Power and Obedience
school instructs


Internetproject SchülerInnenforum, 97/99
poster series, Jänner 99, Vienna
Passagegalerie-Künstlerhaus, 15. 1. - 21. 2. 99, Vienna

other projects by Martin Krenn

SchülerInnenforum (1997-1999)

Martin Krenn in cooperation with:

Katerina Vrtikapa, Robert Proskovits, Tina Hann, Lisi Ziegelmeier,
Quilla Mederos, Vinzenz Schweighofer, Nina Mangel

(Projectgroup NEUE SCHULE)

Meta Stephan, Konstantin Wreh, Sarah Laudien, Mike Weimann, Paula Sell,
Lisa Bannier, Robert Haase, Anna Fischer, Raffaele Vinci

(K.R.Ä.T.Z.Ä. - Berlin)

The "scholastic ideological state apparatus" (Althusser) plays an important role for the state as an effective means of steering and controlling the reproduction and legitimization of society.

School discipline, military discipline and work discipline are deemed necessary for upholding the state and its society. Schools, like prisons and barracks, can be used by the state as a mechanism of domination and control in its attempt to impose its interests.

Following Foucault, however, power is not simply held but rather, it effects. Power is not bound to individuals or groups/institutions, it lies in the structure, in the organization of space and the structuring of time.
Power does much more than merely censoring and negating; it is productive.

The project "Macht und Gehorsam - Schule unterrichtet"/"Power and Obedience - school instructs" attempts to investigate and question the ways that subordination and other mechanisms of domination and control in the school institution function by making public the pupil's critique of the schools.
First I visited schools in Vienna, presented the project and led discussions with pupils and committed teachers. At the visits, the pupils were invited to take photos of their schools and write statements on postcards, which would then be published in addition to the statements sent over the Internet to the homepage "SchülerInnenforum."
The concept for the video "AlternativschülerInnen interviewen Regel-schülerInnen"/"Pupils from alternative schools interview regular school pupils" was developed with a group of young people from the "SchülerInnenschule - WUK," an alternative school project in which I have actively participated for several years.

Visiting the schools and working on the video made it possible to come into contact with pupils who in their free time then took part in the design and exhibition of the posters.
After several working meetings, a core group was formed consisting of alternative and regular school pupils with the name "Neue Schule". The choice of statements made by the pupils for the posters, the working out of the layout and the concept for the exhibition were discussed as a group. Numerous discussions about changes in the school system supplemented the strategic and conceptual considerations.

K.R.Ä.T.Z.Ä., a children's rights group from Berlin, with whom I had previously only had e-mail contact, visited Vienna and presented their documented activities, publications and their "little school house," which points out the cramped situation in school classes.

Martin Krenn

Poster series

Translation of two of the 8 different posters:

1 = "very good" to 5 = "insufficient" - school grades are meant to judge the produced performance. On the certificate, however, they give no explanation of the subject, the type or methods of the work performed. That is insufficient. In a performance-based society, the pressure to receive good grades is overwhelming. That is threatening. The teacher's position of power is strengthened and the hierarchy maintained. If pupils could learn freely, then externally imposed constraints would be unnecessary.
Anna-Lin Karl, pupil, 18 years old


The school attempts to form the people of tomorrow with what are in part medieval methods. Are we supposed to learn responsibility and self-initiative by obeying rigid norms and rules!? The school is working in the wrong direction.
Hannes P., Pupil, 18 years old

Comments on the Project "Macht und Gehorsam - Schule unterrichtet"/"Power and Obedience - school instructs"

One cannot dismiss the poignant statements as the mind games of post-pubescent social utopianists. [...]
Still, authors and sponsors of a poster on abolishing grades would certainly not welcome treatment or even let themselves be operated on by a "doctor," who has spent sixteen semesters at the university and is still unable to show any positive examination results. And if they nonetheless want to risk it - lots of luck!

Mag. Helmut Jantschitsch (Head of the Federal section of the Austrian Upper School Union), AHS-union paper, Feb. 99


School gave me loads of pleasure [...] Even young people have to get used to the fact that their performance will be judged [...] the grading system certainly has its weaknesses, but 80% of the pupils want to receive a grade for their performance.

Education Minister Elisabeth Gehrer
Journal Panorama on "Power and Obedience - school instructs", (Austrian Broadcasting) ORF, Ö1, 9. 2. 99


In schools as they are now, we learn to subordinate ourselves to authorities. What I think is that young people should learn to be critical and question power. But wherever there's a political system with someone in power, it is accepted, just like it is now in the school where the principal is in power [...]
Since we are graded, there can't be open discussion; no pupil can afford to say what he/she really thinks.

Katerina Vrtikapa (pupil, project group: Neue Schule)
"Von Tag zu Tag"/"From Day to Day," (Austrian Broadcasting) ORF, Ö1, 29.1.99


If the pupils could just start getting together, instigating conversations with the teachers and then drawing in their parents, I think that a great deal could be set in motion. [...] But it's hard to get conversation going in the first place, which still hasn't happened and then it's sometimes possible to get some teacher or another's support, or parents, or even call somewhere in the ministry of education.

Dr. Christine Kisser (Ministry of Education)
Live-Discussion on the exhibition, (Austrian Broadcasting) ORF, FM4, 18 January 99

On Power and Obedience - an art project questions herrschaft structures in the schools.
Der Standard, 12.1.99

Pupils feel like powerless objects over whom teachers wield authority whenever they want. Quotation from the Internet: "This degradation is an affront to our human dignity." This is something with which project's artist Martin Krenn can sympathize and he has made their resistance public.

Heide Korn spoke with him.

Vienna - "How can it be," asks the Viennese artist Martin Krenn, "that so many people simply accept the relations of power and control which subordinate them?" And he answers: "because from a young age onwards we are systematically trained to 'fit in'."

And this occurs in schools as well. There, it is expected that orders from the administration, the class president and the teachers will be obeyed without question. The disciplinary mechanisms can best be read in the codes of conduct, which often speak volumes through their word choice alone. In a Viennese boarding school, one can still find today the staunch military tone in the statement: "you are to retire punctually by 21 hours."

Additionally, although student representatives have a third of the voting rights in school committees, it is usually the school administration that determines what issues to vote on. "The school tries," says Martin Krenn in dialogue with the Standard newspaper, "to outwardly project a democratic image of itself but avoids a fundamental discussion about the system itself."
This persists, although the ideal upbringing predominant in families has long been independence and pupils who consider themselves for the most part to be autonomous individuals counter the traditional disciplinary structures with resistance. "This resistance," according to Krenn, "is what I wanted to capture with my project 'Power and Obedience - school instructs'" and then make it public in the sense of an expanded artistic concept."

Poster series

Public means that a poster series conceived together with critical pupils was placed recently at heavily frequented traffic junctions to draw attention to the problematic. In addition, next Thursday in the passageway gallery of the Künstlerhaus, an exhibition will open at 8 pm, which should document the course of the undertaking.

Begun by Martin Krenn one year ago, the project was supported by Lioba Reddeker, the federal curator for art. At that stage he sought committed teachers in Vienna and presented his concept in their classes. He led discussions and invited the pupils to submit statements "against grading and school obedience, in favor of self determination."

The statements were published on the Internet at the homepage schuelerInnenforum.t0.or.at, which was announced to other schools by e-mail and led to further statements coming in - also from Germany. In the end, collaboration arose with the Berlin group K.R.Ä.T.Z.Ä. (Kinder-Rächts-Zänker/Children-Avengers-Squabblers), which was also presented in the Künstlerhaus.

Group "Neue Schule"

A number of pupils were so pleased with the project that they even met with Krenn in their free time and formed the group "Neue Schule." They chose the posters and in long discussions documented on video, developed their own model for a school in which there is equality between pupils and teacher.

Krenn had already carried out several projects that publicized socially relevant themes such as sexism and racism in spaces beyond the artworld. Among these was also a project dealing with the schools, "Gelernte Heimat"/"Learned Homeland" (together with Oliver Ressler), which clarified how the constitution of homeland functions in the school by citing passages taken from school textbooks. For example: "The father takes care of the family, Austria takes care of us all."

other projects by Martin Krenn
SchülerInnenforum (1997-1999) contact