What is the public sphere today? On turn of events, mechanisms of change and the moments of performative democracy – Interview with Joanna Warsza on Public Art Munich 2018 | 'Game Changers', opening on April 30th

  • 18.03.2018

It’s only six weeks until the second edition of ‘Public Art Munich 2018’, a perennial for interventions by visual artists in the public space, celebrates it’s grand opening. Joanna Warsza, its curator, has given this year's program the name of 'Game Changers’, and has chosen above all to just focus on the intriguing venture of dismantling Munich’s many polymorphic moments of paradigm shifts, from Soviet Bavarian Republic to the arrival of refugees at its Hauptbahnhof. The grand opening will be celebrated in one of the most popular venues of the city today: The Olympic Stadium. RM spoke with Joanna Warsza on the public, the art and the city that encloses a convulsive accumulation of paradigm shifts for the 20th century: Munich.

Mrs. Warsza, when they asked you to present a curatorial proposal for Public Art Munich 2018, what was the first thing you thought?

Oh god, I thought, what do I know about Munich?

What did you know up until then?

Quite little. But I grew up with the ‘Voice of Munich’, which was actually the broadcast by Radio Free Europe beyond the borders of the west block to the east block. The Iron Curtain wasn’t as soundproofed as they said.

So the radio was your entry point?

Radio Free Europe from Munich was broadcast from the middle of the English Garden, in a building constructed by the CIA. There was the Czech Section, the Polish Section, Hungarian and Romanian section and today, it is functioning as a building for the faculty for Languages, Media and Communications of the Ludwig Maximilians University. Even today you clearly see that the architecture was designed to broadcast in different directions. And if you study say media imperialism, you sit in the former cold war radio studios. Its one of the first places I visited in Munich, and now the building is one of the PAM venues, namely for Lawrence Abu Hamdan's project on the politics of sound leaking and forensic acoustics.

That is very specific. And then?

And this is how the research continued: ‘PAM’ has developed as a context-specific series of performative projects. The city became my case study and I became a short-term city curator.

Now you have an amazing team working with you. What have you learned from them?

One of the challenges of this pop-up program is to build all of its structures from scratch and almost over night.

The team members are committed, emancipated, dedicated and professional women and men keeping up with the tempo. With them, I learn what is it to be artistic director, and not only a curator, as the content is not only my responsability, but the humans – both team and artists - that I'm working with.

Nan Mellinger teaches me how to be female-institution and Munich chickeria at the same time; from Gürsoy Doğtas, curator of the discursive program, I am learning how to put the charming engine full-on for the good cause; from Emily Keller head of production, how to detect power structures of inequalities wherever you go. Also fromm Sara Mack, who was brave enough to host PAM at Freispiel Kulturagentur; Cordula Schütz and Leah Kawka became artistic partners in crime, sharing research and sweat; Elena Wölfle in charge of hospitality, makes sure our guests actually arrive, as well as Mirela Baciak, my long term and very patient assistant.

Patricia Reed, the amazing sexy brain does the theory part; Till Gathmann, developes high-end and sometimes, for me, too democratic design, with whom you always have to discuss why all fonts can’t be the same size. Someone who never gets nervous is our technical director Ulli Napp. From Annika Schaarschmidt, how to edit a highly complicated website; And from David Ulrichs in charge with press, to find the solutions to how to mediate this upside down structure internationally. Not to forget our guardian angels: the Kulturreferat. Here we are, working hard to make artists dreams come true.

But if I ask you, in which city would you like to curate a project in the public space, would you have chosen Munich?

Munich would have been probably number 185 on my list, but today it is my number one.

How so?

It is not a city that makes you dream. But I find it appealing for not being so. It’s full of contradictions, historical shifting points, from the Soviet Republic to Nazi history, from American re-education to the tolerance and optimism of the Olympic Stadium, from neoliberlism to the civic engagement and welcoming of refugees at the Hauptbahnhof. Munich is consumerist, hedonist but also engaged and imaginative. As Thomas Meinecke wrote quoting Achternbusch:

'Bavaria is inhabited by anarchists, for the moment they vote CSU’.

It's like as if Munich has given birth to both extremes of the international political spectrum. Even though I live in Berlin and teach in Stockholm, after all this time Munich has become my second home.

You started scouting public places for the PAM together with Nan Mellinger, who also was the project and public program manager of ‘A Space Called Public’, curated by Elmgreen & Dragset back in 2013. How was the process?

Nan opened so many Munich doors for me. We biked, we drove, we walked, we talked. But the whole research didn’t go via the question which public spaces we go to but which public issues do we follow. I don’t deal with ‘Öffentlichkeit’ in the sense of ‘Kunst in Öffentlichen Raum’. I deal with the term ‘Öffentlichkeit’ itself. What is the public sphere today? Public Speech? Public conflicts? I am interested in the turn of events, in mechanisms of change or in the moments of performative democracy – as the sociologist Elzbieta Matynia calls it. The intervals where the society reinvents itself are just like performance – they last very short time, but we live long with consequences of it.

‘Art in the Public Space’ is not only a term, but also a format, which the city department of Munich actively fosters. Do you deliberately deviate from what this concept is supposed to fulfill?

It’s a long debate what public art really means. Art in the public space and public art are not necessarily the same thing. Public for me means making something public, breaking an open secret or a revealing a dilemma, creating a public moment, a public gathering, or public attention with art. I am not interested in the question what sculpture fits in which place, but which problem and emotions it addresses, in which context and in which conditions. Scouting with Nan on the bike or by car, we went of course to certain places, but another way of working was following the Munich issues, charms and problems.

So what are the Munich problems?


We look at many things through ‘PAM’: From football as religion, through chic subculture, post-gentrification landscapes, the festishisation of skiing and sailing, to the black sites of Bundesnachrichtendienst present all over the city. We also follow artist interests or suggested places and contexts for them to work in. Take the mosque in Freimann, in the north of Munich, as an example. It is a place charged politically and socially, suggested by Cana Bilir-Meier and Gürsoy Doğtas, our curator of the ‘PAM’ discursive program. If you google it, you will only find things related to the CIA, cold war, Muslim brotherhood. But the same mosque is a relevant home for a community of 10000 members or more. Cana Bilit-Meier takes this place as a starting point to present an untold story, a narration around the history of the architecture of the mosque based on the term of ’Migrants’ situated knowledge’ (Migranten Situiertes Wissen) reveling perspectives which are not necessary taken into account. The term was coined by observing the NSU trail reporting, in which the viewpoint of the victims and the community was hardly relevant.

No matter how general or how local the issues are, PAM 2018 concentrates in public spaces at the end of the day, or not?

The issues are public. Honestly, I don’t know if the Freimann mosque is necessarily public; it is a place for a certain community to which you have access to if you are invited or somehow related to it. The legal status of the chosen spaces is not necessarily public, either. Olympia Stadium? Yes, of course, it’s a public space, but you have to pay an entry to get in.

So the quinquennial makes them public?

We make all places open and free to all. For example, Olaf Nicolai stages ‘an extremely rare event’ in the suites of the Hotel Bayerischer Hof. A black swan is moving in, a live quote from the Black Swan theory of Nassim Taleb about the big surprises such as financial crises in 2008. The suites of the hotel will become public.

Why is it necessary to concentrate on the performative aspect of works within PAM 2018?

Public Art Munich is a perennial, a big scale regular art event, but it is entirely performative. Usually, when you go to biennials, you have performances as an ‘extra’ side dish or decoration to the whole event, on the airy top of something that is solid. Some curators have tried to prepare some of those big art shows as performative, and at the end of the day they were always confronted with the question: where is the exhibition?

Did you have to struggle to change the direction of the structure of this state format of art in the public space?

There were several problems when dealing with the basic needs of PAM, for example no office, no legal structure, but what wasn’t the problem, was my artistic freedom. And so I took the best of it as far as I could. I always wanted to do something completely performative, political, subtle, context-rooted and yet full of content. We have performances and only one solid structure which is the pavilion that Flaka Haliti and Markus Miessen built at the Viktualienmarkt.

How different is it from a dance or theatre festival?

We deal with mostly visual artists commissions. This is in a logic of a biennial for visual arts, it arrives in your city and you live it with it for a few months. But it is not an exhibition in which with its opening the process ends. We will have an opening every weekend in a difference space, with different issues. We all know that when you go to the documenta in Kassel or to Skulptur Projekte in Münster you will never see all of it. You just think you have an overview. The PAM logic follows the idea of a slow curatorial practice, addressed more to the city. I know not everyone will come every weekend to Munich to see the things, but it’s fine. Missing out and catching it online is a part of the fun.

That means that the reception of this ‘biennial’ should be a processual one?

In chapters. Like a performance biennale, thought in minutes not in square meters.

This is a really new thing to expect from the audience you address. What are the risks you take?

Actually, Elmgreen & Dragset also used a procedural method adding solid works around the city during a few months. In this sense we do something similar, a growing project. Risks? We might not manage to fill sixty thousand seats at the Olympic stadium for the opening (laughs). But I believe that if you curate something in the public space you have to have the same ambition as a football club. PAM starts with the re-enactment of a football match East Germany-West Germany played only by Massimo Furlan as Sepp Maier and Franz Beil as Jürgen Sparwasser. Many people beyond art can relate to it.

To fill up a stadium for an artist’s performance it has to fulfill other expectations beyond the logics of art itself.

I believe that going to see the performance at the Olympic Stadium can be for many just like going for the first time to a museum and encountering art. At the same time if you want to write a PhD in critical theory relating to this performance, you will also find enough inspiration. And there is no such thing as just one public, there are different publics that you address on different levels.

Which are the strategies of the PAM to communicate its wish to address not one but an amalgam of public spheres?

We have a different project happening every week, to potentially reach different audiences. Dan Perjovschi will stage a growing exhibition in MaximiliansForum in the subway passage; Chantal Mouffe will speak in the middle of Viktualienmarkt at night about Leftist Populism and Maria Lind will come to look back at her Munich years as a director of the Kunstverein and to the so called New Institutionalism.

So it is not necessary to count at the end how many visitors the PAM had in total?

Somebody will for sure do the counting.

How can the level of heterogeneity of audiences be measured then?

Every project has its own channels, own audiences, own ways of approach.

Jonas Lund will take over PAM 2018 Facebook channel. What about the audience on social media?

If you deal with the public realm, you cannot ignore social media. It is such a delegated, pretend public space, where the private and the public clash. Jonas is developing the project called ‘Hi Munich: This one is for you!’ with an attempt to use the customizing of advertisement strategies based on data from every Munich Facebook user. For example: María Inés Plaza Lazo, lived in Munich, likes the color orange, goes to Haus der Kunst and local spa is aged between 28 and 35 and comes from Latin America. Through settings like ‘lookalike audience’ or ‘Facebook pixel’ we might find out more about you then you ever thought. This kind of knowledge will develop into an archive of all Munich Facebook users and therefore of city and its preferences.

That’s ambitious.

It’s just starting. Let’s see how it goes.

Let’s jump to another public sphere, the Viktualienmarkt, a very crowded place in Munich. Why of all squares of the city, did you focus on the most touristic, crowded one?

Viktualienmarkt is a place that embodies the charms and problems of Munich. It’s charming, but is overpriced, overcrowded, everyone there is drinking and being loud, but at ten in the night the place is deserted, because people are already in bed preparing for work the next day.

It’s nice to get critical beyond the municipal spaces. I just hope it doesn’t stay isolated as an UFO in the middle of the hustle and bustle.

The Pinakothek der Moderne is the one with an UFO on its square. But no, it won’t be like that. It will merge with it. Flaka Haliti, who designs the pavilion together with Markus Miessen, was interested in the Situationist methodology of psycho-geography, as putting certain traps on the daily routine of citizens in order to go from a to b. This place will be the only home of the project and will function as an info center but also as a place to drink aperitivo. But you tell me, what do you think about the Viktualienmarkt?

It is true that it is the heart of the city’s contradictions, and here it was the first and last time that I paid three Euros for a small avocado, but it is a place I always loved to pass through.

That is why Flaka and Markus decided to have an open pavilion. Everyone can pass through it. It is not a dead end but an instance for openness.

Other unusual performative interventions will be the Futurological Congress by Julieta Aranda and Mareike Dittmer at the planetarium..

…were you also worked at with the RM Basics and paved the way for us.

Yes! And also someone like Alexander Kluge will be part of the whole. With what will Kluge come up with this time?

As you know, Alexander Kluge is turning into a visual artist at the age of 85. He designs the billboard on Lenbachplatz and screens a film called ‘Winter of Love’, referring to the concept of fluidity and the revolts of 1968, starting with the occupation of the university of Frankfurt, but also the Art Academy of Munich. Together with the students of the academy under the guidance of Julia Maier, Kluge and students look at protests, political and social movements from that time until the #metoo debates.

Who is also working at the Art Academy in Munich is Florian Matzner. Someone like him has been working for many years with the notion of art in the public space. Which exchanges have been possible between you both?

Florian Matzner and his project class are doing mediation for PAM. They will be present on-site to answer questions such as: ‘Is this art? Yes, No and Why?’ Florian has been for a long time problematizing concepts that affect the public space and its relation to art, for example ‘Plop Art’, the pejorative but art historical term to emphasize the sculptural pieces made for government or corporate plazas, front of office buildings or parks to legitimize the structures of power. Public art has changed so much since 'Tilted Arch' from Richard Serra, and I believe the best way of understanding the power of it is through context and performativity. I’m not saying it’s the only way, but let’s be honest: public art can be SO boring, while it can be also the most fascinating form of art, through its vulnerability, its extreme exposure to everyday life.

PAM 2018

30 April – 27 Juli
Performances every weekend

proof-read by John Holten.