Statement #12 | Verlag für Handbücher — Safe Operations

Performative setting, July 1, 2021, 4–8 pm

Be it operating instructions or user manuals, technical documentation or service instructions, package leaflets or total solutions … these and other pragmatic, efficiency-oriented printed matter comprise the collections of the Verlag für Handbücher [Publishing House for Handbooks], founded by Anna Schiefer, Björn Kühn, and Oliver Kraft in Stuttgart in 2014. Their stated aim is to “investigate mechanisms of change” through the medium of artist’s books and to set up a “laboratory of functionality”. Additionally, the collective publishes books, which explore the rhetorics of the handbook and its aesthetic qualities. Similar to Kunstraum Lakeside, the publishing house attends to a very specific segment of artistic production: While Kunstraum Lakeside focuses on research at the interface of economy, technology, and art, the Verlag für Handbücher investigates the instruction manual, which is typically associated with technological-economic contexts, as a special manifestation among literary genres.

Departing from its archive of printed instructions, which is also outfitted as a travelling reference library, the Verlag für Handbücher presents Safe Operations at Kunstraum Lakeside, an interpretation of its handbooks as a performative script and spatial installation. In the pop-up exhibition and performance Anna Schiefer, Björn Kühn, and Oliver Kraft display their artistic activity through books and performances—or, more precisely, through handbooks and executions. “The handbook is a protocol and reminder, a proposition and analysis of performance. The user is an actor, sometimes also the author of the book,” notes the collective on its investigations into the particulars and characteristics of its research subject, whereby, remarkably, “the reading of it is never a contemplative, engulfing act, rather it entails looking up from the book out into the world and following a proposed act.”

The performance Safe Operations at Kunstraum Lakeside is conceived as a dramaturgy of a Theatre of Operationality. The Verlag für Handbücher demonstrates this by transforming the traveling library into a spatial installation and holding a performance lecture on the main problem of the handbook as a central text format of the contemporary technical rationale: According to the founding members, “the handbook itself can only live up to its claim of sense-certainty, of verifying the true everyday, by negating its own textual nature. This coincides with the disregard and not-reading of functional literature in general.” The Verlag für Handbücher counters this negation, also in the wider field of literature, with its performative reading.

Verlag für Handbücher (Anna Schiefer, Björn Kühn)


Verlag für Handbücher, Waschtrommeldrehung [Washing Machine Drum Rotation], 2019