Der verletzte Ball

Notizen zu einem Lernprozess

A man is standing in the field and looking at me with curiousity. He comes towards me, proudly showing me his small, colourful ball. “That’s a rubber ball,” I say with delight. I take the ball, bounce it on the ground and catch it again. The man looks at me in horror, his eyes fill with tears. He tears the ball out of my hand and runs away crying. I’m completely at a loss. A few minutes later I see the man coming out of the nurse’s room. The ball is completely covered in plasters and the man is holding it gingerly in one hand. When he sees me he shrinks back, alarmed. “You threw his favourite thing on the ground. And with all your might, too,” his carer told me later. “Now the ball is hurt and has to get well again.” I begin to understand. We have a lot to learn.

On the 1st of July 1996 Robert F. Hammerstiel and I stood in Kreuzbichlhof in Schön (Upper Austria) in an institution that is part of the Hartheim Institute. At the suggestion of artist Peter Assmann and Horst Jaritz we had been asked if we would like to take part in the “Creative Weeks” in Schön as workshop leaders. Robert F. Hammerstiel was to be in charge of the photo group and I was to run the writing group. Right from day one we formed a joint photo-text group, the dialogue between words and images seemed to both of us to be particularly exciting. A stimulating cooperation began that we were able to continue for a further two years at the Hartheim Institute and then for ten years at St. Pius. Everything began in Schön though, at the “Integrative/Creative Work Days”. It was the first time that Robert or I had worked with people who were multiply disadvantaged. It became a period of learning.

Rupert hid behind my back as soon as we were in the open air. Something bothered him. After a quick look in his notebook I understood. He had covered every page with paintings of insects. He was afraid of them and tried to exorcise them onto the paper. No wonder he didn’t want the make photographs outside. Kurt came in a suit to make photographs and all he wanted was to be called “mayor”. (“Mayors are always well dressed.”). Fritz could hardly walk but as soon as he heard music he was transformed within seconds into a light-footed dancer. Soon the finale to every workshop was the music. Herbert wrote his texts in a kind of spiral with the most important things at the centre. This was, at the same time, a seed from which all the other sentences unfolded. They surrounded the core like a dense undergrowth of letters. After a few days in Schön it seemed completely comprehensible when one of the fellow inhabitants grumbled out loud about the curves that caused him and his scooter fall. Kurt the Mayor held up a self-made sign for the camera taking the final group photo: “End of Schön [Beautiful]”, it said. For us it was a beginning, back then in July 1996.

In the first year we worked with Polaroids, with photographs that show results quickly. That second year Robert made life-size portraits which were developed in an improvised darkroom by those in them. In the third year we bored a hole in a life-size mirror, a camera was installed. Touching self-portraits in front of the mirror resulted, made with an extension to the shutter release in their hands. One member of the group closed his eyes. Standing on one leg he slowly raised his arms before pressing the shutter, hovering in silence…

The years in Schön/Hartheim were an apprenticeship. The insecurities of dealing with disadvantaged people quickly disappeared, the pleasure in working together artistically increased steadily. In St. Pius in Steegen/Peuerbach (Upper Austria), part of Caritas, we found wonderful working conditions to carry on the work on a small scale. In St. Pius annual “Creative Weeks” were offered too, with workshops for sculptors and with groups for painting and music. We took on the group for photography and text. Very soon a circle of seven people crystallised out. We became more and more familiar with them from year to year. This made it possible to undertake intensive and continuous work in the mediums of photography, video and text, working together to plan out various themes and different approaches. Whether it was a game of hide-and-seek with paper masks, role playing in a photo booth, portraits in self-made carnival costumes or fictitious journeys in front of wall mural-sized photographs in the gymnasium – private and public identity was questioned in words and pictures. The results were humorous self-dramatisations in front of the camera.

The works presented here show fascinating personalities. Their apparent “deficits” were non-issues as far as the art work was concerned. On the contrary, their spontaneity, their handling of material, their exuberant joy, their surprising ideas and their humour made every workshop an experience.

During these ten years in St.Pius were have got to know people whose way of looking at the world surprises us time after time and it made us thoughtful. Their friendliness and warmth made us feel ashamed and impressed in the same measure.

We have learned a lot in the ten years in St. Pius, as artists and as individuals. And the astonishment continues.

Heinz Janish