Gloria Withalm

Unity in Diversity. On Jeff Bernard’s Œuvre

erschienen/appeared in: Gloria Withalm & Josef Wallmannsberger (eds.)(2004).
Macht der Zeichen – Zeichen der Macht / Festschrift für Jeff Bernard | Signs of Power, Power of Signs. Essays in Honor of Jeff Bernard
(=TRANS-Studien zur Veränderung der Welt 3). Wien: INST, 29-45

Jeff Bernard, Sept. 28th, 2003 (Copyright © Margarete Neundlinger 2003)

Summary. The article follows closely the original laudatio held during the conference. The contribution will give an overview of Jeff Bernard’s life and work, which shows the diversity in his activities referred to in the title, and I will try to demonstrate the unity in them, which can be found in the way he deals with topics and in the common approach to very different fields. Apart from a brief biographical sketch, the presentation will develop along several different axes which touch the various topics and fields of work he has carried out over the decades – axes which might look rather disconnected but which are nevertheless related.

Zusammenfassung: Der Artikel hält sich eng an die originale Laudatio, die im Rahmen der Konferenz gehalten wurde. Der Beitrag wird einen Überblick über Jeff Bernards Leben und Werk geben und damit über die Vielfalt seiner Aktivitäten, die im Titel angeführt ist. Weiters werde ich versuchen, den Aspekt der Einheit aufzeigen, der sich in der Art zeigt, wie er Themen behandelt, in seiner spezifischen Annäherung an verschiedene Felder. Neben einer biografischen Skizze wird sich der Artikel entlang verschiedener Achsen entwickeln, die die verschiedenen Themen und Felder abdecken, die Jeff Bernard im Verlauf der Jahrzehnte bearbeitet hat; obgleich sie auf den ersten Blick vielleicht unverbunden wirken, stehen die Achsen doch zueinander in Beziehung.

Since the conference “Signs of Power, Power of Signs” was organized in honor of Jeff Bernard on the occasion of his 60th birthday, I held a birthday speech dedicated to his curriculum vitae, his publications and the research work he has carried our during the last decades. However, I tried not to merely enumerate facts and data. Instead, I tried – as indicated by the title – to present the material in a way which shows the consistency of the major ideas that have guided Jeff Bernard’s research and activities in such different fields as art, science-organizational and publication endeavors, research on social questions, culture, culture policy, and, of course, the area most of the participants of the symposium would think of in the first place: semiotics.

Accordingly, the first of the aspects mentioned in the summary is the one most of his fellow semioticians know of, and most probably associate with Jeff Bernard: his research and publications. This scholarly aspect might be subsumed under the heading ”from sociology to socio-semiotics”, in order to include the sociological, socio-cultural as well as the socio-semiotic research in the narrower sense: Jeff Bernard the scholar who reflects on and analyzes certain topics related to particular societal groups and their position within society, topics related to the entire field covered by a socio-semiotic approach.

Secondly, there is the organizer of conferences and congresses, the editor of journals and book series, the member of the board of scholarly societies and associations, and last but not least the teacher in seminars; in other words, the science-organizational aspect, the publication aspect, and the educational aspect in his work: Jeff Bernard the communicator (“der Vermittler”), connecting those who produce texts with those who receive texts as well as the various groups and semioticians from different countries and schools. Jeff Bernard has also dedicate much of his time to passing on semiotic knowledge.

Thirdly, I will talk about a part of his life and work which is, most probably, least known to his friends and colleagues in semiotics: Jeff Bernard’s artistic œuvre – a way of creating texts which is different from academic text production (text of course understood here in the broad sense as propagated by the members of the Moscow-Tartu School of semiotics of culture, texts from music to architecture, from performance art to literature).

However, since, at least over a certain period of time, the three aspects can be found simultaneously in his CV, I will not enumerate details and data one by one consecutively, but rather develop my remarks alongside a biographic sketch.

Jeff Bernard was born on September 12, 1943 in Vienna, or rather in Mödling/Vienna, a small town in the south of the city which today is part of Niederösterreich (Lower Austria), but at that time was part of Greater Vienna. His father was a medical doctor, and his mother had studied English languages and literatures. After about a year, his mother moved with him to a village in Upper Austria since the Second World War was still going on and Vienna was being bombed. Because the immediate after-war period was not comfortable either, he spent the first years of his life in the countryside in a safer atmosphere. However, when it was time to go to school in 1949, the family returned to the capital and settled in an apartment in the Fourth District.[1] In 1961 he graduated from high school (passed the Matura as the final examination is called in Austria) and continued his education at the Technical University Vienna where he started to study architecture.

As soon as he passed the first part of his studies (erste Staatsprüfung), he stopped attending university for a few years in order to work in various fields – architecture, graphics, design, music, and literature as a kind of free lance Kulturarbeiter. During these years – the late 1960s – he also presented his first papers in the so-called “Freundeskreis” – theCircle of Friends”, also referred to and now famous as the Informelle Gruppe (cf. Schwendter 2003).[2] Among the Friends were personalities like Rolf Schwendter, Rüdiger Engerth, Gustav Ernst, Robert Schindel, Kurth Lüthi or Alfred Holl and many others later on belonging to the intelligentsia of Austria. Some of the topics discussed such as models of democracy or the theory of subcultures turned into major research areas. One result of these research activities was Jeff Bernard’s first version of “Zwölf Thesen zur Alternativ-Theorie” (published in the mid-1970s in MARGINALIEN Manuskripte zur Alternativen Theorie & Praxis, which only once appeared, and re-published 1979 in the Viennese weekly Falter).

He often stated that he learnt much more and especially more contemporary things in these years than at the universities of that time, which were considered entirely old-fashioned and inflexible by the young alternative thinkers and artists in his circle.

In 1969 however, as the élan of the Informelle Gruppe started to decrease, he resumed his university studies and finished the Architecture Program in 1975 with the Diplomingenieur (diploma’d engineer) degree. However, after graduation, he did not leave the Technical University, but continued with a new postgraduate program titled “Integrierte Umweltgestaltung” – integrated environmentalism. During these years, his main focus in the choice of courses were social sciences (among them futurology, in which field he started his first own bigger research project, but which he never finished; so, the future is still unclear...).

At the same time, he started to work in Prof. Günther Feuerstein’s “Atelier für Entwurf, Planung, Forschung” (Atelier for Design, Planning, and Research) which he led as chéf de bureau (Feuerstein’s term) for five years until 1980. Although he did plan and construct a number of buildings, Feuerstein was and is a well-known theoretician (and has to be considered one of Jeff Bernard’s most important teachers at the Technical University). As a consequence, much of the work done in Feuerstein’s planning office was more research and theory, with studies on urbanism, environmental design, questions of accessibility, urbanistic and housing projects for persons with disabilities, and the editing of the two important architecture and art periodicals Transparent and Umraum. In addition to this theoretical work, Jeff Bernard collaborated on several planning projects (both architectural and urbanistic), many of which unfortunately remained just sketches and blueprints. As for actually realized buildings, the second and third phase of the “experimental housing” project at the air base and airport in Linz/Hörsching (Upper Austria) has to be mentioned as one of the settlements considered now as belonging to the architectonically most interesting in the more recent history of Austrian architecture.

In 1980, while collaborating on a large-scale research project on housing concepts for mentally retarded adults (Berdel/Bernard/Hovorka et al. 1981a, 1981b), Jeff Bernard changed from Feuerstein’s planning and research office to the Institut für Soziales Design ISD, Entwicklung & Forschung, Wien, an extra-university institute of designers and sociologists who worked predominantly on topics and objects related to disabled and other socially disadvantaged people. In 1982, the ISD was awarded the Dr. Karl Renner Preis der Stadt Wien. During the more than ten years at the ISD (whose chairman he was from 1984 to 1987), Jeff Bernard somehow formed the social-science half of the Institute together with the late Hans Hovorka (cf. for instance Bernard/Hovorka 1991, 1992), who acted also as a professor for the integrative education of disabled people at the University of Klagenfurt. Apart from the deliberations on living conditions, there were projects like a guide for the city of Vienna for people with disabilities, or a project on Soziale Rehabilitation und Öffentlichkeitsarbeit, sponsored by the AUVA (Allgemeine Unfallversicherungsanstalt, i.e. Austrian Workers’ Compensation Board), and carried out in cooperation with the ÖGS/AAS. Apart from differentiated concepts on public relations and theoretical considerations on the depiction of disabled people in the media (which eventually led to an exhibition; cf. Bernard/Pribitzer 1987; Bernard/Pribitzer/Schneider 1988), the project had also a very practical result: a working group of researchers and affected experts (mostly themselves disabled) formulated a Charta zur Darstellung behinderter Menschen in den Medien which is still of influence today.

The artistic side of Jeff Bernard developed simultaneously with his work as a planner and architect, and as a researcher at the ISD. In 1970, approximately the same period in which he resumed his architecture studies, Jeff Bernard founded WEMCO – a group for experimental arts and music (cf. Fig. 1) which was very active from 1970 to the mid-1980s. WEMCO is an acronym which can be read in two ways according to the specific focus of a project. Originally, WEMCO was short for World Ethnic Music Cooperative (a term which, however, was received in a much broader and programmatic sense in the late 1960s and early 1970s and their “world music” tendencies than it might sound today). The music performed by the group and friends joining them in concert was predominantly free collective improvisation, although Jeff Bernard wrote also some compositions and/or arrangements at that time. WEMCO united free jazz, the historic and contemporary musical cultures of peoples all over the world, and contemporary avantgarde music, Neue Musik.

Among the core members of the “classical” WEMCO era were Jeff Bernard, playing saxophones, oboe, shannai, slide reeds, diverse flutes, piano, and guitar; H.C. (alias Cherry) Kerschbaum (synthesizer, percussion); Walter Schiefer (percussion, drums, vibes); the late Gerhard Sturany (trumpet, fluegelhorn, flute, vibes, piano); Ewald Zimmermann (bass); other musicians who played in and with the group in the first years were, for instance, Otto Poor (saxophones, flute), or Bruno Geir (bass). In 1979, Markus Pillhofer joined the group and, beside his collaboration with other groups, remained a WEMCO member till the end. As quite customary in the avantgarde and jazz scene, particularly in the first years, WEMCO played frequently together with soloists and musicians from other groups and formations like Wolfgang Poor, Martin Wichtl, Gus Seemann, Giselher Smekal, Fritz Novotny, Walter Muhammad Malli, Brigitte Hübner (cf. Felber 2001: esp. ch.

Another version of the name, which includes the activities in the arts – particularly performance and (multi)media arts, is World Environment Media COopeative. Since the mid-1970s several artists worked with WEMCO on a regular basis. The list includes: the late Swiss sculptor Rita Furrer, Peter Gröschl (performance art, graphics, and installations), Leo Schabauer and his theater group and modern dance company, Erich Fries, Heinrich Recht, Wilhelm Schwind, Walter Reiter and Manfred Schuch. There were also one time cooperations, for instance with Antoní Miralda (Barcelona), one of the major international figures of the avantgarde of that time.

In January 1981, celebrating its 10th anniversary, WEMCO had an exhibition and a series of accompanying events (concerts, discussions, performances) in the Wiener Secession. In the program, Jeff Bernard wrote a short description of WEMCO which integrates both sides:

Die österreichische Experimentalkunst- und musikgruppe WEMCO wurde 1970 von Jeff Bernard gegründet und beschäftigte sich vorerst vorrangig mit der Weiterentwicklung stilistischer Strömungen der späten Sechzigerjahre im Bereich freiimprovisierter Musik. Die intensive Verbundenheit mit den historischen und zeitgenössischen Musikkulturen aller Völker vereint mit den Tendenzen der europäischen Konzertmusikavantgarde prägte das Klangbild.
    Seit 1974 jedoch erweiterte die Gruppe planmäßig ihre Ausdrucksmöglichkeiten durch das Aufgreifen von Elementen der Aktionskunst, der Performance Art, durch die Erstellung multimedialer Environments und den Bau künstlerischer Objekte und Installationen, z.T. auch in Zusammenarbeit mit verschiedenen bildenden Künstlern [...]. Zielvorstellung ist die Erarbeitung interdisziplinärer Gesamtkunstwerke; den weltanschaulichen Background hiefür liefern kultur- und gesellschaftskritische Überlegungen auf der theoretischen Grundlage der Angewandten Semiotik (= Pragmatische Komponente der Lehre von den Zeichenprozessen). (Bernard 1981: 6-7)

WEMCO played concerts and sessions in various clubs, galleries and cultural centers, like Jazzland, Internationales Kulturzentrum (Annagasse), Modern Art Galerie, or Künstlerhausgalerie, or also outside Vienna, like e.g. Brennpunkt Breitenbrunn. In 1974, they also had a concert in a Jeunesses Musicales cycle, performing a concept by Anesthis Logothetis, “? oder Knotenschrift” from the cycle kharmadharmadrama.

The performance art projects were mostly presented in fine arts contexts in the close sense, that is in galleries and during festivals. However, even within festivals, WEMCO & Friends frequently left the secure and secluded space of the art centers and made their performances in public space – which, more often than not, led to improvisations of a special kind, since despite all the permissions they had they were usually interrupted by closeminded local politicians, or local residents who felt unsettled or threatened by public art actions, and called the police called by law-obeying citizens. One of these events was the performance When the Saints Go Marching Out II during the International Performance-Festival in Linz, May 1979 (Fig. 2).[3] (Linz was sort of second base of the group – they had several appearances at the Hochschule für Gestaltung and were in close collaboration with the MAERZ gallery run by Wilhelm Schwind, an artist and teacher in art education.)

In the late 1970s Jeff Bernard made also several big performances in Vienna, for instance during the First Austrian Performance Festival in 1978, and the festivals of Aktuelle Kunst auf dem Georgenberg (held in and around the famous Wotruba church).

The two 1979 performances of Jeff Bernard & WEMCO were To Be or Not to Be: No Question and The Medium is Form, Contents and Interpretation (Fig. 3), the latter being carried out inside the Wotrubakirche – again he had severe troubles to convince the priest that their project would not be blasphemic or desecrate the church. Like all performances of Jeff Bernard and his WEMCO friends also the latter was documented in detail by a photographer and recorded on video[4] (the video artist who did most of the films was Gerhard Ordnung).


Scenes from The Medium is Form, Contents and Interpretation

Among the last big performances was Intervention 1’81, the opening event of the exhibition and workshop at the Secession, again a performance in public space:


Am 16.1. bot sich dem unschuldigen Passanten ein merkwürdiges Bild: eine ca. drei Meter große Textilskulptur kroch mehr als zwei Stunden lang über den Karlsplatz. In dieser Figur steckte der schweißgebadete Jeff Bernard, der, [...] am Ende die Freitreppe zum Hauptportal des Secessionsgebäudes mit letzter Kraft überwindend, im Musentempel verschwand. Musikalisch unterstützt wurde er dabei vom “Mann mit der Maske”, hinter der sich ein profilierter, aber ungenannt bleiben wollender Traditional-Jazz-Trompeter verbarg. Gestört wurde die Aktion – wie bei Jeff Bernards Kunst im öffentlichen Raum nahezu üblich – von zwei Polizeibeamten, denen der Sinngehalt der Performance nur schwer zu vermitteln war. Nach eigener Aussage versuchte Jeff Bernard mittels dieser Aktion in sehr verallgemeinerter Form einen Prozeß äußerster Entfremdung, Kommunikationslosigkeit und pychosozialer Verwundung darzustellen, der sich innerhalb dreier existentieller Bereiche oder Seinsstufen abwickelt: zerstörte Natur (Baustelle der aufgelassenenen Zweierlinie), urbaner Kontext (großstädtische Verkehrsfläche) und “Überbau”-Sphäre (die heiligen Hallen der Kunst). (Withalm 1982: n.p. [15])

In the creation of the Wiener Windharfe 1980 (Fig. 4), an object presented within the Alternativ program line of the 1980 Wiener Festwochen at the 20er Haus (the Museum of the 20th Century), Jeff Bernard combined urban design, music and the arts.

The program folder described the windharp (a kind of large-scale aeolian harp) as

ein audiovisuelles kinetisches Objekt, welches durch einen kleinen Windgenerator angetrieben wird und ohne äußere Energiezufuhr funktioniert. Es kann von jedermann in Gang gesetzt werden und verbreitet zarte, meditative Melodiefolgen und Klangstrukturen.

The red and white art & sound object, almost 4 meters high and measuring 2 meters horizontally, was only meant as a prototype for the Great Vienna Windharp Orchestra, a series of about 30 windharps which should have been placed all over Vienna close to prominent buildings related to culture and the arts the following year. Unfortunately, we can only guess from some photo montages how it could have looked like, since the complete installation was not sponsored.


Together with the detailed concept and construction plan the montages were published in Transparent:

Das große Wiener Windharfenorchester vereinigt in exemplarischer Weise zahlreiche Tendenzen innerhalb der bisherigen Tätigkeit der Gruppe WEMCO. Auch hier handelt es sich um ein multimediales Environment, der Schwerpunkt liegt allerdings nicht auf dem Performance-Sektor, sondern im Bereich des urbanen Environmental Design. (Bernard & WEMCO 1980: 48)

By now, the musical side of WEMCO has become a myth, particularly since no official recordings exist, only some private ones. A few years ago, Giselher Smekal offered an overview plus discussion with Jeff Bernard in one of his ORF radio programs. It should be mentioned, however, that – although Jeff Bernard had to restrict his range of artistic activities to a certain extent for other professional reasons – he has never fully stopped the performance type of activity; in 1999, for instance, in the course of the ISSS-congress on “Signs, Music, Society” at the University of Applied Arts Vienna, he performed together with the Naples avantgarde cellist Marco Vitali a one-hour event conceived by the famous Italian semiotician Massimo A. Bonfantini, from Milan. One can never know whether he will consider it appropriate again to choose this kind of expression.

To return to the chronological order, however: In the early 1980s, as the co-founder of the Initiative zur regionalen Förderung neuer Kunst und Kultur INK (located in Baden, a small town in Lower Austria close to Vienna), Jeff Bernard added yet another aspect to his culture work – the Kulturvermittlung in the region through the organization of cultural events. However, as already shown for architecture and design, he usually combined a so-called “practical” side of activities with profound reflections on the topic which often resulted in research projects and publications. With regard to autonomous culture initiatives, we can observe exactly the same interconnection of his own Kulturarbeit and a research project on the scene, starting in the mid-1980s and published in the four volumes of Strukturen autonomer Kulturarbeit in Österreich in 1990 and 1995 respectively. This truly long-range (and not yet entirely finished) study took partly the form of “action research”, since in its course he co-initiated the foundation of a new Department (then of the Ministry of Science, Research and the Arts, today within the Federal Chancellery), dealing exactly with this segment of culture, as well as the association representing the “basis”, the IG Kultur Österreich, now still one of the most progressive institutions in Austria’s cultural life. For five years (1991-95) he was also a member of the Kulturbeirat, a council that proposed which initiatives and projects should be sponsored by the above mentioned Department.

The exhibition on Semiotic Multimedia Art which he presented during the 2nd Congress of the International Association for Semiotic Studies in July 1979 at the University of Vienna (Fig. 5) could serve as a bridge from the artistic aspects of his work to their semiotic background and to the semiotic part of his work in the strict sense. The main exhibits were the documentations of the two 1979 multimedia performances already mentioned above; while Bernard’s friend and at that time close collaborator Erich Fries (cf. in this book) showed some of his disparaging photo montages. The introductory texts on the flyers clearly indicated the semiotic core of both performances. To Be or Not to Be: No Question “zeigt Kommunikationsspiele, bezw. eher Kommunikationsversuche, deren Effizienz ungewiß verbleibt”, and The Medium is Form, Contents and Interpretation “zeigt die Konfrontation des Einzelnen mit den modernen Informations(Deformations)medien auf.”

Jeff Bernard was first confronted with semiotics during his studies at the Technical University. The already mentioned Günther Feuerstein (one of the few professors he actually accepted as a relevant source) wrote his dissertation on architecture and meaning (especially about archetypical forms) and was one of the first to present the ideas of Umberto Eco, Max Bense or Roland Barthes in his courses as early as in the 1960s.

Before dealing with the theoretical focus of Jeff Bernard’s semiotics, another topic should be briefly discussed, however: the science-organizational and publishing aspects of his activities in the semiotic community.

The Austrian Association for Semiotics ÖGS/AAS was founded, after some preliminaries in 1975, in October 1976, and almost from the very beginning Jeff Bernard took an active part in the section of Applied Semiotics (which he chaired 1978-88), and as of 1978 he was elected to the Board of the ÖGS/AAS, first in the function of the Treasurer. From 1979-1995 he was Secretary General, and then the successor of the late Wolfgang Pollak as President of the Association. In 1989 Jeff Bernard initiated the founding of the Institut für Sozio-Semiotische Studien ISSS, of which he has been the director since the very beginning.

Both organizations, which collaborate closely, publish several book series and journals and Jeff Bernard is involved in all of them. He has been the acting editor of Semiotische Berichte since 1979 when the journal of the ÖGS/AAS first appeared (the 2 issues before were rather info folders), and starting from the first issue in 1989 of S – European Journal for Semiotic Studies, the journal of the ISSS, he is the Editor-in-Chief. Moreover he is editorial collaborator of the Zeitschrift für Semiotik, the journal of the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Semiotik, which appears in cooperation both with the Austrian and the Swiss Associations for Semiotics.

Jeff Bernard is the editor of the book series Angewandte Semiotik (published by the ÖGS/AAS) and of both series published by the ISSS: S – Addenda. Semiotic Studies and S – Labor.

Concerning the national semiotic congresses of the ÖGS/AAS (which from the start always had international participation), held every three or four years, as well as the large number of symposia on special topics we always find his name, of course, among the main organizers. Since the mid-1990s the ISSS is affiliated to the Verband Wiener Volksbildung VWV (the Association of Viennese Adult Education Institutions), the organization which runs the Volkshochschulen (the people’s education institutions which were established in the Arbeiterbildungsbewegung of the late 19th century and even included a Worker’s Open University in the late 1920s). Every semester, the ISSS offers two seminars, led by Jeff Bernard, in which guest lecturers speak on general and applied semiotics (with special emphasis on culture and communication) both for VWV teachers and selected participants.

Jeff Bernard’s commitment to the semiotic infrastructure and organization is not confined to the Austrian semiotic community as he is very active in the International Association for Semiotic Studies IASS–AIS. The official involvement in the IASS–AIS began in 1985 when he started as my co-editor of the IASS-AIS Bulletin (the newsletter of the Association which was printed twice a year but has now been replaced by an electronic newsletter). In 1987 he became the Austrian representative to the Executive Committee, and in 1989 he was elected to the Board of the Association (first as Coordinator of the Presidential Office, from 1994 on until the 8th Congress of the IASS-AIS in July 2004 in Lyon as the Secretary General of the IASS-AIS).

Whereas on the Austrian level one of his major foci was and still is the close collaboration with individual scholars and semiotic societies in the (esp. Central Eastern and East European) neighboring countries which started long before the political changes around 1990, the goals within the IASS-AIS are, of course, on a larger scale. Throughout his years in office Jeff Bernard worked for the stabilization both of existing cooperations and of the position of semiotics, as well as for the development of closer relations on a truly globalized level – from the two Americas and in several African countries to Korea, China and Japan in the Far East. It is no wonder that he, in this role, was always rather more than less intensively involved in the preparation of the IASS world congresses (indeed excessively in the case of Dresden 1999, for which the two of us shaped the whole content part by distance-management), and encouraged several congresses to be organized sub auspiciis IASS, and even co-organized a few of them.


Finally, I will turn to the scholarly side of Jeff Bernard’s semiotic activities, the main paradigms guiding his work, and the topics of research. First and foremost the general focus and orientation of his semiotics has to be mentioned in order to better understand the themes of his research projects and publications. For Jeff Bernard semiotics has a strong emancipatory and enlightening quality, a view which he shared with his friend Wolfgang Pollak, the famous socio-linguist and former president of the ÖGS/AAS. Together with Erich Fries, the two of them formulated a programmatic paper, titled “Emanzipatorische Zeichentheorie” (Pollak/Bernard/Fries 1982), which eventually led to the first “official” (i.e. state-sponsored) semiotic research project ever realized in Austria, on Zeichentheorie & Zeichenpraxis (ÖGS-Projektteam 1986; Bernard 1986). The project had a strong emancipatory and socio-semiotic approach, presented in chapters by Pollak and his closest collaborators (Wolfgang Bandhauer, Robert Tanzmeister), Erich Fries, Jeff Bernard and myself. In addition, a (modified Delphi) survey gathered answers by semioticians from all over the world concerning both theoretical questions and the semiotic community.

One of the parts, co-authored by Jeff Bernard and myself, dealt with the socio-semiotic concepts of the author who most strongly influenced and inspired Jeff Bernard’s modelling: the Italian semiotician and philosopher Ferruccio Rossi-Landi (who actually became also our very good friend in the years before his death in 1985). Rossi-Landi’s semiotics, particularly socio-semiotics, must not be read as consisting of isolated or separated parts. The various concepts are rather interconnected elements of one integrated theory, a complex network in which each and every idea, each and every argument has its unique and proper position. As a consequence, even a brief presentation of Rossi-Landi’s work would take too much space (and has been done on various occasions, sometimes co-authored by the two of us). Thus, I will only enumerate some of the concepts which Jeff Bernard took up and developed further.

Work – considered in an anthropological sense and with regard to both material and sign production – is definitely a central concept. Accordingly, the modelling of both sign production (and re-production/consumption) and the entire sign process has to be based on the various forms of work which can be distinguished (cf. Bernard/Withalm 1986a, 1986b). This is not only true for the external, visible part of semiosis, but also for the internal sign production in the mind of the sign workers, as shown in Bernard’s differentiated sign model.

A second core conception formulated by Rossi-Landi is the homology of material and linguistic production. Jeff Bernard adopted and expanded it, with regard both to the levels and the areas of production covered, to a general homology model of human production including mental and ideological domains and culminating in the explication of the creation, making and components of culture (that is, integrating also the findings of hitherto existing approaches in the semiotics of culture).

Bernard’s semiotic work can be characterized both as theoretical or general semiotics and as applied semiotics, the one influencing and promoting the other. Accordingly, we find not only the integration of theory and practice in his œuvre as a whole. Also on the theory side he adheres to an integrated concept combining social and/or socio-cultural theories, in particular advanced forms of subculture theory (in the line of Rolf Schwendter or the works of the scholars of the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies at the University of Birmingham, whose work he actually considers forms of culture and media semiotics), and socio-semiotics. Already in 1979 he published an article on the “Semiotik devianter Verhaltensmuster – soziologische Devianzforschung und alternative Kodes” (Bernard 1979), and ten years later, at the 4th IASS–AIS Congress, he presented a paper discussing, or rather, offering, “Semiotics as a Theory of (Sub)Culture(s) and Its Material Core” (Bernard 1992).[5] The socio-semiotically based subculture approach (or as he has preferred to call it: differential theory of culture) was the leading concept in many of his research projects, since subcultures can be open or hermetic, big or small, progressive or regressive, etc., and people can be forced into their marginalized position (as it is the case with disabled persons) or deliberately take this societal position.

Moreover, one can distinguish, argues Bernard, liminal zones between hegemonic culture and subcultures, and among different subcultures, zones which are of great theoretical and practical interest and importance. All these components of culture-at-large constitute complex sign milieus of different makings, and the emphasis must thus be not on culture but on cultures – which opens his theory also to “globalization” phenomena. Among the field research themes related to the subcultural view were: the various works on disabled people as such and on disabled people and/in the media and the development of strategies for an improved communication and interaction in society; the several volumes on culture initiatives, one of which is still to appear; a project on drugs, media and public representation, etc., and, almost ironically, a small study on the implementation of semiotics itself as a hitherto relatively marginal phenomenon in academia (in the festschrift for Wolfgang Pollak; Bernard 1985).

Although the implementation of semiotics in academia in Austria, as to the contents, has increased over the years through Jeff Bernard’s efforts, he was admittedly less successful in institutional aspects. There is still no Institute for Semiotics at any Austrian university. This was also one of the reasons why the ISSS was launched instead by Bernard and Pollak. Therefore, one should mention a more recent sign event, this time one in which Jeff Bernard was made himself a sign. A true Institute needs a professor at the head, and in recognition of his impressive scientific lifetime achievements he was made one – not by the universities in which only now and then he was given the chance to hold courses, but by the Austrian state itself. In early 2003 the professional title “Professor” was bestowed upon him by the Austrian President and by the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture. One sees that it is sometimes possible to bypass structural resistance. As much as he deserved this allotment of “symbolic capital”, in Bourdieu’s sense, one must nonetheless also hint at the fact that Jeff Bernard’s income from semiotic activities never corresponded with the general increase in (use) value resulting thereof, something often called “a typically Austrian destiny”. In this view, and to come back to the introductory statements, one should also highlight a fourth dimension, that is, as a sponsor of semiotics, not the usual role of scientists: Jeff Bernard the promotor of science. By creating surplus from deliberate strategic interaction (and also more often than not by using his own money, as well as by the immense amount of unpaid work he invested in all his endeavors), Jeff Bernard has never ceased to struggle to advance the cause of semiotics despite institutional indifference and resistance.

At the very beginning I promised to demonstrate why the title fits to characterize Jeff Bernard’s life and work, and by now the moment of unity in the diversity of his collected œuvre should be clear.

Many of the features just outlined with regard to Jeff Bernard’s semiotic and cultural studies apply likewise to his entire œuvre, be it artistic, scientific or organizational. Most prominent among these traits is the true integration of theory and practice, departing from, as well as reaching to, both directions. Another facet is the focusing on semiosic, communicative processes which is not confined to his actual theorizing on signs and sign processes, but pervades also his artistic and cultural work. Above all, a strong momentum of responsibility and an emancipatory stance govern his work, his thinking and his life: Jeff Bernard never loses sight of social dimensions and societal implications.


Coincidentally, the primary school which he attended in Waltergasse is by chance one block away from the building where the Institut für Sozio-Semiotische Studien ISSS is located. [back]

For a period he also organized the meetings of the group and was the co-editor of its newsletter, the Mitteilungen an den Freundeskreis. [back]

In a sort of tongue-in-cheek explanation of the group’s name, they found yet another wording related to the special day of this performance: “Das Wiener Erste Muttertags-Concert-Orchester”. For When the Saints Go Marching Out II the members of the group (Cherry Kerschbaum, Jeff Bernard, Gerhard Sturany, and Markus Pillhofer) marched through the main shopping street in the inner city in a sort of procession. They all had red-spotted (”bloody”) bandages and band-aids on their bodies that, in the final scene of the performances, were drowned in the newly restored fountain on the Taubenmarkt for a ritual cleansing, which caused the uproar of the onlookers and the intervention of the police. Several charges resulted thereof but were cast down later on. [back]

The analysis of the video of The Medium is Form, Contents and Interpretation was our first scholarly cooperation: In 1982 we presented a co-authored paper at a symposium on film recordings of interactions organized by the Münsteraner Arbeitskreis für Semiotik, later published in the proceedings (cf. Bernard/Withalm 1983). [back]

In July 2004, while this book goes to the press, he will co-chair a session on “Current Issues in Socio-Semiotics” at the 8th IASS–AIS Congress in Lyon (organized by the International Ferruccio Rossi-Landi Network, one of the projects co-initiated and up to now coordinated by Jeff Bernard). In this connection, one should also mention that the title of the whole congress, “Interculturality and Globalization”, was his idea: the first world congress of semiotics in the 21st millennium, he argued, should indeed show the relevance and potentials of semiotics to answer the challenges of our time. [back]


Berdel, Dieter; Bernard, Jeff; Hovorka, Hans et al. (1981a). Wohnstätten für erwachsene geistig Behinderte. Hg. vom Institut für Soziales Design ISD. Vienna–Munich: Jugend und Volk

— (1981b). Wohnstätten für erwachsene geistig Behinderte. Kurzfassung. Hg. vom Institut für Soziales Design ISD. Wien: ISD, 2nd ed. 1982, 3rd ed. 1985

Bernard, Jeff (red.)(1972). WEMCO – World Ethnic Music Cooperative. Vienna: WEMCO

— (1977). “Zwölf Thesen zur Alternativ-Theorie”. Sonderdruck Marginalien Manuskripte zur Alternativen Theorie & Praxis 1 [Addendum to: ARBEITSGRUPPE ALTERNATIVEN (AGA). Schluß mit der ewig-gestrigen Zukunft. Ausstellungskatalog. Vienna: AGA); repr. (1979) “Thesen zur Alternativtheorie. Apodiktisch, aber belegbar”. Falter 40: 2]

— (1979). “Semiotik devianter Verhaltensmuster – Soziologische Devianzforschung und alternative Kodes”. Semiotische Berichte 3(3/4): 23-36

— (red.)(1981). WEMCO & friends. Vienna: WEMCO

— (1985). “Zeichen und Strategien. Wolfgang Pollak: Bausteine zur emanzipatorischen Semiotik”. In: Bandhauer, Wolfgang & Robert Tanzmeister (eds.). Romanistik Integrativ. Festschrift für Wolfgang Pollak (=Wiener Romanistische Arbeiten 13). Vienna: Braumüller, 41-57

— (1986): Das Forschungsprojekt “Zeichentheorie und Zeichenpraxis” der Österreichischen Gesellschaft für Semiotik. Allgemeine Bemerkungen und Zusammenfassung. Vienna: ÖGS, Lim. Ed.

— (1992). “Semiotics as a Theory of (Sub)Culture(s) and Its Material Core”. In: Deledalle, Gérard (gen. ed.); Balat, Michel & Janice Deledalle-Rhodes (eds.). Signs of Humanity – L’Homme et ses signes. Proceedings of the Fouth International Congress of the IASS, Barcelona/Perpignan, April 1989. Berlin–New York–Amsterdam: Mouton de Gruyter, 1635-1648

— (2003). „Drafting a General Homology Model“. In: Petrilli, Susan; Calefato, Patrizia (Hg.): Logica, dialogica, ideologica. I segni tra funzionalità ed eccedenza (=itinerari filosofici). Milano: Mimesis, 321-336

— (et al.)(1990/95). Strukturen autonomer Kulturarbeit in Österreich. Band 1. Eine Grundlagenuntersuchung / Band 2. Stimmen der “anderen” Kultur / Band 3. Programmatik und Kulturpolitik / Band 4. Kulturpolitische Perspektiven (=S – Addenda. Semiotic Studies). Vienna: ÖGS/ISSS

— & Hans Hovorka (1991). Normalisierung. Zur Entwicklung integrativer Wohn- und Lebenszusammenhänge für geistig und mehrfach behinderte Menschen in Österreich. Unter besonderer Berücksichtigung des “Wiener Programms”. Vienna: ISD

— & Hans Hovorka (1992). Behinderung: ein gesellschaftliches Phänomen. Befunde, Strukturen, Probleme (=Passagen Gesellschaft). Wien: Passagen Verlag

— & Susanne Pribitzer (red.)(1987). Dokumentationsausstellung “Die Darstellung von Behinderung in den Printmedien”. Im Rahmen der Gesamtausstellung und Veranstaltungsreihe “Was heißt hier schon normal?”, Pädagogisches Institut der Stadt Wien. Vienna: ÖGS [as a separate catalogue and in the entire catalogue of the mentioned exhibition, 46-85]

— ; Susanne Pribitzer & Kurt Schneider (red.)(1988). Medien und Öffentlichkeit = LOS 6(20/21)

— & WEMCO (1980). “Das große Wiener Windharfenorchester”. Transparent 5/6: 48-53

— & Gloria Withalm (1983). “Zur Dokumentation von Performance Art – Präsentation und Analyse eines Fallbeispiels”. In: Langthaler, Werner & Hasko Schneider (Hg.). Filmaufzeichnungen zur Analyse menschlicher Interaktion (=papmaks 16). Münster: MAkS Publikationen, 23-37

— & Gloria Withalm (1986a). “Ferruccio Rossi-Landis dialektisch–materialistische Zeichentheorie. Einordnung – Überblick – Diagrammatik”. In: Dutz, Klaus D. & Peter Schmitter (eds.):. Geschichte und Geschichtsschreibung der Semiotik. Fallstudien. Akten der 8. Arbeitstagung des Münsteraner Arbeitskreises für Semiotik, Münster 2.–3.10.1985 (=Materialien zur Geschichte der Sprachwissenschaft und der Semiotik 2). Münster: MAkS Publikationen, 329-366

— & Gloria Withalm (1986b). “Materie Dialektik Arbeit / Gesellschaft Geschichte Vermittlung. Ortende Bemerkungen zu Rossi-Landis sozio-prozessualer Zeichentheorie”. In: Schmid, Georg (ed.). Die Zeichen der Historie. Beiträge zu einer semiologischen Geschichtswissenschaft. (=Materialien zur Historischen Sozialwissenschaft 5). Wien–Köln: Böhlau,173-202

Felber, Andreas (2001). Zur “europäischen” Identität der Wiener Free-Jazz-Avantgarde. Die Geschichte der Masters of Unorthodox Jazz und der Reform Art Unit. Vienna: Diss. Univ. Vienna

ÖGS-Projektteam (Bandhauer, Wolfgang; Bernard, Jeff et al.)(1986). Forschungsprojekt “Zeichentheorie und Zeichenpraxis”. Grundlagenuntersuchung. Teil I und II. Vienna: Ms.

Pollak, Wolfgang; Bernard, Jeff & Erich Fries (1982). “Emanzipatorische Zeichentheorie. Materialien zur semiotischen Propädeutik. Ein Motivenbericht zum Forschungsschwerpunkt der Österreichischen Gesellschaft für Semiotik”. Semiotische Berichte 6(6,7): 35-43

Schwendter, Rolf (2003). Subkulturelles Wien. Die informelle Gruppe (1959-1971). Literatur, Kultur, Politik. Vienna: Promedia

Withalm, Gloria (1982). “Der Zeit ihre Kunst, der Kunst ihre Freiheit (?) Ein Bericht über das FREE ARTS WORKSHOP von Jeff Bernard: WEMCO & friends in der Wiener Secession, 15.–25.1.1981”. Public Music Herbst: n.p. [14-18]

Copyright © 2010 Gloria Withalm – Created: 15 March 2010

Contact: Gloria Withalm, Universität für angewandte Kunst, Institut für Kunstwissenschaften, Kunstpädagogik und Kunstvermittlung, Abteilung Kultur- und Geistesgeschichte, Oskar-Kokoschka-Platz 2, A-1010 Wien,
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