Germany, Austria and Switzerland have a little known history of publishing images for classroom use, which flourished from the 1870ies to the 1920ies. Anschauungsbilder were mass produced, full color, educational wall charts and diagrams that among others covered topics in geography, botany, and social history, ssupporting strategies of experiential learning similar to those later presented by John Dewey in the US. These often anonymously designed wall charts were predated by a long line of ‘sentimental’ and educational imagery in individual prints and bound volumes, inspired in part by Rousseau’s writing on pedagogy.

Among those were etchings by artist and printmaker Daniel Chodowiecki, who in the late 18th century commented extensively on changing rules of conduct and propriety.

In Museums in the German Art World, James Sheehan assesses the character of the public museum,
which was forming at the same time: “Museums are places where art is seen, not created. Their
emergence was part of a transformation in the art world […] a shift from ‘the maker’s’ to the ‘perceiver’s
stance’.” In 1779, Chodowiecki suggests to audiences how to perform that shift, in a series of images
that present both appropriate and inappropriate behavior. In one pairing, a viewer of art is shown to behave in an ‘affected’ manner, as a poor imitator of nobility might, exuberantly gesturing and talking to a companion in front of a work of art, while the other acts ‘natural’, quietly contemplating the art, a citizen in control of affect. The emerging public sphere relies on self-control, and the art museum is
one of its locations.

Fast forward. Which behaviors complement the information age that began roughly 200 years after
Chodowiecki’s etchings were first distributed? Creative Industries post demands for operators,
programmers, and entrepreneurs. What strikes me then is that we seem to have to turn the well-tempered spectator inside out. No longer is affect control the guiding principle for today’s successful citizen, but abilities to play, engage and network, in material, virtual and mixed realities. Has the ideal of the public sphere been replaced by that of the interface? Can and should today’s public museums compete with game zones, both corporate and military? Can museums attempt to also be places
where the maker’s perspective is re-imagined?

And indeed, New Media artworks examine interfaces and both condition and shift responsibility to
viewers. Artists are rethinking their position as makers through ‘Art as Research’ doctoral tracks,
offering up new modes of interaction with museums and publics along the way. Within public museums, innovative museumeducators outperform traditional curators in adopting active modes of art appreciation, while innovativeindependent curators challenge traditional public institutions to trust an audience let loose.

In my own work, I am sympathetic to Chodowiecki (whose medium has been replaced by sitcoms and
advertising,) in that I comment on the discourses around me. I interpret texts, but my output consists of
images. The wall charts and diagrams I mention above were still around when I started school in the
1960ies. I see their reflections in my formal and material choices, and also in my desire to have my
diagrams not just emerge from, but also continue to exist in conjunction with conversation. Unlike
Chodowiecki, who seems to have set out to instruct, I do seek the active audience a diagram can
deliver, as a stage for critical debate.

For “Effervescent Condition”, I first created a text by interviewing the curator, Fang-Tze Hsu, and
participating artists Nadav Assor, Florian Graf, Joshua Sampson and Yefeng Wang. Interviews were
informal and lasted about one hour each. I allowed the conversations to move along, but also asked
questions about the artworks for the exhibition, and how they resonate with the artists’ and curator’s
extended practice. After a few days, I sat down with my handwritten notes and began to sort through
them. Soon, relations and images revealed themselves, and a diagram began to take shape. A quick
hand drawn sketch was followed by an extended design process, using Photoshop, Illustrator, and
modified images downloaded from the web and from my own collection of icons and pictograms. Given
that my final drawing is digital, it seems only natural that it should be duplicated as often as desired. It
will be available as a free poster at the exhibition sites.

Adelheid Mers
Associate Professor
Arts Administration and Policy
School of the Art Institute of Chicago
http://adelheidmers.org/

Adelheld Mers Diagram

Adelheid Mers Diagram Chinese

 

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