In the Wunschbilder project, professionals and non-artists worked together to encourage the participating refugees to find a way to express their hopes and desires. Beginning with their experiences of fleeing their countries and the complicated situation they faced when arriving in Germany, they created images which represent real experiences as well as desired outcomes. These “Wunschbilder” (desired images, ideals) mark one possible path and recognize the power of fiction as a culturally significant technique.
The staged scenes were directed by Mohamad Alraghban (Damascus) and Taisir Al Nakib (Mosul). The photographer Ella Kehrer generously supported
- die KulturMacher / Theaterwerkstatt Heidelberg e.V.
- artes liberales – universitas gemeinnützige GmbH
- Fotoatelier Christian Buck
Project blog: wunschbilder.wordpress.com
When I moved to Heidelberg in 2012, I discovered the Prinzhorn Collection museum, dedicated to art created by men and women with mental disorders. As other artists before me, I immediately felt the need to respond to the collection myself. The participatory piece extrem interessant is just one of several possibilities for me to react to this fantastic collection.
I invited people of different ages and professions to come and take a look at a selection of works from the Prinzhorn Collection, which had been commented upon by the French painter Jean Dubuffet when he visited the collection in 1950. In his list, Dubuffet evaluated the works he saw – usually in just a few words like “extremely interesting”, “pretty good” or even “mediocre”. The exhibition Dubuffets Liste reconstructed Dubuffet’s view of the collection as comprehensively as possible.
With all but one exception, the guests looked at the works in the museum in pairs; I captured each individual situation with the video camera.
extrem interessant shows the conversations that took place between these people. Each of them selected a reproduction of an artwork, so that there were always two images being discussed. The reproductions are not visible for the viewer. That is, only the response was documented.
For these conversations, a pool of 15 works from the collection was presented to the participants. It is a compact subgroup of the exhibition, containing works that Dubuffet definitely saw and assessed. Thus, his opinions could be compared to these responses.
In the dialogue setting, both speakers directly react to the images. They describe their personal impressions, taking a good deal of time with each piece, inspecting the images together, discovering more details as they go along, even bending over to look more closely. Words are often not enough, and gestures come to the rescue.
Because the participants only have copies to work with, they can touch the images and turn them this way and that, which they often do.
In a relaxed, yet concentrated manner, the dialogue partners reflect upon objects that remain beyond our reach, as viewers of the video. This is our challenge: to listen to the conversations and form our own images, which we can then compare to those in the (catalog of the) exhibition. There we can see how our assessment corresponds to Dubuffet’s way of seeing.
Specially created for the exhibition “SIGNALWEGE” in the Rudolf Virchow Center for Experimental Biomedicine in Würzburg, Break it Down uses dance and rap music to explore complex issues involving science and religion and to find connections between the two.
The song lyrics, written in collaboration with the musician Young roDDie (Cameroon/Mannheim), quote biomedical research and existential questions. The choreography interprets biomolecular interactions, such as those between proteins and other molecules.
The exhibition, curated by Ulrike Lorenz and Anne Vieth, was part of “Joy and Hope, Grief and Fear,” an art project initiated by the German Bishops’ Conference, celebrating the 50th anniversary of Second Vatican Council in 2015.
- READ the song lyrics
- READ the essay by Ulrike Lorenz, “Break it Down – Tanz über Grenzen” (German)
- SEE the catalogue for the exhibition “SIGNALWEGE”
- LISTEN to the radio feature by Petra Lange: Radio Charivari / Bistum Würzburg
- LISTEN to the radio feature by Karin Dzionara: NDR Info / Blickpunkt Diesseits
Break it Down uses imagery and ideas directly stemming from the on-site working process itself. The source material is taken from conversations (with scientists from the Rudolf Virchow Center), from improvisation and experimentation (in a dance workshop and in rehearsals with professionals and amateur dancers), as well as from study and discussions (regarding “Gaudium et Spes” – “Joy and Hope” – the Pastoral Constitution of the Second Vatican Council).
Specific structures in protein molecules (i.e. “random coils”) as well as actual tasks of proteins in the cell were interpreted in the performance, such as the “motor proteins” that are responsible for transporting substances within the cell and through the cell’s membrane.
The final scene of the performance, as well as the refrain in the end of the rap song – “It’s a jungle in there” – refers to the crowded, competitive environment in every human cell, the so-called “molecular crowding” in the cytoplasm. At the same time, it is a reference to the incredible complexity of the human body – each cell is densely packed and full of many unsolved mysteries. This final scene was reproduced in a life-sized group of dancers, which stood on a ledge above the video in the exhibition.
Scientific consultation: Dr. Katrin Heinze, Prof. Dr. Caroline Kisker, Dr. Sonja Lorenz und Dr. Ann Wehman. Further support: Jessica Lutz, Jugendkirche Würzburg. Co-production video: SkyscreamArts
- Rudolf Virchow Center, DFG Research Center for Experimental Biomedicine, University of Würzburg
- Kunstprojekt zum Konzilsjubiläum 2015, “Freude und Hoffnung, Trauer und Angst” der Deutschen Bischofskonferenz
- Young roDDie
- Tanzraum Würzburg, Studio für Zeitgenössischen Tanz
- Dancefloor Destruction Crew
- Jugendkirche Würzburg
- Skyscreamarts Production
4-parts, 2 photographs at each of 2 locations, 100 x 80 cm each; laminated onto 12 mm ESG safety glass sheets (120 x 180 cm), with stainless steel mounts on concrete foundations
In the fall of 2005, with the help of 78 residents of Oschatz and the surrounding area, I developed a series of four staged photographs. The images reveal the insights gained during my extensive on-site research, especially regarding how the people of Oschatz and its immediate surroundings perceive, use, and care for ‘nature’ – a space fraught with competing psychological projections, an area where varying interests intersect.
On the site of the 2006 Saxon State Garden Show, these large-scale images were presented outdoors – i.e. in the constructed natural environment – and have remained beyond the duration of the Garden Show as public artworks. The images (artworks) themselves were not the only outcome of this project; rather, I consider the intangible products to be just as valid, such as the social space that was created during its formation, the conversations that took place, the interactive momentum it had, and the fact that these discussions continue to be relevant.
- SEE the exhibition catalogue Oschatz 51,3° / 13,1°
- READ the catalogue text about this work: Christina Töpfer, “Freiraumnutzung”
The highly obvious “hyper-staged quality” (Christina Töpfer) and the densely arranged scenes were not (only) intended to produce a humorous effect, but rather serve as a reference to local differences of opinion and tensions. Thus, the photographs contain many details and allusions to situations that can only be understood by local residents. For example, the persons looking directly into the camera and wearing T-shirts printed with affirmative statements (“I think that’s quite sensible”, “I enjoy that”, “I don’t have a problem with that”, “I’m quite satisfied”) in each staged photo are references to incidents in Oschatz, which I had been told about.
The four staged photographs were taken at the Oschatz town park and at two farms in the area of Oschatz. I worked with Thilo Fröbel (camera) and Robert Thiele (video, assistence), who had also worked with me in 2004 on Pflege: Zwischen Zwangshandlung und kultureller Heldentat.
Four staged photographs in lightboxes (60 x 40 cm each) and a digital reference work (images, texts, video sequences)
As a memorial to the writer Irmtraud Morgner in her hometown Chemnitz, I created the artwork Irmtraud Morgner Lesen, which employs a playful interpretation of her work and ideas to motivate viewers to learn more about the author and her work.
For Irmtraud Morgner Lesen, I worked with various contributors over a long period of time. Together we re-imagined, re-combined, and re-created various elements, scenes, and images from Irmtraud Morgner’s literary works. Morgner’s central themes (e.g. utopian ideals, the feminist movement, the cultural and political situation in East Germany) were incorporated into the conceptual process and formed into scenes staged for the camera.
The memorial is now permanently on display in the Stadtbibliothek Chemnitz (Chemnitz Municipal Library), and is comprised of three elements: “Lesen” (“Reading”), “Nachlesen” (“Reading About”) and “Vorlesen” (“Reading Aloud”).
The section “Lesen” presents the photos, and challenges viewers to “read” them. A simple Flash-based navigation nearby directs the user to further information, which is organized into three main areas:
- “Bildlektüre” (“Reading Images”) includes an interactive “Bauplan des Bildes” (“Image Blueprint”) for each of the four staged photographs. These can be used to find out which passages in Morgner’s work are quoted by the pictorial elements. In addition, there are making-of video clips for the staged scenes, as well as other information (e.g. about the actors and locations).
- A selection of biographical information and author quotes are available for users in the segment called “Nachlesen” (“Reading About”).
- The area called “Vorlesen” (“Reading Aloud”) is comprised of video clips of people reading their favorite passages from Irmtraud Morgner’s literary work, which are presented without any interpretation or explanation whatsoever.
For the staged scenes, I worked with Thilo Fröbel (camera) and Robert Thiele (video, assistence).
An exhibition copy of Irmtraud Morgner Lesen has been shown twice so far, most recently in the exhibition Ausstellung “Entdeckt! Rebellische Künstlerinnen in der DDR” (“Discovered! Rebellious Women Artists in the GDR”), Kunsthalle Mannheim, 2011.
- About the Project und competition in memory of Irmtraud Morgner (Frauenzentrum “Lila Villa”, Chemnitz)
One of the surprising by-products of the public attic / ausgestellter speicher project were the generous gifts I received from the families whose attics I had visited, including a wonderful old handmade dollhouse. I decided to incorporate this dollhouse into a second work about attics and their owners. This time, I followed a very different procedure: I asked people to describe things that they have in storage in their attics, and then I tried to replicate these objects in miniature, without ever having met their owners or seen their attics.
The work took the form of a performance and an installation-in-progress over several days. I worked in the exhibition space itself, and placed the miniature artifacts into the attic of the dollhouse when they were finished.
- SEE the catalogue for this project
- READ essay from the catalogue: Susanne Altmann, “Stimmen aus dem Umzugskarton. Gedanken zum Sich-Einrichten in Wrocław, in Wohnungen und in sich selbst”
As I had previously done in public attic / ausgestellter speicher, I asked the participants to tell me why they have kept the item(s) in storage. To make it easier for them, I provided a list of possible reasons, as well as space for adding new reasons, if necessary. These documents were on display as well.
I performed this piece twice: first in Wrocław, Poland (as part of the exhibition Zamieskanie / Sich Einrichten / Inhabiting and then in Dresden, Germany as part of Ohne uns! Kunst & alternative Kultur in Dresden vor und nach ’89.
MORE about the institutions involved:
The performance durch und durch (“through and through”), which was conceived for the festival called WAS IST DAS WERT in Hellerau, plays with tensions between remembering & forgetting, between private & public space, as well as between strong emotions & formally conceived actions.
Over the course of two weeks, we made our way through the city of Dresden (i.e. with public transportation), lingered in public spaces (i.e. tram stops, parks, museums, shopping malls) and continually devoted ourselves to two activities: we embroidered, and we carried on a conversation. We stitched images that had to do with personal losses, and we spoke about private thoughts and experiences.
Before the public performance began, we each chose images that represented “loss” for us, and we transformed them into the patterns we would stitch. Thus, this “loss” – whether already endured or simply dreaded – became the raw material of a social, manual, and artistic process, which in effect enriched it. This enrichment was already accomplished by virtue of the time and work invested – an effort that, considering this painstaking method of reproducing images, was immense.
Typically private actions were not only performed publicly, but were obviously – and unconventionally – staged as well. Thus, this performance was a way of ironically testing the efficacy of a traditionally female model of community building and communication through collective work.
MORE about the artists and institutions involved:
I Think I Know What You Want To Say is a work that plays with the idea of collecting something that is essentially immaterial – namely our body language, our gestures and signs. How can I build such an imaginary collection? How can I organize it and show it to others? Which discrete “non-objects” will I include in my collection? Can I perhaps organize my (as yet non-existent) collection, in order to then systematically collect according to my own preconceived classification? How do things like desire or coincidence play into this process?
This work is about human communication and about the process of working together. It’s also about understanding (or misunderstanding) each other. How do we attribute thoughts and attitudes, or even urges and intentions to other individuals? Do I really understand what you’re saying to me? Do I understand what you WANT to say to me?
The gestures presented in videos and images were collected according to 13 predetermined categories (which themselves – as text drawings – make up a part of the installation):
- GESTURES YOU’VE ALWAYS BEEN INTRIGUED BY,
- GESTURES YOU’VE BEEN HOPING TO SEE AGAIN FOR AGES,
- GESTURES YOU’VE BEEN SEEKING FOR YEARS WITHOUT SUCCESS,
- GESTURES YOU NEED TO GO WITH OTHER GESTURES YOU ALREADY HAVE,
- GESTURES DEALING WITH SOMETHING YOU’RE WORKING ON AT THE MOMENT,
- GESTURES YOU’D LIKE TO RECREATE AND MAKE YOUR OWN,
- GESTURES THAT FILL YOU WITH LONGING BECAUSE THEY DON’T BELONG TO YOU,
- GESTURES THAT FILL YOU WITH A SUDDEN INEXPLICABLE CURIOSITY THAT IS NOT EASILY JUSTIFIED,
- GESTURES WHICH ALMOST EMBARRASS YOU, BUT DON’T,
- GESTURES YOU’D LOVE TO IMITATE, BUT DON’T WANT ANYONE TO SEE YOU PRACTICING,
- GESTURES THAT DEFY INTERPRETATION, THOUGH MANY HAVE TRIED,
- GESTURES THAT SEEM TO BE REFERRING TO SOMETHING IMPORTANT, THOUGH PERHAPS THEY AREN’T,
- GESTURES THAT ARE HARD TO READ, BUT MESMERIZING JUST THE SAME.
I worked with more than 40 people from Heidelberg and the region to create the collection.
WHAT OTHERS SAY ABOUT THIS WORK
Dr. Hans-Jürgen Buderer (former Director of Art and Cultural History for the Reiss Engelhorn Museums in Mannheim) wrote in the exhibition catalog:
“Behind the playfully poetic title lies one of Janet Grau’s typically subtle and cleverly thought-out performances, which becomes tangible for the viewer in a media installation for the exhibition in the Kommandantenhaus in Dilsberg. […] If you take a closer look at the catalogue of gestures which Janet Grau has developed…[it becomes clear that the] classification criteria she has created for her collection of gestures is not derived from a scientific structuring scheme based on observable forms of gestures. In an obvious analogy to Italo Calvino, the categories she has developed stem instead from a reflection upon the possible subjective needs and expectations of an imaginary onlooker. […] The work I Think I Know What You Want to Say implies one of those basic ideas that has time and again inspired the artist, namely the question of whether (and if, then how) we even understand each other at all when we communicate using our current modes of communication.”
In this work, I am investigating two concepts – “knowledge” and “imagination” – as well as the way in which these two are intertwined. Using new insights in the fields of philosophy, cognitive science and developmental psychology as my starting point, I conduct my own experiments.
For example, how are imagination and play (imagining an alternative reality) related to experimentation (testing hypotheses)? What does the process of learning have to do with “cultural transmission”? According to recent research, “pretending” involves more than just the power of imagination – it is a cultural process that can actually implement new realities.
This project has developed out of many years of working with non-artists in participatory projects (involving performance, body language, stories and play). For Learning Machines (Everything We’ll Ever Think Is Potentially There From The Start), I’m working with children to create scenes for the video camera. Some of these scenes quote well-known research experiments, whereas others specifically deal with philosophical questions.
The video clips will be displayed inside of mobile objects (sculptures), which will in turn be integrated into an installation, so that the complex interplay of ideas, theory and (artistic) practice can become tangible.
“For human beings, the really important evolutionary advantage is our ability to create new worlds. Look around the room you’re sitting in. Every object in that room – the right angle table, the book, the paper, the computer screen, the ceramic cup – was once imaginary. Not a thing in the room existed in the Pleistocene. Every one of them started out as an imaginary fantasy in someone’s mind. And that’s even more true of people. All the things I am – a scientist, a philosopher, an atheist, a feminist – all those kinds of people started out as imaginary ideas too. I’m not making some relativist post-modern point here, [because] right now the computer and the cup and the scientist and the feminist are as real as anything can be. But that’s just what our human minds do best – take the imaginary and make it real. I think now that cognition is also a way we impose our minds on the world.
In fact, I think now that the two abilities – finding the truth about the world and creating new worlds – are two sides of the same coins. Theories, in science or childhood, don’t just tell us what’s true – they tell us what’s possible, and they tell us how to get to those possibilities from where we are now. When children learn and when they pretend, they use their knowledge of the world to create new possibilities. So do we, whether we are doing science or writing novels. I don’t think anymore that Science and Fiction are just both Good Things that complement each other. I think they are, quite literally, the same thing.” – Alison Gopnik (Institute of Human Development, UC Berkeley)
Reason’s Muscle is a dance theater piece which playfully deals with two questions: 1) Is the world getting better or worse? 2) If it is getting better, what is driving that progress?
The piece stages a dialogue between the cognitive scientist and linguist Steven Pinker and his wife, the renowned philosopher Rebecca Newberger Goldstein. This dialogue, which is based on their writings and research, explores questions of philosophy, morality and human nature. Dancers interact with the speakers on stage. As ‘rhetorical tools’, they accompany, comment upon and illuminate the arguments. Now and then they create a humorous productive disturbance, affecting the pace of the discourse, giving the audience a chance to keep up with the lively debate.
Certain aspects of the script and staging will be developed in a participatory process. The resulting text will be performed on stage by professionals.