|NEWSPAPER [01/05] - INTERVIEW WITH RENATE LORENZ AND STATEMENT OF SYLVIA KAFEHSY
Shedhalle history: Lines of development, changes and the motivations underlying specific institutional, curatorial and thematic focuses are discussed in interviews with past Shedhalle teams.
After the team of Harm Lux and Barbara Mosca had professionalized the Shedhalle and developed it into a curatorial institution, the board of directors proposed a fundamental reorientation of the programme concept in 1994, a project that was planned and realized by curators Sylvia Kafehsy and Renate Lorenz. The desire to explore issues of social relevance led to a growing interest in aspects of gender relationships and feminist theory, accompanied by an emphasis on projects devoted to a critique of technology and the consequences of globalisation. The role of art within this context was to address current issues of social and political reality. In addition, the Shedhalle was to become a setting devoted not only to the exhibition of art projects but also to the work and exchange processes through which it is created. Implicit in this approach was the understanding that an investigation of the political and social factors involved in the production of art must become an integral part of work at the Shedhalle.
We posed the following questions to Renate Lorenz and Sylvia Kafehsy in an e-mail interview. Renate Lorenzs responses follow each question. Sylvia Kafehsy sent us a statement, which is printed at the end of the interview.
INTERVIEW with Renate Lorenz
The programmatic reorientation initiated at the Shedhalle after the Lux/Mosca era and realized by you both has been described by many as a "caesura". That "caesura" took place some ten years ago, and the two of you were the first curators of the newly reoriented Shedhalle. We would like to know what the "caesura" implied and what motivated you specifically to make these conceptual changes.
Perhaps it was less of a "caesura" in the Shedhalle programme and more the "invention" of an institutional mode of production that existed nowhere else and that we wanted to establish. This was possible thanks to the flexibility of the board of directors at the time and the idea of working with a team rather than a single curatorial position. In my view, what distinguished the Shedhalle from all other institutions was that we sought to shape it as a "feminist institution" on the basis of theoretical and political concepts of a deconstructive (queer) feminism. The gender perspective was not a theme (among others). Every project actually took a feminist position, intervening in gender-specific norms, hierarchies and forms of discrimination. In exhibition projects, we pursued the as yet untested approach of combining theory, activism and art with respect to both the social fields of focus - people, media, institutional forms and aesthetics and the products, i.e. the presentations and conceptual approaches that were developed individually. We also consistently took advantage of the institution itself as a vehicle of involvement with the policies of other institutions as well as such issues of drug and refugee policy from a feminist perspective. We were a team of women, after all, and a great many feminist artists, theorists and activists participated in the projects, along with young women artists and art students. Because each project worked differently in terms of the nature and structure of the cooperative activities involved and because every project was in a sense a new "trial run", we were also continually taking a critical look - prompted sometimes by our own considerations and at others by less-than-subtle demands expressed by those involved - at the working structures of the Shedhalle, the distribution of financial resources and the question of who is represented by the media.
Do you still regard this "caesura" as a significant turning point today, or would you judge it - in retrospect - differently than is generally the case in contemporary discourse?
I still regard the "invention" of this particular approach to work in/with an institution as important. But that also required the environment that was in place at the time - all of the groups, artists and activists who took part over and over again in the exhibitions but also realized works of their own within the same or a similar field of art and politics. The relatively broad range of political-artistic initiatives in the field of art with which we were in contact supported our attempt to achieve a degree of "self-interpretation" with respect to our work and to engage in "conflicts of interpretation" with other individuals and institutions. The premise that our work, those projects, also included criticism (and sometimes self-criticism as well) of conventional institutions - their hierarchies, their concepts of art, their policies and the forms of discrimination they produced - was opposed by mechanisms that integrate an institution like the Shedhalle into a context of cultural pluralism, thus "pacifying" and depoliticizing it in a sense.
The most important objective was the development of a different concept of art and a way of approaching subjects that are conscious of their social and political relevance. Among other things, you were intensely concerned with issues of gender identity and gender construction. Viewed from a certain distance now, which projects would you name as "core projects"?
My first project at the Shedhalle, the exhibition Game Girl (continued in 1994 as Game Grrrl at the Kunstverein Munich), involved an exhibition model that continued to play a role in my work during the following years - for one thing because it intervened in a very direct way in a field that was riding high in the art world at the time: the fascination with "techno-aesthetics", and a related, often quite uncritical, affirmative interest in genetic engineering and biotechnology that was celebrated in a number of major exhibitions, including shows at the Bundeskunsthalle in Bonn and the Hamburger Deichtorhallen (Posthuman). Imported in a somewhat rough form from gender theory, the idea that the body and its gender identity are "constructed" led to the idealistic conclusion that they are open to their own, "self-determined" construction (via genetic and biological technology). But what I also felt was important about Game Girl was the aspect of developing and testing an exhibition model that integrated both works of art and activist material or a documentary-analytical exhibition devoted to "scientific drawing", without simply juxtaposing them summarily. My idea was to provide space for the individual works while at the same time designing an exhibition-specific, site-oriented (+ non-verbal) "line of argumentation" and also drawing attention to the curatorial position and curatorial interventions, thus developing a kind of "feminist standpoint theory" at the exhibition level. In this context, I referred to theoretical works by the U.S. scholar Donna Haraway and to formal inventions in the films of Yvonne Rainer.
But there were other projects that took entirely different directions, and I was always very interested in the discussion about the relationships between working structures and formal decisions/outcomes. Thus, for example, the exhibition when tekkno turns to sound of poetry (1994, and 1995 at the Kunst-Werke in Berlin) initiated by Sabeth Buchmann and Juliane Rebentisch was realized as a collective project involving some 30 participating women artists, activists and curators, a situation that posed entirely different problems with respect to the articulation of a common idea but also offered new possibilities for expanding the project.
The question of what art we mean when we speak of art as political is addressed in many contemporary projects. At the moment, however, there seems to be a prevailing sense of helplessness when it comes to discussions of the relationship between socio-political concerns and art and the potential inherent in that relationship. What expectations would you have about a political project in the institutional art context?
In my opinion, the problems that arise in many projects, especially in the larger institutions, can be attributed to the fact that socio-political projects are treated as "themes", and many institutions then simply move on to a new theme in the next project, in which the ideas and political positions developed in the preceding project no longer play a role. In addition, the political criticism articulated within the context of an exhibition often stands in blatant contrast to the hierarchies, working methods and systems used to distribute money and recognition within the very institutions producing the exhibition. Changes in hegemonial representation involve more than merely bringing new themes to the institutions; they also require the creation of structures that offer opportunities for expression of other representatives, in the sense of a political voice.
If the production of culture requires active participation and resistance, it needs participants and committed supporters. How did you reach this group of people and how do you think visitors/participants should be approached or involved in the institutional context today?
When we came to Zurich, we got in touch with a number of different initiatives and groups in Switzerland. (On the other hand, we were also regularly involved in political initiatives - focused on genetic engineering, AIDS or urban policy - that were not necessarily closely related to art.) What worked was possible only because of the continuity that prevailed with respect to the questions and discussions with which we dealt at the Shedhalle. I also think that, while the exhibition projects tended to exclude artists who did not do theme-based work, they also created an atmosphere of openness toward everyone concerned with similar issues, an atmosphere that helped visitors to become participants.
Among other things, you redefined a collective, egalitarian practical policy for the Shedhalle. How would you describe the qualities of that kind of approach, which had a significant impact on your project work?
As suggested already, conflicts often set things in motion, for we made quite a few mistakes, of course - in money matters, for instance - even in cases when our "intentions were good". Very early on, for example, I passed on the economic pressure imposed on me as "responsibility" by the city and the board of directors to other individuals involved, creating a great deal of uncertainty in the process, instead of taking a more analytical approach to the question of how this "personal responsibility" becomes a powerful aspect of municipal cost-cutting policy. It also took me a while to understand that an "egalitarian approach" does not mean deliberately glossing over existing differences. When a curator in a paid position conceives a project and invites others to participate in it, then there is already an inequality with respect to financial and cultural resources, which has to be dealt with. In any case, I think it is necessary to structure ones own practice in a way that provides room for conflict and dialogue, and of course for "amicable discussion" as well.
Renate Lorenz is a filmmaker, curator and author. Currently she is working on a transdisciplinary research project: work, sexuality and precariousness (www.queeringwork.de).
STATEMENT Sylvia Kafehsy
You write: "We regard the process of designing exhibitions as a dispositive in this context: cultural practice should be context-oriented, and it should be designed and communicated with reference to specific socio-political issues. The Shedhalle sees itself as a setting for production, communication, research, discussion and distribution through different media channels."
For me, designing exhibitions was not a dispositive but part of a dispositive, which, as I interpret Foucault, describes a field, a complex of power and knowledge comprised of heterogeneous elements. I see that as a significant difference in terms of the form in which one inscribes oneself in that field and positions an institution within it. In reading your questions, it occurs to me that you focus on the institution as such. I shall try to explain what I mean more precisely (hopefully) in the next paragraph.
The focus of my interest, for example, was never to change a traditional concept of art per se or to address the theme of the institutional framework but rather to make content socially productive. In my view, this question could be used to assess our Shedhalle programme in retrospect. And I recall several events that were crucial in this sense. One example was the attempt to become involved in a field of political power, which we undertook with our first project entitled 8 Wochen Klausur. [The project 8 Wochen Klausur initiated talks between small invited groups on the theme drugs that took place on a boat on the lake of Zurich. At the same time ZORA was founded - a place for drug using women to sleep, to stay and receive advise.] That was a milestone event which made it clear to me that a cultural institution cannot pursue that kind of power strategy. Plans for clearing the Letten area were already drawn up and waiting in the desk drawers of the party politicians. They just conducted nice talks on the boat with us.
The subject of genetic engineering and the application of scientific authority in this sector, the theme of the "Berlin Group", are now topoi of critical scientific theory and in social studies relating to bio-policy. Another subject area - critical urban development theory - I also addressed in my works has now been incorporated into contemporary criticism of neo-liberal social structures as they pertain to ostracism and the controlled society. Today, I would position the contents differently, focusing on self-regulation in structural processes rather than censorship, for example.
"I, Inc." and other terms that point to a revolution in working conditions within neo-liberal structures are headline items in the mainstream press. We focused on this expansion of the freelance sector very early on. I think our Shedhalle programme was quite productive in this respect.
We worked in an active-productive environment, by which I mean that we did not work primarily for the sake of individual visitors. In retrospect, it is clear that we could not have done so at the time, anyway, as we were too concerned with processing subject matter in our groups and were actively involved in political resistance (e.g. inner-city actions). I think it would be possible today, since the contents I have described are generally evident and I would tend today to focus on investigating contents in exhibitions. In that context, I would be concerned with localizing the "imaginary individual visitor", referred to in scientific jargon as the "imaginary layman". That is an important subject for me today, one I would now take seriously.
I hope I have been able to explain the shift of meaning involved in my concept of dispositive - and thus the idea of positioning the institution farther away from the centre - within the context of a social process.
Sylvia Kafehsy makes her living with various computer classes, web hosting and web design.