INTERVIEW WITH KATRIN LUZ
Kathrin Luz, head of communications for dOCUMENTA (13), in conversation with art critic Annette Lettau.
You’ve been in charge of the documenta’s communications department since August 2010. Is this demanding and surely strenuous job a kind of trial by fire?
That depends on your perspective, of course. But, after all, the documenta is still one of the most important art shows in the world, if not the most important. For someone who has spent more than a decade publicizing art, this kind of “Olympic” challenge is just the kind of thing I’m looking for. There’s a team, a special location, and, best of all, the chance to work with the artists. With them, something is always developing, new ideas, new tasks, so that you really have the feeling that you’re in a unique place at a special point in time, where a lot is going on. Something that also goes beyond the art, too.
How do you define your job? And is there already a special staff?
As Head of Communications my job encompasses all of the areas that have something to do with communication, and I have to establish the individual tasks for a continually growing team, and then be there for them, guide them. We always work in cooperation with the documenta management and this staff, covering marketing, some of the sponsoring, and taking care of certain groups of visitors, such as the supporters of international museums, who come to see the documenta in Kassel. However, the main focus is still on classic press and publicity work. Naturally, it can’t be done alone, because two thousand journalists attend the opening press conference alone. So in the communications sector and other fields, the staff is always being replenished. An very important role is played by the project management team, led by Christine Litz, who works with the artistic director, the curatorial staff, and the artists to develop the works on site. Also, there are the equally important accompanying publications. Basically, there are four areas that are under construction: project management, the publications and communications departments, and publicity.
Does your job allow you to influence the planning process?
Here’s where I have to get autobiographical. I spent several years in advertising, specializing in advertising concepts, and I became familiar with all of the highs and lows involved in the nitty-gritty of communications. I began doing this after I received my degree in art history, and was writing my dissertation. Both shared something like a common theme, because the topic of my dissertation was dandyism and self-promotion among artists. After that, I worked as an art critic, but realized that there was a great need for professional support in the art world. So a colleague and I founded a PR agency and took over the publicity work for large projects. In addition, I developed concepts for art fairs, and for exhibitions as communications platforms. Currently, I think that, as a communications specialist, there are many opportunities for me to help develop the ideas behind the documenta, since the artistic director is very interested in considering the communications aspect of everything that she does. Obviously, this is going to lead to intriguing discussions, touching upon all of the themes, with her, management, and the whole staff. But as far as curating itself goes, I don’t have any kind of ambitions in this direction; there are enough — good — curators in the art world, and it seems to me that there is a more urgent need for good publicity work.
So, let’s talk about the documenta management: the past four exhibitions leaned toward personalization. And the current one is also focused around the personality of Carolyn Christov-Bakargievs, who has already produced a very successful Sydney Biennial. Up to now she’s tended to avoid giving out any sort of in-depth information — also a familiar documenta phenomenon.
This public media game of concealment and revelation — about the secrecy surrounding the list of artists, the dramatic narrative underlying the preparations — has got to be as old as the documenta itself, although in the meanwhile, it has become more importance and taken on a dynamic of its own. Naturally, there are different reasons for this, and it surely also has something to do with the overall development of the business of art and the art market, which you have to protect yourself from, from time to time. It might be that, at the beginning, it looked as if Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev was going to go along with the whole game. But if you examine her appearances carefully, you can see that she has really thought about how to deal with this kind of strategy, with the dramaturgy, and the game in a way that is partly ironic and definitely always subversive.
Can you go into detail?
Of course, I don’t want to pre-empt anything, but I’ll say this much: there are going to be “notebooks” and some people are going to speculate about them. Are the authors also going to be the documenta artists, or not? Also, you will certainly be able to make this or that discovery on the Internet site, which we’re re-launching soon. So there isn’t really any kind of hermetic seal, or rigid shielding. Gradually, the public and the media will become aware that the documenta and all of its diverse activities have already begun. Some evidence of this will be the events put on by the artists’ group AND AND AND. Before the documenta, they will work with various artists in various places around the world, holding colloquia, and presenting exhibitions and projects. In this way, they’re taking the spirit of the documenta to places on the periphery, bringing it into unjustly marginalized discourses.
About the big press conference in Berlin at the end of October 2010: the documenta employees were introduced as agents — a rather unusual term in the context of the documenta . . .
Yes, there are now the “agents” and the “advisors,” so that we can make it clear who is specifically involved in the work of the documenta, or who is a consultant or contact point for multi-discipline explorations. After all, the artistic director is also conducting discussions with natural scientists and others in various disciplines, and we are excited to see how far this might actually influence things in the end. About the new classifications: behind this may also be an attempt to escape the multifaceted modes of curating, to get away from that creature, or nuisance, called the star curator. Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev is interested in networks, and definitely in doing a little undercover work, in more subtle activities, quieter appearances . . .
In 1997, Catherine David gave the documenta a stronger ideological direction — it was more theory-oriented. Jean-Christophe Ammann recently commented on that development, “I’m sick of being explained.” What kind of position does Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev take?
To her, the world is not linearly structured or logical, per se. It’s not a world where cause leads to effect, and everything is stringent. So a curatorial concept with a dictatorial strategy or overarching thesis is not for her. She tends to prefer an open-ended principle, which consciously puts the processual — where it’s possible to have many different things next to each other — in the foreground. Also, she believes in the poetic power of artifacts — a good example of that is the tree-object Penone installed in Kassel — and it also shows that she works a great deal, and very intensively, with the artists.
You mentioned the “notebooks” that will appear before the documenta. How might we imagine those to be?
The “notebooks,” which we are working on right now, with Hatje Cantz, will appear in various formats — one hundred volumes are planned — and they have what you might call a charmingly unfinished look about them. They are deliberately priced affordably, and they make it possible for the reader to plunge into the intellectual cosmos of the documenta right now. A pivotal factor is that the majority of these notebooks will be printed as facsimiles, so that there will be something “thrown together” about them, something like Impressionist notes. They’ll communicate the thoughts developing in the scientists’ or artists’ minds as they create . . .
. . .so, a very unpretentious undertaking . . .
. . . completely casual, without having to be perfect and follow the constraints of logic. They’re very associative, not to say “artistic” in the best sense of the word. And you can also imagine it in the remarks, sketches, corrections — this whole process of capturing thoughts, the process itself, takes on a visible form, which will ultimately lead to the documenta, as a broad-based concept.