Duygu Örs – Exploring the possibilities of redistribution

In which context are you working as an art educator?

I currently work as a project manager for education & mediation at KW Institute for Contemporary Art and also for the Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art. I actually landed here by accident. I honestly didn’t know KW or the Biennale, nor did I know what the term “mediation” meant. There was a position advertised as an assistant in the field, and it sounded very exciting. I was lucky that the position was tied to the REALTY project, which focused on the connection between art and gentrification. So I was able to bring in my knowledge from urban research. Later, I found that the discourses and methods from urban studies were also incredibly useful for my work in art education. For example, if we were to understand museum spaces as parts of the urban commons and consciously locate them in the structure of the city, what could they mean for urban societies? 

With whom do you cooperate?

This is about to read like some name-dropping, but I simply couldn’t have answered the question any other way – nor is it complete. In KW, I work together with my colleague Katja Zeidler. I always say that I went through the Zeidler school. She introduced me to the field of art education and in exchange with her I was able to develop my own practice. Last year I switched to the Berlin Biennale and worked there together with art educator Laureline van den Heuvel as well as with artist and art educator Isra Abdou. We set up a loose conceptual framework for the mediation of the Biennale, which the ten freelance mediators – Rüzgâr Buşki, Barbara Ida Campaner, Samira Ghoualmia, Hannah Kirmes-Daly, Adi Liraz, Alexia Manzano, Riako Napitupulu, Carla Veronica Romero, Viviane Tabach, and Joshua Weitzel – individually and collectively filled with specific ideas. We also had guest colleagues, such as the youth panel “Schattenmuseum” or the art mediator Jeanne-Ange Megouem Wagne, who expanded the program with their contributions. Because mediation was central to the curatorial concept of the 11th Berlin Biennale, we were also in close contact with the director of the Biennale, the curators, and were well connected with colleagues from the curatorial office, communications, and the box office. This was an incredibly enriching work experience. Outside of my contract work, I am working on various other projects, currently intensively together with the artist and art director Elif Küçük on Kurdish art as a practice of resistance.

What is your understanding of art education?

Personally, I usually approach art education in the sense of spatial mediation. Before art can be mediated, the museum space in which the art is located must often first be negotiated. The concept of “museum” is already very exclusive, full of barriers that prevent a large number of people from coming into contact with a work of art at all, while allowing others to move and act within it as a given. Sara Ahmed speaks of “atmospheric walls“, I find this term very suitable, because these walls are perceptible by some and do not exist at all for others. For people who are already well versed in these spaces, I rely on a deconstructive approach to mediation. However, my focus tends to be on people who have little to no exhibition experience or who cannot access these large institutions. Perhaps, because until recently I was one of these people myself. For me, this is primarily about a right to museum spaces, to their material as well as immaterial resources. I would like to draw attention to this right and explore possibilities of redistribution in a very practical way. My mediation practice is therefore perhaps more of an accompaniment; it begins even before the visitor enters the museum spaces, in a more barrier-free invitation. In the spaces themselves, I try to make sure that people feel comfortable or understand why they might not feel comfortable. Especially for marginalized people, visiting an exhibition space is often a physically demanding experience. “All are welcome” does not necessarily mean that it is expected that everyone will actually come all the time. This can be sensed by looks, by the language in which one is addressed, or by the space that is opened. Who can come as a visitor, who comes as a participant in a temporary educational project, and what happens afterwards? My understanding of art mediation is based on these questions and is becoming more and more politically motivated.

Why mediate (contemporary) art? / Why educate people about (contemporary) art?

Actually the contemporary comes with an unbelievable opportunity. It is the Now, and what happens from this Now on. But who negotiates the present, shapes its aesthetics, sets the canon, produces knowledge about it, who archives what, makes historie(s) from it, who sends which visions of the future into the world and who is involved and how? Unfortunately, it is a white Western collective memory that continues to be worked on here. Do we have to try again sometime later to look at “the contemporary” from other perspectives? Therefore, it is imperative to mediate contemporary art and art spaces – while being critical of power and mobilizing at the same time.

To what extent can art education and art mediation open up a new sphere of action?

An emancipating art education can open up spaces for action for different audiences, support them in organizing and using these spaces. I think that the most important thing is to position oneself in this task of being open by constantly reflecting on it. What is the attitude from which we work on outreach, mediation, education? What are the different forms we design? With whom do we work on them?

Why is art education important for a museum or an institution?

Because a museum is a public institution, but as it currently functions, it is only relevant to a limited public. Through a critical mediation practice, different publics can be reached, which not only find a space for themselves in the mediation, but through mediation can claim further possible spaces in the museum for themselves. Whether art institutions really want such a trajectory is, of course, another question.

When do you think art education is successful? When do you think art education is complicated?

It is successful when it manages to dissolve the initial dependency on itself and its offers, when people want to and are able to use the spaces and resources that art mediation should make accessible to them in a responsible manner. I have become allergic to mediation that is either covertly or openly paternalistically motivated.

Where do we find the (institutional) spaces, in which we can have a discussion about our experiences of art?

To be honest, this question took the longest time for me to answer. I keep stumbling over the “we” and am not sure from which position I want to approach this question. I therefore answer in thought fragments. As a non-white person, I have experiences in the context of art that I mostly process in informal settings, outside of institutional spaces. Fortunately, through my work in the cultural field, I have also met colleagues with similar art experiences, so that together we learn to use these institutional museum spaces for our art experiences in an emancipating way, with a different feeling, a completely different ease. As an art mediator, I place great value on spaces outside of the art context, which can be a meeting place, a public park, the neighborhood library, a home. These are places that work very well as spaces of gathering and exchange for different publics. We should take the art experience from our ivory towers to those places and perhaps re-locate it in the art institutions at a later stage. As a Kurdish person, however, I lack institutional spaces per se. This means drawing on a collective repertoire of experience in which the “institutional” is defined quite differently and must be continuously renegotiated. Institutional spaces open up here, for example, when certain people are present, or when a language that is not anchored in state institutions manifests itself materially or acoustically. So, what do we understand as “art experiences”, what do we mean by “institutional,” and how do we conceive spaces and their potential meanings?

In what kind of relationship do you see the practice of curating and educating?

They actually can’t be practiced separately. But I see the problem in the understanding of the public that is established in most art institutions. There is a strong hierarchical separation between the public that the curatorial practice addresses, for example with its exhibition program and accompanying events, and a “rest” that is not considered part of this public, that “needs mediation” and therefore often seems to belong in an educational program. I think there is often a lack of a bigger picture: there are different publics, all with different needs, desires, knowledges, and experiences, and thus a diversity of formats is necessary. They would all need to be equal, in my opinion. A holistic approach in which the practice of curation and mediation are thought together would manage to create moments in which different publics can also come together. The right to to museum spaces, and the opportunities those spaces might offer, is for multiple publics. The current understanding of the public sphere offers this privilege only to a very specific public.

Is there a specific method or strategy you currently work with?

In an institutional work setting, I’m always in favor of not much asking for permission or reporting in detail about the placement, just do it. It’s still the best and most responsible way to work under the radar. In my opinion, this is the best strategy to protect oneself and the people one interacts with in mediation from the dynamics of the neoliberal art machinery or, at least, to prepare them for it.

What are you currently working on?

On practices of power-critical, responsible curation and mediation.

Which books and projects are important for your work and why?

It always depends on what is on my mind at the moment. Currently, it is the “right to the city” movement and whether and how a right to a museum could be located within it. On my table right now are books/articles by/about Sara Ahmed, Andrej Holm, Nora Sternfeld, the Rojava Film Commune, bell hooks, Theresia Leuenberger, Michel de Certeau, Bénédicte Savoy and the Zwischenraum Kollektiv.

Which questions would you like to ask an art educator?

I always like to ask about how you situate yourself and what motivates you.

How do you imagine the future of art education?

Definitely more political, with less awe of the houses we work in, but instead with more activating hope, with more marginalized people in decision-making roles, and with closer collaboration with colleagues in political education.


Duygu Örs has a degree in cultural studies. She researches and works on topics of postcolonial urban and Kurdish studies. Since 2018 she has been working in the field of education & mediation at KW Institute for Contemporary Art and since 2019 additionally at the Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art. In her mediation practice she deals with questions of institutionalized formats and their (in)accessibility. She is particularly interested in the atmospheric and sensory in museum spaces as well as the negotiation of the public sphere and the right to “the contemporary”.

Suggested Citation: Örs, Duygu (2021): Exploring the possibilities of redistribution. Interview, The Art Educator’s Talk. What does s/he say? Available at: https://thearteducatorstalk.net/en/?interview=932

Interview: Gila Kolb

Image in header: Screenshot: Duygu Örs 2021.