On the Typology of Social Facts in Anette Rose’s Encyclopædia of Manual Operations
Ines Lindner

Anette Rose’s video work is conceptual in approach, minimalistic in form, and documentary in content. The “Encyclopædia of Manual Operations” (beginning in 2006) deals with the hand in work processes. The video recordings concentrate on the interplay of hand, eye, and machine. The video installations show close-ups of the faces of workers synchronized with the hand movements they are conducting on the machine. Rose integrates recordings of fully automatic production processes. In this combination, the translation of hand movements into something mechanical becomes conspicuous, as for example when the pincers of a robot grip a component.

The conceptual approach of this broad work is to enquire into haptic intelligence and observe it in contemporary forms of pro-duction. Here it concerns the intelligence of the hand itself, its sensory and fine motor skills. It continues to puzzle the sciences of prosthetics and robotics. Rose interviews experts about all this and watches them in operating rooms and labs. This is part of her research work. Individual interviews are integrated into the encyclopædia. Much contributes to events that accompany the exhibitions of individual modules, by now already seventeen, from the “Encyclopædia of Manual Operations”.

The hand, of endless anatomical complexity and culturally for-med, evolved out of its interplay with eye and tool.1 In this evolutionary process, hand and tool shaped each other. Tools prolong the hand and are adapted to hand usage. Machines modify the movements of gripping, pulling, hitting, pressing, and so on. They dictate the rhythms of hand movements to which they in turn are attuned. Rose’s interest is to trace this other intelligence in day-to-day production without any vestige of nostalgia. Unlike documentary films, this work is neither concerned with the products produced nor with the social conditions of work. There is no off-camera explanation, no narration, only precise observation with the rhythmic noise of the machines as background. The reduction of the camera focus to face and hands leads to an extreme intensification.

The documentary aspect of Anette Rose’s work consists in her collection of material on a physiology of haptic intelligence as well as her construction of an archive of industrial production systems which cannot (yet) do without manual work. Both the ambition of this long-term project and its visual precision place the “Encyclopædia of Manual Operations” in a tradition ranging from August Sander’s class portraits to industrial structures photographed by the Bechers.2 There are also long-term projects in documentary film that distill social facts, but up to now only the medium of photography has provided visual typologies which a comparing gaze can grasp. Through the combination of looped sequences in the installation space, new possibilities are opened. As in the works of Sander and, even more radical, of the Bechers, unchanging parameters for the shots support the possibility to compare them. This strategy follows the practices of empirical science. It is precisely the generalization in collection and portrayal of data which makes the variation, the particularity clear.

These principles and the serial order are not merely a formality for Rose; they repeat the standardization machines create and the rhythm of the hand movements required. Against this background, the workers’ concentrated faces become conspicuous. Rose shows them in close-up. This goes beyond the statuary aspect of photography, because the expressions reveal the concentration and effort of the work. The shots do not represent the work; they show it concretely in the coordination of gaze, hand, material, and machine. Nonetheless, especially in the projection the faces ac quire something iconic. It is the everyday factory world of real people and simultaneously a praise of societal work that normally remains invisible. Without a participatory process in which those filmed take an active part, such images could not be created. Prerequisite for them is thorough research in the plant, as well as many interviews. Set photos and workshop conversations in the foundry show that there is a feedback between the artist’s work and an observation of the work in the plant.

Part of Anette Rose’s artistic work is beginning with the concretion of social acts to reach an aesthetic organization. As do the Bechers, who have recorded artifacts of an industrial culture, she works at the interface between the documentary and the serial. In terms of its subject matter, Rose’s “Encyclopædia of Manual Operations” is a contribution to the social memory of industrial work. Only the formal rigor with which she determines her selection and cutting makes the coherence of the modules possible from which the “Encyclopædia of Manual Operations” is composed. In all her works, Rose begins with irregular social processes which she examines for visual forms of expression, such as the use of the hands in speaking and the expressions that accompany the dream narrations in the video film “16 Traumstücke” [16 Dream Fragments]. Bit by bit, she peels the material out of her observations by reducing and intensifying. This radical reduction does not, however, lead to abstraction. Minimalistic form stands in stark contrast to the performative social act. The serial serves a visual form of perception. Unlike the minimalists of the 1960s, she does not refer exclusively to the act of perception, from which nothing should distract us. Artists such as Donald Judd and Carl André constructed their objects from industrial materials so as to erase both any individual expressive form and the traditional spectrum of significance of sculpture. With the application of minimalistic aesthetics, however, any memory of its origin in industrial mass production also disappeared. In one of her most recent installations, “Hand und Arbeit, Geste und Abdruck” [Hand and Work, Gesture and Imprint], Anette Rose makes use of forms which recall minimalistic objects, sand cores from the foundry. These are relics from the industrial process the videos deal with and, at the same time, independent objects without any illustrative quality. In the 1960s, taking over serial production methods in the arts was still a provocation and bore the promise of an approach to art without prerequisites. As soon as the connection with industrial production disappears, minimalism seems formalistic and the series becomes an ubiquitous form.

What is special about “Encyclopædia of Manual Operations” is that Anette Rose thus returns to the forgotten site of the serial, the factory. Perhaps only Harun Farocki is similarly insistent in setting the factory as origin and central character in political as well as medial developments since the beginning of the 20th Century. While for Harun Farocki, as a documentary filmmaker and trail blazer, the textual level plays a greater role even in the context of exhibitions, Anette Rose counts on visual evidence. In her works, she uses the possibilities of the installation to provide contexts in which this evidence can unfold. This is because, among other things, minimalism has taught us not to stand in front of art but quite concretely to share a perceptual space with it and, un like in the cinema, to decide ourselves about the form of our gaze.

Each installation of modules from the “Encyclopædia of Manual Operations” determines the framework anew. Minimalism has not incorrectly been suspected of petrifying in an aesthetic formalism. The serial and the opening to space have been taken over and differently charged. With her work, Anette Rose restores the connection with the origins. A concept of researching with curiosity and a true consideration of social processes turn the minimalistic form into tool and expression of her artistic work.

1 Cf. Leroi-Gourhan, André: Hand und Wort. Die Evolution von Technik, Sprache und Kunst. Frankfurt am Main (Suhrkamp Verlag) 1980.
2 Heiner Büld pointed out this connection during an exhibition interview in 2008.

Translation into English: Richard Gardner

In: Enzyklopädie der Handhabungen. 2006–2010. Anette Rose (ed.) Bielefeld 2011