The following discussion between Matze Schmidt (MS) and Mindaugas Gapševičius (MG) aka miga is about activities planned in the gravitation field of the big exhibition in Kassel in 2012. Schmidt was a lecturer at the number of art universities in Germany and he is a member of the > top association in Berlin, who is planning a set of activities in Kassel abbreviated as POT. Gapševičius is a mediator of Migrating Art Academies project who contributes to the POT with a “Plan for Optimal Tactic” laboratory.
Mindaugas Gapševičius: Matze, you grew up and studied in Kassel, and probably many things for you were associated with Documenta. How did it influence your personality?
Matze Schmidt: Questioning personality can be a difficult undertaking. As a ‘citizen’ of Kassel the institution of this big “every-five-years event” in my view happened to be a huge artificial influx to the town and its population and a kind of “desert-situation” every time after the event was over. As it started as a side-programme for a Garden Show, which had and has the function of embellishment for social realities in (Western) Germany this show was first a very important door opener so to say for the nearly deadened intellectual life in the field of images and signs after the Second World War and the Nazism — especially in this town very close to the border to the GDR somewhere in the dead end of the nation. After this first period of refreshment, until the early 1960s, the institution turned into a critical one, with 1968, as it brought together _openly_ aesthetic issues, and it was established at the same time as something that supposedly formed the cultural basis in this town. I believe however that this was the discourse but not even half of the reality. So I grew up in this area of tension with, to my mind, a false scale or standard for local context.
Very little stayed in Kassel except for the new cultural class after the recapitalised nation of the FRG. One can explore in this town probably all the effects of a “synthetic” culture after the (half-)collapse of the regime and its followers and after the economic war that in actual fact was won (!). By “synthetic culture” I mean the deep gap between the official culture and the sub-culture incorporated by the first for purposes of the ruling class.
The theme of “collapse and reconstruction” is the theme of this town after 1945 or ever since, it is its trauma. So this big event represents this trauma. Despite the fact that the main content-manager of the exhibition talks about not having any concept and so on.
MG: Yes, right, it is funny, but I was also searching for the theme of the next Documenta and couldn’t find it, just heard that it must have something to do with Documenta itself and its history. Nevertheless Documenta is approaching and again it is going to define the art market for the next five years. In 2012 we plan together in Kassel a set of parallel activities to Documenta which would vary from artist talks, political discussions, exhibitions and residencies. We think of a shared room where critical discourse concerning Kassel and Documenta would happen and creative contribution would be offered. In your, Matze, proposed POT concept you write about Documenta which has lost its “belief in art as social practice or the educational benefit of internationality”. Don’t you refer to Joseph Beuys, who together with his colleagues in 1973 founded a Free International University, where he was promoting knowledge through art and the process of doing art. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9DIxoM_5NyE&feature=player_embedded#!)
MS: Some groups in Kassel were really addicted to Beuys and his shifts from economical reasoning to aesthetic reasoning — the question is only which “wins”? One can see the outcomes of his hype everywhere in the town — for instance if you take the road to the outskirts in the south of Kassel you will see industrial areas while driving on a road flanked by “Beuys Stones” and “Beuys Trees” (as people say in Kassel) — remains of his “7000 Oaks” project. His shift was one that was reducing art to the main practice of the social, as THE source for values and progress. A very old topic. His “enhanced art term” reminds of the notions of “augmented reality” which claims for technical solutions as the source of social changes — which is only a reductionist position. So art practice for educating people can be a sound attempt if it is de-claimed from its missionary basis and its narcissistic hybris like Beuys’s position — when it ends _as art_, to say in terms of the S.I. (Situationist International). Education as we know it under terms of the ruling mode of production is part of the realisation process. Art is just one part of it and is, in the field of subsidised aesthetic production, today very tricky featured as one that has left behind art for art’s sake but which is encapsulated within its boundaries, as any other social practice, for example in the Bologna Process — a project of the ruling. The latter is obviously not only a standardisation of high education worldwide with all its effects of commensurability but as well a simplification of learning and a strategy of cost-cutting.
MG: You touched Bologna Process and standardization of education processes. So probably it is the right time to bring into the conversation Migrating Art Academies (MigAA) project. The last MigAA seminar in the Nida Art Colony entitled CouchSurfing was concentrating on interdisciplinary activities and decentralised models for education. When we started it, we had just an approximate idea to what our thoughts could refer. We were thinking of decentralised structures and a kind of association of educational institutions which could help students to get a fast and qualified support. Finally our thoughts conceptualised as a shared space and knowledge network where NGOs and established education systems take or could take part. With the same framework we would like to continue working in Kassel next year. I imagine POT becoming such a space where art worker, lover or practitioner finds a discourse, dispute, contacts or simply a good atmosphere behind the bar.
MS: Well yes, to create a room is always a good thing — depends on its bias and direction. Rooms are necessary. Creating a room (politically) is a process and has to deal with many things that create this room as well as the wish to have it. In the periphery of such a big show like an exhibition with a number of expected visitors that exceeds the population of the town more than triple fold in three months, such a room has to accept the same discussion as it is still running for the arts: the idea of autonomy. Not quite coincidentally this is the main topic of anarchism. But it is in fact a chimera of the declassified cultural agents who want to rule and co-manage social processes in their current form. Therefore this idea, on a level of ideology, has to be rejected and worked through as well. There can be no autonomous way of producing educational contexts as long as the economical basis is still disconnected to the model of cultural culture here and culture for social purposes there. And hierarchies are only the effect of the non-democratic state of the arts not the other way round. I also think that there are stronger forces than organisations. Not that I believe in the operaistic power, a power reduced to labor power, but if one sees things in a more non-idealistic way, collaborations can only happen in a form of organisation. But this is another thing. Organisations play organisation but are not organised in terms of the real desires. The big event has got the resources of an organisation but is total (anarchic !) chaos in relation to the real global desires and needs and tactical necessities. The organisation can only re-act, the situations require more than that.
MG: If I understood you right, you refer to Documenta talking about the “organisation” and a “big event.” And you say that in order to be democratic, autonomous and non-hierarchic, you need to propose some alternatives to the “big event”. That is what we try doing with POT. The organisation though shouldn’t be used in a negative sense because it might define any kind of collaboration. POT in this case becomes an organisation. Even if it is not a goal, the MigAA seems to be also slowly becoming an organisation. And it is natural because as soon as one starts dealing with more than one person, collaboration immediately starts and a sort of organisation is necessary. For POT I was thinking of modelling possible situations of interdisciplinary knowledge, where economics, politics, art and education would unwrap. Joining you for a POT abbreviation-play, I invite MigAA partner organisations to think of POT as a “Plan for Optimal Tactic,” which for me is wrapped around tactical media concepts referring to after the post-cold-war situations, and appearance of mobile gadgets and Internet access. Internet is also a very good metaphor for a shared space and knowledge, which becomes a base framework for MigAA.
MS: Now, a sort of optimal tactic would imply some goal and some resources. I think a small group lacks both, but one has to make this lack the theme itself. Anyway I was talking more about the boundaries of the institution called “organisation” and not about becoming one — that is a difference! It is quite true that early bulletin boards of the usenet and else offered some social _inter_national or _inter_subjective net. But with CERN’s Dogma of the WWW all that was lifted up to a higher ground and the Web became what most people know as the internet since it is a standard for inter-organising huge groups of knowledge producers with their data. I would not like to follow the discourse of diversity of forms of communication which would follow the European Union’s culturalistic euphemism of the regionalism. Instead I would like to understand how and why capitalism forms a uniform world of production and trade and how anything else has to subject. The main thesis is of course that all messages of a cultural level of the social deny these mechanisms of 250 years of globalisation or to be more precise World Market.
Miga, in your e-mail and text “Shared Space and Knowledge” you argue that anarchic structures might offer some more dynamic and flat and therefore — as I understood your topic — more appropriate relations to problems of wants and necessities that most often differ in social groups. As far as I remember and old line of argument goes alike: We already have this sort of anarchic structures in the bureaucratic institutional Institutions, which are related to social Institutions, and because of the more or less planned chaos in there the task is, in a political sense, to gain (maybe after Adorno) more organisation and order against this anarchic tenor. So the logic here is a detected dynamic, as for the results of the Bologna Process which are an orderless order in the deep structures of knowledge production and appropriation, a dynamic that does not follow the interest and demand of learning as an interest in world understanding but that does follow particular interests. Do you think that sharing then can be openly open or that sharing has to define its boundaries and confines?
MG: Of course I am talking about being openly open and not about redefining new boundaries. Although being “openly open” defines new boundaries which exist in between, lets say, professor-student relation. I believe that communication between a professor and student should be based not on formal academic tasks or aesthetic formats, but on arguments, mutual agreements and homework both sides should do. The Bologna Process doesn’t talk much about openness and freedom, but from another side it doesn’t neglect it and you as a student can still choose between gaining a diploma at the university and college, or you as a citizen can choose between established organisational atmosphere and private tuition. Again, if your argument is strong enough, non of the bureaucrat will beat it and you will be able to rely on exception rather than rule.
MS: One of your examples for a sharing was “couchsurfing” and its network(s) of hospitality. Fact is that the couchsurfing practice, besides the fact of its informal economy, must lead to a social control in terms of “Who is this that coming to my flat destroying my couch?” Social control emerges when differences and conflicts arise. I think that couchsurfing is a good example of self-organisation but it is as well a good example of self-organisation that is in some “last” resorts based on dynamics that can not be represented in this organisational form. In other words: networks bring out their own respective order and some nets are more powerful than others. That means, nets are not a solution but first of all matters of fact.
MG: I like your comment on networks being a fact and more or less powerful independently from organisational structures. Imagine a mailing list which is build for communication among course students and where professors are excluded. Usually those lists are self-organised and often they are a good example of networking within the “organisation”. So I wouldn’t mix here anarchic structures and implemented new rules for gaining more organisation. Both things could easily live in parallel and I do not see here any incompatibility. And BTW, MigAA doesn’t seek to establish superficial networks among established institutions, but instead it tries to mobilise people to working for networks and shared knowledge and not to working on self-centredness and hierarchical structures. I think that dynamic structures could only help to understand the world and could still deepen the understanding of particular interests.
MS: If it’s about sharing and knowledge I would claim that it is also about production of that knowledge. Sharing seems to be still very popular these days and I believe people are looking for spaces beyond authorities but at the same time it seems to be that it is not understood how these authorities really work and how far these power institutions reach. Older sociology came up with “residuals,” non-detected rests of a context. These powers can be regarded as some of these residuals and after some (evangelical?) thinkers these are not somewhere but “in us.” I think that a “shared space” offers the old stereotype of free time, space and manners which are associated with arts which are inventing but defer the thing that is most obviously happening worldwide, the override of the existing (space-)orders. So is the network as a shelter and (since the early 1970s) as the new social model — something we don’t march through like in the slogan after 1968 but something we have to catch ourselves?
MG: Do you mean that the purpose of art is to override existing (space-)orders? I was always thinking that the purpose of art is to reflect the surroundings. Well, maybe critical art and/or tactical media has deeper purposes. I use the term “shared space” in a bit different context as I do not see it as only “these days” concept. You can find it everywhere starting from primitive communities who share shelter and food, continuing through industrial revolution where factory workers share work, through nowadays work on open source products. But I believe while sharing things (ideas, concepts, shelter) one can faster come up to the result as an individual and this result doesn’t necessarily need to be far reachable like understanding what lurks behind authorities. Things like cooking or regularly measuring level of oil in the motor in most cases is also a result of “sharing.” Even if the “network” fits defining community nicely, I am not sure if there is a need to define a social model anew. I would simply try sharing more knowledge and more space and would support the idea of this model with care and maintenance in order to get some tangible results. So probably “caching ourselves” would be a closer meaning towards reaching awaited results.