Dating the Chorus
Published in 'aneducation – documenta 14', 2018
From the distance of about two months since documenta 14 had ended, I spoke to Hanna Jurisch, Yul Koh, and Philipp Spillmann about their experiences as Chorists. Together with Maximilian Gallo, Erik Ritzel, and Verena Sprich, we formed the editorial team of Dating the Chorus.
Dating the Chorus was initiated during documenta 14, which can be regarded as a point of origin although the project that was developed independently of it. At present, it consists of a two-part publication of essayistic texts as well as sketches, photographs, scores, and poems about art mediation and art theory in general based on the practice of mediation at documenta 14. Dating the Chorus primarily developed out of a need to provide an independent, public, and autonomous platform as a collection of individual voices from within the heterogenic group of art educators—the so-called Chorus.
Our conversations revolved around the everyday experience of work informing our Dating the Chorus endeavors. We used the piece you’re reading as a context to discuss of three main questions: What were you surprised by during your work at documenta 14? What did you learn during it? What advice would you give to the Chorus of a future documenta? As triggers for personal reflections, these questions lead to three quite distinct talks about personal growth, group dynamics, the notion of servitude, and the virtue of ignorance as self-protection.
The following is documentation from my personal recollection of these three conversations.
Personal Development and Individual Growth
In our talk, Hanna Jurisch speaks in detail about documenta 14’s ongoing impact on her personal development. Primarily driven by her encounters with visitors, she speaks of documenta as a place of dialogue.
Unlearning, to her, is a challenging concept for art mediation. She articulates having learned to generate knowledge through exchange with others, instead of just trotting out acquired knowledge. Philipp Spillmann describes this as “non-monologuous” communication.
For Jurisch this discovery implies not only seeing “learning” as an ongoing process but as a continuous allowing for learned knowledge to be influenced by new information—learning processes become part of any working experience and embrace unpredictability as a strength.
Jurisch recounts experiencing collective thinking processes during walks in situations such as: discussing the production of Indigo with visitors who happened upon the color by making it in the context of a colour-making workshop; an orthopedic doctor describing stump correction surgeries after limb amputation; or the phenomenon of “pink noise” described by a visitor suffering from tinnitus. She understands these moments of “thinking in the group: as crucial to breaking down seemingly predisposed hierarchies through honest confrontation with diverse realities.
Yul Koh elaborates on her frustration by complaining through constant recaps of negative experiences:
Even though there were initiatives such as walks organized by Chorists for Chorists or Dating the Chorus, it seemed as though the Chorus in itself remained a gathering of individualistic people who didn’t tap into their full potential as a group.
People wanted to be heard but they didn’t want to take risks or responsibility for their own experience. Instead of focusing only on one’s own perspective, better try and create something together with others.
The two issues of Dating the Chorus—one released in mid-August and the other released in mid-September 2017—brought together perspectives of over fifty Chorists, whose experiences were colored by their personal receptions of and by society.
A large part of the focus on individual experiences within the Chorus had to do with the nature of Chorists’ work, as Spillmann illustrates:
Chorists found themselves in a conflicting position. While the working group of Dating the Chorus worked together “for the love of the project” and started growing together collectively, the Chorus itself was a crowd of individuals who came together in the context of a job.
Spillmann speaks of moments of conflict and insecurity with respect to the Chorist’s position resembling that of a servant. He describes how hierarchy was enforced in situations in which visitors refused to accept that their expectations deviated from those of the walks. [ or he says judged him and his opinions personally, on the basis of his vita: ] [Maybe instead:] In situations where the hierarchical positions between paying visitors and employed mediator became apparent, Spillmann recalls being persoanlly judged on the basis of his professional background.
At the same time, all Chorists distinguished themselves by being “talents”. As Chorists we found ourselves in the company of outspoken, somewhat open-minded and intelligent individuals all of whom had been chosen for this job based on their professional and personal qualities. Being put, or rather, putting oneself into the hierarchical position of “servitude” created contradictory experiences.
The Chorus started late on reflecting such issues together.
The Virtue of Ignorance as Self-Protection
Koh: Everything seemed to repeat itself. Exhaustion crept into walks, over time.
Spillmann and Jurisch both describe similar feelings: Initial eureka moments soon faded into repetitive routines. Rather than working on a consecutive process of learning and reflection, each walk started from the similar vantage point of first encounters, limited in their ability to generate exciting ideas.
Koh: The experience of the walks did not just depend on the Chorist but also on the group itself and their will and ability to communicate with each other. After a while, each Chorist learned to deal with situations in their own way; by not taking bad experiences too personally, for example. Instead of dissecting every walk, I would go meet friends and focus on things other than documenta—like playing basketball, eating together, or grabbing a beer. Dating the Chorus also became important in order to channel frustration into something productive.
Self-protection can be a remedy for frustration, shifting focus from the everyday experience of documenta towards something that would challenge and bring joy in a completely different manner.
Together with about 160 individuals, I worked as a Chorist at documenta 14 in Kassel for more than three months and experienced the event from the perspective of a cultural worker/art mediator. The self-initiated project Dating the Chorus has added a strong element of reflection and awareness as well as self-empowerment and sense of activeness to my experience of documenta 14.
Spillman: Dating the Chorus became an outlet for critical reflection. It went beyond the scale of the individual towards gaining a more collective momentum after the release of its first issue. About a month before the end of documenta, the publication had started to spark reflections within the Chorus and discussions with the public.
Koh: While Dating the Chorus brought the Chorus together in understanding each other’s diverse experiences, the dynamic of the Chorus as a group remained far from that of a collective.
Jurisch illustrates how communication expresses individual knowledge that is shared in collective moments. For the Chorists of documenta 14 Dating the Chorus became a tool for such communication.
Maybe the moral here is that a project such as the documenta Chorus requires a reflective outlet as a support structure for its participants. Luckily, seven Chorists made the effort to voluntarily realize this project after work hours. Nevertheless, it’s certainly worthwhile to consciously invest in a project such as Dating the Chorus to add moments of awareness and reflection to the experience of the work of art mediators in the future.
Hindsight is easier than foresight.