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How to work

No word better sums up the complex conflict situation of the Corona pandemic and the concomitant restrictions on public and private life than the word “together”, which encapsulates both our danger and our opportunity. Only together can we fight the pandemic; at the same time, togetherness in the sense of physical proximity must be avoided at all costs. This is therefore reflected in the title of the semipublic research festival held at the end of June 2020 as a collaboration between the Experimental Design studio under Prof. Jesko Fezer with the Kunstgewerbemuseum of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin as part of the series of events entitled Design Lab. It is this “togetherness” that forces itself into the foreground: (How) do we (want to) work (together) (as (socially engaged) designers (students and neighbours)) (in neoliberal times)? Here, also, the students, guests, and interested parties were only able to come together for rounds of talks, presentations, debates, and workshops at a safe distance, enabled by digital platforms – this had all the usual advantages and disadvantages of technology, and presumably also led to the rather restricted number of participants.

The festival ran on for three weeks. It proved its worth most of all in terms of uniting theoretical discourse with concrete and even personal aspects. This manifested itself both in the content and in the fine details that appear to be part and parcel of the new normality (Lucy Kimbell, for instance, had to end her lecture promptly in order to put her child to bed at the regular time). In dialogue with Guy Julier, Professor for Design Leadership at Aalto University, the director of the Institute for Social Design of the University of Arts London had previously spoken about realities, opportunities, and possibilities of social design, taking into account the different situations for students and designers in Great Britain and Finland.

A week previously, Valentina Karga and Jesko Fezer had described the German perspective in their evening talk, entitled “Discussing Towards an Ethics of Care”. Based on a paper composed by Esteve Corbera Elizalde, Isabelle Anguelovski, Jordi Honey-Rosés, and Isabel Ruiz-Mallén, it was concerned with how, under the circumstances created by the pandemic (which – as Karga affirmed – has only made visible the fears and crises already present) one might deal with production pressures, precarious livings, and individual and structural problematic situations.

In the wider context, this and other lectures included a focus on the conditions of (invisible) care work, both private and professional. Contexts in which this appeared included the talk by Felix Vogel; here, it was supplemented by the fundamental question of how one distinguishes between productive and reproductive work and an analysis of the neoliberal mechanisms of knowledge production. In this context, social design has the opportunity to highlight abuses and, in the best instance, to contribute to change, or – and this was also frequently discussed – to do the opposite and, through intelligent solutions, to contribute to stabilising, rather than changing, inherent structures of injustice.

What social design might look like in the context of care was illuminated in, for instance, the lecture by HFBK graduate Skadi Sturm. In her video talk, she opened up the Archiv der Begegnungen (archive of encounters). This consisted of eight cases filled with artistic interpretations created in a number of workshops held at the M.1 in Hohenlockstedt under the curatorship of Sascia Bailer for people who undertake care work, either professionally or in a private capacity. These cases can now be borrowed from the community library, making them the best example of the essential elements required in order for social design to succeed: accessibility, ease of understanding, and inclusion.

Week #1: Creative Work and Exhaustion, Pelin Tan (Architektin, Kunsthistorikerin, Mardin), Silvio Lorusso (Künstler, Designer, Forscher, Rotterdam), Dr. Claudia Banz (Design Kuratorin Kunstgewerbemuseum Berlin), Velvetyne Type Foundry (Grafiker*innen Paris), Airi Triisberg (Kuratorin, Autorin und Pädagogin, Tallinn), IG Bildende Kunst (Wien), Designers + Cultural Workers Union (Artiusts, Designers, London), Hans-Christian Dany (Künstler, Autor, Hamburg), Brave New Alps, Martina Dandolo, Flora Mammana (Designer*innen, Forscher*innen, Rovereto), Arts of the Working Class (Obdachlosenkunstzeitschrift Berlin), Nobody is an island (Designer*innen, Wien), Florian Schmidt (Professor für Designkonzeption und Medientheorie, Dresden), Sebastian Schmieg (Künstler, Berlin) , Angela McRobbie (Department Media, Communications and Cultural Studies, Goldsmiths University of London)

Week #2: Care Work and Precarity, Studiengruppe Informationsdesign (Burg Giebichenstein, Halle), Vivian Tauchmann (Social Designerin, Leipzig), Onomatopee (Amy Gowen & Joanette van der Veer, Kuratorinnen, Publizistinnen, Eindhoven), Prof. Valentina Karga (HFBK Hamburg), Felix Vogel (Kunsthistoriker, Basel), Manuela Zechner (feministische Kulturarbeiterin und Forscherin), Emma Dowling (Sozilogin, Ökonomin, Universität Wien) , Lisa Baumgarten (Designerin, Berlin), Poliklinik Veddel (Mediziner*innen, Sozialarbeiter*innen, Aktivist*innen, Hamburg), Silvia Federici (Philosophin, Aktivistin, New York)

Week #3: Collaborative Work and Exploitation, Silke Helfrich (Autorin, Forscherin Aktivistin, Jagsttal ), Peter Kuchinke (Glasmacher Derenburg), In the Meantime (HFBK Hamburg), Lucy Kimbell (Social Design Institute, Central Saint Martins, London) & Guy Julier (Professor of Design Leadership Aalto University, Helsinki), Experimentelle Klasse (HFBK Hamburg), Klasse Johanna Dehio (Gastprofessorin Design HFBK Hamburg), (besetzte Seifenfabrik, Thessaloniki), Madygraf (arbeiter*innengeführte Druckerei, Buenos Aires) Harald Trapp (Soziologe, Architekt, Wien), Rosario Talevi (Architektin, Parastic reading room, Berlin), Casco Art Institute & The Outsiders (Designer*innen, Künstler*innen, Utrecht, Stavros Stavrides (Nationale Technische Universität Athen)

Text: Beate Scheder

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