Dörte Ilsabe Dennemann – On-site art education

In which context are you working and cooperating as an art educator?

Dörte Ilsabe Dennemann: I work in various contexts and constellations: at the Kunstverein Wolfsburg I have been running the art education program “Lokale Liaison” (founded by Anne Krause and Claudia Hummel) since 2010 and in 2011 I have taken over the art education project “Ortsgespräch” by Constanze Eckert and Anna Zosik at the Städtische Galerie Nordhorn. Both “Ortsgespräch” and “Lokale Liaison” – as the interview’s title already suggests – aim at a quite site-specific conception of the education around the exhibition.
„ortsgespräch“ (“local conversation”) is the branch for the education and communication of the exhibitions to completely different adult circles, in order to speak in the criterion of the target groups. In cooperation with groups, associations, institutions and companies, we develop suitable projects that enable mutual exchange or interesting approaches to artistic practice. An educational program for children and young people is developed by the art school, which is closely connected to the Städtische Galerie Nordhorn. That is why I work here with Dr. Thomas Niemeyer, director of the gallery and curator of the exhibitions, as well as with Karin Pena, director of the art school.

We coordinate with each other and can thus offer a quite extensive programme and an “ensemble” of education strategies. The aim of this work is to promote a genuine and sustainable examination of contemporary art on the spot and to communicate art as something that can be used by all of us, including for our personal and everyday questions, as a source of orientation.
With “Lokale Liaison” my colleague Markus Georg and I proceed in a similar way, but also develop the educational programm for children and young people: Markus works together with school classes in workshops and actions, which then flow into the “sprungbrett – Magazin von Kindern Jugendlichen über Kunst und Kultur“. The magazine is then available as a print edition and online as a blog.

Both institutions are explicitly supported by the Niedersachsen Ministry of Science and Culture and other sponsors such as the VGH Foundation, NORD LB and Grafschafter Volksbank e. G. for the development of new, interdisciplinary education aimed at as many different groups and actors as possible. This is an extraordinary and highly esteemable cultural-political concern, because it makes a great deal possible, not only quantitatively, but also with regard to the very different methods and approaches of education, which can be developed here from experiment to maturity and transferability to other institutions.

I see art education as something that on the one hand, art is always developed locally in an institution, locally in cooperation with different groups of people, different public spheres and relevant themes, and on the other hand, arises from current art production, its questions and formal, artistic strategies. In addition, the state of Niedersachsen is making an exemplary contribution to practice and theory building in the nationwide and international, increasingly professionalizing and networking scene in art education.

In addition to these two wonderful programs, I found the Berlin branch of “The School of Life” together with a small team. Here we develop a series of courses, lectures and events in which we make use of ideas, works and theses from philosophy, psychology, art and culture in order to find “applied”, individual answers to questions of everyday life: How can I deal with conflicts? Do I really need a “relationship”? How do I find the work that really suits me? How do you live in a big city? How can I communicate better with colleagues and my partner? It is interesting that here the direction is being changed and, for example, an art exhibition is being received in response to what the “I”, the self here can “cut itself off” for one’s own life.

What is your understanding of art education?

DID: Enabling and initiating the confrontation with art, in which all those involved, the institutions, the various partial audiences and also the artists experience and get to know something new from a different perspective. It is important to me that a responsible dealing with art, a “learning to read” takes place and that we can reflect on the contexts of art in which it is created. For me personally, art education is an opportunity to open up the world to me.

What is the relationship (for you) between education and art?

DID: On the one hand, there is art that can and should stand for itself. On the other hand, there is an increasing public interest to understand these in their contexts, in an argument. Art is actually always there first and provides the impetus for the conception and implementation of an educational project.

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

DID: Because dealing with art forms and because education is able to open many doors, makes it possible to think and act more freely. In a classically interdisciplinary concept of education, art education can combine, develop and pass on knowledge of art, art forms, genres, history, sociology, natural sciences, etc. in a classically interdisciplinary way. Completely in the art-historical understanding art is able to grasp in picture and form what is happening around us and now contributes to writing and depicting history and/or even critically questioning it.

In addition, art education can promote a change of perspective and self-education. Understanding who you are and what options there are in your lifestyle, being able to discuss the institutionally generated understanding of art critically, but also in a well-founded way – these are vital potentials that I see in the confrontation with art.

For the first time, art is explicitly socially relevant, appeals to current debates – but even if it seems at first to be more remote from the world – it always radiates a certain perspective on what we encounter at the moment. In this way, for example, our understanding of our own work is enriched in concrete terms by the examination of the concept of work with artists. It gives me great pleasure to constantly seek new paths in linking the contexts of art with the complexity of people. Developing “reading aids”,”translations” and “approaches to dealing” with and for visitors can also lead to quite fruitful experiences and insights for all those involved.

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

DID: Curators and mediators can at best enhance each other, take each other with them and value each other in their fields of work, if they consider each other in their practice, but allow them to work and act autonomously. The medium of an exhibition with a certain selection of artists, their works and the development of a dramaturgy or experiential architecture in space are per se a form of mediation. I also consider my work as a mediator as a curatorial, or in other words, as a planning, step-by-step coordination of the exhibition contents with the pedagogical objectives and the multi-layered prepositions of the different local public spheres and groups. This process also gives rise to considerations concerning public relations at the respective house: How do I communicate with whom? What can attract attention and generate interest in a particular medium? The transitions between curatorial, mediating and press work are fluid and it becomes incredibly fruitful when the people responsible can work together productively.

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

DID: Art museums and art institutions have, in addition to the five classical museum tasks (collecting, preserving, researching, exhibiting and mediating) to fulfill the public educational mission contained therein. Art education works in a variety of methods and contexts to realize this mission. In this context, art education can also provide an independent impulse back into the institution and art in the sense of an echo or feedback, creating relevance in the here and now, on the spot and in the lives of the people with whom it enters into a dialogue.

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

DID: In the exhibition, in the club house, in the company, in the institutional/museum education rooms and workshops, but also in the own exhibition rooms/atelier, at home at a table.

To what extent can art education and art mediation open up a new sphere of action?
To what extent can art education open up a space for the public to act?
The institution can be a forum in which (sub-)public spheres are also given greater visibility, e. g. when the results of the workshops are exhibited in the Städtische Galerie Nordhorn for the finissage of each exhibition and all participants are invited. At the Kunstverein Wolfsburg, for example, the “Raum für Freunde” (Space for Friends) provides concrete space for its own use. The room for action also arises in the visitors themselves, for example, when they come into contact with themselves through inspiring questions. Our “inspiration cards” for the walk through the exhibition are a tried and tested example of this.

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

ID: I think it was successful, for example, if the participants give the impression that they have an eye-opening experience and if they come back or tell me that they have now gone to other exhibitions. It has also been successful if a thorough examination and discussion of the works is followed by something that makes it possible to transfer them to the visitors themselves, and if this goes a little bit away from the work itself – then something constructivist has developed here. It becomes difficult if only knowledge is reproduced and next time the visitors ask again:”What do I need to know, so that I can understand it?” But learning and also mediation can only take place through dialogue and in a (serious) constructivist process, has already established itself in expert circles, but this changed understanding of education is not implemented everywhere in practice.

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

DID: I look at the works of the exhibition in question, research, question the artists, deal with the thematic bracket of the exhibition and study the composition of the local public. I always try to find groups that might be interested in the content of the particular exhibition. Together with respective project partners, I develop artistic research settings for many exhibitions, in which we use field research methods to examine individual aspects of the exhibition in greater depth and locate them in our own environment. This leads to very complex processes and finally to small exhibitions of it’s own.
Since my traineeship in K21 at the Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, I have been looking for an intensive conversation with interesting people from other professions in the form of salons, small tours or here in Nordhorn with the “Ortsgespräch des Wissen” (local conversation of knowledge), which, from a professional point of view and in connection with small practical exercises, can expand the pure art studies reading of the works. In this way I would like to impart that we can all develop an interesting and serious interpretation of art from our own context of knowledge, which opens up and communicates sovereignty and can then be supplemented by specialist knowledge in a next step.

What are you currently working on?

DID: Referring to the exhibition “Verführen” (Seduction) we are working on a multi-section project in Wolfsburg with pupils on the topics of migration, its associated attributions and how it is addressed by artists. We develop a magazine and exchange ideas with the Islamic Cultural Center Wolfsburg and pupils of the German School in Sharjah. Sharjah is located in the United Arab Emirates, an Islamic society consisting of 85% immigrants who have no political or cultural say. Migration, both here and there, is under very different circumstances, also culturally. We would like to investigate this in more detail in an exchange with the students via e-mail, Skype and by mail. An exciting project, the results of which are to be presented in the Islamic Cultural Centre in the summer (2016). Last year (2015), I worked as a scholarship holder of the Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen (IFA) at the Education Department of the Sharjah Art Foundation and on the occasion of the Sharjah Art Biennial – a great, eye-opening time from which this project developed.

In Nordhorn, in reference to the exhibition “Remember Lidice” and in collaboration with an art course of the 10th grade of the Gymnasium, we are working on a research project in which the pupils will develop their own works on historical events, but also on current political issues. The art teacher also teaches history, which makes the discussions and the practical project work very fruitful, also for me personally.

For “The School of Life” we are currently developing the lecturer line-up and the program for the first months. Here we first try to define the framework by developing thematically and in the formats.

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

DID: These are the “classics” of art mediation such as the texts by Irit Rogoff, Carmen Mörsch or “The emancipated Spectator” by Jacques Rancière, “Von Kunst aus” (from the art) by Eva Sturm and others. I have always been inspired by “The School of Life” with regard to the multidisciplinarity, the methodical combination of theory and practice in their courses and the reference to personal topics and questions. Alain de Botton’s book and work with “Art as Therapy” opens up very interesting perspectives. Also Nina Simon with the book “The Particpatory Museum” or Daniel Tyradelli’s book “Müde Museen” (tired museums) are important references for me. Then there are the programmes, institutions and the work of colleagues, which I keep looking at again and again: The working methods of Charles Escher at the Van Abbemuseum Eindhoven and the projects developed there (which Daniel Neugebauer represents here), approaches of the “Unlearning” at the historical Bauhaus and in the mediation work of the successor institutions in Weimar, Dessau, Berlin, the Institute for International Visual Arts in London with its research projects and Emotional Learning Cards, The education department and publications of the Tate Modern in London and the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the GfzK in Leipzig (I admire the curatorial approach of Julia Schäfer) and also the nationwide “Kulturagentenprogramm” (cultural agent program) or exhibitions like last year’s Black Mountain College at the Museum Hamburger Bahnhof, are important sources of ideas for my work.

Which questions would you like to ask an art educator?

DID: I’m always interested in how other art educators plan and carry out their work. In which steps they come to the concept and process they initiate in their mediation. Which questions they ask themselves and when they can say, “the seed has sprouted”.

How do you imagine the future of art education?

DID: I hope that it will become an even more central part of the work of museums and art galleries, that it will be realized, for example, in the form of its own exhibitions or installations, that it will be linked to life-like themes and questions, that exhibition houses will become schools in which we can learn for ourselves and in which we can open up the world for ourselves. I imagine that a varied and interesting programming will continue to take place in smaller towns like Nordhorn.

Dörte Ilsabe Dennemann studied cultural education, cultural studies and aesthetic practice at the University of Hildesheim. As a scientific-artistic assistant, she developed educational offers, mediation projects and exhibitions in the field of modern and contemporary art: at Kellerkino Hildesheim, at the Liverpool Biennial 2002, at the Volontariat of the Dept. of Education in K21 Kunstsammlung NRW, for the Julia Stoschek Collection Düsseldorf, the Neue Nationalgalerie Berlin, the Museum Hamburger Bahnhof for Contemporary art, the exhibition space “mark. 6” as well as the’ Conference on Practice-Based Research’ in the Ph.D. course of studies Art and Design/Free Art at the Bauhaus-University Weimar. Since 2010 she has been in charge of the art education “Lokale Liaison” at the Kunstverein Wolfsburg and the “Ortsgespräch” at the Städtische Galerie Nordhorn. Dörte Ilsabe Dennemann gives advanced training courses and seminars for university lecturers and students of art education. Together with Thomas Biller, she founded “The School of Life” in Berlin, where she is jointly responsible for management and program management.

Published Mai 19th 2016.
Image: Collage, DID
Interview: Cynthia Krell/Gila Kolb, May 2016