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introduction : interview : content

From the self-organised association to the curated institution
The Shedhalle, forming part of the Rote Fabrik (Red Factory), evolved from a group of local artists who felt under-represented in the established art system. Later disagreements between the artists and the group running the centre led to the Shedhalle’s separation from the Red Factory in 1986. The Shedhalle founded its own association, and shortly after, in 1987, publicly advertised the jobs of Curator and Manager for the first time. During the subsequent years curator Harm Lux and General Manager Barbara Mosca shared the task of developing the Shedhalle into a significant place for artistic activities. Early in 1994 the Shedhalle revised its programmatic concept. The overriding aim of this renewal was to open the programme to more unconventional forms of mediation and to interdisciplinary cooperation with other social and scientific institutions.

Because of its versatile programme and thanks to many people who have shaped it over the last twenty years, the Shedhalle has grown into an important European art institution and into a kind of model for institutions operating on a self-critical level.

With this column in the Shedhalle Newspaper our goal is to trace the history of Shedhalle by investigating its different phases, its programmatic approaches and the people that contributed to its development. We want to follow the paths of this development and the changes and motives of the institutional, curatorial and thematic orientation by interviewing those who took part in the Shedhalle’s development and by letting them tell us their personal story: the curators, the general managers, members of the board and other participants.

We will begin chronologically with Barbara Mosca: former General Manager of the Shedhalle who is now Arts Manager of the British Council in Bern.

Gau/Schlieben: Gau/Schlieben: Together with curator Harm Lux, you as General Manager were responsible for the Shedhalle’s transformation from an organised association into a curated institution whereby you established the Shedhalle, particularly for Switzerland, as a space for the exhibition of contemporary art and as a meeting place. Curators of the following years subsequently responded by distancing themselves from the preceding programme by devising new programmes and by foregrounding other concepts of art.

Could you tell us more about the time when you began as General Manager and when the Shedhalle was restructured from association to institution? What was the situation like when you started out? What were the difficulties?
Mosca: Initially there were many stumbling blocks, prejudice and scepticism, both inside and outside the Red Factory, and our start at the Shedhalle seemed at first like a ‘working holiday’! The provisionally organised office was engulfed by chaos, by floor-stripping machines, wooden boards, ruined linoleum sheets and buckets full of paint for the cement floors... . Along with lending a hand with the renovations, Harm and I began to make crucial contacts in the city, with suppliers and with artists. (Back then, many suppliers didn’t dare set foot into the Red Factory!) This is how the careful parallel development of administration and programme began. Before, I had worked at the Kunsthalle in Bern for seven years and had seen very ambitious exhibitions by our future professional curators. We were after a much fresher approach, which would question the established procedures, and therefore took pains to set up a correspondingly modern infrastructure. Thanks to our apparently contagious enthusiasm for art and for the Shedhalle, we mobilised all our friends and received fantastic support during the whole time.
Finances were a topic from the first to the last day. Our budget increased thanks to many new public and private partners, while the number of people in our management increased by about six times, and the number of our members by about four. We were careful to invest most of the money into the artistic programme and as little as possible into administration.

What were the visions that you were, or were not able to realise?
From the very beginning we wanted to move into national as well as international directions and not restrict ourselves to the idea of being ‘The Hall of Young Swiss Art’. Thanks to an active exchange programme with international exhibition sites, we were soon able to present positions from Japan, Norway, Spain and artists from all over the world. During the build-up phase, we often showed one Swiss with two foreign artists, which allowed for an intercultural, multi-ethnic environment that created space for discussion and mutual learning and laughing.
Not only the standardised floor and our professional working style were new but also the art book corner with specialised magazines and daily newspapers. This meeting place, following the understanding of art as communication, was of central importance. We wanted to be open for everyone and arranged our opening times accordingly until eight in the evening. This also enabled visitors to attend the Factory’s rich programme of evening events afterwards. Open doors and an international programme, financed by playful and unconventional sponsoring actions – that was our credo. Dare to help yourself was the motto to make the Shedhalle known as a place where unusual artists could be seen within a frame of diverse events (performances, concerts, discussions with artists, symposia, auctions, etc.). The response grew rapidly, and thanks to good Swiss and foreign partnerships we succeeded in establishing the Shedhalle as an important platform for interdisciplinary and contemporary art. I am very pleased to see how successful some of the artists we had on show have become.

What concept of art was central for you?
We wanted to show art that hadn’t yet been absorbed by the established and commercial art world. We wanted to anticipate what was not yet established, pose questions and mix ideas. Debating art of our time was central. We attempted to make social and cultural shifts perceptible through art and therefore organised a programme that overarched many fields, with specialists from numerous disciplines. In addition to exhibitions, and despite the tight financial situation we were able to carry out big experiments like STILLSTAND switches and EXCHANGE 2, which each included 50 international artists and thinkers.

How do you see, in retrospect, the position of the Shedhalle in the Zurich art scene at the end of the 1980’s and in the early 1990’s? How did the public respond? Were you able to address a new public?
With its idiosyncratic programme, the Shedhalle gained its own profile. At the time, there was no comparable place. There was the Kunsthaus, the Kunsthalle, many museums and galleries in Zurich but no meeting place for those interested in experiments of this kind. The Shedhalle advanced to supra-regional importance as an exhibition site and laboratory. Large numbers of interested visitors and media reports spoke for themselves.

The collective and the team are important headings in the concept of the Shedhalle. How would you describe the team of Lux and Mosca?
Harm and I loved and lived the Shedhalle fervently. For us, it was the most important and most beautiful thing during those years. We worked in a family-like and friendly atmosphere. Since we are both extremely capable of enthusiasm and also very different, nearly everything succeeded. Our passion for art inspired us and despite all the tough discussions we never lost sight of our goal. It was always a matter of the best possibility, and we continued to like each other even in heated moments and learned to forgive. Harm was always bursting with ideas and it wasn’t easy to understand and realise them. Without the flexibility of our team and all the friends involved we could never have realised the Shedhalle dream. To all those who took part – my most heartfelt thanks again. It was an important time and I think back on it with joy.

After your time, the programme changed. How did you see and judge it then?
I don’t like recalling the change. Many people were involved and their feelings weren’t always handled considerately. It hurt to see how many partnerships were ruined in a few months and how short-sighted the approach was. The costly renovated Shedhalle that came after our time seemed almost cold. The uniquely beautiful rooms weren’t looked after and were used mainly for workshops and discussions, failing to give visitors an impressive visual experience. The new programmatic approach was certainly interesting for those who took part in the project, but its communication often seemed to me to be elitist and uninviting.
In my current work I am very interested in ‘arts for social change’, and in this connection I’ve been able to refresh my contact with the Shedhalle programme constantly. I am looking forward to our future partnership!