In a typical Walser-way it combines the terms Mühe (effort) and Unlust, which means aversion, or in psychoanalytical terms: "unpleasure: The sense of inner pain, discomfort, or anxiety which results from the blocking of an instinctual impulse by the ego and is the opposite of the affect of pleasure" (Oxford English Dictionary). The line presents the paradoxical notion that one should work hard in order to avoid aversion, or reach something like pleasure. A state that is mostly associated with the absence of effort.
These themes of work, pleasure and subjectification between heteronomy and self-determination are central in Robert Walser’s writing, its form as well as its content. This exhibition takes up these problematics in the context of today and deals with topics like the reluctance to submit one's self to contemporary society's demands of efficiency and self-promotion, and the search for a subject position that is not subsumed under those demands.
The French artist Julien Prévieux shows a selection of his series of "Lettres de non-motivation" (letters of non-application). Responding to job adverts, he details his reasons for not wanting the position offered, criticises the rhetoric of the job advert, or expresses an unwillingness to comply with the form of the job application and the mechanisms and structures implicit in the world of employment.
The Swiss artist Tilo Steireif shows a selection from his series of watercolours as well as felt pen and charcoal drawings relating to Robert Walser´s novel "Der Räuber" (The Robber). With the works, Steireif follows the novel, taking up and interpreting quotes and scenes from it while engaging in its fragmentary and idiosyncratic form. In his book, Walser uses disruptions of form and content, as well as abrupt changes in viewpoint and narrative structure to unhinge the efficiency and coherence of the bourgeois discourse and subjectivity. The novel also thematises the act of writing itself and unhinges the separation between story teller, author and protagonist, at times entangling them, at times setting them up against each other.
Laura von Niederhäusern, also from Switzerland, shows her three-channel video installation "Rondo" from 2012. Through combining filmic fragments, it deals with the processes of subject-formation at different stages of our social lives, implicitly or explicitly relating them to the world of work and employment. Children are playing musical chairs to Hanns Eisler´s Rondo from "Kuhle Wampe," a film about unemployment in the Weimar Republic. In an empty theatre, an actor interprets excerpts from Robert Walser´s first novel "Jakob von Gunten," whose eponymous protagonist turns a paradoxical praise of submission into an ironic subversion of the servant´s subjectification. And a group of young people lounge leisurely in a ruinous amphitheatre: an icon of carefree relaxation, or is it?
On the occasion, we will also present the first edition of the artist publicationÀ propos by Eva May and Laura von Niederhäusern. It combines text and image in an homage to Walser´s short prose text "The Application Letter" (1914) and is published by Les Éditions d´Uqbar, Geneva, and Gitte Bohr. The publication includes an essay on Walser´s text by Eva May, as well a poster designed by Laura von Niederhäusern.
Artists: Julien Prévieux (F), Tilo Steireif (CH), Laura von Niederhäusern (CH), Eva May (DK)