Hiding and exposing

with Nikolaus Hirsch

Nikolaus Hirsch is a Frankfurt-based architect, curator and director of Städelschule and Portikus. Previously he has held academic positions at the Architectural Association in London, the Institute for Applied Theatre Studies at Gießen University and the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. His architectural work includes the award-winning Dresden Synagogue (2001), Hinzert Document Center (2006), Bockenheimer Depot Theater (with William Forsythe), unitednationsplaza (with Anton Vidokle), European Kunsthalle, the Cybermohalla Hub in Delhi, and a number of exhibition structures such as Bruno Latour´s “Making Things Public” (ZKM, 2005) and “Indian Highway” (Serpentine Gallery, 2008). Hirsch has curated „ErsatzStadt: Representations of the Urban“ at Volksbühne Berlin (2005), “Cultural Agencies” in Istanbul (2009/10), “Globe” in Frankfurt (2011), numerous exhibitions at Portikus and was recently appointed as director of the upcoming Gwangju Folly project in Korea. Hirsch´s work was exhibited at Manifesta 7, the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art (2011), Devi Art Foundation in Delhi (2012) and the Shanghai Biennale (with Anton Vidokle, 2012). He is the author of the books “On Boundaries”, “Track 17”, “Institution Building”, “Cybermohalla Hub” and co-editor of the Institut für Kunstkritik books (with Isabelle Graw and Daniel Birnbaum). Together with Markus Miessen he recently launched the new Critical Spatial Practice series at Sternberg Press.

CaucasusArtMag: We’ve met different discussions around the Bologna regulations and the alternative attitudes towards the educational process by the presented schools on the triennial forum. Could you emphasize the key aspects featuring Stadelschule?

Nikolaus Hirsch.: As the idea of experimentation and openness plays a vital role at Stadelschule, we prefer to avoid that spread across widget frame or the widget understanding of professionalization. This function should be discussed in a rather different way, than the professional discourse in the law or architecture. What kind of knowledge or practice could one have in art is something that should be constantly debated. And that has an expectation to change a lot in the meaning of art itself. Art cannot be taught – just to borrow famous quote from John Baldessari. There is no fixed knowledge in the wire. Therefore even being among the five best schools, we’ve never applied for Bologna system, which is the European level attempt of Anglo-Saxon model introduction. We don’t deliver diplomas as well. Instead of it, at the end of the study, student gets certificate acknowledging that he has studied at Stadelschule. You don’t get grades, or something like this as well and I think this kind of openness is crucial. We believe in the luxury of various positions of the classes having taught. Even there are very different views; each professor has a very strong position in the class. At the same time there is no master plan, or kind of ideology that goes through the school. And thus each professor can really have the own position.

CAM: What is the precondition or farther reflection of your views?

N. H.: What influenced me a lot is my past experience before Stadelschule, which is linked, just to name one of them, with artists and theoretician’s collaborative work – Unitednationsplaza. Or the project that I’m still developing in India, founded by Raqs Media Collective and where very interesting critical authors and cultural practitioners are engaged. As I said before, it’s important to create spaces and structures with the high degree of autonomy for the own programs. And in this way, they will be able to offer kind of faith places for experimentations. I think these small entities whether it is the Unitednationsplaza, Sarai or Stadelschule are very different, but still have very much in common. To emphasize one – it’s a physical space. Space where people can gather and have really open discussions. Meanwhile they are part of the larger networks. There is an interesting tension in offering a small space that is also a safe space in the way. It has certain protective fields so to say.  It can stay not affected by universities or other big players and at the same time remain as a part of a larger network. For instance these three projects I’ve mentioned are much globalized; they are not stack just in Berlin, Frankfurt or New Delhi. I think somehow to deal with this tension; to have a practice on own depth and in-between manage to negotiate with the global scale or manage to be exposed in a global situation is a very hard topic nowadays.

CAM: And how do you look at the small institutions in the context of their limited possibilities?

N. H.: There is a big potential in the small spaces if they are run carefully and don’t only concentrate on producing the output. They also are the kind of places where a sense of community is created, not always necessary to go outside, in this case to appear on the internet. For instance, broadcasting series of lectures through the internet is becoming the standard of the present days, but at Stadelschule we prefer to refrain from this kind of practice. We acknowledge that Internet has a way long memory and of course, somehow it can effect on the people’s talk. They feel to act very, very carefully in front of the possible internet audience. So we’ve decided for the lectures, rather to be conscious about intimidate situation. For sure we have an archive through which the researchers can look, but still we believe it’s far more interesting to have a lecture with a certain number of students, audience or some invited guests with whom an open speech and immediate interaction will be possible. And can be more interesting than to say everything in public. The idea of the public and to have public ambition is very important, but not everything has to be made for the public. This productivity of the work with the tension between your own works, and having discussion in the class is something really more than internet. And to come up from the mentioned point, it’s very important how to deliver it to the larger community outside. I think it has to be thought also very carefully.