ראיון עם האמנית מרייטיקה פוטרץ'

ראיון עם האמנית מרייטיקה פוטרץ'

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05-06-2017 | דניאל גורודנציק וג'ודית לנגלרט |

הקדמה מאת נירית נלסון, מרצה בתכנית לתואר שני במדיניות ותיאוריה של האמנויות ב"בצלאל"

בקולוקוויום, ״אוצרות פתוחת קצה״, במסגרת התכנית לתואר שני במדיניות ותיאוריה של האמנויות ב"בצלאל", קיבצתי במהלך שנת הלימודים 2016-2017 מרצות ומרצים מהארץ ומהעולם שהציגו נקודות מבט והשקפות עולם מגוונות על מקצוע האוצרות. הם פרסו בפנינו פלטפורמות, פורמטים ואסטרטגיות אוצרותיים שונים, שהתבססו על הצגת ריבוי ומורכבות, ברוח ההצהרה של התיאורטיקן והארכיטקט הפוסטמודרני, רוברט ונטורי, משנות ה-60, כי קיימות סיבות פסיכולוגיות ותרבותיות להעדפה של קריאות רבות ושונות על פני סדר פשוט ואחיד.

לרעיון הריבוי והמגוון בחינוך כמה התנגדויות. אחת מהן היא המחשבה שריבוי יכול לגרום ל״בלבול״ בקרב הסטודנטיות והסטודנטים. בהכנת הקולוקוויום שאבתי השראה ממחקר של דארק מולר (Derek Muller) מ-2014, בו הוא טען שבלבול הוא דווקא מרכיב חשוב בתהליך רכישת ההשכלה.

את אותה השתהות מול דבר-מה שונה שאינו שגור ראינו במסגרת הקולוקוויום, לדוגמה, בפרקטיקה של האמנית והאוצרת, מרייטיקה פוטרץ׳, שהדגימה בהרצאתה ריבוי וגיוון אוצרותיים כאסטרטגיה בצורה מעוררת השראה. היא תיארה את השינוי המהותי של התפיסה האוצרותית שלה ושל הסטודנטים שהתלוו אליה לפרויקט חברתי באפריקה. היא סיפרה שבכל פרויקט שהיא מקימה ברחבי העולם, היא לומדת מחדש לחשוב, ליצור ולאצור ברוח המפגש עם בני הקהילה המקומית. בעבודותיה היא לא רק מגשימה את רצונה לבטא את החוויה שעברה אלא גם מציגה ונותנת מקום וקול לחוויה של בני ובנות הקהילות איתן עבדה.

אוצרים ואמנים והיסטוריונית של האמנות מישראל (ד״ר גל ונטורה, לאה מאוארס, דייגו רויטמן, ד״ר נעם גל, דלית מתיתיהו, בועז ארד), בצד אוצרים ואמנים מרחבי העולם (Marjetica Potrc, Jose Roca, Sebastian Cichocki, Chus Martinez, Ryuta Ushiro, Paula Toppila, Yasmil Raymond), הרצו על עבודתם במהלך השנה. כל אחת ואחד מהם לא רק הציג פרויקטים מרתקים ופורצי-דרך, אלא גם העניק לסטודנטים בתכנית כלי עבודה נוספים ל"ארגז הכלים האוצרותי" שלהם. כל אחד מהמרצים תיאר רובד אחר של מושג הריבוי באוצרות. אמנם הריבוי, בתחילת סדרת ההרצאות, התמקד במושג הבלבול, אך לקראת סוף השנה, הצטברות המגוון בהרצאות עצמן יצרה מרקם מורכב של דרכים שונות לחשיבה ולפעולה בעולם.

לצד סדרת ההרצאות בקולוקוויום של התואר השני בבצלאל, הצעתי לשתי סטודנטיות בתוכנית, ג׳ודית לנגלרט ודניאל גורודנציק, לראיין את המשתתפים. הראיונות שלהן הינם חלק מפרויקט הכתיבה בתכנית לתואר שני ובמסגרת הקורס ״אוצרות במבט ביקורתי״. שניים מראיונות אלה – עם מרייטיקה פוטרץ' וד"ר גל ונטורה – מופיעים כאן במגזין המקוון של התכנית לתואר שני במדיניות ותיאוריה של האמנויות ב"בצלאל".

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“There Is a Future” – Marjetica Potrč Talks about Her Projects for Communities

Introduction

Marjetica Potrč was born in 1953 in Ljubljana, Slovenia. She is an artist and architect based in Ljubljana and Berlin. She is also professor at the HFBK in Hamburg. She is known for her on-site projects, drawing series and architectural case studies.
Marjetica’s work has been exhibited throughout the world in major places and events such as:
Skulptur: Projekte in Münster, Germany (1997), The São Paulo Biennale (1996, 2006), the Venice Biennale (1993, 2003, 2009), the Portikus Gallery in Frankfurt (2006). She taught at leading institutions such as MIT, Boston (2005) and at IUAV Faculty of Arts and Design, Venice (2008 and 2011). She won many awards including the Hugo Boss Award in 2000. In 2007, She was awarded a grant from the Vera List Center for Arts and Politics at The New School in New York.

Potrč discussed “Projects as Participatory Practice: Is This Art?” during her lecture at Bezalel’s Colloquium in November 2016. Her lecture was devoted to examine the alternative processes to the usual one-time basis community projects by working together with the community. Potrč’s work emphasizes individual empowerment, problem-solving tools, and strategies for the future; at the same time, it testifies to the failure of some of the grand principles of Modernism.

In the lecture, Potrč focused on her on-site projects (characterized by participatory and shared design for the community and finding viable solutions): Dry Toilet (Caracas, Venezuela,2003), The Cook, the Farmer, His Wife and Their Neighbour (Stedelijk goes West, Amsterdam, 2009), Between the Waters (Essen, Germany, 2012), The Soweto Project (Orlando East and Noordgesig, Soweto, Johannesburg, 2014) and Of Soil and Water: The King's Cross Pond Club (King’s Cross Pond Club, London, 2015-2016).

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Interview

Danielle Gorodenzik: How do you start a community project? Do you approach a community or does a community approach you?

Marjetica Potrč: Both ways are good. I work with residents who have the will to change something in their community. A good example is Ubuntu Park, in The Soweto Project, which took place in South Africa in 2014. When my students and I arrived in Soweto, we had no idea that we would work with this particular community at this specific location. The first thing that happened, though, was we had a meeting with the neighborhood elders, who gave us symbolic permission to work in the community. There is always a certain protocol – and it is always different – that you have to follow. After meeting with the elders, we walked around the neighborhood and talked with the residents. Together, we decided on the project that would become Ubuntu Park.

The Cook, the Farmer, His Wife and their Neighbor had a different beginning. In 2009, I was asked by the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam to do a project in the Amsterdam West district. The museum building was under reconstruction, so they had the idea of doing public art projects around the city. At the time, Amsterdam West was a modernist district in distress. The area was the biggest residential redevelopment in Europe at the time, and it was populated largely by immigrants, who were not well integrated. I invited a group of cultural producers to collaborate with me on the project – they had just done a research project in the area. The museum put us in contact with an organization that worked as a bridge between residents and developers. I remember that when we explained our idea for the project to our main contact at the organization, she said, “This is not the way you should approach it.” Today, when I hear this kind of reaction I know we have a good strategy for working. We do projects in a different way than governmental organizations.

Tali Kayam, a student in the Master's Program Policy and Theory of the Arts, Curating: So you experienced a kind of resistance?

MP: In this particular case, the resistance we experienced didn’t come from the community but from someone who was actually acting as a liaison with the residents. We handed out leaflets and talked directly with the neighborhood residents. Word of mouth is important. The residents told their friends about the community garden and the community kitchen we were making, and people came. And they told more friends. That is how on a specific day the residents chose their garden plots and began to work in the garden.

Another example of how a project begins is the Dry Toilet, which Liyat Esakov and I did with the La Vega community in the informal city of Caracas. A program called the Caracas Case Project had been started in Venezuela in 2003 by two architects who had no connections with the informal city but they knew it was the right time to try to figure out what it’s all about. So we started organizing ourselves the best way we could, with the help of our colleagues in the project.

Judith Lenglart: How many people were involved at this time?

MP: The Caracas Case Project was made up of ten to fifteen people. The project was interesting because it was cross-disciplinary – an unusual configuration at the time. One of our colleagues, a writer whose wife, a political activist, had a connection in the informal city, helped us establish contact with some of the residents. During our discussion, they told us about the La Vega barrio, a recently established settlement – an invasion, as such spontaneous constructions are called there – where people might be open to improving their living conditions.

JL: How do you make your first contact with the people in the community you’ll be working with?

MP: That depends. For The Soweto Project, the students went from house to house and talked directly with the people living there. Sometimes people invited them into their homes and they had a conversation about the issues that concerned them. Establishing contact is not a problem. The question you’re asking is something I often hear from architects and artists, because you are part of an institution and you think that working outside the institution is difficult. But if you talk with people at the location, they open up their hearts to you. It is similar to what journalists do. When you talk with someone and you are really interested in exchanging knowledge with them, they will give you information and tell you about other people to contact, too. This is an organic way to exchange knowledge.

The Soweto Project: Ubuntu Park, 2014. Orlando East, Soweto, South Africa. Project by Marjetica Potrč and class Design for the Living World, HFBK. Photo: Radoš Vujaklija

Tali Kayam: Do you ever encounter suspicion from people? I was a co-curator in a project that took place in a difficult neighborhood in South Tel Aviv. The project consisted of creating a school within a neighborhood for a weekend. And from my experience, every time we initiated a program it was hard to explain to people why we were coming to the neighborhood from the outside, and why we found it interesting to do a project there.

MP: Yes, of course, this is a good question. For example, in both Amsterdam and Caracas, some people told us, “You are totally wrong. You don’t know anything because you are not from here.” Of course, you listen to their arguments, but you don’t need to be intimidated by people who say they know best because they are from the location. You have a certain power if you come from the outside. As an outsider you can mediate what the residents aspire to. Sometimes people cannot move ahead because they are stuck in the status quo with the existing political structures.

JL: Do you mean you can go around these structures?

MP: You are a mediator. We build the idea of the future together with the community. But this idea of the future has already existed within the community. It’s not something we impose on them. You just try to mediate the process and empower people.

DG: So when you create the project, how are the roles distributed?

MP: The distribution of roles happens naturally; the participants find their own roles in a project. For each project, the organization is different.

JL: We often hear that short-term community projects are less effective. How would you define a short-term project?

MP: When I talk about short-term projects, I mean what are usually called “interventions”. Personally, I value interventions but I don’t do them myself. Why? Because a short-term project can easily become superficial. You do not communicate with the local residents long enough to understand their point of view. On the contrary, you can easily end up imposing something on the residents – something that is not their story and that they don’t understand.

DG: The project you did in Johannesburg with your students was only two and a half months. Why was it so successful?

MP: Something that lasts two months and a half is a long-term project for students of any university. But I should point out that The Soweto Project was part of an umbrella project called Nine Urban Biotopes, which was based on the idea of long-term residencies between five European cities and four cities in South Africa. The condition for joining the project was that we committed to a two-to-three months stay at the location, which was a radical request at the time. I was enthusiastic about this because I know that you need time to build trust with residents if you want to exchange knowledge and practices with them. A week or ten days is not enough.

And yes, we didn’t really understand at the time why The Soweto Project was so successful with the community. But at the very end of our residency I realized why that was so. During our last week in Soweto, two evaluators came to talk with us and the community – Christian von Wissel of the Goldsmiths College’s Centre for Urban and Community Research and Caroline Wanjiku Kihato, who was a doctoral student at the University of the Witwatersrand. They posed a simple question to both us and the residents: “What have you learned from each other?” The residents said that they realized “there is a future”. As for us, we realized that our linear, or objective, thinking is not the only way to do a project. We learned that subjective thinking, which re-routes the linear thinking process, is no less important than planning ahead and being efficient. We need to learn how to combine both ways of thinking, especially in a time of the de-growth economy and the withdrawal of the state.

The Soweto Project: Ubuntu Park, 2014. Orlando East, Soweto, South Africa. Project by Marjetica Potrč and class Design for the Living World, HFBK. Photo: Terry Kurgan

There was another thing, too. Caroline talked about apartheid with the residents. At first I didn’t understand why she was talking about apartheid when our project was about the future. But then, as I listened to her and the residents, I understood that the success of the project was about healing the trauma of apartheid for the people we were working with. For black South Africans, apartheid meant expulsion from the public space and the public sphere. During apartheid, they were not allowed to sit on benches in public spaces and were not allowed to vote. They internalized this loss and turned the public spaces in their communities into non-spaces by trashing them, and they had been doing that for forty years. In what I call the ritual of transition, one Saturday morning the residents cleaned up one of these trashed spaces, which would later become Ubuntu Park.

We understood that the success of the project did not depend primarily on design. It was important to put the word “trauma” on the table. A designer, an artist, or an architect would not typically use the word “trauma” or the term “performative action” to describe the tools used in their practice. The power of The Soweto Project was to put forward new words for a new practice centered on people, not objects. After all, public space is a social agreement.

JL: You mentioned the residents’ discovery that “there is a future”. Did the people of Johannesburg speak of any specific hopes?

MP: It’s like what the “Future City” diagram tells us, which I showed in my talk. Residents see the future city not as a megalopolis but as a city of neighborhoods, where knowing your neighbors and sharing with them become important. Ubuntu Park, for instance, is a community-organized and community-maintained public space. The residents worked together to make this happen. In short, the diagram shows that it takes collective decision-making to create a bottom-up city, in contrast with the idea of the metropolis, which is based on individualism.

Notes on Participatory Design, no. 1, 2012. Courtesy of Marjetica Potrč and Galerie Nordenhake, Berlin/Stockholm

JL: So was this some futuristic concept of the city?

MP: No, they don’t think about the whole city; they think about their own existence.

JL: Do you find common points in different projects, such as common points with the hopes and future of Johannesburg?

MP: I drew the “Future City” diagram two years after The Cook, the Farmer, His Wife and their Neighbor project in Amsterdam. I suddenly made the connection between the La Vega barrio in Caracas and the neighborhood in Amsterdam. The residents in the Amsterdam project were talking about similar values as the residents of the informal city in Caracas.

You need time to understand what you have made. The post-production time is important. This is why I’m happy that we published The Soweto Project in a book. We worked on it for three months after we came back from Soweto. When you are working on site, you have to follow your intuition. There is no time to interpret what is happening when you work.

The Cook, the Farmer, His Wife and Their Neighbour, 2009. Stedelijk Goes West, Nieuw West, Amsterdam
Project by Marjetica Potrč and Wilde Westen. Photos: Left: Henriette Waal, Right: Lucia Babina

JL: How do you archive your projects?

MP: I save photos and my notes. I have a short presentation on the website. And I often give public lectures.

DG: Is that how you present your projects to the public, through talks?

MP: I don’t like to show documentary photos in exhibitions. There is no point in seeing another community garden in photos. But it is important to see the story behind the project and the change the project brings to the community.

Tali Kayam: Projects and publications are very expensive, so how do you manage the budget?

MP: Actually, our projects are inexpensive. For the Amsterdam project we received 10,000 EUR from the Stedelijk Museum. All the money went into the project, my collaborators and I worked there voluntarily. I did not get any honorarium. As for The Soweto Project publication, we designed and wrote it ourselves.

DG: You have stopped using the word “sustainability” and now talk about “resilience”. What is the difference between these two words?

MP: When I started teaching at the University of Fine Arts in Hamburg, I still used the word “sustainability”. And then slowly I stopped using it. The word is so overused it can mean anything, which means it means nothing. My students and I decided to use the word “resilience” instead. When you say “resilience”, you see people. A resilient community is one that can sustain unexpected shocks from the outside. This is a shift from abstraction to the real thing, to people.

I also don’t use the phrase “unused space” because it’s inherited from the modernist movement, where you see only the function. When you say “available space” instead of “unused space”, you see people. The vocabulary you use is a living language. When the meaning changes, the words change. You have to understand what a word means when you use it.

DG: Have you created this vocabulary from your projects?

MP: I developed the concept for The Cook, the Farmer with a group of artists, cultural producers and architects. It was the first time we used the phrase “relational object”, which became an important term in my practice. Without the project, we wouldn’t have come up with a new vocabulary.

I believe that everyone tries to fit their vision – or personal passions – in the world we live in. When I worked on Dry Toilet in Caracas, I realized this was how I wanted to work in the future: on participatory projects, working with local residents. It is important to recognize the passion in your work, because then you value it.

Dry Toilet, La Fila, La Vega barrio, Caracas, 2003. Photos: Andre Cypriano. Courtesy of Marjetica Potrč and Liyat Esakov

And it is also important to recognize the value in the work we do. I remember that when we left Soweto, we heard that the GIZ (an organization that assists German government in achieving sustainable development in demand-driven and tailor-made projects around the world) and the Goethe Institut saw no value in the project. But just now Stefan Horn, the initiator of Nine Urban Biotopes, told me the project has been selected as a “success story” by the European Commission – a compliment that has been paid to only thirty-three of the 759 projects co-financed by the Culture Program over last five years. That said, the value others give to your work comes and goes, but what’s most important is how you value your own work.

DG: Are you thinking of creating any specific project dealing with the refugee crisis in Euorope ?

MP: Last year, my students and I were invited as guests to participate in the project ZUsammenKUNFT, which means “the future together”. This is a proposal made by approximately fifteen cultural initiatives to the city of Berlin to create an environment for shared knowledge between the cultural initiatives and some four hundred refugees who live in an old hotel on Potsdamer Platz. The students and I, working with Campus Cosmopolis, created a community garden with the refugees on a plot of land behind the hotel. ZUsammenKUNFT serves as the prototype for a much larger project at the Haus der Statistik on Alexanderplatz in Berlin, which similarly aims to house low-income residents and refugees. It’s about creating a platform for shared knowledge, a laboratory of coexistence and cooperation. And of course, it’s also about affordable housing at a time when the social state is disappearing.

JL: We know you did a project that references a sukkah (In a New Land, Galerie Nordenhake, Berlin, 2011). Can you tell us about it?

MP: I actually have several different practices. In participatory projects, I work as a mediator or co-author, but in other projects I work as a studio artist. The exhibition In a New Land at Galerie Nordenhake in Berlin was the result of artistic research I did in Israel on invitation from the Jerusalem Centre for the Visual Arts. In addition to drawings, I exhibited the architectural study Ramot Polin Unit with Sukkah. I displayed a pentagonal unit by Zvi Hecker coexisting with a sukkah, a temporary shelter constructed by the Orthodox Jews who live there. This conveyed a dual message that illustrates the internal divide in Israeli society between secular and religious Jews.

Ramot Polin Unit with Sukkah, 'In a New Land', Galerie Nordenhake, Berlin 2011. Left photo: Source image by Marjetica Potrc, right photo: Gerhard Kassner. Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Nordenhake, Berlin/Stockholm

My architectural case studies, such as Ramot Polin Unit with Sukkah, are portraits of cities. They are life-size – not little models you can show on a desk. They address a visitor as an architectural body.

Tali Kayam: As a studio artist, how do you choose your subject?

MP: I am passionate about research. That’s why I showed the “Participation, Action, Research” diagram during my talk here at Hansen House at Bezalel. As I said, I was invited to Israel in 2011 by Nirith Nelson, who at the time was the director of the Jerusalem Centre for the Visual Arts. I did research here for over a month and visited several kibbutzim. I made a drawing series about the kibbutz movement. For me, it visualizes “social architecture” in one of its basic forms. Whenever I work with people on a project, I love the social architecture they create – whether this is the committee of residents in The Cook, the Farmer project or the Ubuntu Park committee in The Soweto Project. When you work with people, you see how they organize themselves. The residents of the informal city in Caracas were also organized. It’s a myth constructed by the formal city that the informal city is chaotic. It is just that the agreements they make are oral ones, not the kind of written documents we are accustomed to.

Notes on Participatory Design, no. 13, 2013. Courtesy of Marjetica Potrč and Galerie Nordenhake, Berlin/Stockholm

DG: Do you keep your various titles separate – as artist, architect, co-author, mediator?

MP: None of my practices would exist without the others. When I do a community-based project, I reflect on it through drawings and in public talks. These in turn inform my new projects. It’s a natural cycle.

Tali Kayam: What is the next project you are working on?

MP: There are several projects going on. Right now, my students and I are developing a project in Mexico. We will stay there for six weeks – another long-term residency. We will be working with four communities and at the end of our stay organize an exhibition.

Apart from that, the Design for the Living World class has been invited by the Kunstverein in Hamburg to participate in the exhibition The History Show, which celebrates their two hundred years. The Kunstverein asked us to interpret the topic Religion and Sentiment, one of ten “chapters” in The History Show – basically to take a nineteenth-century category and reframe it in the context of twenty-first-century society. The class created a beautiful work called Politics and Love. It consists of three parts – a manifesto, the video Das Archipel, Politics and Love, and a sound performance where two singers sing together to produce a third sound. Each project in The History Show will have a reference project. I am happy that the reference project for Politics and Love will be the Peace Biennale, which was held in 1985 at both the Kunstverein Hamburg and the University of Fine Arts in Hamburg.

I am proud of my students. During my years of teaching, we have learned a lot about the world together. In 2015, three of my former students launched the project Das Archipel. This is an island made out of four steel pontoons on the Veringkanal in Wilhemsburg-Hamburg. It has developed into a community-organized public space. Finn Brüggemann, one of the initiators of Das Archipel, wrote a master’s thesis – actually a manifesto – which became the inspiration for the Love and Politics project.

DG & JL: Thank you so much.

MP: I am happy that we finished our conversation by talking about the students’ projects.

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