Mr. Tuttle and Mr. Turtle

In the movie Brazil, a certain Mr. Tuttle plays the part of the man who comes out of nowhere, solves a problem and disappears. He is a jolly man and leaves just with his existence the hint, that there is a sort of secret society he is rooted in. After all, he is searched after as terrorist, because he solves the problems nobody is allowed to touch - except the government bureaucrats.
Mr. Tuttle made his way into a comic Philippe Mairesse and I did in June 2008 together, called ‘The Plant’, published as part of Crossed Values. It is part of a series of cooperative comics, called ‘One Day Comic’, where two persons within one day produce a comic. We meet in the morning, and chat about what we really like to be part of it. That reaches from stories, theoretical interest, stylistic ideas – I always wanted to do something which looks like the WATCHTOWER of the Jehovas Witnesses – to interest in special images and visual structures. We talk and negotiate and eventually a shared interest would condense into a story. That stage should be reached by noon, time is short. By 2pm, we have developed a storyboard. We would clarify who executes what: One the text and the other one the drawings? More of a cadavre exquise – typ of work? Only little time for every decision is available. No going back and revising possible.
We finally realise, that the story does not work at all? Well, no way back. Doing a One Day Comic is like racing a bumpy back road. It’s never perfect, the plot is usually overloaded and incomprehensible, the graphic style is speedy.
Being that closed with somebody for a day makes you hear each others brain tick. You crash into each other. The result is a graphic story but foremost it is a trace of that encounter. A footprint of communication. The surface of the finished product is broken open by hastiness, opening windows into the process. Besides the complex relation between images and text this footprint of an encounter is the central issue of the project.
In the work with Philippe Mairesse, Mr. Tuttle is changed into Mr. Turtle, and seems to solve problems by being slow. Doing a speed comic about a man who is utterly slow seemed not only a nice twist, it first of all indicates the dimension of time - in any given task.
It is similar to us making the comic; the status of the comic as object in relation to the process of its making is diaphanous, the comic is merely a gate backwards to the process. Paris/Berlin, 28.05.2008, Philippe Mairesse and Henrik Schrat, that’s what it says on the back cover. The comic is like an extended On Kawara, date – painting, the moment in time and amount of time of the one day which was invested.
The situation and its framework is deliberately created, we participate in it, but also watch it at the same time from outside, observe the situation taking place and the time passing by. Different tasks structure the day. Communication, decision making and production go hand in hand and produce a sort of organisational music of possibilities and necessities.

The dimension of time and (inter)action entered in the 50ies the scenery. Performances and Happenings bloomed during the 60ies. Debord had written in 1957: “We must try to construct situations… i.e. collective environments, ensembles of impressions determining the quality of a moment. (…) Let us say we have to multiply poetic objects and subjects (…) and that we have to organize games of these poetic subjects among the poetic objects.” Time was for the Situationists a political and social construction, where the Situation was also the activation of the observer, transforming her or him into a participant. Communication becomes a format with an aesthetic dimension in its own right. It is seen not only as enhancement of possibilities, but with its democratic offering as an ethical value. Everybody can participate in the arts, and art can help getting people up from their seats and into the revolution. Performance and Happening played out the dimension called by Debord ‘poetic’, and expanded from the modernist understanding of an art piece as self contained unit.

Some 50 years after Debords seminal text, the aesthetic value of processes was to be defined in a different way. Two books mark – among others – a reached new position at the end of the 90ies. They sum up what had happened in their fields in the decade before. Coming from different discourses, it is remarkable, that they have been published nearly at the same time: Nicolas Bourriauds ‘Relational Aesthetics’ (1998) and Antonio Stratis ‘Organisation and Aesthetics’(1999). Whilst Bourriaud is curator of contemporary art and critic, Strati, with a background of Sociology, comes from Organisational Studies and Management Science.
I only can use them here in the limited space as marker for a rising interest which comes from different fields into the encounter of art and organization.
To clear terms like art and organization is not possible due to different discursive backdrops. For now that should not bother too much, as long as there is a consistency within the arguments themselves. Organization is the more inclusive abstract term compared to corporations or business. It expands to societies, NGO’s and groups. Organization also extends to a more abstract understanding of processes and interaction apart from applicable contexts in a corporation. It also shifts away from the mesmerising the bottom line is always profit. The encounter seems to provide the potential to overcome the repetitive routines of a postmarxist approach to art critique, but to maintain a critical perspective, which has a well established tradition within Critical Management Studies.
Gaining insight into organizational structures and to try to understand driving values in organizations is a rich source of understanding social reality beyond commenting on capitalism from an imagined outside. Maintaining critical distance within a cooperation with an organization is essential – the ‘secret society’ backing Mr. Tuttle could help. Organizational Art could look for instance on what New Public Genre Art has done, and the imminent problems with affirmation and instrumentalisation.

Lets return the One-Day-Comic as example of the aesthetics of a process, and the relation between the product and the process. There is a (art) product, which is the driving force behind the process, it is a clearly product orientated process. But the products first message is: I am the result of that communication process.
Grant Kester has focused in his book ‘Conversation pieces. Community and Communication in Modern Art’ on “works that define dialogue itself as fundamental aesthetic (as opposed to works centered on collaboratively producing paintings, sculptures, murals, etc.)” But exactly that’s, what the comic does: it produces collaboratively a piece of art. The link itself between the product and the production is of interest. It is a classic strategy of Marxist criticism to link a product to the conditions and values of its production, to break open the polished surface which detaches the product. If the process of making is becoming part of the product, do we get the time based social dimension embedded in a product? Well, to get the best of all possible worlds is never possible. Communication and feedback as value has been an issue in management (studies) for a long time, as well as in the arts field. But communication practice has entered a new understanding in the last years. In the 90ies Hans – Ulrich Obrist has asked – desperately? - “Collaboration is the answer! But what is the question?” Participation as such seems no longer to be a guarantee for progressive, social, political engaged art thriving towards democracy and all the positive attributes we might have attached it to. Participatory practices have become as well a tool for the management of consumer behaviour. Commercial web applications feed on the unpaid participation of the audience, without participation the whole Web 2.0 architecture would not be possible, the undisputed benefits of new information distribution has its downsides. They creep as well into the nice concept of relational and organisational aesthetics and deserve again a critical scrutinising.

Modernity has established art as untouchable and unquestionable from outside the discourse - what became an unmatched story of strategic success. As this unfolded, it reduced the tasks and competences artists are asked for - and hence developed. So it seems the right move, to put they back in the crossfire of different conditions. A lot of artists have been busy in the last decade of exactly trying this out.
Today Artists in Organizations are treated a lot like Mister Tuttles, coming out of nowhere and believed to be in possession of a magic stick with a secret society behind them. Disappointments as a free gift is coming along with it, clearing the map. Tested against reality, artists might be able to develop tools with better grip to ethical and political questions.

If artists work in participative formats – may it be interaction with organizations or other forms of involving other persons – their role as emcee stands in the crossroad between an interpretation from the organizational studies side and the arts discourse. On top of this, the manager of the organization does not hesitate a second in asking: Does it work for us? And is right about it. If in that context art claims participatory and dialogical competences beyond representation, they should be perceptible in action also from ‘the other side’: the proof of the pudding is the eating.
If the organizational studies discourse and the art discourse have separately developed a mutual interest in the aesthetics of interaction, it is a promising start to reshape the place where art is art located in society.

Henrik Schrat, 06/08