23. 7. 2003, Linz, Interview by Andi Wahl.
Dagmar Schink, Ushi Reiter
AW: Artists are increasingly facing up to political questions. The v.o.n. caravan was a highly committed political project, perhaps even a project directed towards political enlightenment. But can such a concept function? Can one undertake political education through the arts?
DS: I think that in connection with projects that have a political content, and particularly the v.o.n. caravan, which was concerned with current issues, the term enlightenment is certainly an exaggeration. In this case, the emphasis was more on the awakening of interest and sensitisation with regard to our themes on a day-to-day basis. When one works as an artist with political themes, the problem frequently arises that the artistic content is read as such, but the political aspects are not taken seriously.
AW: Were there specific addressees for the project? For which groups of people was it designed?
UR: My initial approach to this project was not that of a classic art producer. My priority was to expand cultural practice with regard to the communication of content like that inherent to the v.o.n. caravan. For me, whether or not that is art is a minor consideration. In fact, it is absolutely irrelevant!
Accordingly, I had a concept of the target group. In view of the fact that it was the Festival of the Regions and we also concentrated on specific locations, it was clear to me that the local people were to be addressed and not explicitly the art and gallery audience. This is what I find exciting about the Festival of the Regions, as it allows such space and room for action.
I am now somewhat clearer as to the extent to which one can meet efficiency criteria, or fulfil a claim to enlightenment. Due to the wealth of topics, a fresh theme was prepared for every evening, and the fact that we did not seek to communicate a single valid truth, it was evident that we could only scratch the surface of a few aspects of neo-liberalism. My intention was to develop a practice of participation by encouraging our audiences to hold discussions and exchange opinions. However, the debating circles did not live up to our expectations. One reason is quite simply that such discourse is not standard practice in Austria. Our idea of handling themes in a highly entertaining manner was correct, but we would have needed something extra to spur our visitors into action. Perhaps a more radical approach was lacking.
AW: Therefore, an educational approach was applied, involving the acquainting of the public with participatory methods and then encouraging it to practice them.
UR: Certainly. First and foremost because this form of alternative public debate is missing in our mainstream-media-cultural-consumer-society and this was an attempt to try something different. Not merely with regard to the viewpoint, but also the form. And perhaps with artistic methods and practices.
However, the idea of entering into a dialogue with our visitors was insufficiently realised because our events again assumed a didactic form. Moreover, because the visitors to the Festival of the Regions, as well as the local population, are people who wish primarily to consume culture and politics.
The concept of adopting a standpoint, or asking questions is not yet a matter of course. We should have been more insistent in this regard. However, the physical strain of walking and the organisation process had cost us a great deal of energy and we simply lacked the strength to be firmer.
DS: I see few possibilities in this direction. Even with more power and still better preparation, one cannot force people to join in. At present, active participation in discussion circles and personal involvement just do not function. One would have to return after a week, or in our case, stay longer at the individual stop-overs. Then one might receive some feedback, as certain barriers can be overcome through longer and more intensive contacts with the population.
AW: The project involved a large number of people. How can one get such a big group to back very different topics? And what do you do with those persons for whom the content is of no significance?
DS: Naturally, we wanted to put a team together comprised of people who had concerned themselves with our topics in one way or another. Unfortunately, we didn’t fully succeed. Some of those involved found the content inaccessible and therefore contributed in other ways. Of course, it would have been preferable had we had more time to reflect on the content on an internal basis.
UR: This was due to the fact that the production methods in the field of art and culture have long resembled those of a business operation. Normally, this involves the division of responsibility, hierarchies and clear assignments. Personally, I wanted to avoid such structures and assumed that the project would develop along collective and discursive lines. This functioned only partly and to a degree was certainly the result of this type of temporary project production.
During the research work and confrontation with the collected text for our READER, Dagmar and I in particular achieved teamwork of a quality of which I am especially proud and would like to enjoy more often.
AW: Dagmar, when you look back on the project, are you satisfied?
DS: I am aware of the fact that now I cannot escape with the phrase, “It’s too early to say.” But I still find it difficult to say if I am really satisfied. I am pleased that it is over and that not more accidents happened during the journey. The v.o.n. caravan team got on well together and I found the week very exciting, but so exhausting that I lack the needed distance to the events to give a résumé. Of course, in the retrospective, there are many things that I would do differently (laughter). We simply planned and undertook too much. This left us with insufficient energy for spontaneous action and, above all, for deceleration. It was also shattering that women were seen as being incapable of undertaking positions of responsibility and that in borderline cases, male members of the team were addressed as the authorised decision-makers.
AW: Your opinion, Ushi?
UR: We allowed ourselves to become involved in situations, the progression of which could not have been predicted in advance. Therefore, we found numerous things impossible to anticipate and only controllable to a limited extent. For me, the journey was a trip to the human limits. Definitely. One is instantaneously part of a homogenous group, with all its roles and role allocations, in which scenarios unexpectedly occur such as hierarchical differences, discrimination, etc., that are also played out in the world of “major politics”. One becomes suddenly aware of this fact in such a small “unit”. One can no longer theorise, one stands there and has to do something. There is also insufficient time to reflect upon one’s actions, because the next decision must be taken immediately. A decision with which all agree.
The places that we discovered and that we were able to briefly transform and animate were wonderful. However, I found the fact that we could not stay longer, but had to keep moving on to our next destination, somehow sad and stressful. I kept thinking what would have happened had we simply stayed for longer?
AW: Thank you for the interview.