Why mediation of art is a quiet thing

Museums, schools, associations and sponsoring institutions are happy to call themselves art mediators. Only, what is mediated, and how? In conversation with Samuel Herzog, the Hamburg-based artist Durbahn presents what mediation means to her.

Samuel Herzog: We often speak of “mediating art”. But what is it really? Is it a matter of finding venues for artists? Or, to explain the meaning of a work to an audience? Is the agent an animator? Is the agent a saleswoman?

Durbahn: No. I am concerned with explaining the secondary paths.

Samuel Herzog: What do you mean? Can you give an example?

Durbahn: When an artist comes and says, “Where can I exhibit here in Hamburg?” Then that is not what she wants to know. So I ask back: “What do you want to achieve? What are you doing?” I see it as my task to take the lead. Perhaps the person does not want to exhibit. Maybe she just wants to know if what she is doing is interesting. So, in this case it is simply a matter of creating a situation in which she can ask her question and maybe get some answers. As an intermediary I am a co-thinking-center.

Samuel Herzog: Do you even feel like a mediator?

Durbahn: According to Duden, it means to help people think. And, I can do so but I cannot teach content or processes. I can only inspire people.

Samuel Herzog: Teaching or inspiring – what are the essential differences?

Durbahn: For me teaching is something intentional. This means I intend an effect vis a vis my co worker. For example, students can explain the effect of color according to Goethe or Itten and then examine it further. But this has nothing to do with mediation. There is teaching content but there is no mediation material. Mediating always means strolling along with others through his or her own world.
When I realize that an artist is dissatisfied with a work I try to figure out what the work means to her, what function she has for her expression. But it is not a question of finding a solution – it is about finding out different places of possible answers. Teaching is for me in the worst case simply indoctrination. Intermediate communication is at best an appropriate form of communication.

Samuel Herzog: Usually it is curators, museums, galleries or critics who convey art, and teachers who instruct incoming artists. But if artists themselves mediate art then is this an emergency solution? Or is it, on the contrary, the ideal case?

Durbahn: Neither. In my opinion, one must see mediation as being separate from a targeted process such as the sender-receiver or teacher-student model. A basic prerequisite for the transfer is being on the same eye level, and in a non-hierarchical situation. I am also convinced that more mediation takes place when students are among themselves than between lecturers and students.
Artistic people are learning constantly, learning while being engaged in conversations. For example, in the case of the drawing-meeting, a format that has been taking place regularly for decades, it is a bit like a jam session in music. We try to do that, we play, we test together – that is very important, there is no mediation without “together”.
For me, for example, it is always difficult to leave something like this [unfinished] when you draw. In the case of drawing, however, I can with the help of the others try out how it feels, what it means artistically, how it presents itself externally.

Samuel Herzog: Does this mean that mediation can only take place between artists?
Durbahn: Mediation works best between equals. It’s about a resonance.
Samuel Herzog: That means, museums or art schools cannot operate any form of mediation.
Durbahn: No. Because they have to transport successful content and ideas, and so they can only teach, indoctrinate. Institutions work almost always hierarchically. At best they can create situations where mediation is possible. Mediation is not success-oriented and it is rather a quiet thing.
The conversation was conducted by Samuel Herzog. It is part of a series of talks about today’s art, curated by Sabine Gebhardt Fink, professor at the Lucerne School of Design & Art.

The conversation was conducted by Samuel Herzog. It is part of a series of talks about contemporary art, curated by Sabine Gebhardt Fink, professor at the Lucerne University of applied Sciences and Art.

This conversation was first published on SRF KULTUR, (see also here: http://www.srf.ch/kultur/kunst/junge-kunst-in-der-schweiz).

Durbahn was born in 1952. She lives and works in Hamburg and Lübeck as an artist, archivist and curator. As an employee at Bildwechsel , she is primarily responsible for the Videomuseum . She is the initiator of the video changer video recorder

Samuel Herzog is a freelance author in the fields of contemporary art and culinary art. Since 2001 he is Managing Director of HOIO . In collaboration with the Lucerne University of Lucerne, he discusses the topics of art in public space, cooperation, mediation and production conditions for SRF Kultur in a series of talks .