On Power and Obedience – an art project questions structures of domination in the schools. Heide Korn (1999)

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.“

Translated by Lisa Rosenblatt
From Der Standard, 12.1.99