DOCUMENTA KASSEL 16/06-23/09 2007

"We also expected answers that weren’t harmonious." – Interview with Georg Schöllhammer

Mr. Schöllhammer, how did you go about choosing the journals, online magazines and other publications which formed the network of the documenta 12 magazines? After all, to some extent the objectives and readership of the various media are extremely disparate.

For quite some time now it has no longer been possible to speak of a homogeneous realm with regard to art and the theories which surround it. In view of this circumstance, we endeavoured to take this heterogeneity seriously and to focus intensely on very specific contents during the project research phase. Our concern was to see what is presently being produced in the art-theoretical activities being carried out in very specific places in order to draw conclusions about where the interfaces are, i.e., the frameworks within which a local discursive space could become productive in a trans-local resonance space. In the process, we did not look for comparability on an academic level, but rather parallels in approach and the intensity of the mediation work achieved. When I am asked about the criteria for the selection of magazines in our project, I like to express the answer in the negative: We were hardly interested in the magazines which serve as showcases for the market. We were very cautious about working with editors concerned primarily with embedding art in a general discourse about lifestyle, design, fashion, etc. We were all very careful about academia – academic journals are always obliged, to a certain extent, to conclude arguments – and limited ourselves here to a few, usually those which were responsible for introducing a certain topic in the first place. If I had to put it in a nutshell, I would say: We tried to find an arena for the specific as a means of sparking a debate between the participating magazines.

The three magazines are devoted to the three documenta 12 leitmotifs – how would you describe the connection between the two?

The leitmotifs are three very general, loosely formulated questions. Initially, the idea of the magazine project was to raise certain questions in the curatorial realm not linked directly with the production and exhibition of art and the related mediation efforts, but focussing on the curatorial practices of the documenta 12 in a certain way. In the magazine project, these questions were to be deliberated against the background of the individual publication’s situation – and, naturally, the question as to who “we” are will be answered differently in China than in Argentina, and differently in London than in Lagos. To an extent, these leitmotifs were thus turned against themselves. We also expected answers that weren’t harmonious, rather, we wanted to know where clear lines of conflict – with regard to the issues addressed – were transcended. That process was carried further in the exhibition and in the events we held within that framework. The leitmotifs accordingly proved productive - they were intended as a medium for the structuring of discourse and debate.

Photo: Isabel Winarsch
As a matter of fact, the participating magazine Multitude turned against the project – literally – with Multitudes-icônes! ( editor’s note)

I wouldn’t say “against” the project, rather: “against/(but also) involved in” – a formula we also intended to convey in the invitation to participate in the project. The point was not to homogenize the discourse but to create a field of open conflict and open controversy. I am glad that happened, because as a result the project’s inherent contradictions did not have to be shifted within the institutional coherence, but could be discussed. The latter was more the exception than the rule, though, even if there were critical voices to this effect throughout, which comes as no surprise, considering what a powerful institution the documenta appears to be! And particularly independent persons – magazine editors, for example – easily tend to feel instrumentalized by an institution. We tried to deal with these problems – after all, that was the main point of scepticism in the preliminary phase: to integrate criticism directly, and thus to obligate it. In retrospect, it must be said that our fear of being instrumentalized ourselves wasn’t really justified. It was a process of mutual instrumentalization. Nobody was forced to participate and everyone knew what he/she was getting involved in.

With the trans-regional meetings preceding the magazine project and the Lunch Lectures in the documenta-Halle, one can’t help but be reminded of the platforms of the documenta 11 as well as the discursive format of the documenta X’s 100 Days – 100 Guests. To what extent did these formats play a role in the development of the documenta 12 magazines project?

It would be both stupid and ignorant to ignore the history of the documenta institution and to want to reinvent everything every time. We made use of certain motifs from the past: Catherine David had done some thinking about the potentials of an expanded concept of discursiveness, and that seemed to us to be an important thing to latch on to. Okwui Enwezor decentralized the documenta and opened the perspective in the direction of a spectralized art world which can no longer be interpreted with the aid of a kind of “centre-periphery” logic.
We took a different route, however. We attempted to formulate our questions more openly, and we decentralized our project in a different way. In the little academies – which the editing offices of critical magazines often are – an independent discourse was to develop as a means of provoking questions. Our intention was to work in truly decentralized fashion and thus to enable forms different from the canonized ones for the interpretation of the history of contemporary art.
Part of the criticism the exhibition has sparked is that it puts the marginal into the centre – what great criticism! It’s not marginal when it’s being looked at from the perspective of the respective centres in which the “marginal” lives.

Photo: Isabel Winarsch

In this context, the debate on large-scale exhibitions which arose between Pablo Lafuente, Lisette Lagnado and Victor Misiano during the Lunch Lecture on curatorial methods comes to mind. The participants in that discussion explored the question of the problematic status of present-day large-scale exhibitions – and the criticism of the documenta.

Naturally, one is always aware of one’s relationship to the real possibilities offered by such a format, and of which prestige concerns are impeding the realization of one’s possibilities and accordingly have to be countered. There is an institutional reputation which goes hand in hand particularly with the documenta. What I thought was so good about the discussion you just mentioned was the statement: All a documenta can ever do is raise certain issues, which  might then be further developed and processed in smaller institutions, resolved in longer cycles. In retrospect, what is perhaps the special distinction of the documenta 12 Magazines is the blend of various genres and formats of mediation and presentation, from print to the journal’s online platform. What conclusions do you draw from this experience? And what role does the dialogue function of the documenta-Halle play in that context? I think this format really did achieve what it was intended to achieve – however well 100 Days – 100 Guests worked. Our concern was not with presenting the knowledge of the world in event format. The documenta 12 magazines was an editing project where forums for publicity were created which, even if they are very specific, open up from within the working space, spaces which appear to remain open even after the end of the documenta. A great many relationships and networks were created by this project, and future cooperation and institutions are now already being seriously negotiating. Books with translations by authors whose works have never before been translated. Debates between worlds previously unconnected. That is more than we could ever have expected.To re-paraphrase the well-known question posed by the art critic Jens Hoffmann: Should the next documenta be curated by an editor? No! [laughs] Always by a curator with a good team, a male curator, a female curator, a male curator and a female curator, a female curator, a male curator, whatever, but always in close cooperation with a good team!!!

Mr. Schöllhammer, thank your very much for this interview!

The interview was conducted by Elena Zanichelli.


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