Time Well Spent

By Mike Stubbs, 10 September 2000

Mike Stubbs on the Werkleitz Biennale

Some ten years ago, the Werkleitz Gesselshaft was formed in a newly re-unified rural community of the former East Germany near to Dessau and Magdebourg. The Werkleitz Biennale is now one of Europe’s most interesting media art festivals and could function as an object lesson in local involvement for many in the UK.

The work in the Werkleitz Biennale runs through a diverse yet coherent programme of film, net, installation and performance. Mixing genres as much as roles, audience members and artists alike mingled with villagers, all of whom seemed happy to host this weird shit for a mixture of real interest, boredom and economic gain. For ‘Kuhhandel’ one local farmer allowed Christoph Schaefer to dress his cows with banners displaying anti-euro milk overproduction statements. The ‘Make it Happen’ trash pop band sung out-of-tune love songs in a bus shelter while another artist refitted the local youth club with a new gym. Using a grinder, some ebony and a lot of manual labour, Mike Henz made the local steel fabricators’ yard his home from home for the production of a large installation.

A strong contingent of performance artists included Tehching Hsieh, whose remarkable presentation involved him reporting back on his sequential six-year long performances. These involve him clocking on every hour for a year, living outdoors for a year, living tied to a woman with an 8 foot length of rope for a year and so on, and are a humble and humbling exposition of daily life and art practice. Elsewhere, the extensive film programme included Christopher Wilcha’s extraordinary documentary about the internal hierarchies of Columbia Music, The Target Shoots First (see Mute 17).

The Werkleitz Biennale is staged in a village of 650 inhabitants. Implicitly, it felt like a well framed philosophical debate on power and the economies of labour: I left feeling profoundly challenged as to why I work, how I spend my time and what is really worth doing. A rave for the artists and local skinheads in a farmers’ barn saw me through to the early morning vodka.

Werkleitz Biennale (5-9 July 2000)Mike Stubbs <>