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Reading Rämistrasse #129: Benedikt Bock on Leefwerk at BosqueRreal - Akademie - Kunsthalle Zürich

Reading Rämistrasse #129: Benedikt Bock on Leefwerk at BosqueRreal

(This conversation did not take place like this. The conversation is an autofictional distillation of several conversations with Leefwerk during their current intervention The Public's Content Bureau at BosqueRreal. As Leefwerk pretend to be artists, this text pretends to be a form of criticism.)

I would estimate that 95% of the news that reaches us in the public space is pure advertising, says Niels Coppens. Advertising has a kind of news monopoly in the public space, says Niels, sitting across from me at an office desk, leaning into a dark, ergonomic office chair. And if you want to criticise the public, you have to do it in public, he adds. In order to let people have their say in public space, comments Roman Luterbacher, who wears an elegant jacket and who, along with Niels Coppens, is the other half of the artist duo Leefwerk (Dutch for Life Work). In order to let people have their say, Roman continues, and not just advertising, we founded The Public's Content Bureau here in Zürich. We have been working on the question of how to share people’s messages in the public sphere for a long time. We've also pursued this in our projects in Athens and Belgium.

I take a sip of water. And what is The Public's Content Bureau, I ask. Niels opens his wallet and hands me a black business card.

On the back of the card there are the office hours and the duration of this job, he says; we're here for three weeks. We meet here every day at 1 pm and together we look at the previous day's documentation, evaluate our process and work through administrative tasks. At 3 pm we set up the campaign centre on the sidewalk. It's a set-up consisting of a white desk, two office chairs from König und Neurath, a white Primoteco filter coffee machine from FUST, a black hp laser printer, a whiteboard on wheels for brainstorming, some pens and A4 paper, that all stands on the sidewalk in front of the exhibition space BosqueRreal at Seebahnstrasse 109. Then we sit here, Roman Luterbacher continues, we sit here and as employees of our own office we invite passers-by to enter into conversation with us.

The Public’s Content Bureau, Leefwerk, BosqueRreal, 2023

Into conversation with you?

We approach people and ask if they have time for a conversation. We explain that we would like to help them place a message here in public. The conversations then often develop organically and actually always end somewhat existentially, says Niels. With the agreement of our conversation partner, we record everything so that we can work with the material afterwards, says Roman. We try to distill a central sentence afterwards, a kind of punchline, which we then paint on a wooden canvas. The canvas is displayed in the shop window overnight until the evening of the next day. White Arial on a black background, that's our corporate identity, Niels affirms. Yesterday, for example, it was: FEEL NOTHING FEEL GOOD. This line emerged out of a conversation with a physiotherapist.

So you take content from the people you talk to, we could also call them customers within your office scene, and then you let the content run through you, just as the Oracle of Delphi inhaled the intoxicating vapors, and in the end a sentence comes out of it, some sort of cryptic poetry, a work of art? Who is actually speaking there at the end? Is it the people or is it you?

The Public’s Content Bureau, Leefwerk, BosqueRreal, 2023

We speak together, says Niels, after some time considering. We are the infrastructure, we are the stove and the pot in which the food cooks. The artwork is just a temporary form. The next day we paint over the sentence with a new one. Actually, you could say that we are doing painting here, but I don't think, says Niels, that we are doing painting. This is not about painting. We are politicians, we are campaigners who pretend to be artists.

Exactly, adds Roman, if we are anything, we are politicians. We like the freedom of art, he says, for us it is a tool that we can construct and use; in no other discipline can we act so freely. This time we are an office and are doing real public relations. We found out that the art world is the best place in which to counter the world without being fined. Art is an alibi.

The Public’s Content Bureau, Leefwerk, BosqueRreal, 2023

And yet you paint a picture every day, I interrupt. How much attention do you actually give the painting? Isn’t the art a bit instrumentalised here?

I don't think so, says Niels, we still value our paintings very much. Every evening there is a small opening here, one of us cooks, there is food for all those who would like to eat with us. We are happy about the work of the day and discuss it together. The people that we talked to in the afternoon are often here as well. If it doesn't rain, these are very nice evenings with intense conversations that wouldn't be possible without our use of art. And, adds Roman, this part is just as important as the rest. All the preparations, the weeks of doing it together here with Niels, the process makes a lot of the work. We try to document as much as possible. We take pictures with our conversation partners in our office setup, we installed a time-lapse camera that takes a picture every 30 minutes, we take pictures with our smartphones and there is always an analog camera; the process is the project. Instagram and a Telegram channel accompany our work here. We often make a book afterwards, in which our work and especially the process then becomes fully visible. If something doesn't have a picture, it doesn't exist.

I see. I feel like the concept in your work is very strong and I’m wondering: if you are saying you are actually politicians pretending to be artists – could you also be artists pretending to be politicians?

The Public’s Content Bureau, Leefwerk, BosqueRreal, Seebahnstrasse 109, 8003 Zürich, 21 August–8 September 2023, 1-9 pm daily. Closing event on the 8 September from 7 pm.

Reading Rämistrasse

Geht der Raum für Kunstkritik verloren, müssen wir handeln. Deswegen schaffen wir diesen Ort für Kritik – Reading Rämistrasse – auf der Webseite der Kunsthalle Zürich und veröffentlichen Rezensionen zu aktuellen Ausstellungen in Zürich. Diese geben nicht die Meinung der Kunsthalle Zürich wieder, denn Kritik muss unabhängig sein.

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