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NEWSPAPER [01/06] - INTERVIEW WITH MARION VON OSTEN

The Shedhalle has become, thanks to its multifaceted program and the various protagonists who have shaped it over the past fifteen years, a well-respected institution, especially on the international level, and has become a model for the critical debate on institutions.

One of our concerns is understanding the paths of development, changes, and motivations of the thematic, institutional, and curatorial directions taken. To that end, we would like to ask those who participated in shaping and developing Shedhalle to speak from a personal, political, and curatorial perspective: the curators, the general manager, the board members, and so on, but above all the curators. The idea is to establish an exchange on these topics in the form of an e-mail interview as an autonomous column for the SHEDHALLE NEWSPAPER.
We began chronologically: first we asked Barbara Mosca; the second issue had an interview with Renate Lorenz, and Sylvia Kafehsy replied with a brief statement. We continued the conversation with Ursula Biemann. For this issue have asked Marion von Osten.

INTERVIEW with Marion von Osten
In 1996 you came to the Shedhalle as a curator. What motivated you to do so? What opportunities attracted you to the Shedhalle that perhaps other institutions could not offer in that precise form?

I actually came to Shedhalle first in 1994 as an artist, specifically in response to an invitation to an exhibition project that was very important, for me and the other participants - namely, When Tekkno Turns to Sound of Poetry, which had been initiated by Juliane Rebentisch and Sabeth Buchmann and took place in the Shedhalle and then was continued in 1995 in the Kunst-Werke spaces in Berlin. To prepare for the exhibition we had met at the opening of the Game Grrrl project in Zurich. So I got to know the work of Renate Lorenz, and that of Sylvia Kafhesy and Ursula Biemann as well, and of courses the artists and theorists involved in when tekkno: Marion Baruch, Ute Meta Bauer, Elfe Brandenburger, Judith Hopf, Anke Kempkes, Katja Reichard, Mona Rink, Pia Lanzinger, Stefanie Schulte-Strathaus, and so on. Because I had lived in New York on a scholarship in the late 1980s and early 1990s, it was important to me to get to know all these women, some of whom I worked with repeatedly thereafter. In New York I had come into contact with the current work and the artistic environment of Yvonne Rainer and Martha Rosler as well as with the second generation of advocates of institutional critique, had seen several of the important exhibitions at the Dia Center for the Arts, in Haarlem, and at the New Museum. I was totally impressed that questions that I had never seen treated in that way in German-speaking countries were not only appropriated by the existing team at the Shedhalle but also placed in a European context and further developed. At the time the Shedhalle was the first art institution in Europe to develop an exhibition program that discussed sociocritical approaches - especially feminist ones - in an artistic field. So the Shedhalle was totally sexy to me, because it represented a field of action that was at one real and symbolic. It was clear that they were not conceiving group and solo exhibitions in the style of "Kunstvereine" (art associations) but working out projects that take the social discourse a step further, that change the thinking, seeing, and role of the artist, that reflected on the question of the political and that did not stick to the usual conventions for making exhibitions. The next step, going to this institution as an individual artist, was such an obvious extension of my art praxis at the time - that is to say, the realization of a dream. At the same time I had, for the first time, a regular income, if a small one, from what I was doing and wanted to do. Against that backdrop, then, debates over the conditions of production in the art world evolved that did leave me alone so quickly over the past few years.

Since the early 1990s, the Shedhalle has stood for an idea of egalitarian and collaborative practice with a team working together. At various times, you worked not only with Renate Lorenz and Sylvia Kafhesy but also Justin Hoffmann and Ursula Biemann: two and sometimes three curators working together, a concept that was established by the board. How did you organize your shared work? What collaborative understanding did you have? And how did it play out in your curatorial work?

This constellation didn’t play out in the curatorial work in the sense that we conceived of shared projects as a curatorial team. But we shared a strong institutional politics, main emphases in terms of content, and political interests and above all we advocated them to others. Moreover, already in 1996 I found myself in a situation that had not be easy for Sylvia Kafhesy and Renate Lorenz, the cold wind from the art scene and criticism of the program by members of the association had left behind traces. They had already been fighting their way through it for two years, and I came to Zurich fresh and wanted to collaborate in and on the projects. Sylvia and I developed an exhibition together in 1996 that became important for our images of ourselves in relation to youth subcultures and the economy (The Funky Sight of Zurich), and then when Justin Hoffmann came in 1997 we began a collaborative project that was also more closely tied to the Rote Fabrik: Alt.Use.Media, a project that took stock of alternative media practices from the 1970s to the 1990s. Then in 1998 Justin and I also developed a main focus for the year on the them of culturalizing the economy, which also resulted in the publication Das Phantom sucht seinen Mörder (The Phantom Searches for its Murderer). So we were working on different construction sites, but we were trying to place more emphasis on the content of the program and work on themes over longer periods, rather than work with a single project with this weird production stress. Ursula’s work was also very important, of course, because she introduced a cross-cultural and postcolonial discussion into the Shedhalle program, which in turn gave me the courage to realize a project like MoneyNations after my curatorial work at the Shedhall was done. One totally important collaboration in the projects was with Rachel Mader, Brigitta Kuster, Pauline Boudry, and Nathalie Seitz, the so-called trainees, all of whom worked on the content and organization of exhibitions as project curators. Those collaborations certainly became particular important for me later. For example, I’m still working with Brigitta Kuster on kpD (kleines postfordistisches Drama, brief post-Fordist drama), but there have also been opportunities to collaborate with Rachel Mader, Nathalie Seitz, and Pauline Boudry now and again, beyond the context of the Shedhalle.

The Shedhalle has a long tradition of addressing sociopolitical question. At the moment it seems as if in a lot of places, in the exhibition practices of institutions, in art criticism, and even in the reception by the audience there is a need for a new "sensuality" in art. Against that backdrop, it seems all the more important to resist this trend. The argument that cultural practices that produce discourse and "genuine" artistic praxis are mutually exclusive is currently resulting in a polarizing attempt to manipulate people’s opinions. How do you see this trend? And how do you position your curatorial approach?

This development is not new at all. It comes up now and again, and it is closely tied to the politics and prosperity of the art market. This understanding of art was particularly prominent when Renate Lorenz and Sylvia Kafhesy began to realize their program at the Shedhalle in 1994. At the same time, the Shedhalle opened up new latitudes for cultural practice and also totally renegotiated the role of the artist and curator. I never assumed that our critical practice of exhibition, the collaboration between producers of culture, activists, and theorists, and the sociality that results from those things could correspond to a traditional understanding of art. You simply work with a different understanding, and thus place yourself in opposition to what exists. Our work in the first years was, in many respects, in the "off". In Zurich, for example, the Shedhalle was totally in the "off" the first couple of years, and our program was certainly a factor in that. From the distance it looked different perhaps. In the meanwhile, however, I believe - against the backdrop of this experience - that there are exhibitions spaces and forms of exhibition practice with which you can and should speak to a larger audience, and specifically in the sense of popular culture. Exhibitions that don’t have to be located purely in the art context and in which it is possible to develop a transdisciplinary exhibition practice of the sort I practice. Project Migration was a positive example of that.

The Shedhalle - which on the one hand is located on the urban periphery of Zurich and on the other is connected to a dense network of European initiatives and institutions - has to achieve a balancing act at times, in terms of outreach and a politics of attention. How did that question come up for you in the 1990s, and what consequences did you draw from it as a curator, especially as far as outreach is concerned?

The last time I came to visit you, I was reminded how much outreach work you have to do to get people to come to Wollishofen, to the lake, to the Shedhalle, although it looks like things have improved with you. There were, of course, different activities, but the one I liked, and still like, best was working with posters, invitations, and flyers, produced by different graphic designers each time. They each had a text providing information or stating a position, statements from the participants, and the information on the program, all tailored and conceived for the specific project. The only thing that remained the same was the Shedhalle logo. By doing so we were certainly doing a kind of publicity work in that area that was not simply museum pedagogy but produced a connection to preferences in pop culture as well. These print products functioned in a graphic arts, music, or political scene just as well as in an art scene, and a lot of people had them hanging in their apartments even long after the projects had ended. That way too a lot of people saw the program and the positions even if they didn’t live in Zurich or had no time to look at the exhibition or attend the event.

The third chapter of the project series Colonialism without Colonies? will address questions of inclusion and exclusion of migrants and border regimes in Switzerland. In the context of Project Migration you have recently been intensely occupied with the question of migrant movements with and into Europe. What, in your opinion, are the questions that are often overlooked? Or where do you see curatorial and methodological problems with this subject in the context of an exhibiton?

Project Migration
treated the postwar history of migration in Germany within an institutional cooperation. It was centrally important that from the outset a self-run organization like the Documentation Center and Museum of Migration DOMiT e.V. and the research and cultural production of TRANSIT MIGRATION be centrally involved in developing the project and in the research. In addition, we have a curatorial team, on which the various partners and their main interests are presented, that works out together the conception of the exhibition together. Project Migration was fortunate that nearly everyone on the team had experienced migration or had parents who had.

That, for example, has to be a standard that goes without saying when realizing projects that address migration: the experience of migration and the self-organization of migrants in the decision-making process and in representation. As far as the thematic issue is concerned, it is necessary to get away from every form of conception of origins and from discourse of problematizing, focusing instead on the fact that migration is a form of the movement of human beings that can never be governed entirely and that challenges the nation-state and its container conception, and that has already developed new models for living beyond borders.

For that you need theoretical concepts, but you also have to redirect the gaze on our societies. A view from the perspective of migration opens up entirely new questions for our conception of state citizenship and the associated legal conceptions. I am not the only one who sees this as a central and far-reaching debate and as an area where action is needed in the future.

In our view, you have had very many important projects that were much discussed and often sparked others to engage politically, artistically, and curatorially with questions raised by your projects. They include MoneyNations (1998 Shedhalle, Kunsthalle Exnergasse 2000, publication in 2003, coedited with Peter Spillmann), the publication Das Phantom sucht seinen Mörder (1999, coedited with Justin Hoffmann), and Sex and Space (1996, Shedhalle). The "cultural industries" were your concern in Atelier Europa (2004, Kunstverein München). Another very important example was Project Migration (2005/6, Kölnischer Kunstverein). We are curious: What are you working on now? Do you have plans for a new project and, if so, where is it located?

When I think about it, I am continuing to work on all these topics with different emphases. That is perhaps the difference vis-à-vis a more classical curatorial practice in the art context, because I am pursuing a fundamental research interest in my work. Perhaps you could say it is an interest in social theory, and hence ultimately a political interest, which asks who subjectivities arise and what significance visual, cultural, political, economic, and social cultures have in turn therein. That is also one reason why I didn’t immediately go to another institution when I left the Shedhalle but instead have searched for places and opportunities where I can concentrate more intently on one project over a long period. In that sort of practice, a relationship between content and society emerges that in retrospect can be called transdisciplinary. I continue to be interested in making exhibitions as an experimental artistic and design field, and Project Migration will certainly not be the last one of that sort.

To state it concretely, however, I am just now finishing the <reformpause> project with the Kunstraum (Art space) of the University of Lüneburg and the students and lecturers, on educational reforms against the backdrop of the European process of the Bologna Reforms that is underway right now. In addition to producing a poster and a wall newspaper I have also produced an installation and a sound work for the Kunstraum. Those who know primarily by curatorial work will recognize this or that, or perhaps not. It opens in mid-May.