“Conversations” are among the most productive formats of theoretical and discursive production: think of the conversations between Claire Parnet and Gilles Deleuze (or the dialogical principle obviously underlying Deleuze’s joint publications with Félix Guattari) or the interviews carried out by Pierre Bourdieu and his team for the book “The Weight of the World”. A conversation that does not simply serve as mutual reassurance, but which instead productively challenges one’s own blind spots and unquestioned premises, is anything but simple. An almost psychotherapeutic dynamic can arise from weighing up when to probe deeper, when to interrupt and when to keep silent so the interviewee can begin to speak. The “art of the interview” goes beyond the naïve notion that it is enough to just “let the tape run”. Instead, the specific “grammar of the conversation” – the set of techniques for conducting a conversation – has to be related to the concrete situation at hand. In this way, a new, specific surplus value can result from the “scheduled meeting” (“entrevue”), during which you “see each other briefly” (“entrevoir”) – this is the French etymology of “interview” – and from its later editorial reworking. With just this in mind, we conceived of the current issue of Texte zur Kunst.
But how can we even speak to each other at all, when communication has long since been elevated to “queen of productive forces” (Paolo Virno) in the post-Fordist economy? Demand has never been higher for marathon-interviews and interview-marathons (of the sort recently carried out by Rem Koolhaas and Hans Ulrich Obrist at documenta 12 in Kassel, not their first or last such undertaking …), for supposedly authentic “face-to-face” situations, for the verbatim words of artists, who have to line up in front of their works and explain them to critics and public. Artists above all are forced to provide information at every turn, whether to the collector who demands explanation of a work about to change ownership, or when writing a press release, or in justifying themselves to journalists in countless preview interviews. It seems we don’t just have to cooperate in the “new spirit of capitalism” (Boltanski/Chiapello), we also have to communicate till we drop. But while there is no end to artists’ statements, to workshops and roundtables, to discussion platforms integrated into works and curatorial concepts themselves, it is clear that these occasions do not actually lead to debate in any strict sense. Even within our own milieu, it is striking that internal differences are hardly ever fought out, people wriggle out of clashes, and potentially contentious themes are simply avoided. With this issue, we wanted to change that.
How are we to have these debates in a meaningful way, and get beyond the communication-for-communication’s-sake that dominates today’s art business? An obvious place to start is by differentiating between various types of conversation. On one side would belong all the conversations which take place only for the sake of talking, whose naïve, idealistic concept of communication seems to say: the main thing is to keep talking, our conversations are themselves evidence of our openness, flexibility, progressive thinking and sense of the collective, and so they are a guarantee of the continued production that drives the discourse of contemporary art. To avoid this type of conversation, it is crucial to have a concrete set of questions which provokes difference, sets off profound differences of opinion, and best of all, ignites discussion about one’s own underlying assumptions.
It is today no longer a question of a 1970s-style, generalized “culture of conflict”. Now documenta 12 has very kindly given us a concrete occasion for blatant disagreement. The exhibition, curated by Roger M. Buergel and Ruth Noack, poses questions, but wisely leaves the work of answering them to others. In particular, concepts introduced by the curators themselves are left for others to develop. Never before has opinion on an exhibition-event been so widely divergent, with the exception of its unanimous and at times polemical slating in the international press. Even in the context of our own journal, discussion of documenta 12 has revealed vast differences of opinion – we wanted to use this situation as an opportunity to hold these long-overdue internal discussions in public.
By now, well-meaning conversation between artist and curator appears to be an indispensable part of every new catalogue, not to mention the events accompanying the exhibition. In comparison with this kind of frictionless congress between different art-world actors, Andy Warhol stands paradigmatically for a kind of refusal to answer. In a variety of ways, Warhol continually withdrew from fixed, intentional meaning – at times he simply repeated the questions posed, at times he left it up to the interviewer to formulate an answer, but mostly his simple “No” was enough to leave interviewers unsatisfied. But where Warhol radically cast doubt on the truth content and informational character of his statements, thwarting any idealistic notion of a “successful conversation”, today’s young artists seem to feel almost forced to eloquently justify themselves. They are not generally confronted with questions as to the authority of their interpretations and explanations. Instead, it seems a relief to all concerned if the roles of producer and of recipient are in agreement.
“Conversations” is a general concept which subsumes various types of communication – the interview, for example, or the roundtable discussion, both of which have long since taken their place alongside the essay and the review as defining art-critical formats. Even within the “interview”, various sub-types can be identified – the information interview, the confrontational interview, etc. In this issue, we have made a further distinction between two levels of discussion. First, the level of the concrete conversation, which can nonetheless reflexively communicate something about the form itself (see the roundtable discussions about “substance and popularization of contemporary art”, about documenta 12, and the interview with Paul Chan). Second, there is a meta-level of texts which deal with the conversation as a genre, with interview techniques across a range of social, artistic and academic fields (see Ulf Wuggenig’s contribution), as well as with the function of the artist interview, positioned between the giving of information and its conscious refusal (see the articles by John Miller and Rhea Anastas). Taken together, both levels aim to develop a reflexive conversational form, which would resist the bio-economical desire for “liveliness” and the supposed authenticity of the spoken word versus the written. At the same time this form would turn conversation into a format in which a “third thing” could come about, something unpredictable, beyond the intentions of either party to the conversation. We hope it might thus be possible to carry on communication in a way that thwarts post-Fordism’s demand for communication as a desired commodity, while also reviving the antagonisms all too easily covered over by the contemporary imperative to cooperate.
As always, we give English translations of interviews and texts from the main section to make them available to a non-German-speaking audience. In addition, from this issue on, texts in the Review section originally written in English will appear in both languages, with the English versions published in the “English Section”.
(Translation: Brían E. Hanrahan)