2009 : 2008 : 2007 : 2006 : 2005 : 2004 : 2003 : 2002 : 2001 : 2000 : 1999 : 1998 : 1997 : 1996 : 1995 : 1994

concept : meeting : artists : filmprogramme
[meetings with self-organised initiatives] [dialogical talk series] [skype meetings]

Public Research and the Necessity of Dialogues

Curated ‘discussion formats’ between knowledge production and communication:
Meetings with Initiatives, Dialogical Talk and Discussion Series and Skype Meetings as starting points and components of the project series Work to do! Self-organisation in precarious working conditions.
Sønke Gau and Katharina Schlieben

Self-organisation may be understood as a process in which elements of a system are networked with one another in a permanently changing constellation with no separation between organising, constitutive or steering parts occurring. Transposed to society, self-organisation can then be described as process in which subjects come together in non-hierarchical structures and form groups, whereby the principles, goals, self-understanding, methods, etc of this group are developed internally. To achieve this without following preset rules, extensive discussion and communication are indispensable for identifying shared opinions and common positions. The willingness to communicate in the sense of a polyphonic exchange and an antagonistic interaction of views are therefore constitutive for self-organised groups ‘internally’ on the one hand – whereas on the other, communicative processes are necessary to mediate objectives ‘outwardly’ whenever there is an aspiration to achieve social relevance.

Communicative processes in relation to self-organisation are of fundamental importance for both the internal organisation amongst the involved subjects as well as presenting their respective concerns externally and generating publics. The project series Work to do! Self-organisation in precarious working conditions took these considerations as one of its starting points for reflecting on the communicative necessities/possibilities of collective knowledge production and interactive communication and mediation. For us, it was/is important to link these considerations and line of questioning on ‘self-Organisation’ with our own curatorial practice.

Both ‘collective knowledge production’ and ‘communication and mediation’ are frequently encountered concepts in the discourse on the investigation of artistic practice. In our opinion it is indispensable from an institutional perspective to extend the reach of these concepts beyond research and description of artistic practices – they need to be considered as part of our own curatorial activity, or more specifically, we need to ask which forms of collective knowledge production and communication practice we can initiate ourselves. If knowledge production and mediation/communication practice cannot be thought as categorically separate, then, along with the fundamental questions – “how is knowledge produced?” and “who communicates to whom and why?” –, the issue of their relationship to one another emerges. We are interested in how these two areas overlap, and moreover in this overlapping we are keen to focus not on the reproduction of such a distinction but rather the ‘in-between’ as a productive possibility. From our perspective, one possible approach could be to bring together ‘actors’ (be it in practice and/or theoretically oriented) and ‘interested parties’ from the respective knowledge field in a dialogue which attempts to grasp ‘expert knowledge’ and ‘interested knowledge’ as levels afforded equal status and understands the roles (and their ascriptions) in connection with collective knowledge production as exchangeable. The prerequisite for this is to accord the moment of communication between the dialogue partners an autonomous knowledge-producing potential as a form of cooperative learning: in terms of a question that does not conceive an answer beforehand, or the formulation of an answer that does not anticipate a question.

As an essential component of the third Project Series Work to do! Self-organisation in precarious working conditions, we have sought on the one hand to carry out our research ‘in public’, i.e. by enabling the involvement of interested parties, and on the other, to organise the resultant meetings in a way that facilitates moments of collective knowledge production and communication in the sense of cooperative learning and understanding as described above. For the three project parts we proposed three different ‘dialogue formats’: Meetings with Initiatives, Dialogical Talk Series and Skype Meetings.

Meetings with self-organised initiatives

To become acquainted with self-organised initiatives in Zurich and find out more about them, a series of meetings was held with such groups in spring 2007. We wanted to get to know the people and places behind these initiatives and learn about their motivation, working conditions, structural organisation, economic basis and visions. The spectrum ranged from initiatives which can already look back on a certain tradition to others in the process of being formed and trying out new forms of organisation and articulation. Common to all five initiatives is that they are committed to emancipative concerns and work in self-organised structures: Mozaik ( and nosotras ( are concerned with the cultural and social problems of migrants and facilitate cultural exchange; antidot ( is engaged in founding a new newspaper as a platform for the ‘resistant Left’; the Frauen Dienstleistungs-, Gewerbe- und Kulturzentrum Zürich AG ( is a limited company seeking to provide women from business, culture and politics with an infrastructure suitable for their activities; and Kraftwerk1 ( is a residential cooperative that enables communal, self-determined forms of living and work.

[Frauenzentrum] / [antidot] / [Mozaik and Nosotras] / [KraftWerk1]

Both project participants as well as Shedhalle visitors were invited to the Meetings with Initiatives. These interactive visits were understood as a kind of ‘public research’ featuring direct exchange and talks; the primary goal was to identify and discuss those questions which in turn went on to decisively influence the conception and line of questioning of the overall project series. These discussions with the protagonists from the initiatives and other participants were documented and subsequently integrated into the exhibition. ‘Leaving behind’ the institution of the Shedhalle – and thus our own context – and going to the locations where the initiatives work provided all participants with the opportunity to get to know these structures. Moreover, the direct contact with the organisational structures, expressed spatially, and how the hosting initiatives arranged the respective evening influenced the discussions in so far as ideas of what ‘on the spot’ entails were questioned and corrected without extensive explanations about one’s own context being necessary. For us, it was important that Shedhalle visitors were not excluded from this research, and so we sought to consciously conceive a framework in which questions could be developed jointly or carried forward. At the same time, proposals and criticism from the initiatives concerning the project series or individual project conceptions became components of this further development.

Foto 1: Frauen Dienstleistungs-, Gewerbe- und Kulturzentrum Zürich AG, by Jonas Schocher / Foto 2: Kraftwerk1, by Iris Ströbel

Foto 3: antidot, by Jonas Schocher / Foto 4: Mozaik, by Iris Ströbel

Dialogical Talk Series

From autumn 2007 to winter 2008, the ‘curated dialogue formats’ were continued within the framework of a Dialogical Talk Series, which brought together actors from feminist theory and practice to discuss working conditions. The focus on feminist approaches resulted on the one hand from the preceding research because many self-organised initiatives are strongly shaped by feminist and egalitarian influences; on the other, it was conceived itself as research for the exhibition Skype Meetings that was to open the following spring.

The invited dialogue partners were selected from knowledge and practice fields related to the research undertaken by the artists involved in the project series Work to do!: migrant self-organisation, the history of emancipative movements in Zurich in respect of employment choice and activity, self-organised media channels of cultural contexts, and the political organisation of feminist concerns. For example: Yvonne Riaño (Geography and Gender Studies at the Geography Institute at the University of Bern) and Vania Alleva (UNIA trade union, president of the migrants’ commission) discussed the conflicts surrounding the education and training situation of migrants and the difficulties hampering their chances of setting up self-organised structures. This information and contacts were very helpful for the action 1 CHF = 1 VOICE by the artist Andreja Kulunčić, who initiated a self-organised campaign from and for San-Papiers in the framework of Work to do! The UNIA trade union newspaper horizonte, which is published in a number of languages and offers advertising space free of change, enabled information about the action to be translated in further languages and distributed, generating broader sub-publics.

The greater part of the Dialogical Talk Series was held in the Werdplatzpalais. The Werdplatzpalais was conceived and built by Folke Köbberling and Martin Kaltwasser as an inner-city satellite for Shedhalle events and film screenings; at the same time though, the construction was also made available as a venue for self-organised initiatives which needed space for their activities (for example soup kitchens around Christmas). As the Werdplatzpalais had to be dismantled again in January, the dialogues were continued at locations which were connected in some way to the participating dialogue partners (for example at the premises of Radio LoRa). The final dialogical event with Tove Soiland (historian, focus on feminist theory) and Dore Heim (Gender Equality Office of the City of Zurich) was held in the restaurant of the women’s centre in Kreis 5. Thus, with the first event of the Meetings with Initiatives in the premises of the Frauen Dienstleistungs-, Gewerbe- und Kulturzentrum Zürich AG, an interesting range of issues was spanned which connected the discussions about feminist concerns in Zurich, including the question of premises, and the conceptions behind them.

The different dialogues were always then most interesting and productive when a common concern or a solidarity of interests crystallised and thus moved the dynamic beyond a ‘monologue communication’ merely transmitting knowledge or providing a kind of progress report. Only when objectives and methods were discussed, reviewed and looked at from a variety of perspectives in a genuinely dialogical situation between participants on an equal footing, generating trans-disciplinary exchange; a communication did take place that annulled the dividing line between the ‘explainers’ and those ‘trying to understand’ in favour of collective knowledge production and joint interactive inquiry.

Foto 1: event and discussion in the Werdplatzpalais, by Iris Ströbel / Foto 2: event and discussion in the Werdplatzpalais, by Iris Ströbel / Foto 3: event and discussion in the Werdplatzpalais, by Folke Köbberling

Monika Bütler, Professor for economics, University St. Gallen and Elisabeth Joris, historian

The first dialogical talk meeting in the "Werdplatzpalais" will focus on the question of an occupational outlook and the related question of childcare. Elisabeth Joris (historian) will retrospectively sketch emancipatory movements and fights in regard to family policy in Switzerland. Monika Bütler (professor for economics) will describe and exemplify by using datas the pardoxies in view of equal opportunities, earning capacity and childcare.

Yvonne Riaño, Geography and Gender Studies at the Geographical Institute of the University of Bern and Vania Alleva, the UNIA trade union, president of the committee for migration

The second dialogical talk meeting at the "Werdplatzpalais" will focus on the educational situation and labor conditions of migrants with regard to equal opportunity. Yvonne Riano (Geography and Gender Studies at the Geographical Institute of the University of Berne) wants to discuss in her contribution "Wege zur beruflichen Integration: Herausforderungen und Strategien von Migrantinnen in der Schweiz" two aspects: the one of the (structural) possibilities of occupational integration and the interrelated one of self-organised inititives of migrant women in Switzerland. Vania Alleva (Union UNIA, president of the migration committee SGB) inquires about the specific role and challenges of the union fights in association with the concerns of migrants.

Nicole Niedermüller, Frauenstelle Radio LoRa and Esther Quetting, editor and film curator, co-editor of the magazine Olympe. Location: Radio LoRa

The third dialogical discourse addresses different forms of media distribution of feminist positions and their methods in the sphere of action between self-organization and volunteer work in the cultural context. Nicole Niedermüller (feminist community radio coordinator of Radio LoRa) inquires the role of free radios as places for women's self-organized cultural production and networking. By reflecting on two feminist projects Esther Quetting (editor in the field of film and co-editor of the magazin Olympe) talks about the limits and possibilities of public interventions against the background of commercialized media culture.

Tove Soiland, Historian with focal point on feminist theory and Dore Heim, Head of the city department for equality. Location Frauenzentrum, Kreis 5

The fourth dialogical talk would like to discuss perspectives of critical feminist theory and current political practices of urban equality. Dore Heim (Head of the department for equality of the city of Zurich) will outline the situation in Zurich and her considerations. Tove Soiland (Historian with emphasis on feminist theory) will inquire the antagonisms in the development of present gender theory. A subsequent talk and discussion would like to bring the different areas of action into dialogue.

Skype Meetings

Communication took centre stage in the third part of Work to do! To enable a direct and simultaneously transnational exchange of experience in the field of self-organised work in precarious working conditions, we decided to try the Skype meeting as a discussion format. The two dialogue formats described above formed the starting point for the Skype Meetings. From amongst the protagonists involved in the public research and discussions and the artists contributing to Work to do!, partners were proposed with whom an exchange of experience and research or dialogue could be begun or continued (snow ball effect). For this purpose, the Skype programme was used, and the discussions were recorded and presented in the Skype Meetings exhibition.

Against the background of their considerations on self-organisation in precarious working conditions, the participants posed questions around emancipative working and living conditions. Into which interfaces do self-organised initiatives intervene? How are they perceived and evaluated? How can a self-organised network with its respective specific concerns produce and interact with a public? It would seem that the question of public perception goes hand in hand with the possibilities of creating sustainable structures allowing working conditions infused with emancipative intentions to be implemented and practiced. For this reason, the issue of generating an effective perception of self-organised networks cannot be separated from an examination with the established economies of media circulation.

The project Skype Meetings thus sought to take a closer look at the communications and distributions media which self-organised networks generate and utilise: in short, how they communicate. How are questions and concerns – in particular those revolving around feminist issues – discussed and distributed by networks, initiatives and groups with respect to egalitarian and collective working conditions? Self-organised media channels, which include community radio, independent broadcasting formats on television and internet, journals/online magazines, internet portals and blogs, play a key role here. Direct dialogue, informal networks and personal exchange are all of great importance in this context. Skype Meetings sought to be a kind of node – for visitors a place of research and exchange. Besides the Skype Meetings, cultural producers discussed issues and approaches in various other media and formats, which will be described below.

Foto 1/2: Installation view Skype Meetings, by Iris Ströbel

Skype Meetings from and with
bankleer → Sophie Hope, Dimitry Vilensky; Hynek Bures → PRAXIS. Institute for Participatory Practices; Saskia Holmkvist → Anya Kamenetz, Bettina König; Andrea Knobloch → Medea Hoch; Folke Köbberling, Martin Kaltwasser → Jakub Szreder; Andreja Kulunčić → Marianna Garin; Kunsthaus Aussersihl → KünstlerWerkstatt L6 und PiST, Interdisciplinary Project Space Pangalti; Aurélie de Lalande → Gargi Sen; Bianca Miglioretto → Kaushalya Perera, Upeksha Thabrew; Nicole Niedermüller → Luna Paz; Cora Piantoni → Anna Holzscheiter; Reartikulacija → Kontekst Galerija; Chris Regn → Kate Henderson, Eva Kietzmann; Eva Schuhmacher → Eva Hug; Tove Soiland → Birge Krondorfer; Mirjam Wirz → Iván Guzmán de Rojas; Shalini Randeria → Achyut Yagnik, u.a.

Linking the different dialogical formats, the actual dialogues themselves, the partners and the resulting cooperation and shared concerns, the network-like structure seeks to avoid a modifying, one-sided selection of speaker perspectives; instead, the aim is to proclaim an openness crystallising out of the logic of the project concerns and processes themselves. The multiplicity of the different self-organised initiatives and their structures witness the need for but also the necessity of political polyphony as a condition of democratic opinion-making, which points out alternatives to hegemonic structures and, in the best case scenario, can even implement them. Here difference is to be understood as constitutive – it is not a matter of negating difference but of sustaining a negotiation and exchange process that facilitates the forging of temporary alliances. For this, open dialogue is imperative.

Lecture and Screening by  Doina Petrescu and Constantin Petcou (atelier d'architecture autogérée)  

Tuesday, 04 Dezember 2007, 19.00
Werdplatzpalais (a project by Köbberling/Kaltwasser)
Werdplatz (in front of the restaurant Cooperativo)
8004 Zurich

AAA is a non-profit association and an interdisciplinary network founded in Paris in 2001 by architects, artists, urban planners, landscape designers, sociologists, students and residents. We hav initiated a series of self-managed projects in the La Chapell area of northern Paris by encouraging inhabitants to get access to and critically transform temporary misused or underused spaces. This strategy valorises a flexible and reversible use of space and aims to preserve urban ‘biodiversity’ by encouraging the co-existence of a wide range of life-styles and living practices. We began this process by establishing a temporary garden constructed out of recycled materials. The garden, called ECObox, has been progressively extended into a platform for urban criticism and creativity, which is curated by the aaa members, residents and external collaborators and which catalyses activities at a local and trans-local level.

The presentation is kindley supported by the French Embassy in Switzerland.