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Where we are standing...

This text was written for the fisrt evaluation of the project on 4th May 2007

Thomas Hirschhorn Thomas Hirschhorn, Wo stehe ich ? Was will ich ? (2007)

Where we are standing ? What do we want ?

Yesterday, we met Thomas Hirschhorn. He started by presenting his work, with one of his drawings, showing the schema of his work. This arrow in the middle means the direction of his work, and four words of each corner such as ‘courage’, ‘form’, ‘help’ and ‘influence’ represent the elements which are consist of his work process. It is written on the top, this sentence “ Where I’m standing, what do I want”. What I’m trying to do now is draw such a schema of our project on HS, questioning “where are we, the session 16, standing and what do we want,” so that we can also set the direction of our arrow.

We, the participants discussed together and separately, to be capable of describing ‘this point of where we are’. It doesn’t seem easy, when we look from here, literally where our feet are standing. We could answer this question as, “It seems we are in the point of nowhere.” But, it’s a bit discouraging to say that. To avoid pessimistic thinking and to find the point where we are standing, we tried to go back from the beginning of our project. By retracing the steps we made, maybe we could locate our actual position.

I’ll begin from October. We just got to know each other and settled down in Grenoble. We tried to be familiar with each others different accents, and started to discuss this session together. First, we spent lot of time in organizing tasks, and started to work on the website project. Then the subject “Archive” was given. But we didn’t have enough explaination concerning this chosen subject. What we tried to do, each of us, was to presume, to imagine the way of treating this subject. Some of us searched the lexical meaning, while others started to read some books and some of us started have a look on some exhibitions related to archive. “What is the meaning of archiving ?” “Do we have to work on the archive as a place where of the history building ?” “Do we work on the archive focusing on the action of accumulating materials ?” Some dispersed approaches and questions were tuning in the head of each of us.

Then, 20 November, the first meeting with Florence, we are informed officially that the project is specifically on ’Harald Szeemann’s Archive’. The way which research had been carried had to be shifted from the ‘archive’ to the ‘Harald Szeemann’. First, we worked together to draw Szeemann’s personalities based on some texts. Then, we visited Szeemann’s archive in Maggia. What we did there was, each of us take in charge of a part of the space and describe in detail, as much as possible, including an illustration. This work wasn’t enough to help us understand the functioning of this place. This archive was an impressive space, overwhelming in size and structure and we only had just few hours.

What we kept in mind during this first phase of the research was the will of not giving homage to Harald Szeemann. We sought for more critical point of view to retrace Szeemann’s legacy, to find a proper reason for this research on Szeemann’s working methodology. We tried to see his works in terms of cultural industry, to point out the problematic aspect of juxtaposing art works and the way he interprete the other context of art from the Asia or Balkan countries into his logic. This ambiguity to choose position of research also derived from our different backgrounds and the context of works where we are from. Some of us have been trained as art historian, others as artists. Me, I have been working in the field of production and, in fact, we all had different expectations to Ecole du Magasin, and different ideas training of curatorial practice. And it seemed obvious that we are not here for the historical research, as in the university. These multiple layers of desires pulled us in different discussions regarding this project. “How do we focus on Szeemann’s work, how to appropriate this research to each one’s desire ?” “What is the meaning of doing this research ?” Those fundamental questions have been a constant subject of discussion.

Having an ’archive’ as subject differs from ’Harald Szeemann’s archive’ as a subject. We were confused that how to deal with this subject since the beginning. “Are we focusing on Szeemann ? or archive ?” “Does Szeemann’s archive have something to do with the meaning of archive in general ?” “Do our approach to this archive have to be more related to the general and historical meaning of archive, or should it stay more on the Szeemann’s personality ?”

When you see the change of expressions that we used to present our work to other people, you would understand this confusion. During the first few months, when somebody asked us about our project, we used to response like “We are working on Harald Szeemann’s archive” but now, we’d rather say “Szeemann’s working methodology in relation to his archive in Maggia”, or simply we say "We are working on the publication and exhibition project related to Harald Szeemann” The given subject hasn’t been so clear, and we had to define this subject by ourselves in relation to the given situation, as time goes by. From “archive” to “Harald Szeemann’s archive”, then finally we are on the “Szeemann’s working methodology”

Let’s move on to January and February, Project didn’t advance well, moreover, we still couldn’t find proper reason of the project. Szeemann is interesting person. It doesn’t mean this subject is simply boring, but we couldn’t find an answer to why we are doing this in this given situation. For instance, we had lots of difficulties to figure out the table of contents of the book, because, we couldn’t find the aim of it. “Why should we make this ?” “What is the meaning of this book for me, and for the others ?” “Why we are doing this in this training program ?” “Why we choose Documenta 5 and Lyon as a case study not an other exhibition ?” This reflection went on for several months, along with the difficulties to communicate with Florence in a constructive way. On the other hand, time was limited. We realized if we don’t work now on material production, it might be too late to produce anything at all. We couldn’t spend too much time only for the reflection about context. So, we had to find the way to keep going with two parallel tasks at the same time, “proceeding the work and finding it’s meaning”.

We divided ourselves into several small groups, according to different tasks for the publication. Now, each group is in charge of a part, rarely discussing or interfering other’s part. Therefore, it became much more complex to figure out the axes, articulations between the parts. As we discussed together about the table of contents, we know what elements the book will contain, but we don’t feel that we are doing the work with the same regards and same objective. The publication project is a collective work but it is also, segmental works.

We confess also that we partially gave up the attempt of taking specific, critical point of view toward Szeemann’s methodology. However, there were several points such as his agency as a conceptual idea to support his will to stay an independent exhibition maker, or the archive as a place of presentation and also as a working place, and important period between the end of 60s and the early 70s where he thought over on the collectivity, utopist idea of working together and its failure. And so on, and so forth. We found those aspects interesting and hope to be able to include them in the materials and interviews that we are gathering to publish in the book.

This renunciation of a critical point results from the fact that as our research is going deeper, we are meeting more Szeemann’s personalities. We read lots of interviews and documents and heard lots of testimonies from his closed collaborators. More and more, we are familiar with this personage of Harald Szeemann. I think we are meeting Szeemann as a human, not as a subject for analysis. It is certain that we are learning from him his unstoppable love for art, his caring for artists and artwork, his passion, his matured personality, his competence as a curator and his humor. But, when you meet somebody in person, it becomes more difficult to keep an objective regard. The “Complex Notion of Respect” the expression by Philippe Pirotte, which he used for his exhibition in Kunsthalle Bern was also effective to describe our position to this figure and to this project.

Last month, we went to the Archive again and gathered photos, documents and interviews. Materials for the production are almost ready except some interviews with curators and artists that we are preceding. As the project is now in a pragmatic phase, we are trying to concentrate more on the production. But it’s not easy to manage time and schedule planning. Having no participant who speak a German is also restriction for the deeper research.

And still we can’t stop questioning. “What we are learning ?” “Is it the personality of Szeemann ?” “Are we learning curatorial method or Szeemann’s interest ?” We don’t look down the importance of this figure, but “Are we learning a curatorial understanding from this research ?” is a constant question. Some of us expected to have more practical training in here, such as ; budget planning, transportation, art work handling, contract, legal issues and production . Some of us say we are learning of one curator’s methodology and it doesn’t necessarily open us to an overview of curatorial practices. “What are we learning as a curatorial practice ?” “Do we obtain a pragmatic idea from Szeemann to appropriate for exhitiion curating of present time ?” “Do we reflex enough on what is curating ?” These are the questions that we are having, still receving ambiguous answers by now. Maybe we would get to know, when we finish this course. At that moment, maybe it would be more clear for us, what has been done, what was lacking. And what we will need next.

We appreciate that school offered us the opportunity to meet many different people who stimulated us, convinced us with their passions for art, gave us precious advice and enlightening input. We also appreciate your support for our project.

Now, we hope to hear an opinion from you, who has accompanied us closely yet at a distance, with a more objective look than us. Where do you think we are standing ?

Haeju Kim


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