Work and living environments at the cutting edge: In discussions with contemporaries we review the assertions, clichés and ideals which circulate around work environments. This time round, conceptual artist and political scientist Jeanette Müller answers our questions. She tells Désirée Schellerer why she became interested in trust, and how a studio, a laboratory and an office can all fit into a rucksack at the same time. And why.
Jeanette Müller is a conceptual artist and political scientist. She lives in Vienna and Asia and works on transitions between science and art - with a focus on designing cross-cultural communication spaces and global learning. Jeanette Müller graduated from the University of Vienna with a degree in political science and Jewish and Arabic studies. She also studied at the University of Applied Arts and the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna. Trust and creativity. The Importance of Trust for various Players in Innovation Networks is the title of Jeanette Müller’s dissertation and publication. She was awarded the Theodor Körner Prize for science and art in 2008.
Jeanette Müller, one focus of your work is on the issue of trust – both for your artistic activities as well as for scientific projects. You also wrote a thesis on this subject. How did this come about?
I realised something as a teenager: we can think, decide, act and design either based on trust or motivated by fear. And this has consequences for us and our environment. My decision was a clear one: I wanted to be guided by trust in myself, in other people and the world.
The topic accompanied me through my studies and my artistic work. My thesis then dealt with the issue of the importance of trust for cooperation and social and technical innovations in a society characterised by diversity.
You talk of ‘Trust Rooms’ - what are these exactly? What connection do you see between rooms and trust?
We talk of ‘War Rooms’ and ‘Panic Rooms’ – but what can occur when we explicitly dedicate rooms to trust? Trust Rooms are sensory spaces which support trust-based thought and action. They are not just characterised by structural elements and fixtures, or merely by the lighting design, smells or acoustics - the culture of communication which they house is just as important.
Could you give us an example of this?
When I was designing the 'Knowledge Room' , i.e. temporary work studios for the curious from the Science Center Network which use empty business premises to give a wide variety of individuals the chance to engage and experiment with scientific issues, I for example invited potential users, i.e. neighbours and passers-by, to set up and spray the walls. They were able to ‘mark’ the unfinished room, to ‘put their name’ in it as it were. I quite consciously used round furniture and elements. We live with so many rectangles: floor plans, windows, doors, desks, computers, documents, etc. are almost always rectangular. Circular forms are very good for you. It’s different when you talk, play and learn at round tables than when this occurs on cornered ones. Yet this would all be pointless and far from being a ‘Trust Room’ if appreciation and hospitality and benevolent actions by individuals did not come to life here.
Are there any rooms, locations or spaces where you particularly like to work?
In my ‘Jungle Lab’ on Koh Chang, a Thai island near Cambodia, where I leased a small plot of land a few years ago and have developed and started various projects. For example ‘Science in a Backpack’ (in collaboration with the Science Center Network): This involves scientific experiments and games which can be understood so simply, easily and well across different cultures that they fit in a rucksack and can be used anywhere.
Another Jungle Lab project is the newly launched ‘Banana Leaf Kitchen Nutrition Health Care Project’, which is about encouraging tasty and healthy nutrition from local sources, in contrast with the growing consumption of junk food, and providing women with opportunities for cooperation and income at a local level.
I often work with my team on participatory art projects in the public arena, for example most recently at Vienna’s Karlsplatz as part of ‘Content Art’, where I implemented the ‘What We Need’ project together with artist Paul Divjak.
Working in public areas can sometimes be a challenge since, due to the effects of everything from the weather to a wide variety of background noises and interference factors, they are not exactly ‘protected rooms’. Instead, they are workplaces which can often turn into a ‘Trust Room’ – a place for meetings and situations which you would never have expected.
Are there any locations where you would particularly like to work?
In a prison again, if I have the chance. Working together with my colleague Sara Hossein and street artists Marcos Varela and Vincent Pelsöczi (my dream team), I’ve previously held ‘Science Graffiti’ workshops in a male penal institution and in one for young offenders among other places The fact of being there and discussing, designing and spraying together was both bewildering and impressive.
Do you have anything which could be called a "main workplace", and if so where?
I don’t have a fixed workplace or fixed working hours. My work doesn’t take place at the same locations or at specific times. I like being at home, for example so that I can write texts and plans in peace and with food and drink and everything that I need for convenience within reach; I find cafes and hotel lobbies very pleasant for answering e-mails. The background noises force me to construct a conceptual space and make me concentrate.
I love it when I don’t leave any traces behind me. When I work somewhere and create things or ideas, but there’s nothing that indicates this once I’ve gathered my things together again.
Do you prefer to work on your own in an office or with others?
I prefer being alone. The only exceptions are public locations and the Jungle Lab – where there are constantly children from the neighbourhood and a wide variety of people and lots of dogs and cats and toads and lizards wandering around, but that doesn’t disturb me there.
Is your office – or rather: your workplace at home, your studio, your laboratory – a place of inspiration and creativity to you? If so, then why?
Different places inspire me. And the peace at home also does me good. Ideas and visions often arise when it’s nice and boring, when different impressions and discussions with other people are able to occur, in an environment which is very familiar to me. But sometimes this happens when I’m in the thick of it, in discussions where you can be seen and heard, where you’re listening and enjoying it.
Since you work and live in so many different places, the question arises of whether you need consistency: are there any rituals that are important to you?
I have lots of rituals in my life - they make me feel ‘at home’ wherever I happen to be. They are simple physical and mental exercises which I do every day.
What’s the most important item to you at your workplace?
My laptop and the telephone.
What’s the most personal item in your studio?
Everything is personal.
What is the most important tool for your work?
Motivation and confidence.
Your favourite activity in the context of work?
Turning ideas into reality together with other people.
The thing you most wish for in an office?
That it’s mobile, and needs minimum materials.
Thank you for the interview!
‘The Banana Leaf Kitchen Nutrition Health Care Project’ is made possible through Women's Cooperation International. More info and photos about the project are available here.
(c) Cover-Photo Tina Hochkogler