On the road to direct democracy


Johannes Stüttgen and social sculpture


Joseph Beuys expert Johannes Stüttgen was awarded an honorary fellowship by Oxford’s Brookes University in September for his outstanding work on social sculpture. Oxford Brookes is the only university to have a research department for social sculpture (SSRU – Social Sculpture Research Unit), which was founded in 1998. NNA correspondent Edith Willer-Kurtz visited Johannes Stüttgen at the “Omnibus for Direct Democracy”, and attended two of his lectures in Bochum and Dusseldorf.


DUSSELDORF/BOCHUM (NNA) – What is needed, says Johannes Stüttgen is to promote human autonomy and responsibility: acting out of autonomous inner impulses, and making decisions that consciously relate to society and benefit humanity. He continues his lecture by admitting that these concepts need explaining, and then leads his audience into a conceptual world that is new for some, and which he renders very vividly. Our consciousness, he says, needs to awaken to Direct Democracy and all that this implies.


Based on Rudolf Steiner’s ideas of a threefold social organism, which were also aired by Joseph Beuys in his artistic and often provocative ‘actions’,  people should, according to Stüttgen, use discussion to develop a new way of forming their own lives and society, one appropriate to our era. Joseph Beuys called this social sculpture. Johannes Stüttgen explains what this means, and how “the human being still needs to come into his own”.


Looking back to Greek democracy at a time when people could still hearken to divine inspiration, giving expression to this in works of art, and also drawing impulses for action from it (democracy and state), Joseph Beuys linked politics and art. “Every person is an artist” was a motto which for him meant “someone who takes responsibility for creating society, for the whole”. This is only possible “if human beings identify the creativity in themselves, drawing on their future destiny as the culmination and key significance of evolution”. According to Beuys’s expanded concept of art, the human being is himself the archetypal work of art.


Johannes Stüttgen studied under Beuys at Dusseldorf art academy in the sixties. From 1971 onwards he became his master student and then his closest colleague. Following this he worked as art teacher in Gelsenkirchen for nine years, where he and his students carried out street info actions each week. “Every inhabitant of Gelsenkirchen,” he says, “should have heard of the threefold society at least once.” It was this unusual work which drew the attention of Rainer Rappmann. The meeting of the two gave rise to an intense collaboration and friendship, and to the “Association for promoting the expanded concep of art and social sculpture”, with its large archive of books and catalogues.


Stüttgen is also co-founder and partner of Direct Democracy’s development and research enterprise, Omnibus GmbH [plc], which seeks practical ways to serve the idea of freedom. The “Omnibus for Direct Democracy” has existed in Stuttgart since 1978. Stüttgen comments: “It is also a symbol: a double-decker with a higher level on top, with two bumpers above and below to counter resistance.” The first blue Omnibus, after a seven-year career that took it to 737 destinations, now stands at Freudenberg Castle’s “Experience field of the senses and thinking” in Wiesbaden. It contains 1,074,239 signatures petitioning for the right to hold a federal referendum. Seven bee colonies live in it and produce honey.


Since 2001 another, white omnibus has been on the road (the word omnibus is Latin and literally means for, through or with all). Once again it is a tool for debating the democracy question in the larger context of social sculpture. From this arise, as a matter of course, questions about the state’s legislative structure and aims, for instance in relation to independent, publicly-funded schools. And this also gives rise to the idea of introducing the federal referendum as allowed under article 20/2 of basic law, which states: “All power of the state originates with the people. It is exercised by the people in elections and votes (…)”


Numerous initiatives – 152 in the last ten years, around a third of these since the new millennium – show how positive things can develop at a regional level through pressure from citizens, although “we, as citizens, have to fight for our voting rights” as it says in an information leaflet issued by Omnibus. Together with the “More Democracy” association, Omnibus has already achieved impressive things: In Bavaria, for instance, almost 1.3 million citizens had signed a petition for a referendum by 1995, and in October of that year they won their referendum. Since then over 1,200 public petitions have been organised. In collaboration with the “More citizens’ rights” association, the referendum movement for new voting legislation started in Hamburg in autumn 2002. After overcoming various hurdles, and working together with “More Democracy” among others, the required number of signatures were submitted to the senate at the end of September 2003. Hamburg’s citizens are on the way to earning themselves the most democratic voting rights of any federal region in Germany. Up to the summer of 2003, at local municipal level, 2,754 public petitions and 1,378 local referenda had been carried out in German cities and local regions in a very vibrant expression of living democracy. In Frankfurt, Kulmbach and Ottobeuren, for instance, it proved possible by this means to prevent cross-border leasing agreements in which municipal property is rented by third parties which then lease them back to the municipality.


The problem of the mystery or even martyrdom of money is one which Johannes Stüttgen describes in an introductory address to a seminar on future forms of money. From the pathological symptoms afflicting modern society he moves on to examine the alternative: money as medium of exchange for finished products only, decoupled from the dependence which arises when labour is exchanged as if it were a commodity. A new way of thinking elaborates a picture of money working organically, playing its true, regulating role in economic life and subject to democratic control. In the Omnibus info leaflet one can find information on the introduction of the “Chiemgauer”, a regional “complementary currency” which is now working successfully. The model has around 40 successors in Germany. Thomas Mayer, co-director of Omnibus, is supervising further local currency initiatives.


The “Omnibus for Direct Democracy” carries with it all the necessary information on its cross-country trips, and can network various initiatives with each other, and also offer support for organising public petitions. Johannes Stüttgen puts it like this: “We don’t have anything against political parties, we only object to electing them. Parties should offer consultation and advice from a variety of perspectives… and then, if people are allowed to vote after receiving independent information on issues, we could have referenda at a national level.”


Werner Küppers, an activist of and in the Omnibus fills out the picture: “We ourselves, we human beings determine the quality of democracy.” Self-determination, stresses Stüttgen, is necessary for authentic action, and points out that the word “vote” derives from “votum” (Latin) meaning to express a wish or make a vow. “We need to learn,” he says, “to listen to the expressions of our own inner voice and to perceive those of each other. We can tune in together to what the whole wishes.Only by listening to others’ wishes do we become able to make our self-determined vow and properly cast our vote.” In this creative dynamic, says Stüttgen, warmth develops in the way that Beuys understands it. At the same time this creates the living context and basis for what Rudolf Steiner explains as the threefold social organism.


Johannes Stüttgen is devoting his whole artistic energy to forming the substance of this idea.


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