|THE MENTAL COMMA INSTEAD OF THE FULL-STOP (1)
Text by Sønke Gau and Katharina Schlieben
The Shedhalle occupies a niche between different types of institutions. It is neither a gallery nor a museum nor an off-space. Its ‘in between’ status is an opportunity that allows for a versatile approach to exhibition making and that also demands a specific commitment from us. In this line, the production of an exhibition for is a kind of dispositive: cultural practice should be oriented towards contexts and should be designed for and communicated through specific social-political questions. The Shedhalle understands itself as a place of production, communication, investigation, discussion and distribution, which makes use of various media channels. Curatorial practice as we see it has to bid farewell to the idea of ‘exhibition spaces’ as places where contemporary art is merely presented and instead discover and invent new paths and locations for art. The conceptual and performative redefinition of the idea of ‘exhibiting’ has long been a focal point of the Shedhalle. It is this search for experimental forms of ‘presentation’, which we wish to continue.
Artistic practices challenge art institutions by using the institutional structure as site and display for the exploration of artistic practices while presenting the medium of the exhibition itself in a performative way. Therefore, the examination of aesthetic practice has to understand this very examination as its point of departure. The institution has to question how far it can provide a model for the production of knowledge itself. The Shedhalle in consequence turns to the artists to be inspired and in order to learn from their patterns of production, presentation and mediation.
The Shedhalle brings artistic, cultural and scientific practices of social-political relevance into dialogue. It sees itself as a platform for experiment and investigation where such practices may be tested, shown and discussed. The Shedhalle offers a forum for cultural producers as well as for visitors and participants. This demands transparency in respect to processes and forms of work, which may not be apparent at first glance. An art institution like the Shedhalle is oriented, on the one hand, towards presentation, for example with exhibitions or film screenings, on the other hand, however, it focuses on production and investigation like a research institute, studio or workshop.
Artistic as well as curatorial practice must not remain fixed at the level of illustration but should rather assume the status of a model for which, in contrast to classical critiques of institutions, not only the weak points within the art system itself are of concern. According to our understanding, art can present alternative models and subversive infiltrations of existing systems. In this connection, it seems important to us that the process and form in which artists work is more closely observed. As a result, special attention has been given to the investigation of artistic practice by allocating an important position in the Shedhalle programme with long-term projects On The Spot. We are interested in an artistic practice, which by means of communicative and participatory strategies infiltrates social, urban, economic and medial spaces. The starting point for these projects is the extension of the investigation to an interdisciplinary spectrum ranging from cultural studies, feminist theory and urbanism to aesthetic and political practices.
This requires long-term institutional co-operation that has to be communicated so that it can enter social circulation. For this reason, we wish to propose a dynamic procedure that will enable us to build long-term relationships with the artists and initiatives and to follow substantial thematic lines on a number of individual projects. Frequently, art institutions cannot afford to work on content and questions over extended periods of time because they lack the necessary resources. However, we prefer a slower approach by means of exhibition forms that allow for long-term projects with emphasis on content by dividing them into chapters, steps, or works ‘in progress’: “The mental comma instead of the full-stop“. Thus we have opted to concentrate on a focus for approx. one year. This approach will enable us to take up and work on all the questions that may have arisen in the course of an exhibition chapter in the succeeding chapter.
The Shedhalle is beautifully located on the lake outside the city centre, and yet appears to be too far off the beaten track for many Zurich residents to just stop by and visit. A question of central importance for us therefore is how the Shedhalle can be brought closer to the city again. In order to gain more publicity for the projects at the Shedhalle, a further point of emphasis is communication and mediation: direct conversation with our visitors and researches On The Spot is important to us. Beside different curatorial conversations formats, the curators regularly offer guided tours based on the form of dialogues. Another possibility for opening the Shedhalle up to the city is its co-operation with other institutions as well as an intense exchange with the art schools: Academy in Residency.
Alongside communicating contents, the form of communication via diverse media is of importance to us. We wish to give the Shedhalle website an important place. An online archive gives access to all previous projects and provides a space for documentation that helps to make the work process retrospectively and prospectively at the institution more transparent.
These considerations have led us to deduce working formats with which we would like to design the programme of the institution: First, the already mentioned Thematic Project Series which will be developed over the period of a year and treated in exhibition projects, symposia and publications. Secondly, the focus on artistic productions and interventions, and, at the same time, the investigation of artistic practice in the project On the Spot. Thirdly, the Shedhalle Newspaper addressed to the members of the Shedhalle and other interested parties, colleagues and friends in and outside of Switzerland. The paper reports on the projects of the Shedhalle twice a year and will provide a platform for the documentation of projects, essays, and also for curated pages such as the section ‘hosted by’. Fourthly, Film Series go along with the project lines, directly involved in the exhibition projects or apart.
Summarized, the working formats result in a dynamic cluster-like structure. The modules alternate and cross, reflect and reciprocally comment on each other. This concept is influenced by curatorial ideas that the curatorial team of the Kunstverein München developed during 2002-2004. Different rhythms of the formats allow visitors, participants and producers to follow different patterns of reception and production. They are described in greater detail on this website.
(1) An image of a curatorial approach, formulated by Johanna Lassenius