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The Social Use of Signs (Obligation to Express)
Tina Schulz, Apr 3 - 27, 2009

To understand something means applying the signs of representation in such a way that proves useful in a societal environment. In fact, signs never stand for themselves. They only become meaningful when being used and utilized. No gesture, no word, no object around us has an inherent meaning, somewhere deep engraved, which we could ‘figure out’ if we only look close enough. Instead, the meaning of each sign is a social agreement. It is an approval of how certain statements are positioned in a social order.

And what if we deny approving? What do we understand then? If cognition is nothing more than using and renewing sedimented habits of representing reality (which also implies that we bear the social preconditions and consequences that come with it) – what image of reality and what kind of community remain, when we cannot or refuse to endorse these habits? How much leeway remains for the subject of cognition?

Now, an epistemological problem becomes political. Cognition is not merely the brain processing signs, but an interaction with other people – hence prone to conflict. As those, who care for meaning, we partake in the societal game of using signs, thereby co-deciding what means what. Already by perceiving things that way or that way, we are inescapably involved in the normative production of meaning rendering the significance of social reality. To understand something means to take a position in society. Cognition is the inevitable expression of a subject in a community.

There is no position on the outside. ‘Obligation to Express’, Tina Schulz’s correspondent series of text images is the point of departure for KOW ISSUE 4. Schulz complements the phrasing “There is a/no” with key notions of different theoretical discourses about normative statements: “There is a/no distinctino to draw“, „derivation of value“, „affirmation of behaviour“, „obligation to express“. She mirrors to the subject of cognition its participation in the process of normative production of meaning – provides it however a moment to reflect in a situation when the decision yet undetermined.

Schulz’s exhibition appropriates theoretical, aesthetical, and scientific vocabulary, by simplest means. She lays out formulistic expressions – in language, image and material – as arrangements of signs as if they were playing cards. They allow for a model situation, how to make use of conventions of interpretation. Moved from a societal concretion to an alternative symbolic plane, their usefulness is, however, no longer evident. The representation has gaps.

Concept and production: Tina Schulz. Text and photos: Alexander Koch