercial and creative companies is dreijahre’s attempt to explain, justify and convey the possibilities of art under social as well as institutional conditions. Due to its conceptual structure, dreijahre is in so doing calling for the incorporation of the discrepancy between the autonomization of art by means of self-reference, and the levelling of the differences between art and (neoliberal) life praxis. The question is possibly less, “What is art?” but the question that comes after “What is today recognized as art and why?”, in turn followed by “Which effects does one expect from art, and under which ecological conditions art can be created?”.
By means of the dreijahre restaurant and her editorial work for the current publication, Anneli Käsmayr has enabled art to transform from an action to an activity (in contrast to the creation of an object). Whether this activity is declared art, is to be determined by various, interacting entities. Now as the second part of the dreijahre project, the publication, the artist will be opening a space for the imaginable in art, just as she opened the restaurant. In the case of my own reflections, which are explicated on these very pages, it is less a matter of legitimizing something as art but rather forming potential relations to social conditions, argumentations and the historicization of art. In doing so, I aim to contribute to the widening of the art’s scope through discourse.
Elke Bippus, Professor of Art Theory and Art History, Director of In-Depth Fine Arts Dept.,
Fellow of Institut für Theorie (ith) at Zurich University of the Arts.
(published in: dilettantin produktionsbüro: No ART Around – About the (Im)possibility to Operate a Restaurant as Art, Berlin, 2012)
Osip Brik, “V Proizvodstvo”, in: Lef
, 1 (1923), pp. 105–108.
The younger generation of textile designers was “in militant search of an art that was more proletarian than class-less; they led their attack both against out-dated floral patterns, which they considered distinctly bourgeois, and against the newer Constructivist geometry, which they associated with political deviations to the left.” Charlotte Douglas, “Russische Textilentwürfe” in: Die große Utopie. Die Russische Avantgarde 1915–1932
, exhib. cat. (Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt, Wabern-Bern, 1992), pp. 249–259, here p. 249.
Peter Bürger, Theorie der Avantgarde (Suhrkamp, Frankfurt/Main: 1974) p.68. According to Bürger, due to historical changes “the protest of historical avant-garde against art as institution is accepted as art,” whereby “the gesture of protest of the neo-avant-garde becomes inauthentic.” (Peter Bürger: Translated by Mark Shaw, The Theory of the Avant-Garde (
Univ Of Minnesota Press, Minnesota:1984) p.53)
Peter Bürger, op. cit. p.54
. Autonomous art has evolved due to the separation of art and every life and the trend toward an aesthetic disposition. “Those academic male artists whose universal
creative avant-gardist artistry consisted in the academic pathway
, were superseded by female artists, it was their ‘different’ lives
that counted. “ Jens Kastner, Die ästhetische Disposition. Eine Einführung in die Kunsttheorie Pierre Bourdieus
(Turia & Kant: Vienna, 2009), p.50.
From now on the project will be referred to by its shortened name, dreijahre.
Anneli Käsmayr had outlined the initial ideas and proposals in the project seminar “Kunst des Forschens” (The Art of Research) (2002-3), held by the author at the Academy of the Arts. Since 2007 Anneli Käsmayr has been managing the production office alone as well as taking part in regular collaborations with other artists, such as the artist and musician collective SEX
with Branka Colic and Michael Rieken.
Anneli Käsmayr in a description of the project for the author.
Kastner, op. cit. p.125
Tobias Rehberger had constructed a roof-top bar, while Marie-Ange Guilleminot offer visitors foot massages.
Das Ende der Avantgarde: Kunst als Dienstleistung: Sammlung Schürmann
, exhib. cat., (Kunsthalle der Hypo-Kulturstiftung, Munich, June 13 – Aug. 13,1995, Düsseldorf, 1995).
 See on this Nicole Grothe, InnenStadtAktion – Kunst oder Politik? Künstlerische Praxis in der neoliberalen Stadt (transcript Verlag, Bielefeld: 2005), p. 115ff. The collective explicitly seeks to shift the notion of art by means of their social interventions. Art should – according to Zinggl – enter into the pragmatic space of action and vice versa change the art system.
Hirschhorn as quoted in: Susana Saéz de Guinoa Waltinger, “Einmal Heterotopie und zurück. Thomas Hirschhorns Bataille-Monument auf der Documenta 11. Ein Kunstwerk der anderen Art. Anfahrt inklusive,“ in: kunsttexte.de
, 3/2002 (6 pages). www.kunsttexte.de
, here p.5.
Beatrice von Bismarck, “Kunst als Dienstleistung”, in: Brigitte Franzen, Kasper König, Carina Plath (ed), skulptur projekte münster 2007
, (Walther König, Cologne: 2007), pp. 392–393, here p.392.
Oskar Bätschmann: Ausstellungskünstler. Kult und Karriere im modernen Kunstsystem
, (DuMont Verlag, Cologne: 1997), p.67.
As stated in the project description by Anneli Käsmayr: “Networking. The dilettantin produktionsbüro
often works in collaboration with a range of artists. The artistic product is the outcome of a collective working process.“
See the prior illustration.
The term “in-formation” is used here as employed by Jacques Derrada. As did many artists from the 1970s (a clear example being Dan Graham), he placed great emphasis on the formulation of information: “Information does not inform merely by delivering informative content, it gives form, ‘in-formiert,’ ‘formiert zugleich’
.” Jacques Derrida Translated by Jan Plug & Others: Eyes of the University: Right to philosophy 2. (Stanford University Press, California: 2004), p.146.
“The History of Food. Letter from Caroline Gooden to Corinne Diserens, September 5, 1992”, in: Food, an exhibition by White Columns, New York
, curated by Catherine Morris, March 10, 1999 – Feb. 13, 2000, (Westfälischer Landesmuseum für Kunst und Kulturgeschichte Münster, Cologne, 2000), pp. 44-47, here p.44, p.47.
Catherine Morris, “Introduction”, in: Food, an exhibition by White Columns, New York
, loc. cit., pp. 11–14, here p. 12.
Caroline Gooden, quoted by: Catherine Morris, “Food”, in: an exhibition by White Columns, New York
, loc. cit., pp. 27–32, here p. 28.
“In neo-liberal working conditions the concept of ‘collective process’ is frequently understood in tandem with
that of networking or efficient working operations.” Sønke Gau, Katharina Schlieben, Work to do! Self-Organisation in Precarious Working Conditions (Verlag für moderner Kunst, Nuremberg, 2009), pp.11–14, here p. 12.
Beatrice von Bismarck, “Kuratorisches Handeln. Immaterielle Arbeit zwischen Kunst und Managementmodellen“ in: Marion von Osten (ed.), Norm der Abweichung
(T:G | 03, Series of writings from Institut für Theorie, ith), (Gestalten, Zurich, 2003), pp. 81–98, here p. 81.
Marcus Steinweg, Behauptungsphilosophie
, (Merve, Berlin: 2006) p.14.
 See on this Maurizzio Lazzarato’s, “Ökonomische Verarmung und Verarmung der Subjektivität im Neoliberalismus“, http://www.thenextlayer.org/node/1126 (last on Sept. 12, 2011). The original text is the German translation of a lecture held by Maurizio Lazzarato at the conference Creative Cities on 03. 31.2009 in Vienna..