Eleonore: a really existing non-utopian social sculpture
(notes, Artist in Residency, Day 2) Yesterday I arrived at the Eleonore in Linz. Already before leaving I had the first insight. I was packing and couldn't find any suitable string to tie together my Yoga map. So I took a Cat 5 ethernet cable because I thought I might need that as well. And then I thought what connects Linux with Yoga? That both can show up, sometimes painfully, the limitations of the human being, especially in my case.
After arrival we first went shopping for some provisions. That took us to the outskirts of Linz, near the Voest Alpine steel works and Chemie Linz, a chemical factory. That whole area is one vast agglomeration of commercial activity. Lots of 'logistical' companies, huge warehouses, almost fully automated I guess, with robot cranes and almost no workers. In between some DIY and other stores of monster size, and some administration buildings belonging to the city of Linz; almost no residential areas.
Linz is a wealthy city and has managed the transition from heavy industries to a mix of industries well, while the heavy industries are still there. The university has a very particular profile, teaching law, management and technical disciplines such as mechatronics. But there is an art university too, so the humanistic side is not completely forgotten. I need some more up-do-date information on the economic structure and institutional structure of Linz. Only so much: what has prevailed here for decades is a sort of socialist-state-corporate-capitalism. If that sounds like a contradiction please come to Linz and try it out. All those new public-private buildings such as the Wifi, an institute for the promotion of business skills, all those bridges and highways, so that workers from the surrounding rural areas such as Muehlviertel (District of Mills) can get in and out of work quickly with their tuned Audi Quattros.
We arrived at the Eleonore at perfect weather. The boat is in fairly good shape, only some of the plants didn't do all too well during the recent heat period. I get a first introduction into the electricity system. Unfortunately there was a sort of accident a couple of weeks ago, which destroyed much of the infrastructure. An unwise action caused a burst of electric energy destroying many of the connected machines, such as the Linksys, the IP phone and the shortwave radio.
My first real insight is that the Eleonore is, if I may say so, and for lack of better words, a Gesamtkunstwerk. While originally maybe notions such as "artistic measurements" stood in the foreground of the conception, I now realise that the strength of the project is how it functions as a whole, on different layers: there is the boat as such, a floating structure, which needs to function within its environment; Franz Xaver has taken care to make it an autonomous unit, independent from electricity and water coming from the land; electricity is provided by a number of solar panels and a generator as backup; water is provided by a rain water tank, collected via the roof of the Eleonore; this water is not for drinking but for all other purposes; there are a number of ongoing research projects relating to water and acidity, more about that hopefully later. There is also the socal side, the way this structure is embedded in the social fabric of the river and the port. Through years of research and creating a rapport with the relevant people, Eleonore is allowed to exist without costing anything; and with regard to the running 'residncy' programme, this is rather different from other residencies, where artists often use an institution as a kind of hotel. Here, participants are not just supposed to go along their own artistic-narcissistic pursuits but contribute something to the whole; and, with all of those aspects taken together, the Eleonore project is a real non-utopia. Let me try to explain that.
Since the beginning of the 20th century artistic moevments, the so called historic avant-gardes, have tried to integrate art with new technologies and daily life. They wanted art that is relevant for the every-day and not just put objects into museums or temple's of the bourgeoisie. Yet connected with that was always one or another type of a utopian notion, a singular vision of the new man in the new society. This utopianism carried traits of the enlightenment project insofar it was a universalist vision. The artists, as avant-gardes, thought themselves leading soceties to some new shores. One vision for all. Related to that is the meaning of the word utopia itself, the u-topos, the non-place, the place where people, individuals, societies strive arriving at but which will be forever unreachable, due to the inherent contradictions of the utopian projects of highly stratified class societies. The Eleonore, on the contrary, is real. It also carries a vision, but not one vision for all. There is still the notion that artists need to work out new perspectives, but here the totalitarian universalism is missing. The utopia already exists, in the here and now, so in that sense it is not a utopia at all. It is imperfect, but that is actually what makes it so great, because that brings together people who want to do some work. Thus Eleonore is a conceptual art work, a 'social sculpture' if we may revive that already quite overused term from Joseph Beuys. It is open, accessible, participatory, yet at the same time it is also driven by a grand idea and the experience of a life-work of an artist who assembled the necessary intellectual and manual/technical skills to make and maintain such a structure, if necessary by himself, but preferably with others. And in this context of the 'complete' art work it is not important if an artist-in-residence carries out a project with a beginning and an end and in doing so uses the latest technical devices, connecting to the various areals on board the Eleonore. This sort of dark, industrial, cybernetic vision inherent to those technologies needs to be socialised into a more friendly assemblage that creates platforms for living beings.