Art and society

Changers

The investigation

The Swiss government asked for an investigation – lead by Betty Zucker, Zurich – on the phenomena that a remarkably high percentage of young Swiss apprentices in the German speaking part of Switzerland change their professional careers already in the first year of training.

Of all young Swiss high school graduates in the age of between 16 to 20 years, about two thirds opt for the apprenticeship of a professional trade; instead of going to university, they embark in a professional education (practical and schooling) at the end of which they receive a certified trade diploma: after finishing compulsory schooling, they join a company of their choice in which they are trained on-the-job while attending the trade and technical schools of their areas to obtain general and trade-related knowledge.

According to the official statistics, roughly two thirds of these young people change their employer or the area of their career during their first year of training. However, only a small percentage of 5-7% drops out of their professional training all together. The investigation sought to reveal the reasons for these changes before the general social background.

Thinking in Argentina about young Swiss?

Once the field work and the quantitative analysis of the investigation had been concluded, Carmen Olaechea and I were invited by Betty Zucker to identify possible dilemmas, which the young people – and the other actors in this field of professional training – might face, and which could motivate them making a change.

In the hour of choosing or changing a professional and educational career, many different worlds flow together: education, economy as a whole and the respective industry in particular, the employing company, the system of paid labor, government agencies, politics, family, and the manifold groups of social belonging of the young people. Each one of these world has its own mechanisms and norms, values, orientation, paradigms and tacit suppositions. But there is even more to that: the fundaments themselves of each of these worlds are undergoing a profound transformation. Today, familiar old paradigms live shoulder by shoulder with new emerging ones – for instance, as regards the role and significance of knowledge, or the relation between employer and employees, or the real and metaphoric meaning our society attributes to the young and to being young. By consequence, young people today live in a reality, which is characterized by the diversity and divergence of alternative, optional and contradictory paradigms. The phenomena of changing one’s own course is but one of the visible symptoms of a general condition and deeper challenge in modern society – the parallelism and confluence of traditional and new paradigms, often competing with another. This occurs in each single sector and in society on the whole.

It was interesting for us to be able to cooperate in this investigation. Naturally, every society has its own properties. It is rather undemanding to highlight the differences between Switzerland and Argentina. However, today’s young people haven been born into a different world than the one we entered: theirs is a world of new territories – virtual and global ones – and with problems that are no longer bound to the specifics of one single society. In fact, some of the challenges appear to indicate a deep transformation of human existence as such. Therefore, it has by no means been a far-fetched undertaking to think in Argentina about young Swiss. On the contrary, during our work we met with young Argentines to discuss the topic of the investigation and to listen to what they told us about change, be professional or general. The external conditions are others, and yet: the contents aren’t. 

Why images in a sociological investigation?

Hand in hand with our intellectual work, I developed, upon request of the project leader, a body of Mr. Fivehair images on the subject of dilemmas and competing paradigms. Before my inner eye I had the future readers of the study – members of the answering public agencies, owners and management of companies, educators, representatives of other sectors, and of course the young people themselves. I asked myself: what have I, as an artist, to say to the young generation of my own society? What can the images tell that will not merely be a repeating illustration of an intellectual text?

As in so many other projects working together with experts from other fields of knowledge and experience, I found my way only once I gave up trying to find an answer to my question. For, the true problem had not been the missing answer but the question itself. And so I found the key to a meaningful artistic contribution coming up with a new question: which are the contents of this investigation to which the readers, by way of reading alone, find no access?

The complexity of a topic can motivate us to try being extra precise in our thinking. This requires approaching the matter in a particularly intelligent and sophisticated fashion, and capturing the results of our reflections in the most exact language possible: each single word shall have its defined meaning and each single argument shall occupy its correct place in the chain of arguments – we do not answer to complexity with vagueness and ambiguity. However, precisely this approach generates two new problems. First, the languages and methods we deploy to deal with complexity are generally so complex themselves that they constitute a high hurdle and can become an obstacle to access the contents. And second, sometimes it is the precision of thought and the exactness of language, which – paradox! – move us further away from the essence of complexity: just as if we were killing the butterfly with the net in which we aim to catch it. And finally also this: in such complex matters like social coexistence it is imperative to also listen to the voice of the heart – when we deal with the education of the young generation, this voice, too, has important things to say.

By consequence, I thought that the best that I as an artist could give the readers was a second entry gate next to the one of logic and reason. My images aim to stimulate emotionally and awaken intuition – they try to point toward archetypical dimensions enveloped in the task of integrating new generations in our community.