Mediation work at Shedhalle is conceived in close collaboration with the curatorship as a generator of social and cultural spaces for dialogue.
Museums and institutions exhibiting contemporary art are spaces producing “symbolic capital.” They are also spaces where it is accumulated. Associated mechanisms of representation, distinction, and exclusion serve to legitimate social hierarchies (which are, however, often “culturally” interpreted) and thereby contribute to how our life together as a society is structured and shaped. As an institution, Shedhalle is also permeated by these power relations and thereby part of a mechanism of symbolic capital. In the context of Shedhalle’s mediation projects, we aim to deal with the distribution of symbolic capital in a way that is socially-relevant, reflexive, and self-critical. Who obtains social capital here, for what? How is it produced? From whom, by what means? Who appropriates it and why?
Work with and on different knowledge traditions
Shedhalle’s mediation work has taken on the task of opening a space where the connection of power and knowledge can be discussed critically. It inspects various concepts of “education.” The aim is to thereby challenge repressive functions of “knowledge” and “being known,” but also the production of consent with reigning circumstances. How much cultural capital a person has in society depends not only on their formal education, but, mainly, also on the (often informal) recognition or lack of recognition of their knowledge. We are interested in the history of expulsion of particular forms of knowledge from hegemonic knowledge traditions. For example, a hierarchizing is evident in the greater value attributed to Eurocentric knowledge as opposed to knowledge from non-European countries and academic knowledge as opposed to knowledge passed on orally or gained from experience. In grappling with the (re)production of cultural and symbolic capital, mediation is committed to ensuring not only that various knowledge traditions are heard, but also that they “are able to fundamentally question, attack, and change the existing knowledge regime” (Sternfeld 2010).
In view of the existence of various knowledge traditions, we understand mediation as the creation of a space in which various ways of experiencing the world (world views) are able to engage in dialogue. We assume that this dialogue identifies possible courses of action for changing social reality. In the mediation program, we attempt to create the conditions and spaces for this dialogue.
De-centralized acting, action in networks
“Creating” such spaces signifies an awareness that barriers related to class, gender, origin, and language, and mainly, those related to education, which hinder access to Shedhalle, cannot simply be “cleared out of the way.” Rather than the participation in Shedhalle, we are interested in the transformation of it (Mörsch 2011). We understand working on the conditions for dialogue as a conscious processing against and unlearning of practiced hierarchies and structures of asymmetry.
The development of a network of actors, for whom the cited tasks in the areas of art and institutions, education and society are relevant, makes the activated dialogue space effective also beyond the immediate exhibition space. Dialogue changes art spaces and institutions, thereby extending into other public realms. In the long term, this transformation means a process of democratization, which affects structures in the institution as well as those above and beyond it.
As the Spanish pedagogue and theorist Javier Rodrigo Montero has stated, the point of departure is networking: In contrast to the concept of access to culture, which conceives of the art institution as the center to which target groups must be led, he makes an appeal for understanding cultural institutions as actors in a network. In this way, the museum would not be the centering, focal point of culture, and not even a catalyst, but rather, simply another mediator in a network of diverse, different, and even antagonistic social actors (Rodrigo Montero 2012). Conceived as networking, mediation initiates a great number of dialogues and negotiations between actors and ties the art space, as a possible site of action, into a larger network.
Deciding on solidarity-based action
Therefore, in mediation work, we take into consideration persistent social discrimination and heteronomy, as well as the self-determination of social subjects and groups. With regard to our policies for inviting and representing, we understand Shedhalle explicitly as a space for those who have to fight structural exclusion and discrimination. In doing so, concern is also with making visible exclusions, and shifting accesses to symbolic capital. Shedhalle, as a space, is not simply marked as “accessible” and the canon in the art space questioned; participation in and on the Shedhalle is also actively instigated, and determination of forms of mutual solidarity and organization are enabled. We thus not only want to see Shedhalle as a practice space, but also, through networking, ally the Shedhalle project with others’ initiatives and struggles. It is thereby also about the learning of active “public spirit,” unlearning of supposed givens, and the strategic use of social privileges within and beyond Shedhalle.
The mediation in Shedhalle is artmediation. Beginning from artistic practices and discourses of contemporary art production and reception, mediation enables moments of confrontation among various actors.
- As already mentioned, the art field and the mechanisms of canonization and authorization in this field (see above, symbolic capital) become the object of debate: who is allowed/can/should make and understand art?
- Because every art experience is also a world experience, in a shared confrontation with art and artistic working methods, dialogue arises about worldviews, subjective experiences, and aesthetic forms (of expression).
- Artistic working methods and strategies enable a further level, and instigate processes of re-signification of the world.
- Contemporary art, as is shown at the Shedhalle, is tied to political concerns and themes. Mediation work takes up confrontations with forms of expressing politics and politics of the visual in art in order to join with participants in reflecting on what images do and how one’s own concerns can be represented.
These are high aims. We therefore want to consciously conceive of the mediation in Shedhalle as an exercise and practice space where it is possible to make errors and try out the unknown. Also in our own, narrower context, the mediation team attempts to act on the basis of criteria that aim to disband social asymmetries. In this, it is key to reflect on our own enmeshments in the dialogue space, in the institution Shedhalle, the art and education systems, and in the world; and let them guide the way in accordance with the implemented maxims.
- Mörsch, Carmen / Settele, Bernadett (eds.), Kunstvermittlung in Transformation. Perspektiven und Ergebnisse eines Forschungsprojekts, Scheidegger+Spiess, Zurich 2012.
- Sternfeld, Nora, “Das gewisse savoir/pouvoir. Möglichkeitsfeld Kunstvermittlung,” in Collaboration: Vermittlung - Kunst - Verein : ein Modellprojekt zur zeitgemäßen Kunstvermittlung an Kunstvereinen in Nordrhein-Westfalen, 2010, pp. 27–32.
- Collados, Antonio / Rodrigo Montero, Javier (eds.), Transductores: Pedagogías en red y prácticas instituyente, Centro de Arte José Guerrero, Granada 2012.