What becomes visible?
Artistic Director Stadtgalerie Saarbrücken
Collaborative processes are intensive ones: specific forms of work and expression come together, participants often only get to know each other during the project work. Everyone brings different criteria and standards with them. Shaping the multifaceted demands in a project and not being taken over by them is a permanent challenge. Time is always a factor.
Sustainable and diverse cooperation comes with fair working conditions. How sustainable and diverse working conditions can actually be shaped, only becomes apparent in the doing; when things that have to be done are already pending, especially during a pandemic. Developing a concept, submitting an application, waiting a long time, adapting the concept, planning everything very short notice, inviting everyone and meanwhile continuing to work on other projects. Time is always a factor.
For everyone involved, a project develops differently based on their specific interests. I shape the Stadtgalerie Saarbrücken as a place of critical confidence: international artists meet with the population, different scenes and disciplines. Together they develop strategies for a desirable future. It is important to me to connect local issues, which are currently of importance to many, with global developments. The urgencies of our time require the combination of different competences. Cultural practitioners with different professional experiences also work together. The Stadtgalerie opens up thinking, shares change and participates in necessary discussions in the process. From the centre of the city, other artistic projects are implemented in the urban space. The Stadtgalerie also enables new forms of cooperation and multidisciplinary projects in the border region.
The art mediator Martha Bayer initiated the VOILÀ project in the MM, M shop window and invited me to jointly develop a concept for the series. I then asked Leo Scheidt for her curatorial assistance and invited ZEFAK as an artist collective. Leo and I held preliminary talks with ZEFAK on various contexts in the Saarland, such as mining and the current situation of the mines, earthquakes and structural change, the urban highway, the situation for cultural workers and the border region in general. ZEFAK came on a research visit.
In the course of the project, the focus was often on artistic and curatorial work and on the roles of the actors. About modes of access, forms of knowledge and their mediation, as well as economic, social and cultural attention. Who decides, who awards and accepts a commission? What does cooperation mean? Agreements and lack of agreements on autonomy in the collective process were our constant companions. Art mediating authors, photographers and video artists constantly accompanied the project: They analysed and supplemented, addressed extended contexts and regularly supported the work with new contributions. How do projects and the confrontation with complex contexts affect other areas, how do they affect collective habits of seeing and thinking? In the current process, ZEFAK always stuck to their independent approach. Instead of doing translation work and established forms of presentation, they actively created permanent exchange and understanding of complex contexts and processes. Time is always a factor.
My question throughout it all was how to create appreciation for all aspects, perspectives and different sides of a story. Especially when there is actually no time.
ZEFAK have made water as a resource and old mining tunnels - the history as well as the future of resource extraction - their subject in Where the River resides. Zainab Haidary in one of Philip Majer's videos on ZEFAK's work: "We care about being involved in what is happening here. When you are involved, there is always a way to interact with each other or to find a solution together. Or how can we develop things around a discourse in different ways, for example, how can we, as artists, contribute to this issue?"
“We care about being involved in what is happening here. When you are involved, there is always a way to interact with each other or to find a solution together.” Zainab Haidary
Their approach and work have led to a strong sense of involvement from a wide range of visitors and participants. Participation also came about through different events. My #TransformierteRessource walk from the Stadtgalerie to the design studio MM,M about the work of ZEFAK was based on several questions: To what extent are our everyday movements directed to enable resource extraction? What role do art and culture play in this context? Mutual appreciation - also by different professional groups - is not always easy. For everyone, it is about a desirable future. One's own exploitation, the exploitation of the earth and of others is a daily conflict. Due to privileges, fears, existential difficulties, etc., the situation is different for everyone involved. Not much can be done alone, neither in mining nor in controversial issues of the future. We have to counter the experience of powerlessness due to the procrastination of relevant issues with joint exchange. The answers to the initial questions of the walk were further questions quoted from „worklove. Ein Fragebuch von Joni Majer und Birte Spreuer, Von der Liebe zur Arbeit – und der Arbeit an der Liebe“.
The finissage started in front of the workspace window with a last look at the work Where the River resides. Together, the pit water from the waterfall was pumped into canisters. All visitors were given a canister and walked in small groups. ZEFAK distributed 5 questions to each group on the topic of "being affected". The person carrying the canister answered these questions on the way to the Saar. The participants could also swap, carry canisters and answer questions or simply listen. The water was then returned to the Saar. Afterwards, Philipp Majer's final video contribution to the project was shown in the event room of the Stadtgalerie Saarbrücken and there was further exchange. With this final moment of returning the water together, ZEFAK affected us all and connected us with the water.
As a model project for accessibility of art, time comes into play again. To communicate an emerging artistic work means to make knowledge accessible in a different manner and to create new ways of engagement. Art is an uncertain field; agreements about works of art have to be renegotiated again and again. All those involved have to endure the constant tension between art conventions and the openness of art. Uncertainty and irritation are a part of the art world. The strength of art and culture is to open up different perspectives on difficult issues and to create an accessibility for different visitors to exchange and connect with each other. To be able to relate history to the present and future, we have to tell stories differently. In the Saarland, we not only have the chance to cultivate industrial culture, but to use it to learn to shape a desirable future and to take care of our resources.
In order to make this resonance space accessible, time, resources and actors are needed.