Michael Lingner

Art Mediation as an Artistic Task?

Formats of participatory art stagings and tours / A project report

Prompted by the request to develop a mediation program for subvision.kunst.festival.off. together with students, I did a theory-practice project on art mediation in the summer semester of 2008 at the Hochschule für bildende Künste Hamburg. The initial issue was to quite generally communicate to the students the necessary function of art mediation for the understanding of modern art based on the following (summarised) thoughts:

The more consistently art succeeded in freeing itself from cultural traditions and contents foreign to it since the 19th century, the more the notion of the directness of aesthetic experience asserted itself. The fact that it is possible to make aesthetic experiences in a direct way and without presuppositions is a notion that until today suggests itself and has remained enticing.

However, where, as a result of the further development of artistic autonomy, avant-garde art has detached itself from the traditional context to such an extent that even its artistic origin remains concealed, a discussion of the respective concept of art is absolutely necessary for aesthetic experience to be made in the first place. So especially in face of experimental, alternative and innovative art forms, unknowing, “pure viewing” is not the adequate form of reception. The often enough dogmatically advocated “pure viewing” can only be achieved – if at all – by transgressing all concepts: On principle, aesthetic directness is only possible in a mediated form.

Precisely because it is indispensable, any kind of art mediation must be performed in such a way that one’s own aesthetic experience is not replaced by conceptual explanations coming from the outside. What can be mediated through concepts should offer no more than prior knowledge as a necessary but not sufficient precondition of gaining aesthetic experiences on one’s own. However, the art audience must then be willing to place more value on possible difficulties in understanding – as a rudimentary aesthetic experience, as it were – than on any conceptual surrogates conveyed to them.

As a foundation for the students to work on concrete tasks, the following, in part speculative considerations on the extent to which subvision might distinguish itself from other art events were laid down:

a) Temporary and atypical exhibition architecture and structure

b) Presentation less of static objects than of dynamic processes

c) Relatively high unpredictability of the presented objects and events

d) To a large extent art-historical and art-theoretical uncertainty regarding the exhibits

e) Highly complex exhibition project in terms of spatiality and content

f) No primary commercial interests due to a critical self-understanding

g) Most of the participating artists will be present

Due to these specific conditions, the following aspects were to be especially taken into account when conceiving the mediation offers:

a) The (also topographical) orientation function of art mediation

b) Communicating the event and possibly action character of the artistic works

c) The short preparation phase on the side of the mediators for making themselves acquainted with the contents to be mediated

d) Conducting mediation as a dialogical questioning rather than monologic teaching

e) The selection function of mediation through transparently defined themes for individual guided tours

f) Conceiving mediation as a discussion of art- and audience-related problematizations instead of as a marketing instrument for artists and works

g) As far as possible, the integration of artists in the process of mediation

At the start of the project work, the students were engaged with various theoretical approaches to art mediation. This was accompanied by the examination of several exemplary guided tours, both conventional and artistic, for example, a visit to the Bucerius Kunstforum Hamburg or the presentation of a video by Andrea Fraser. After discussing both the positive and problematic aspects of such mediation practices, the students soon came up with initial ideas of how art mediation at subvision.kunst.festival.off. could distinguish itself.

What crystallized itself as a concrete task for the students, after further reflection and speculation on the specific features of off art, and upon taking into account the festival character of subvision, was the development of adequate mediation formats. This was motivated on the one hand by pragmatic reasons, because the off groups participating in subvision present their results only shortly before the start or even during the festival; on the other by principle considerations, since the classical form of an educational, frontally held, guided tour hardly fits to off art and does justice neither to its specific features nor to the expectations of the audience. Since the task was to find new forms, art mediation itself was to be grasped as an artistic task.

Further considerations resulted in the students deciding to concentrate on the conception of mediation formats that would actively involve the audience in the process of mediation as well as the artists present at subvision. Moreover, the formats were to consist of individual modules so as to be able to flexibly respond to changing circumstances and to maintain the desired intensity and enjoyment of the process of mediation on the side of all participants. The issue was also to tune the mediation formats to each other in such a way that they reflect a wide range of different approaches to art.

In the winter semester of 2008/09, the students then developed concrete proposals for the mediation program. Some were elaborated to such a degree that they could be practically tested at the Kunsthaus during an exhibition of Hamburg grant recipients. The experiences thus gained were discussed in detail, also with external experts (among others, Goesta Diercks, Kunsthaus, Deichtorhallen). The students included the objections and stimuli in their concepts. Each concept aims at enabling the audience to take a very specific approach to the field of tension unfolding between understanding, experience and the events occurring in art. It can therefore be worthwhile for the audience to take part in different tours (possibly even to the same exhibits).

In the summer semester of 2009, the final versions of the mediation formats were then drawn up, which the students will offer and conduct during the subvision festival. They are formulated like scripts serving as mnemonic aids and to make the concepts readable as texts. Of course, the concepts will be presented verbally at subvision and animated by the personal temperaments and attitudes of the mediators. They will additionally be tailored to the unique features of the exhibited works and the specific interests of the participants (for example, those of schoolchildren).

All mediation formats based on the ideas of individual students were elaborated in the teamwork of partake*, which had formed during the course of the project and that will implement the mediation program at subvision with the following offers:

1.) FAQ- frequently asked questions on art

Curiosity, uncertainty, scepticism, and fascination – when dealing with contemporary art, everyone reacts a bit differently! The personal concept of art and its questionability are the focus of this tour. It is meant to incite the audience to use examples of the show to formulate their own views and interests and reassess the certainties they have until now adhered to.

2.) Cross-Over

Today one usually speaks of “works” in the context of art. But what lies behind the usage of this term? And how can artistic quality be judged in the first place? Is quality something that is perhaps not always visible? The concept of artistic work and the criteria used to judge its quality are put up for debate in this tour.

3.) Blind Date

What happens when for the viewers of art not only the works but also the artists are available? This tour offers the unique opportunity to examine selected works and then talk about them with the respective artists.

4.) Multiple Choice

Under what conditions is something regarded and/or experienced as art? And what does so-called “mediation” have to do with it? The various contexts relevant to art and its cultural construction become experienceable in a varied role play.

5.) Fast Food

What is subvision? And what does “off” actually mean? In three approx. 15-minute guided tours (Menu 1, Menu 2, Menu 3), the attempt is made to answer these questions. The short menu tours are meant to give a first impression of subvision and its context, to then enable visitors to go into the matter in a more targeted way and discover the festival on their own.

6.) First Aid

The basic idea is to pitch a kind of first aid tent on the exhibition grounds between the containers and works, in which “art first aiders” help out if needed. The aim is to offer visitors a contact point, making it possible to turn to professional aides in case of questions, uncertainties, dissatisfaction or irritations arising in the exhibition.

* Anja Bischoff, Kirstin Burkhardt, Michael Lingner, Inke Schlör, Julia Ziegenbein (at times: Dorotha Brettschneider, Nora Klumpp, Johannes Mentzel, and others)


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