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Katrin Klingan


Katrin Klingan
was born in Lienz, Austria, and majored in comparative and Hispanic studies at the Universities of Vienna and Madrid. She received a research scholarship from the Fundación Ortega y Gasset in Madrid and conceptualised and organised various cultural events in Vienna. From 1995 to 1997 she served as assistant to the Viennese councillor for cultural affairs, and from 1998 to 2001 she worked as a dramaturge for the Vienna Festival, co-curating various projects dealing with performance, visual arts and film. From 2001 to 2002 Klingan was an adviser for cultural affairs at Erste Bank Group in Austria, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Croatia. In 2003 she was appointed artistic director of relations, a project initiated by the Federal Cultural Foundation in Germany. At the moment Klingan works out of Berlin, Germany.


PM/HM: relations is a multi-stranded project initiated in Germany and orientated towards its eastern neighbours. What were your motivations in starting this project and what expectations did you have?

Katrin Klingan: The original initiative came from the German Federal Cultural Foundation, which has had a special focus on eastern, southeastern and central Europe since 2002. I was invited to conceive a multilateral exchange project with Germany. My first thought was to ask what it meant to conceive an exchange project for these specific regions, on the one hand, and for this “state body”, on the other. This involved quite a few questions.

Due to the collapse of socialism and the wars in former Yugoslavia, many of the countries in eastern Europe were, and still are, undergoing extensive and rapid transition. They were, and are, negotiating their forms of government, their pasts and, in part, even their borders – in fact, nothing other than their entire cultural, social and political identity. In the process, they’ve been overwhelmed by a capitalism operating largely without any restrictions, a factor which has further accelerated change. Given this situation, my task was initially to create structures for an exchange that would take these different paces and points of departure into account, and this meant also different expectations. At the same time, we saw ourselves confronted with a well-established public-funded support system – devised to result in long-term and sustainable cultural exchange – that had to perform a difficult balancing act: on the one hand, the system aimed at contributing “something” constructive on unfamiliar territory, to help a project or an idea on its way; on the other hand, it also had to take into consideration the diverse criteria of funding institutions, criteria both expressly set and implied. At relations, we didn’t want to export ideas from Germany, nor did we want to import cultural assets from eastern Europe. For this reason, all our projects started with discussions with artists and intellectuals – we asked them questions, for instance, about which aspects of their respective social realities should be brought to the public’s attention by means of art. We then linked these local debates to international discourses in a second step. Hence many of the projects supported by relations have established “platforms”: representatives from different social groups and cultural institutions have cooperated and generated artistic projects and actions within a certain organisational and thematic framework.

PM/HM: The projects you’ve created in collaboration with so many people in Sofia, Chişinău, Warsaw and other European cities come in many different formats, ranging from the book project East Art Map to political platforms, performances, debates and on-site interventions. How did this variety of formats develop?

Katrin Klingan: There were never any formats to start with. They evolved in the process. For me it wouldn't have mattered if the projects had only produced publications. So, the formats weren’t part of relations’ initial interest. Our goal was to formulate overarching questions out of the different local contexts that connect art, everyday life, theory, politics and history, and relate them to issues prevalent in Germany. So it was much more about understanding why intellectuals and artists are really interested in certain topics and why they’re so convinced they have to discuss them within their societies. This approach automatically generated an array of projects. The thematic diversity ranged from an international film project, a culture magazine on Moldavian television, the setting up of an alternative fine arts academy in Kosovo, to an archive project dealing with contemporary art of the 1950s in Poland and the artistic reconstruction of eastern Europe’s post-war art history.

Let me give you just one example, the project Missing Identity in Kosovo: the basic impulse of the artists and theoreticians who conceived the project was to develop a sensibility for the non-existent, for what’s missing in their society. Therefore they founded the first gallery for contemporary art in Kosovo called EXIT as well as an alternative art academy that offered courses on contemporary art and cultural theory free of charge. Within this very project, art and theory open up a different culture of communication, one that questions prevailing social hierarchies and discourses on national identities. We then encouraged cooperation between “Missing Identity”, the Städelschule (a state art academy) and the Portikus (an exhibition space), both in Frankfurt/Main. Since the mobility of Kosovo’s inhabitants had practically come to a standstill, we initiated a broad student exchange project called ACADEMY REMIX. The outcome of this cooperation was not only, as we’d planned, collective works and exhibitions, but also an international symposium at Portikus, entitled “What is an art academy today?” In Germany, where this question had long seemed answered, the confrontation with a completely different world of experience gave the issue a new lease on life. And this is precisely what we were aiming at: focusing less on providing assistance and more on stimulating discussion.

PM/HM: Do you think there’s potential to explore this further on other levels and that there’s also a sort of “informal” market emerging around these kinds of discourses?

Katrin Klingan: As far as the project relations is concerned, we knew from the very beginning that this would be a window of opportunity for several years, for precisely four years – and indeed it has been an enormous window, one that nobody else has been given on an institutional level with national funds in Europe. But the result of four years of relations is not only evident in the collaborations, exhibitions and publications, in the films, TV programmes, archives and alternative institutions developed within the relations framework. The result also includes the process of mutual interaction and negotiating differences. This is also what I meant when I talked about “platforms” earlier: here cultural exchange meant communication, a communication that dealt with the unpredictable and conflicts; moreover, a space was created for what needed to be developed first. What was exchanged here had simply not taken place in the individual countries before, nor could it be simply archived in museums. Rather, what has emerged is a network of relations and thematic focal points that reaches beyond geographic-political borders, the various languages and cultural differences; you can call it a network in flux, one that will continue on after relations has come to a close. In this respect, relations is not more and not less than a time splinter highlighting a more comprehensive development that takes place day to day in the search for dialogue and inter-cultural encounters.

Regarding the “informal markets” around these discourses: as a rule, analysis based on the social sciences seeks to delineate problems and identify their causes. In contrast, relations seeks to promote discussion. We’ve tried to bring these two approaches together and to understand and transmit how specific problems in specific places are being discussed. What visions of future artists and intellectuals are developing there? What vocabulary is being used, what kind of artistic language and practice? We cooperated with intellectuals and artists who tackle explosive themes and want to make a difference. The goal was to develop visions, to initiate discussions in the local context and make them comprehensible to an outside public. For us, combinations and confrontations between different actors, from both the artistic as well as the cultural and political fields, are extremely productive. We are concerned with the process of confrontation, and again and again with the necessary adjustments that emerge from this confrontation. When it works well, this leads to unexpected thematic turns and extends our vocabulary. In the end, nobody takes exactly the same position as they had before; or there are at least three more concepts for their original position. We are thus concerned with productive disputes, so that afterwards we’ll be at a different relay station and able to enter into new relations. Within such categories, terms like “informal” and “formal” are no longer relevant.





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