The Parliament of Plants and other Cautionary Tales, Where Stories Make Worlds and Worlds Make Stories
Céline Baumann in Conversation with Ethel Baraona Pohl
In 2020, Akademie Schloss Solitude, an international transdisciplinary artist residency program, celebrates its thirtieth anniversary with the slogan »Transformation – Unfolding the Future.« With it, the Akademie is fostering a continuous, open dialogue regarding art and the institution’s role in the context of social transformation. We spoke to director Elke aus dem Moore about how art’s entanglements with other social spheres can nurture transformations toward a better future, and the transdisciplinary, cross-generational exchange that simultaneously unfolds in and through our own imaginations.
Interview with Elke aus dem Moore — Aug 27, 2020
Exhibition »A Courtyard in the barn« by Mariana Jochamowitz & Nicolás Rivera (architecture 2019/2020), Solitude barn, From left to right: Elke aus dem Moore (director of Akademie Schloss Solitude), Mariana Jochamowitz (fellow architecture 2019/2020), Nicolás Rivera (fellow architecture 2019/2020), and Krzysztof Gutfranski (curator of the festival), Photo: Frank Kleinbach.
Dear Elke aus dem Moore, the Akademie Schloss Solitude celebrates its thirtieth anniversary with the theme »Transformation – Unfolding the Future«. Exactly what does this theme allude to?
Elke aus dem Moore: We are living in times of fundamental shifts and are currently experiencing substantial changes regarding society, the world’s ecology and economy, as well as technology. When we began planning the program for our anniversary year, we were not able to foresee the Covid-19 outbreak. Nonetheless, we are referring to a process that became visibly more acute throughout the entire crisis: a transformation regarding the question of how we live together as, and in, a society. And even more so, with regard to how we partake in life lived on a planetary scale. Today, more than ever, it is important to accept these limitations, and with them, the end of the Anthropocene – this, our very age, in which mankind became a geological factor.
Today it is important to realize one’s self as just a part of a whole, and to direct thoughts and actions accordingly toward this realization. At this point of realization, art and artistic research can contribute substantially to shaping our future. I am very aware of institutions’ responsibility to help create a space for collective and artistic thoughts, research, and creation.
Can you further elaborate on the notion of the planetary and that of the collective? In our opinion, it seems to connote something different than the notion of the global, which is rather associated with global economic trends in recent history.
»Today it is important to realize one’s self as just a part of a whole, and to direct thoughts and actions accordingly toward this realization.«
The shift, which is currently underway, affects not only our society but also our entire planet, which is a part of the universe. It has a planetary dimension. By this, I mean that manmade climate change causes both the ecological and the planetary equilibrium to swerve out of control. It’s therefore a matter of the world in the context of other planets, and thus the universe as a whole, as well as only a part of a group of other universes. We would not be able to solely contemplate the world.
From this meta-level I will now return to what’s happening right now on our planet. Because it is exactly (t)here that we, as humans, notice our connections and relationships to others and we thus always have to regard ourselves within a shared context. It’s impossible otherwise. I might add, by the way, that I am not necessarily only referring to other human beings, but rather all life forms that inhabit our planet. We certainly have to acknowledge that besides our human knowledge, other knowledge systems also exist, e.g., of animals, plants, or viruses.
Blumen- und Pflanzenmarkt von Chloroplast e. V. in der Solitude-Scheune im Rahmen des Solitude Mikro-Sommerfestivals 2020, Foto: Frank Kleinbach
Flower and plant market by Chloroplast e. V., Solitude Mikro-Sommerfestival 2020, Solitude barn, Photo: Frank Kleinbach
Let’s talk about Akademie Schloss Solitude. What can an artist residency accomplish in such a situation?
Especially as an international and transdisciplinary artist residency, the Akademie Schloss Solitude represents something with a unifying momentum that generates a shared sum. The Akademie is a space in which manifold interrelations can be reflected upon, novel forms of collective knowledge production and of social togetherness can be contested or tested out. Here, significant thought processes can develop, independent of institutions. This exact multiplicity of perspectives and the artistic freedom it creates are the reasons why an artist residency like the Akademie Schloss Solitude plays a substantial role for today’s society and its complexity. Akademie Schloss Solitude thus holds a potential to shape transformational processes. In the following new mission statement we put this into words beautifully: »Its unique model affords artists and scientists valuable freedom to develop their work and conduct research […]. This freedom allows us to question existing knowledge hierarchies and develop alternative plans for the future.«
Akademie Schloss Solitude is renowned for presenting its fellows’ works in a range of formats, and for making them accessible to the public. In this anniversary year, the Akademie is planning cooperative projects with Stuttgart’s Kunstmuseum and the Staatsgalerie, to mention two examples. What consequences do coronavirus restrictions have for these plans?
We restructured the majority of our formats and programs and emphasize digital as well as smaller formats. This summer the »Solitude Mikro-Sommerfestival« was held on our premises. In a small and experimental setting we were able to at least temporarily overcome the current situation by enabling personal encounters with our scholarship. We benefit from the fact that the Akademie, from very early on, understood the digital as a sphere for artistic action, and that we created a substantial groundwork – with our online platform »Schlosspost« (2015 – 2020) and the »Web Residencies« – from which manifold artistic discourses and the projects of our fellows are more readily launched.
It is this exact sphere that we are currently working on to further expand. Besides the new »Solitude Journals,« which are themed around specific topics, a multitude of recent posts created by fellows and alumni of the Akademie can be read in our new »Solitude Blog.« Apart from these, we are in the process of planning another extension of the Akademie with the introduction of various educational formats and opportunities, e.g., a series of online events with themes revolving around the topic of »Alternative Networks.«
»The Akademie is a space in which manifold interrelations can be reflected upon, novel forms of collective knowledge production and of social togetherness can be contested or tested out. Here, significant thought processes can develop, independent of institutions. This exact multiplicity of perspectives and the artistic freedom it creates are the reasons why an artist residency like the Akademie Schloss Solitude plays a substantial role for today’s society and its complexity.«
We have also created in-house formats, which make cooperation possible. »Ecosystems of Knowledge« is a new format that enables us to deal with the respective topics fellows are working on, bundle them, and make artistic research a collective project. Philosophical topics, like non-human knowledge, can then be approached from multiple angles. To these regularly held meetings, experts are invited in through web-based applications to allow for the discourse to go beyond the Akademie. I regard this new format as a platform for collective knowledge production, as it furthers what is already taking place on a permanent basis within the Akademie’s loose structures.
Pocket Poetry-Lesung im Schloss Solitude im Rahmen des Mikro-Sommerfestivals 2020, Foto: Frank Kleinbach
Could you further elaborate on this form of artistic research? What evolves from it?
Already in the early 2000s, Akademie Schloss Solitude actively strove to reach out to social spheres that usually are not directly connected to the art world, e.g., a cooperative project with the research campus of the German company Bosch. Art does have the potential to operate outside of specific patterns of thinking. This is a prerequisite for innovation and for shaping far-reaching transformations.
»I am deeply convinced that we are searching for something in art – and can sometimes even find it – that is being suppressed in our society.«
In the future, Akademie Schloss Solitude will position itself more vehemently in the field of artistic research, because we are convinced that artistic methods and approaches are of substantial value for creating knowledge and awareness, and thereby enable the launch of discursive processes.
In the near future, we will reflect upon the question of how we can strengthen transdisciplinary research even more rigorously. Beginning in autumn, seven of our fellows will form an international and transdisciplinary group in order to focus on the theme of »Mutation« and to work together on one particular question: How can knowledge from a wide array of different perspectives be brought together? A special focus of this new transdisciplinary program, which will be set up with the KfW Stiftung in Frankfurt, will be based on thinking about how knowledge generated from artistic thoughts, actions, and research can eventually be integrated and implemented into social processes.
After this year, the Akademie plans to initiate an art project in the public sphere, along its historical axis between Residenzschloss Ludwigsburg and Schloss Solitude. Could you please tell us a little more about this project and its contribution to society?
The working title of this project – »Kulturpfad« (Culture Path, or Trail) – aims to bring together our fellows as well as external artists with residents and associations actually located along Solitudeallee in order to ideally transform the historical avenue, which still physically exists, into a unifying element. For the project, an open-ended collaboration with local players is very important. Therefore formats like workshops, for us, are more suitable in contrast to what’s usually described as art in public spaces. At the end of last year we invited representatives from surrounding municipalities, residential initiatives, and universities to round-table discussions. The project sparked wide approval among attendees. They support our intention to make use of certain spaces along the historical axis in a joint creative and inventive process. Up until now, a surprising number of groups and institutions, e.g., the association Chloroplast, and the entire municipality of Stammheim, openly expressed their interest in the project. All in all, we aim at two things: to enable higher visibility for our fellows’ artistic work, and to thereby create new pathways and gateways to art. And, with surrounding municipalities, we want to reactivate this historical axis as a »Kulturpfad.«
You have already mentioned that you desire more and deeper collaboration with young people, both for the project »Kulturpfad« as well as, in general, for the Akademie’s programming. Could you elaborate on the reasons why you are interested in this age group? This will potentially lead us back to our point of departure in this conversation, i.e., the theme of transformation.
I am deeply convinced that we are searching for something in art – and can sometimes even find it – that is being suppressed in our society. In more concrete terms, I am referring to free artistic imagination and composition that takes place entirely detached from well-defined guidelines, and thus, clear principles, which ultimately limit our ways of thinking. Art has one major benefit: processes of thought, action, and research take place beyond realizability for the first time. And this exactly is where young people come into play – as in no other period of a person’s life, adolescence entirely revolves around experimenting with the self and transcending boundaries. From an anthropological standpoint, societies can only manifest progress if they are willing to consciously create spaces for adolescents. One could even translate puberty as a potential for transformation, because change is only possible if we are able to overcome what is limiting us and not are being intellectually robbed from the real experience.
In that sense, people of adolescent age and artists have something in common. I therefore intend to help them come together. As a first step in this direction, I have founded a think tank for young people at the Akademie; its activities will be developed further in the (near) future.
Would you be so kind as to reveal something about the series of lectures that started in July, in connection with the anniversary year?
To this series I have very deliberately invited thinkers, artists, and researchers, who have substantially diverse perspectives on the theme of transformation. Which »ingredients« are needed to better design our future with regard to social life, and the possibility to live in solidarity with one another? The Afro-Brazilian legal scholar Denise Ferreira da Silva will hold a lecture about social justice and everyday racism. She questions our constitution of difference and violent mechanisms that simultaneously occur. With the invitation of Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor I have intentionally chosen to bring a writer to the table whom I admire for her seemingly boundless power of imagination. Currently she is a member of the jury for literature at the Akademie Schloss Solitude.
Elke aus dem Moore: »Art does have a potential for operating outside of specific patterns of thinking. This is a prerequisite for innovation and for shaping far-reaching transformations.« Photo: Kahrmann
We’re very fond of this concept of imagination, because it, in a sense, incorporates everything that we have talked about: transformation, transcending boundaries or limitations, artistic composition. One could actually say that change without imagination is nothing but impossible. Because one is always in pursuit of a goal or an outcome, if one is engaged with making transformation possible.
On the one hand, yes, but I want to add that imagination does not necessarily need these sorts of goals or outcomes, an effect, or a need for immediate action. I want to emphasize this. Please do not get me wrong here; I do experience the current coronavirus crisis by virtue of its uniqueness; it is the first time that humanity is confronted with not knowing what will happen collectively, globally, and on a planetary scale. We will benefit as soon as we are capable of accepting this not knowing, and thus become able to engage with collective imagination.
And through this we return to the topic of art, because artistic processes could be described as a means of dealing with not knowing. You start off with something, but the really exciting moments result from differences in the outcome or deviations from an initial plan.
… or during a walk in the woods. There is scientific evidence that a walk in the woods has an enormous antihypertensive effect. But why is that? Why are the woods the best teachers, but also the best doctors? Because we evidently perceive ourselves in nature the moment we enter it. And this brings us back to the topics of separation and isolation, which, is not only concerned with our relationship to other human beings but more precisely, our relationship to all other life forms and things. As soon as we walk into the woods, we exit a sphere that is familiar to us, in which we are separated into an I or a you. Or into an I or the computer, or an I and society. Of course, the woods still exist as our counterpart, and yet, we do breathe the same air and so can begin the experience of unity. This feeling enables us to think differently again and to gradually transform our ways of thinking.
This interview was conducted by Sebastian Schneider and Denise Helene Sumi.
Artistic interventions on the flags in front of the main building of the Akademie by Erre Erre (Ricardo Reis), Solitude Mikro-Sommerfestival 2020, Photo: Elke aus dem Moore
© 2023 Akademie Schloss Solitude and the author
Céline Baumann in Conversation with Ethel Baraona Pohl
forty-five degrees (Alkistis Thomidou and Gianmaria Socci)
Elke aus dem Moore and Denise Helene Sumi