I will present four projects to you; two are earlier examples of my work: first the Videonale 9 took place in Bonn in 2001 and second the exhibition Telling Histories took place at Kunstverein Munich in 2003. I will not refer too long to these 2 projects, but they form the ground for the argument that I will try to develop today. I will then speak about the projects:
Die Blaue Blume, from 2007 and Idealismusstudio from 2008, which both took place at Grazer Kunstverein and which can also be considered as one project in two parts, although they were consciously not advertized like this.
These four projects (assuming the last two to be actually one) look very different on the first view. But what they all share is that they include a level of exploration adjusted both to my own function and possibilities as a curator – as well as to the contexts and institutions that surrounded them. To stimulate the growth of opportunity for both artists and curators, I think that curatorial work should always include examining, questioning, transcending and outmaneuvering some of the co-ordinates in which projects take place. And I very much believe, that the form of the spaces that we produce – and the acts that we generate through them ourselves – are the first things to question and to work with in order to challenge the economies of projects and institutions.
The videonale 9, in 2001, confronted visitors with an architecture made of 6 meter high felt strips. Right in the beginning of my involvement with videonale my concept was based on the attempt to abandon an attribute of all former videonale festivals (and video festivals in common): This was the inescapable authority of the one-after-another of the screening – reducing the active, self-directed engagement of the spectators with the display.
As a practical response to my programmatic demand for changing the logics of perception of the festival, a raster of felt walls was developed by the two architects Nikolaus Hirsch and Michael Müller. It divided the large hall into many sections and besides absorbing sounds it allowed moving between works and spaces at any point according solely to the visitors’ decisions and interests. The overall hegemony of a linear sequence of presenting works – either in form of the screening or as a string of rooms/black boxes – was suspended. I additionally added purely functional presen-tation units into that raster that were neutral and worked optionally with a monitor or a projection, …
... light or dark surrounding, …and plus different possibilities for transmitting sound – like headphones or loudspeakers.
Due to this standardization, different works with the same presentation characteristics could be shown on the same presentation unit. The participating artists therefore had to individually define which technical requirements were ideal for their works. In this way it was possible to divide the whole program into different groups and to play each group for one day and to then change the program on the next day. The changing presentation transposed the format of the video screening into a spatial situation. And at the same time, the space returned the decisions about time, sequence and repetitive viewing to the visitors. By adding performative lectures as a part of the program (under the label Video-Aktionismen) by people and col-lectives just like Paper Tiger TV, A-Clip, Eurovision 2000, Rainer Ganahl, Bernd Krauss and others, the format seemed to occupy a blank between exhibition and festival. I called this an 'installational festival'.
For me this is an example, how form can result from dealing with the structural coordinates of a project by expounding its intrinsic problems. The exhibition’s design was not at all focused to be a good looking suit, but rather it was an effect from re-organizing the then unquestioned parameters of the videonale-festival: 1. The monument of the format of the screening and 2. the often undefined status of artists’ productions working with moving-images in the art context.
Another aspect was to attach an overall thematic focus to the videonale 9 selection – instead of accepting only the video format as the common denominator. The focus of videonale 9 became the aesthetic and political correlations and antagonisms of documentary rhetoric and image-formats in contemporary art.
After videonale 9 I pursued and focused this theme through a series of screenings, lectures and film events. I took along works from the videonale 9 selection like those of Hito Steyerl, Nasrin Tabatabei, Ruth Kaaserer or Jesper Nordahl and added new focal points, such as a Jozef Robakowsky retrospective screening organized together with the artist Nina Könnemann (who had also participated in the videonale 9). All this took place in 2001 under the name Es ist schwer das Reale zu berühren (lit. It is hard to touch the Real) at both art-institutional and non-art-institutional places, including e.g. bureau-k and golden pudel club in Hamburg, Edith-Russ Haus für Medienkunst in Oldenburg or the Arbeitnehmerkammer in Bremen.
One year later in 2002, when I was invited by Maria Lind to become the curator at the Kunstverein Munich, I 'imported' that project to the Kunstverein. There and beyond it became a widespread and collective and permanently growing activity, co-organized by many others, including not just curators but artists as well.
Now the project is based as an archive of approx. 150 video-works at the Grazer Kunstverein. A book, published by the Grazer Kunstverein and Revolver (published by Vice Versa, Berlin), exists since 2007.
It is hard to touch the real is a quote by the Dutch filmmaker Johan van der Keuken. Although the sentence is related to the TV- and film-format, it can also be read in the wider context of the mediated nature of 'the real' in general. I understand curating as a mediating activity, not because it dresses culture for audiences, but rather because it continuously emphasizes the impossibility of the unmediated.
A practical showcase for this understanding of curating within my work was constituted through introducing the talk show format into the exhibition Telling Histories, which took place in 2003 at Kunstverein Munich.
Telling Histories was a collective exhibition, which Maria Lind – then the director at Kunstverein – and I had invented and developed together. It addressed the controversial history of the Kunstverein, among others by constituting a display for the archive designed by the artist Liam Gillick. Within that framework I had decided to speak with contemporary witnesses about three exhibitions from the past, in which they had been personally involved or in touch with: Transform the world! Poetry has to be written by anyone (1970), Dove sta memoria by Gerhard Merz (1984) and A society of well taste by Andrea Fraser (1993). But my aim was to let this literal implementation of the title become a formally precise act within the project that would, at the same time, constitute parts of the space.
Looking at Munich with its saturated TV- and tabloid-based boulevard mentality, I chose the talk show as a metaphor for the phantom of mediation in general – or, to put it differently – a metaphor for the promises of the mediation-industry. For this I chose the participants and trained for the role of a talk show host myself. For a while I analyzed the rhetorics and vocabulary of Sabine Christiansen – then the most well known talk show host in Germany.
This Talkshow was dedicated to Fraser’s exhibition, for which she had interviewed the members of the board of the Kunstverein Munich in 1993. In the main roles: Helmut Draxler – director, Bazon Brock – professional, Gabi Czöppan – member of the board of the Kunstverein when the project took place, Birgit Sonna – critic, and Ingrid Rein – another member of the board.
I understood the Talkshows as an act of a practical archeology that was directed towards analyzing the power structures of the Kunstverein. The talk-show project resulted in a collaborative situation with the artist Liam Gillick. Taking tasks is a self-related inversion of the so-called artist’s freedom that Liam has been consciously investigating in his work since the 90’s in manifold ways. Here, it not only generated the design of a large stage, but also details like the composition of a musical jingle to be played at the beginnings and ends of the shows.
This way of working is based on an interest by both artists and curators in the possibility of including the relationship between artist and curator as the subject – or problem – itself: and keeping its tensions visibly upright.
Beatrice von Bismarck points out the approach of such projects. They aim to shift and at least dynamically shape – if not completely disintegrate – the existing interde-pendencies in the artfield by questioning the participants’ relations and processes of exchange and positioning among one another “supplementing the aspect of competition in the relationship of curators and artists with that of negotiation.”
The shows were held just within the first week of the exhibition and edited quickly afterwards, to be able to show them as a part of the exhibition and to try and use the exhibition as a production space. The DVDs were multi-plied and functioned both similar to a 'catalogue' and simply as an independent source of information about each of the case-study-exhibitions.
Still, in most cases making an exhibition means wiping out all aspects of time: the first and the last visitor are more or less presented with the same situation. Ironically, this stands in contrast to the development of an exhibition, which is always based on a complex phrasing of particular time intervals by the curators and the artists and every-body else involved. But I am also against theatrically putting the development of an exhibition on stage because this is mostly owed to a sort of event culture aimed at gaining public interest. In contrast, using the exhibition space as a context for research and production should simply help oneself to create a less product-, and presentation-orientated space. Because this is missing very often: time to develop and compile the issues which are at stake. In this sense I try to work with my role as a curator in residence at the art academy in Vienna. The academic context provides not just the time and space but also the social and collective component to generate con-tents in a different than everyday curatorial work does.
Doesn’t curatorial subjectivity deliberately allow itself to be seized and changed by other dynamics? Preparing an exhibition is always primarily a process of social exchange – of an exchange between people and what they know, their skills, possibilities, backgrounds, and ideas. The exhibition format offers the paradox of a simultaneous variety of different, often opposite or contradictory chronologies in a way no other format does. Programmatically playing with breaking up a project into manifold dynamic fragments is what constitutes the specific blurry charac-ter of curatorial authorship for me. Therefore, this concept of a consciously 'disseminated' authorship is not necessarily tied to communicative and social processes only! Existing works and documents can also become independent and incalculable actors and partners within the emergence of meaning!
I’d like to exemplify what I have in mind with the 2 exhibitions Die Blaue Blume from 2007 and Idealismusstudio from 2008, which were strongly connected to each other and jointly traced to construct alternative perspectives on the historical relation between form and social engagement.
The starting point for the project Idealismusstudio, in 2008, was the production of a rug. I had sent a postcard of Paul Klee’s watercolor Monument im Fruchtland (1929) to a weaving workshop. Klee taught from 1920 to 1931 at the Bauhaus. What interested me was that Klee’s courses included a design class for the weaving workshop and had a direct influence on the form vocabulary of the Bauhaus’ textile production (cp. Works by Greten Neter-Kähler or Ruth Hollós-Consemüller). Although function was the main Bauhaus slogan, Klee did not make any functional textiles himself. In contrast, an aesthetic orientation dominated in the weaving workshop for a long time and stood in the way of the usefulness the school demanded. The dispute between the 'applied' and the 'fine' artists became so intense from 1928 to 1931 that Klee left the Bauhaus. The appropriation of Klee‘s watercolor as a rug is the attempt to visualize problems within the relation of artistic and social, manual and industrial production and expounding the antagonisms of the modern attempt to practically relate aesthetics and social structures to each other.
One year before that, I had worked with a carpet for the exhibition Die Blaue Blume based on a design from 1926
by Anni Albers – yet for different reasons. The original design was conceived as a wall hanging, only 1.75 m high. A reconstruction from 1964 exists in the Bauhaus Archive, Berlin, as the original is lost due to Albers’ emigration from Nazi-Germany to the US in 1933. My interest here was the political and social dimension of Albers’ work which is expressed through formal and technical innovations. Here’s a quote from Albers: "It is safe, I suppose, to assume that today most if not all of us have had the experience of looking down from an airplane onto this earth. What we see is a free flow of forms intersected here and there by straight lines, rectangles and evenly drawn curves." I was moved by this relation between looking at the world with a particular interest in form and the experience of travel and involuntary emigration caused by the social rejection of this view and beyond. The use of the design as a carpet in Die Blaue Blume deviates from this metaphor of a landscape you fly across. The copy was enlarged to a length of almost five meters, but keeping the original measurements of the color-fields, becoming an architectural structure of the exhibitions’ form itself. On the photo it is surrounded by a lamella installation by Lasse Schmidt-Hansen, a yellow acrylic paint text by Saim Demircan (copying a graffiti-bubble-style filled with the words "celebration of concrete"), a rattan and steel object by Juliane Solmsdorf, a bench by George Nelson and a video by Heidrun Holzfeind about a one mile long building based on Le Corbusier’s ideas – built in the periphery of rome and called Il Corviale. Please note the formal correlation between the doorway in the video and the bench, or the carpet-pattern.
In contrast to the example put forward by Oliver Marchart – in relation to documenta 12’s use of formal analogies –the formal relations which I traced DO have a historical-political context (and not just a personal-formal one, constituted by blurry private associations): This context is linked to the ambivalent realities of modernity’s project to realize social utopia through rational design.
In the next space I hung a work by the Russian-Polish sculptor Katarzyna Kobro from 1921.
With Albers, Kobro shares both the experience of emigration and of rejecting abstraction as something private, but regarding it instead as something directed towards the renewal of society. "In western tradition political thought (no matter if left, right or mainstream) rarely considers the potential of imagination in the conception (or improve-ment) of social structures. Rather, it is far more often disregarded. The imaginary should remain utopian.", Felix Philipp Ingold once wrote.
The conflict touched by the 2 exhibitions – briefly outlined here – which allegedly exists between the play of art and actual social engagement, is also part of the personal genesis of the film Bambule by Ulrike Meinhof, in turn being shown in the exhibition Idealismusstudio.
Here you see a view with Meinhof’s film in the foreground. The film should broadcast for the first time in May 1970. Yet something happened in between: Meinhof went under-ground before the film’s completion. Bambule explores the situation of young women in state supervised homes. Meinhof analyzes these institutions with regard to their disciplinary function and as an instrument of class creation. The screenplay is the result of collaboration between Meinhof, German filmmaker Itzenplitz and girls from the homes, who also appear in the film as actors. A glass ashtray was put next to it on the floor. The monitor was as well put on the floor and very near to the opposing wall. It was impossible to watch it longer while standing. To find a somehow comfortable position you had to let yourself down on the floor. With this decision I wanted to make it impossible to just passively consume the film for a while. Visitors were really enforced to make an either-/or-decision to engage with the film or not.
The curatorial display in these projects is not orientated towards solving conflicts between works, arguments and audience, but rather to focusing them. I see this as a chance to reconsider display- and exhibition-design as practices which not necessarily have to be bound to the affirmation of canonical meanings but to do exactly the opposite and to act as speculative contexts.
In the exhibition, I was interested in Bambule as a document that exactly describes the intersection between social-political work – work that still believes that institutions can be changed – and radical (militant) action, a situation that no longer believes in the possibility of change as something that can be produced from within institutions. Whereas Die Blaue Blume was more emphatic and utopian in tone, the echo of Idealismusstudio appeared to look more at aspects of disillusion and radicalization.
As you see, the display was emphasized and exaggerated in the show. It very much resulted from looking at poster-stand and propaganda-kiosk designs by the Russian artist Gustav Klucis. This authoritative gesture of the exhibition display stands for the notion of a politically applied idealism that presumes to be able to assign everything a place in a system – like the format and history of the exhibition in general maybe. In this arrangement of the work, it was purposely a matter of producing a sense of totalitarian space. The conflict between the exhibition-making gestures and the single works is also part of the theme of the Idealismusstudio, which revolves around aspects of authority and discipline within utopian concepts.
I try to critically relocate the ideology of staging and its relationship with mediation throughout my work instead of abandoning it. To reflect on the relationship of display and ideology I also replicated two picture holders like those used by Arnold Bode in 1955 at the Documenta – in the Fridericianum. Here are the originals in a picture. There are very strange verticals coming out of the steel profile, which form something like two arms at the upper end, literally clinging to the wall.
And here are the copies in the exhibition Idealismusstudio, on which two pictures by Silke Otto Knapp are mounted. She painted these pictures especially for the exhibition. Of course she was informed about this hanging in advance.
Bode’s exhibition in 1955 was intended to be a kind of reparation for the banishing of Modernism from Nazi Germany. Yet at the same time, the history of Modernism in Germany and its political connections was not developed. The whole installation appears to be a symbolic image of a return of art. In a space oddly detached from the architectural framework, the art suspended on steles or framed by large curtain-walls felt almost like a 'spiritual' manifestation. I understood the reconstructed steles in Idealismusstudio as an aesthetic way to expound the problems of these correlations and to literally envision the symbolical and ideological impact of this display by de-contextualizing, isolating and actualizing it.
By creating such material and immaterial productions I aim to stimulate an imaginative and associative play with the diversity of interpretation. Curatorial form is nothing total. It is not committed to "the thesis of the identity of thoughts and object" (as Theodor Adorno stated in regard to the form of the essay), but rather operates with the awareness that truth is something artificial and temporary. Exhibitions are imaginary sites, short-time gatherings or dialogues of disparate actors and ideas – e.g. between Anni Albers and Hilary Lloyd or between Ulrike Meinhof and Arnold Bode. The contours of projects designed and realized along the lines of this kind of understanding of curatorial practice entail a continuous interplay between drawing outlines and blurring them. They are forms that emphasize the synthetic nature of all concepts. Curatorial practice should deliberately create unstable constellations contra-dicting the notion of truth as something accomplished.
As a curator Søren Grammel has been responsible for numerous exhibitions in contemporary art spaces, which he prepared alone or with others. Since 2005, he has held the post of Artistic Director of the Grazer Kunstverein; the exhibitions there include Eine Person allein in einem Raum mit Coca-Cola-farbenen Wänden, Idealismusstudio, Provisorisches Yoga, Es ist schwer, das Reale zu berühren, or Traurig sicher, im Training. The show Die Blaue Blume was listed among the best themed shows of 2007 by the magazine frieze. Since 2009 he also works as a Curator-in-Residence at the Akademie der bildenden Künste Wien. In 2005, he published the theoretical book Ausstellungsautorschaft. Die Konstruktion der auktorialen Position des Ausstellungsmachers…, Frankfurt am Main.