Communication as Artistic Practice

Jan Winkelmann

Central to Tilo Schulz’s work is the issue of how he brings across the conditions specific to the system of artistic production. Schulz’s interest in media coverage of other artists was aroused by the observation that increasing numbers of artists in the Nineties are no longer working “purely” as producers of objects, but are mainly using strategies from other, usually non-artistic production systems to transform these into aesthetic and functional processes, and present them within an artistic context. Schulz responds to this crossover into other areas of cultural and non-cultural production with a resolutely artistic approach. This approach also embraces communication as usually defined within an institutional framework, or is a reaction to a lack of communication, by introducing discursive communication. In both cases, Schulz’s projects are preceded by an intensive, critical analysis of the existing structure. He then reacts correspondingly to the predetermined parameters with which he is confronted.

Tilo Schulz’s concept for the art in public areas project at Leipzig’s Neue Messe (new trade fair complex) consisted of communicating artistic attitudes or strategies at various levels – adapted in terms of content to various target groups. Apart from an introductory course for employees of the Neue Messe, there was also a workshop for schoolchildren, while lectures given at the university explained specific content-related aspects to a “specialist audience.” Advertisements in regional newspapers and magazines, free postcards etc. provided a wider “anonymous public” with complementary information.

While the artist in this case completely abstained from aesthetic implementation of his own work, his communicative strategy materialised in his contribution to the ONTOM, the inaugural exhibition of the Galerie für Zeitgenössische Kunst Leipzig, in the form of polo-shirts printed on the front with a logo designed by Schulz. By contrast with this “corporate design,” statements made by artists participating in the exhibition on their particular project were printed on the back. The polo-shirts were worn for the duration of the exhibition by gallery staff as a kind of “uniform.” Apart from this, Schulz initiated a promotional campaign; advertising material on the exhibition itself and special events related to it was distributed in the centre of Leipzig by promotional teams. While Schulz is reacting to a deficient structural element in his project for the Neue Messe Leipzig, for ONTOM he extends the institutional communicative framework to include merchandising and promotional strategies that are normally employed outside the art world.

e.w.e. – exhibition without exhibition is the title of Schulz’s most recent “work in progress.” He invited six artists to an exhibition that contains all the functional elements of an exhibition – apart from the exhibition itself. Advertisements were printed, press releases sent out, interviews written, invitations printed, posters designed, a catalogue published. But there was no actual exhibition. With this project, then, Schulz not only departs from the institutional framework, but transforms the idea of an exhibition itself into a concept. It is not necessarily planned that the artists invited to participate should realise their concepts in a material sense. In this project, Schulz combines contemporary artistic strategies with the optimum relevant communicative approach, thus returning to the strategy of critical analysis pursued by exhibition organisers during the Seventies. However, he extends this strategy to include active communication, offering a constructive approach to the analytical deconstruction of the “exhibition” tool.

Schulz’s long-term project entitled body of work – the ideal exhibition uses various media categories to deduce more general criteria and characteristics of artistic practice: besides traditional forms of artistic expression such as painting, sculpture and photography, the media-specific characteristics of contemporary communication (posters, books, invitation cards etc.) are also examined. As a kind of “lowest common denominator,” these media-specific characteristics serve as the point of departure for “models” designed by the artist. These models are presented with the relevant, symptomatic reference materials. In comparison with the projects described earlier, the institutional system is not called into question, but the artist abandons “concrete” artistic communication in favour of more a general analysis of specifically system-related fundamental concepts of contemporary art.

(Translated by Toby Alleyne-Gee)

Published in: German Open. Contemporary Art in Germany, Cat. Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg (Cantz-Verlag), 1999.

© 1999 Jan Winkelmann

German Version