DOCUMENTA KASSEL 16/06-23/09 2007

"It is worthwhile to intermesh educational work with art education." - Interview with Ayse Gülec

The documenta 12 was captivating the public long before the opening: for the first time in documenta history, the advisory board was made up of citizens of Kassel. Ayse Gülec (42), qualilfied social pedagogue and director of the Kulturzentrum Schlachthof, was appointed speaker of the board. In the interview, she explains how important local knowledge was for the world exhibition.

Frau Gülec, how difficult was it for you in your role as speaker of the documenta 12 advisory board to coordinate the interests of the forty local experts serving on that board? After all, it was a very heterogeneous group you had to deal with.

That’s true, but actually it wasn’t really very difficult. From the beginning, the main concern – in my opinion – was to support the various voices on the board. And conversely, I also received quite a lot of support from the other approximately forty members.

You organized the work yourself. How did you experience the work in the group?

We personally asked the forty people whether they would like to contribute their knowledge, their interests, their ideas to the documenta, and thus help shape the exhibition during the preparatory phase. With their professional and personal contacts, these people were in a position to “multiply” the issues addressed by the documenta. In other words, they were invited to take part in the documenta process, make their specific, local knowledge available to the exhibition, donate it, so to speak. The exhibition organizers learned from these local perspectives. Without the board, the exhibition wouldn’t have turned out the way it did.

Ultimately, the advisory board was a working group assigned with the task of applying the exhibition’s leitmotifs to the city and determining their significance for Kassel. But its work did not stop there: it also had to translate abstract issues/hypotheses into activities. It was necessary to have a framework for working together. This was a type of joint process which I found very, very pleasant throughout. The advisory activities were the main focus, not in the sense of “Do it like this, do it like that”, but in the sense of listening to how they wanted it done and developing joint ideas. I found that a very interesting process.

Are there things you’d still like to do “next time”?

If another opportunity arises to carry out this work, it might make sense to have more people active in conveying the exhibition to the city, multiplying it.

Photo: Isabel Winarsch
How close was the cooperation with the artistic direction of the documenta 12 in this context? How much scope was left in the shaping of the processes?

It was a joint process with the documenta management, and I would describe the contact as being very close. The curator Ruth Noack, for example, attended every single one of the monthly board meetings. I thought that was terrific; everything went very cooperatively, hand in hand. Joint movement, joint raising of issues, rejecting of issues. I am glad it was possible in that form.

The board was drawn from Kassel’s citizenry itself for the first time. Was the opening up of the city in this way a success?

The appointment of a board like this is not merely a nice gesture; it is really very important. Initially, this importance did not really register in Kassel. At the beginning, it was neither clearly perceived nor did the significance of the gesture in general and the activities in particular seem to be really understood. Then criticism began to be voiced: “Why forty people?” The local press speculated quite a lot about the composition of the board. So there was some friction. But with the activities which were undertaken in the city at a relatively early point in time, e.g. the Kinder- und Jugendnetzwerk (Children’s and teenagers’ network), Mach was Träume (Do-something dreams) and Unsichtbare Stadt sichtbar machen (Making the invisible city visible), I think a lot of people came to appreciate the board’s achievements very much and, above all, the significance of the board for the municipal society and the issues concerning Kassel.

Could you be more specific?

A lot of the feedback the board received essentially represented an opportunity for Kassel and its residents to be taken seriously, to be perceived. We sought direct contact and direct communication with a wide range of local institutions and self-help groups. In the process, we noticed how important this was as a gesture of recognition.

Were you able to identify with Buergel’s concept of a “migration of forms”?

What I personally associate with the Migration of Forms is thinking about the fact that forms have a lot to do with reciprocality and emerge from dialogue and the exchange of views. And if I apply that outlook to the activities and the context of the advisory board, I think the board is reflected in the idea of the Migration of Forms. The three leitmotifs [Is modernity our antiquity? What is bare life? What is to be done? Editor’s note] were particularly important during the preliminary phase. When the art arrived in Kassel, they were replaced by the Migration of Forms – in other words, with the art, the searching process got under way; yes, there really are parallels. For me, there is no such thing as a store of retrievable knowledge. In my opinion, the point is to share knowledge, exchange it. And that’s what the Migration of Forms was and is about.
In order to keep knowledge from remaining too abstract, it was important to work in a targeted fashion locally and focus on specific phenomena. The more precisely specific aspects are worked out and developed on the local level, the better general issues can be derived from them.

And then, on June 16, the visitors started coming...

When the exhibition got under way, what was interesting was that many people just kind of stumbled across the ideas by chance, but many other people found their way to the events and activities consciously and intentionally. I can’t say how many of them consciously sought contact, perhaps 25 percent. Most people probably just didn’t have the time to get acquainted with the advisory board’s activities during their visit to the documenta.

A little while ago there was a workshop in the education tent on anti-racism concepts and post-colonialism in the area of education. There was this family of three which actually had only come to see the exhibition. They heard about the workshop and ended up taking part in the entire two-day programme. I thought that was great, because it shows that the public heard about the fact that this exhibition is also in the city, and not just taking place in the exhibition spaces. And that there are also themes and issues which the documenta raises and which are then adopted elsewhere, developed further – in the city, in other places.

Photo: Isabel Winarsch
How important was the collaboration with the artists?

Ruth Noack and Roger M. Buergel encouraged the artists to make contact with us. A large number of them gratefully followed that suggestion, particularly those who had plans to do something here in Kassel. Others simply wanted to get to know the board, take part in the discussions, gather ideas.

As far as contact with the artists was concerned, the main focus was on exchanging local knowledge, passing it on and jointly developing and investigating certain themes which were of importance for certain artistic approaches. In this respect, the board had various tasks, for example, opening doors to certain areas of life or institutions, serving as multipliers, etc.
We worked with Andreas Siekmann. He was looking for a local example of the fourth zone here in Kassel. It had to be something specific so that it would work and so that the visitors would be able to understand it.
Or Danica Dakic, who developed the theme of the El Dorado wall hanging with teenagers of Kassel. The concern here was with how to address young people, how to spark their interest.
And of course Ricardo Basbaum and his tub objects, the production of which was organized locally by the advisory board.

Did you have a curatorial influence on the works exhibited in the Schlachthof?

Hito [Hito Steyerl, Editor’s note] visited the board last summer and presented her older works and talked to us. I had already shown her around the building in a preliminary meeting and told her about the educational, cultural and political work and networking activities carried out by the Schlachthof. In that context, I had mentioned that we offer literacy course for immigrants. This information led to both sides expressing great interest in showing the artist’s video work Journal No.1 in the course classroom. She had the impression that her work could be well contextualized there.

What was important was to make the institution Schlachthof transparent to the documenta 12 visitors as an important “trans-shipment centre” for board activities and as a local link to the exhibition.

How important is the geography of the Schlachthof’s location in the Nordstadt district?

I think the location is very important. The university is nearby and growing closer to the Schlachthof all the time. On the one hand, this is a traditional working-class neighbourhood, but, on the other hand, so severely fragmented that it has essentially lost that old identity. Also, it is not just a problem area, as it is so often referred to, but it also derives a certain flair from the presence of the university, which makes it a very interesting place. If you look at this situation from the educational perspective, you see that, right here, on the intersection between the Schlachthof, the vocational school and the university, a very interesting setting emerges. That’s why it was important to locate the education tent for the leitmotif “What is to be done?” here, of all places - in order to take a joint look at the phenomenon of the educational systems, the inclusion and exclusion mechanisms – and to criticize them.

What will happen with the Schlachthof after the documenta?

Quite a number of things. One thing we will take with us into the future is the knowledge that it is worthwhile to intermesh educational work with art education. This inter-relationship represents a new focus and an enrichment for our institution.
It was also good to realise that we are well capable of working locally during a documenta. The local realm became productive, so to speak.

What will Ayse Gülec be doing in 2012?

I will probably be in Kassel. I find the idea of local activation quite exciting: how can we continue this form of cultural, aesthetic work here, locally? That is something I am deeply interested in, and something we want to carry on, not only with regard to the next documenta, but now, right after this one.

Thank you for the interview, Ms Gülec.