Productive Contradictions
Art V
13 March 2015, Vienna

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Elke Bippus, Professor of Art Theory and Art History, ZHdK University of the Arts, Zurich, Switzerland, and Hamburg, Germany

Sabeth Buchmann, art historian and critic, Professor of Modern and Postmodern Art and Head of the Institute for Art Theory and Cultural Studies, Academy of Fine Arts Vienna, Austria

Nina Glockner, artist, Amsterdam, Netherlands, and Vienna, Austria

Ulrike Möntmann, artist, Amsterdam, Netherlands, and Vienna, Austria

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The theme of this Accomplices’ Meeting was the interdisciplinary approach that Ulrike Möntmann uses in her work. Discussion also focused on the planned publication and the methodological decisions involved.

 

 

THE PUBLICATION AS A PLACE FOR HOSTING THE INTERDISCIPLINARY “RELAY RACE”

 

To begin with, Elke Bippus stressed the necessity of building a discourse community with actors from art research and art theory in which a different division of labour prevails than that which has hitherto existed between the two fields.

Ulrike Möntmann said that she regards the forthcoming publication as fulfilling this criterion for a book is one of the formats in which her Outcast Registration can be published: like in a relay race it will take up all the various disciplines and fields which she has made her accomplices and pass back into them as material.

Here Elke Bippus saw a possible strategy as juxtaposing the contributions of experts from the various fields instead of interpreting them; “so that everything which hitherto has proceeded concurrently comes together. Research findings from others which, naturally, bear upon the issues, articles that do not interpret the project’s material but represent findings from their own fields: drug consumption, prostitution, sexual abuse.” This approach is unusual but it works because it highlights the relay race method employed and the interdisciplinary nature of the work.

As an example Nina Glockner cited the book Klandestine Welten. Mit Goffman auf dem Drogenstrich (Helmer Verlag, 2003) by the educational studies researcher Antje Langer. Langer lets the actors, drug-addicted prostitutes, speak for themselves; she “does not just interpret and analyse, for the most part she merely edits.”

Such an approach, said Sabeth Buchmann, is quite legitimate from a scholarly and theoretical perspective, “consistent with a participatory approach in which it is about establishing narrators on positions of equal footing — not only to talk about those affected, but to allow them to speak for themselves, to acknowledge them as actors and allow them to act, who then express themselves as independent subjects in a manner that not only enables their integration into various discursive avenues, but in which perhaps something might occasionally throw a spanner in the works.”

As a methodological option Sabeth Buchmann described developing a “topological model, of mapping” with links: “this does not have to be a linear argument that successively builds up. You could also arrange it simultaneously, as a networked system of references.”

 

THE COLLECTIVE DISCUSSION AS PRACTICE

 

In this context Ulrike Möntmann asked the other participants for suggestions as to the form in which the material from the Accomplices’ Meetings could, should, and ought to be included in the book: “I would hesitate to interpret and summarise what you have said. I can’t say that I am prepared to act as freely in this context as I would in art.”

For Buchman the answer lies in “Copyleft! [a play on the word copyright — people are granted the right to distribute copies and modified versions of a work freely under the condition that this will also apply to all derivative works] Use what is useful for you! I do not have to be referenced personally in citations from discussions if it is a question of advancing knowledge. Naturally, in the case of Parrhesia or art research and art as research Ruth Sonderegger should be named, and Elke Bippus as prompter, and so on. But apart from that, I would say treat everything as raw material. And then somewhere or other it says that your text is based on certain discussions, that collective discussions are an integral part of your practice. I do that quite a lot. The theme of the rehearsal [Probe] which I am working on at the moment is connected with this in the sense that it is actually a collective discourse, and then I refer to the fact that I communicate with various people on the subject. Further, when people use a specific term or refer to specific theories, one should flag this as a citation; this is standard scholarship.”

Elke Bippus agreed but also added that in her opinion quotations can easily be slightly “distorted”: “When is it ever possible to remain essentially verbatim and leave something in its original context? Isn’t there always a transformation, a further shaping?”

To integrate the material into the context of Möntmann’s questions seems more meaningful than publishing transcripts of the discussions, said Buchmann: “The way we speak, the material has already been modified. We know each other so well that there is an element of exclusion. And this is something that we are not always aware of. However, the moment you are in the process of writing, you are in a process of conveying contents. You will always want to explain to the reader why a particular term or explanation was used and by whom. In a discussion you don’t do that.”

 

NARRATION OR INFORMATION, CLOSENESS OR DISTANCE?

 

The new diagrams that are based on the data of TBDWBAJ project participant Rebecca Mertens were used to explain various possibilities of communicating knowledge and experience.

Rebecca Mertens, the salient features of whose life were entered as statistics in a diagram, is at the same time an individual whose personal life can be recounted “close-up” as it were. Elke Bippus queried the meaning of narration as a form of depiction in the forthcoming publication: “I think that narration also plays a role in how I relate to the presentation of statistics. What happens when I only have the diagram?”

For Buchmann a diagram combined with a story is itself narration: “It is not only a life broken down into data, it is also an account of a process. One starts to make connections between individual items, thus they don’t remain purely abstract data.”

Ulrike Möntmann was then asked whether she will make the publication a “purely objectifying account” — a representation method used by science — or whether there will be room for “a narrative, subjectivity, concern and commitment” (Bippus). This calls for deciding between a “relativising, subjective position”, the narration, which can be “a form of relativisation” (Buchmann), and a largely objectifying, academic form.

Möntmann sees narration as a form necessary for her practice: “I think that I really have to tell this story about how I penetrated further and further into the inside of the prisons. I know very well that purely objectifying academic work is not my sole interest nor will it be. I am not an academic. I need the personal dimension in order to find out what we might mean to each other. What interests a person, what can we learn from each other, what can we tell each other?” Nevertheless, there are parts of the project, for example, the Web archive, which because of their objectivity do not need narration. All of the publishing formats stand side by side and establish relations with differing emphases, and “in this way ensure that I convey an impression, certain perspectives.

 

PRODUCTIVE CONTRADICTIONS: HIGHLIGHTING CONTRADICTIONS AND PUTTING UP WITH THEM

 

The encounters between varying perspectives that Möntmann aims at with her interdisciplinary method of working frequently reveals highly divergent ideological contradictions. Nina Glockner gave the example of the psychology and psychiatry Accomplices’ Meeting where, in spite of the relative closeness of these disciplines, a dilemma became apparent: “The psychologist repeatedly emphasised social and gender-specific aspects, and the psychiatrist reduced the problematic in part to medical aspects and thus neither engaged with the basis of Ulrike’s work or the work of the psychologist in prison. For me this results in a serious dilemma: on the one hand it helps on a social level that drug addiction is now defined as an illness, but on the other hand I see the danger that this could lead to a new stigmatisation of drug addicts.”

Buchmann saw this as “an extremely productive contradiction” and she regards describing it as a socially relevant challenge: “What can one demand on a social level? This thinking in terms of both this as well as that, or either–or, the ambivalence, the ambiguity: it is precisely this contradiction that runs through all my reflections and practices. Time and again there is no resolution in either direction; time and again one probes new forms of relations. What is good where, how good is it, strategically, socially, academically, medically, juridically. And this must be redefined over and over again.” Buchmann identified this as a potential area of activity for art or art research: “Perhaps art might sustain the ability to endure such contradictions.”

 

In this context Bippus cited the view of Austrian sociologist and social studies of science researcher Karin Knorr Cetina that contradictions within lines of argumentation are inevitable. In Buchmann’s opinion, this position is “a great politico-ethical achievement. It does not mean that one does not take up a position when confronted by contradictions, but that one takes up a position within the contradictions or toward a contradiction; but always with the proviso that the contradiction must not be ignored. And there are no simple solutions.”

Möntmann sees drawing attention to contradictions as an end in itself in her work: “I don’t want to put forward any suggestions for solutions, I want to make visible what remains invisible on purpose — for whatever reasons.”

Nina Glockner said she also experiences this contradiction directly when the project is carried out in prisons; one cannot deny one’s own prejudices, but becoming conscious of their existence is the first step to approaching the participants: “an encounter does not create a solution but it forces a confrontation. When we live side by side, we have to be able to withstand this contradiction.”

In this connection Möntmann mentioned another contradiction that she always only refers to “in brackets”: “The projects can only be done inside prisons, it would not be possible to do them on this level outside because the women inside don’t wander off, they don’t oversleep, and they come and go at specific times. This is all a product of a system to which I am opposed, that I also describe as an inhumane place. But project work functions best there.”

 

 

Transcription and Text: Nina Glockner

Translation: Gloria Custance & Isaac Custance