Tilo Schulz and Jan Winkelmann in conversation about "e.w.e. – exhibition without exhibition"

Jan Winkelmann: I've been asked by Documents to curate a virtual exhibition for this issue of the magazine. I've invited you for a "solo show", because you're currently working on a project which might be described as virtual – even if it is virtual in a different way. Could you tell me something about the e.w.e. project?

Tilo Schulz: To start with, as in most shows, there's a general interest in mediating artists' work, and this takes center stage. Secondly, I'm motivated by tangible positions and strategies. So selecting the artists isn't done on the basis of any theme which I might myself dictate, but rather in relation to the artists' working methods. What was important was understanding that art mediation takes place at different levels, and that an exhibition does not necessarily have to be more successful than a publication, a lecture, or an announcement. I might mention here a very good example of this. In 1977, Rudolf Bumiller sent out announcements for the "Two realy good paintings" show by way of the Raffael Versand (Raffael Mail Service, later the Annette Gmeiner Galerie). During the show, different gallery owners asked him to send them slides of the paintings. But the paintings had never actually existed. What makes "e.w.e. – exhibition without exhibition" different from the positions of the 1970s is the fact that an active mediation approach is added to the critical analysis of exhibition practices. In other words, a publication, press work, posters, and a extended lecture-tour will mediate the strategies, positions and works of the six artists – there's not really any show as such.

What was the point of departure? How did the project get under way?

TS: Lawrence Weiner's statement that a work can exist as an idea, Seth Siegelaub's calender exhibitions, and even Regina Möller's magazine "Regina"... it's not a matter of working out that kind of continuation. e.w.e. also operates on this basis, but along a different line. In the 1980s, the exhibition as a possible method of mediation lost a great deal of its impact, because of a huge output of catalogues, art magazines, fanzines, and other discussion forms. Artists like Klaus Merkel, with his catalogue-paintings, and Ute Meta Bauer with "Meta" reacted to this. The inexpensive catalogues of the 1980s gave way to the publications of the 1990s, which are more informative and professionally designed. There are not that many exhibitions which work without a catalogue, but there are plenty of catalogues for which the show itself is merely secondary – a sort of superfluous added element. You've worked with Jens Haaning and Plamen Dejanov & Swetlana Heger, and you try to show comparable strategies. But unlike e.w.e., a project with no show that is self-organized and independent, you as a curator organize shows at the Galerie für Zeitgenössische Kunst Leipzig. In your view, where do the pros and cons lie?

You mean the advantages of an exhibition as compared with a project without any exhibition? I see it less as an either/or, I'm happier seeing them complement one another. With the e.w.e. project, just as with your contribution to the ONTOM exhibition, the institutional mediation structure has at last been extended. Within that structure, for example, I would never have had T-shirts made with artists' statements about their works – as a means of institutional communication. I would never have sent a promotional team around the city to hand out information about the recently opened Gallery. On the other hand, I can imagine us doing this sort of thing in the future. What's interesting about this way of working is precisely the act of going beyond limits and boundaries to reach other areas of cultural and non-cultural production. Jens Haaning, for example, with his "Office for Exchange of Citizenship". He ventured into a realm that envisaged, model-like, a scenario which can only be freely conceived and played to the full in a nonutilitarian art space. If real-life impulses happen to emerge from this, that is all to the good, but this is not a vital condition. There is no pressing obligation in terms of profitability or success. The case of Plamen and Swetlana is comparable. They adapt economic strategies which they transpose into aesthetic and functional processes which, in their turn, create an added value. When artists appropriate these kind of strategies which basically have nothing to do with artistic production and present them within an aesthetic context in an institutional setting, then it is no longer just the strategies per se that are being reconsidered but also the institutional setting in which this comes about. The difference between your project for ONTOM and e.w.e., as compared with the other works referred to, lies in my view in the fact that you focus totally on the institutional "operating apparatus" without essentially abandoning the art context. There is no going beyond limits towards other areas. It is more a kind of analysis which, based on historical models as you've just described (Siegelaub, Weiner, Merkel), is updated and further thought out to create effects on existing structures. But in the end you "need" these structures for your projects, because they only work within them. I make shows which assume their substance in a space, the gallery. With e.w.e., this institutional "model" is partly done away with, and is consequently called into question. You retain the term "exhibition", which implies an expectation which is in the selfsame moment contradicted by the title. What I find interesting is that in addition to the aspect of mediation, you refer to the "artist-curator" model, which is actually a very old model. But I can see that in this instance it is part of your artistic strategy, and not merely "side-show" as with other artists who organize exhibitions.

Could you tell me a little about the selection of the artists? What criteria were involved?

You're right when you say that projects like e.w.e. don't stem from an art context. An ingnorance of institutional mediation would be tantamount to suicide in such cases. It's more a matter of pushing existing methods to the extreme limit and reconciling contemporary artistic strategies with the mediation tools which serve them best. The emergence of artworks which do not necessarily rely on a presentation or show lie at the root of e.w.e., and not the other way round. I'd like to return to your question about the way the artists were selected, and the criteria involved.

Nathan Coley's "Urban Sanctuary – A Public Art Work" (1997) shows methods of approach that can be compared with those of e.w.e. After inviting architects and designers to take part in a renovation project, he produced a publication with interviews about the usefulness of architecture, people's basic needs with regard to an "urban sanctuary," and how these needs change. The discourse as public form, and debate as a possible means of realization. His publication offered space for interviews with eight people, and was presented both as a means of mediation and a means of distribution. From the outset, Olaf Nicolai has regarded publishing as an essential part of his work. Since 1993, for the "Die Gabe" publishing project, Nicolai has been regularly inviting historians, philosophers, artists and the like to come up with a contribution on a freely chosen topic. "Die Gabe", like the "private mix" exhibition (1996) which he curated, shows Nicolai's interest in creating "space" for other people's ideas, points-of-view and concepts. In their "For Rent" projects, Plamen Dejanov and Swetlana Heger also worked with this type of presentation of space. Billboards, surfaces and exhibition cabinets could be rented from them. The difference was that the decision about the presentation did not fall to the pair of artists, but to the person renting, insofar as he was the person paying. In their "On Holiday" works, the principle of absence has recently appeared. Also apparent is the principle of transferring artistic and institutional praxis, which plays a crucial part in the case of e.w.e., with the non-production of the show. Sandra Hastenteufel's two long-term-projects "Informationsdienst" (with Ute Meta Bauer and Tine Geissler) and "Platz und andere Unendlichkeiten" raise the question of the possibility of where art can take place and the definition of those places, reflect an interest in presentational circumstances and the creation of an audience via advertisments and publicity videos, and propose a looser way of dealing with realization and non-realization. My interest in Jens Haaning's work has to do with its status between model/scenario and reality that you described earlier.

It is clear that all the artists invited are open to these forms of mediation, and are not entering completely new territory. My basic intention is not to present a theme and then invite artists to illustrate it. I want to develop an interesting project for the artists involved, based on their existing working methods that have just been described. It is a reaction just as much to inner realities (attitudes, strategies and the producers' working methods) as to external ones (mediation methods and attitude on reception).

Could you give us a few details about e.w.e., and explain what exactly happens in it?

It's quite simple, actually. The artists have developed works and projects which will be individually published in brochures. Based on these catalogues, I will go on a European lecture-tour. The actual works will take center place and will be backed up by active press work, with previews (which have already taken place), press releases, posters, postcards, advertising and articles. The so-called peripheral aspects of an exhibition are the center of the project. People interested can contact me at the following number: Tel/fax: +49-341-4795427 or by e-mail: tiloschulz@hotmail.com

As far as the different works are concerned, I don't want to say more about them at this point, so as to allow the mediation to occur through the various lectures and publications. Instead I'll describe two of the artists' reactions to the specific nature of e.w.e.

Jens Haaning has been working over the last few years with the architects' group "VERTEX Arkitekter maa" on the "Faserstoffprojekt." This involves revitalizing a whole region north of Berlin. For e.w.e., he is publishing a brochure presenting this project to its best advantage in terms of advertising. He has turned the tables on me. I asked him to suggest for e.w.e. a work that would not be realized, and which I could make use of to present my own artistic position. Instead he is using e.w.e.'s finances and publicity to support a later realization of the project with the architects. Where Dejanov and Heger's work is concerned, the decision to realize something comes down neither to the artist, nor to the curator, but to the user. Their contribution is a blank booklet, which can be used as a notebook, diary or photo album. The cover will show a photo of a gas station designed by Arne Jacobsen. The photograph was taken during one of their "On Holiday" operations, in the summer of 1998. The work itself will be completed through the recording of the experiences of the subsequent owners. This work is not in any time frame.

So with e.w.e., it's not just a question of you getting away from the institutional setting and opposing the traditional idea of a materialization of the exhibition, but also of upturning or contradicting the conventional time frame. The other component parts are still valid, as you mentioned before, because they are needed for the project to work. In the end, e.w.e. is not only a critical analysis of the instrument "exhibition", but at the same time a constructive point of departure, which also merits consideration from the angle of the institutional outlook.

Published in Englisch and French in: Documents sur l'art, No. 12, October 1999

© 1999 Jan Winkelmann

German Version