Abstraction and discomfort

with Marion von Osten

CaucasusArtMag: One of your works is presented on the façade of Tbilisi Triennial’s main pavilion. It’s a kind of event introduction for the viewer. What is the main message in this case?

Marion von Osten: What we see on the wall are blue and red colors. After every image one of them grows while other downgrades. Where else can you find analogical sequence? – In statistics usually. Everyone, even politicians or sociologists make programs out of this. These could be figures of something increasing. Is it a debt sum growing? Are these the possibilities? Or maybe the scale of success is up? The diagram always appears as an abstract form of reality, as a clear abstraction from our life activity. It’s always something that we put on the very abstract level to make things governed. And then the whole relation between the red and blue comes from official data what can be found over the net: one is from Georgian daily news online service; second – from the Guardian, then comes the World Bank, OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) and the fifth from US Military. So this is the governmental, supra national organization of official information. The first data is related to the Georgian Ministry of Education spending, in 2011-2012 years. Last year the Ministry of Education had 8,7% of the annual State budget for public schools and universities, which was 0,7% less than in 2011. We can say that it touches the culture also as if the education had 8,7%, culture had even less – only 1,2% of the whole budget.

CAM: And then comes the figure two…

M. O.: Figure two is a research done in UK about the value of British education system for overseas students. It appeared that they bring 4£ billion a year into the country’s budget and some of them pay more than £20,000 per year. All these figures somehow are connected to each other. Statistically you wouldn’t be able to say figure two, because it needs the same set of data. Of course from scientific point of view it has no sense to make something like that. But if to look through the whole text it’s all about the creation of the new debts. People send their children overseas. Who can afford to invest twenty two or twenty five thousand in the study in UK or in Oxford? Maybe they will make better career with it. In this case it’s true – the investment in the future. This is actually over the figure three as well; the remittances sent home by the migrant workers from all over the world provide an important lifeline for millions of households and they are three times more than the official development assistance. But the most interesting is that they are also the top recipients of the shared transmittals in comparison to many countries with small economics like Tajikistan. Tajikistan receives 45 % from the whole economy due to these sent products. It’s just transfer from abroad. And there is also another scene and this is actually official data. As a fact the remittance receivers have highest credits on their bank accounts. If you have money you have bank account. If you have bank account you get a credit. So that’s actually the whole thing. And the most remittent money goes to housing property. Build the house is the main thing. And at the same time, sent money is used for financing the high education of at least one family member… So in relation to the figure two and three we can conclude that the families of the overseas students are not very reach.

CAM: Is it a country’s representational structure, more or less?

M. O.: Yes, exactly. It’s about migration and mobility.  It’s also important that 70% of worldwide skilled workers are immigrating to six major receiving countries like US, UK, Germany, France, Canada and Australia. At the same time it’s interesting that Germany itself has a high number of skilled workers emigrating to US or Switzerland, also like me… Skilled workers are designated as the holders of the post-secondary certificate. This „brain drain“ is common amongst developing nations and particularly in contemporary economies, where university degrees are no longer respectively rewarded. So the problem in many countries is that the people are very bad paid or have no jobs at all. They migrate to earn some money and invest it in the education, in England for example – in the country with the highest tuition fees – but finally most of them find themselves unemployed again. And here we have the figure five, the most shocking one I think – You cannot pay for the education, if the education is something that you have to pay for. You will have the loan or debts. And this is the subject of students’ struggle all over the world. Because the education should be free. It must be public good, accessible for everyone. But we have the opposite development at the moment. So in figure five – 81% of US student veterans fighting in Iraq or Afghanistan were recruited with two points: – If they would fight in Afghanistan or Iraq they would have been released from the students’ debts. You need to convince people to go to war. Otherwise why should they go? Everyone can be killed there… It’s again about the mobility. People are sent to Afghanistan. Others go from Tajikistan to whatever place to work and etc. and also this is the reference to US, American painting, to western traditions that there is the hegemony of the West. I’ve come here, I’m from Germany and I was asking myself: What I’m doing here with this discussion in Georgia? It’s not this kind of images, statistical data or information which empowers me to do something. No, but this is the way we are governed.

CAM: So it’s a global reflection…

M. O.: And I think this is a problem. If I would give a title to this work, I’d call it “Abstraction and discomfort”. Because I feel real discomfort thinking that we are in the institution, we are more and more creating elite study programs for only very limited group. I think art field in this case is a very good example. It’s always highly elite. We have to study that in larger context. I know that people here would like to discuss it as academy as the exception. One can also say that art academies are the places, where the society looks for normativity to put all of us in to the corner, where we can play. That’s kinder garden for the crazy. And I think that the problem is – we accept this corner.

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