DOCUMENTA KASSEL 16/06-23/09 2007

"For me the most successful Lunch Lectures were those at which a dialogue between the public and the podium was forged." - Interview with Wanda Wieczorek

At documenta 12 Wanda Wieczorek was responsible for the co-ordination of the documenta 12 Halle and the Lunch Lectures. In this documenta 12 interview, the 29-year-old talks about the concept of the event, her own personal highlights and the unavoidable teething troubles she encountered.

Frau Wieczorek, how did the Lunch Lectures format at documenta 12 come about?

The Lunch Lectures were born from the desire to offer discursive formats at the documenta and to provide a venue for engaging in discussion about art, its mediation and other related questions – a place where the public can become involved and where a public forum is created.

Talking about the Lunch Lectures at documenta 12 automatically leads us on to the individual organisational forms, such as the advisory board, the Magazines and the art mediation programme. What function have the Lunch Lectures served for the individual organisational forms?

The various organisational forms have made an essential contribution towards shaping the exhibition. They articulate our common interest in transporting the documenta into a variety of contexts and engaging in an exchange with local knowledge. These aspects are not immediately apparent at first glance within the exhibition space, but they form an integral part of the exhibition. Integrating the organisational forms into the exhibition and formulating them as a regular component of the exhibition was a key objective of the Lunch Lectures. Having a common format which also succeeds in communicating to the public the nature of the connecting elements of the advisory board, the magazine and the art mediation programme from which a common space is then fashioned.

Why choose lunchtimes to stage this format?

The idea was to stage it during the day, as part of the exhibition’s daily routine, and not as something which is confined to the evenings – almost as an appendix, but as something which really belongs to the exhibition. The idea for the name came from Ruth Noack. And the title had such a good ring to it that we just kept using it - although there is neither anything to eat, nor are there exclusively lectures in the strict sense of the word.  We have realised a whole host of formats under the title of Lunch Lectures: lectures, discussions, presentations, conversations, Q&A sessions,even several excursions, but in general more dialogue-based rather than frontal formats.

The idea of holding panel discussions and conversations at the documenta is not entirely new. In what respect do the Lunch Lectures differ from similar events at previous documentas?

There is, of course, the precedent of Bazon Brock’s visitors’ school and other discussion platforms. This was particularly in evidence at documenta 10 with the format “100 days, 100 guests”. However, these events were scheduled for the evenings. Leading international theorists were invited to speak at what were properly staged official events. The Lunch Lectures are different in  many respects – not because they seek to criticise that, but because we deliberately set out  to keep things a little more informal. People can walk in, take a look around and perhaps stay a while or just continue on their way again.

One of the leitmotifs of the exhibition was “What is to be done? To what extent have the Lunch Lectures contributed to furthering the educational aspects at the documenta?

Well, documenta 12 deliberately set out to conceive of the exhibition as a space suitable for creating and educating a public. On the one hand, of course, this entails providing input. Yet, on the other hand, it is also about creating physical opportunities for the public.
In this context I regard the openness of the format as crucial. From the outset, our objective was to experiment: to introduce a topic, raise questions, involve the public, change direction and take a quite different approach. It is about moments of public education, mutual education, collective educational processes in which the public can bring its own knowledge into play. Therefore, the Lunch Lectures are a format in which the documenta’s educational aspiration could be realised and, in my opinion, successfully realised.

This openness also implies being able to thematise current events. A concrete example was the Lunch Lecture on the arrest of the sociologist Dr Andrej Holm.

Correct. And we were of the opinion that this incident not only affects art, it affects science, it affects us all – so we felt obliged to formulate a statement. It was, of course, gratifying that we were able to stage this Lunch Lecture because we possessed an instrument for creating a public forum and dedicating it to an important theme.

What was the visitors reception to the Lunch Lectures?

It took a while for it to become firmly established in their minds as a regular daily fixture and an integral part of the exhibition. I think it entirely normal for visitors to want to first enter the exhibition in the narrowest sense. One wants to see the objects and the art, one wants to step inside the exhibition rooms. But gradually the public came to accept the Lunch Lectures as part of the exhibition.

And how did the citizens of Kassel respond to the format?

Some of the local citizens regarded the Lunch Lectures as a kind of summer study course; they turned up almost every other day. Consequently, it was also important to grant access to the Hall without needing a ticket, to enable people to participate every day without having to pay. At that moment the objective of the Lunch Lectures was achieved for me.

Are you satisfied with the public response?

At some of the Lunch Lectures, people formed queues stretching right to the back. Sometimes this came as a complete surprise. For example, the lecture by Karl Josef Pazzini on Tseng Yu Chin was a highly interesting event focussing on an albeit very delicate and difficult topic. Yet despite this, the room was filled to bursting.
Of course, there were also the usual crowd-pullers – when well-known artists or the artistic director participated. However, the great thing was that even poorly attended Lunch Lectures proved successful in this respect because the audience then pulled together and concentrated without any loss of quality.

What were your own personal highlights from the 100 Days of Lunch Lectures?

One highlight was undoubtedly the Lunch Lecture featuring the Collective SCRIPTS, which ran for over five hours. This was the reading of the Tribunal transcripts from the Guantanamo detainees in the States. They were translated into German and then read out by people from Kassel. This was a very a special Lunch Lecture at which the open format was used ideally.
Another Lunch Lecture which I enjoyed immensely was the one mentioned above on Paragraph 129a of the German law relating to the “formation of a terrorist organisation” and the arrest of the sociologist Andrej Holm. This concerned the issue of artistic and scientific freedom – something very close to my heart.

I can recall panels of international guests, comprising magazine editors, who, for example, discussed the issue of censorship in the region of South-East Asia, using a variety of languages and formats. Here the translocal approach of documenta 12 was clearly and manifestly realised.

Or take, for example, the excellent Lunch Lectures at which the art mediators reported on their activities and fielded questions from the public. Here many people from the audience expressed their views in a direct and uninhibited manner. This is why I found this form so rewarding -  because it quite directly involved the audience.

Are the Lunch Lectures therefore ideally a kind of interface between the public and the exhibition?

For me, the most successful Lunch Lectures were indeed those at which a dialogue between the public and the podium was forged; where this spatial separation was suspended and where one became aware that the audience was articulating its own views and perspectives. Indeed, this represented for me the most successful realisation of our aspiration to utilise the Lunch Lectures to forge a public space.

Were there any negative highlights? Moments in which, looking back, you said, "I would have done that differently today."

I particularly recall the beginning with amusement, when we were all unfamiliar with the new format and made a lot of mistakes. For example, forgetting to give a sign to the guest speakers to stop - which meant they continued talking for hours on end until the audience had all gone home. Or the Lunch Lectures where too many guests were seated on the podium and everyone was talking over everyone else – leaving the audience guessing as to what was going on until the very end. In some ways it still makes me shiver, but I still smile when I recall how unsure of ourselves we were. Towards the end, of course, the Lunch Lectures became far more professional, but I must say that sometimes such uncertainty can hold a great deal of potential, and not a little charm.

Would you recommend a format such as the Lunch Lecture to the makers of documenta 13?

I would do something like it again – a kind of accompanying discursive event, which, however, would be very open and do justice to the whole process. I think it was highly successful and could be repeated any time.

Ms Wieczorek, thank you for the interview.