DOCUMENTA KASSEL 16/06-23/09 2007

"The happiest experiences are the ones like yesterday, when the boys voluntarily decided to come back on Saturday afternoon, the best time for soccer." - Interview with Claudia Hummel

Claudia Hummel was the head of the children’s and youth programme aushecken. She studied art pedagogy and conceptual art, and has worked for many years as an independent artist in an artists’ collective. It was the basic idea of aushecken to make documenta accessible to children and young people.

Ms Hummel, what did you do before? Did you have any previous experience with outreach and education programmes with art, or with similar projects for children and young people?

I have never worked in a museum. My own artistic work, however, was always on the border between art and society. And aushecken is also working between art and parts of society. Another important experience for me was my work for the Theater an der Parkaue in Berlin-Lichtenberg last year, where I curated the winter academy. In this academy, artists and school children together develop an artistic production within a week. I learnt a lot there: how children and young people react to artists and artistic ideas, how enthusiastically they work at developing topics for which there is no space in the everyday routine of school.

What is aushecken? Could you briefly outline the concept?

Aushecken means to stay in hiding, and to explore and try out things from the hiding place. Two large outside working spaces were available to us – the baroque Heckenkabinett of the Orangerie and the lawn behind it, where we put up three trailers.  The idea behind that was to open up and make accessible the space of the Heckenkabinett with performative methods. Another idea was to fill the potential space with what aushecken might mean, with the children’s own ideas. These strategies for appropriating space, these movements of thought, were then applied to the exhibition with its themes and works. Aushecken, therefore, had a lot to do with recognising and trying out possibilities, and not just for the children and teenagers participating, but also for the entire aushecken team.

Different formats were offered for this. From Friday to Sunday, there were programmes for the children of day visitors that lasted three hours and were geared to the ages from six to twelve and twelve to sixteen. There were similar programmes for children and youth groups from Kassel and the surrounding area, which, in terms of content, were sometimes adjusted to accommodate the institutional and social context of the group. And a third offer, the school project days, was aimed at school groups.

Photo: Isabel Winarsch
What were these different formats like? Could you be more precise?

In the case of the programmes for the children of day visitors, and for groups of children or young people, the idea was basically to take a performative approach. At the beginning, there were two performative formats developed jointly by the aushecken conceptual team and the outreach staff of documenta 12. For example, they were asked to slip through the hedges, to measure the Heckenkabinett without any aids, or to develop movement choreographies for it in order to devise narrative paths between the works of the exhibition. In the course of the 100 days, the format – because of the high motivation of the team – kept being changed and adjusted, and special formats were developed. Some of the documenta 12 artists, after I had invited them, came up with projects for aushecken. In this way, aushecken became an evolutionary process, just like the activity of the advisory board and the entire outreach programme at documenta 12.

With the programmes for school classes, on the other hand, the idea was that the students should learn to see documenta as a system, machine, or organism, where many many people work, with professions that are not so apparent, such as gardeners, the people who make the curtains or those who set the lighting, or photographers who document the exhibition. This format always included an interview with a member of the documenta team. The look behind the scenes was supposed to give an insight, and to show that such a large exhibition is not something mystical but has an everyday life.

For example, we asked a school group, how, in which way and why works of art might get damaged at documenta. The task was to draw a comic strip about such situations within an hour. At the end, a restorer spoke with the group, in an interview, about the material qualities of works of art, about the problem that the sweat on hands damages the surface of artworks, etc. In this way, we used the question of materiality to reach the content of the works.

Could you describe a special format and give us an example?

Yes, for example, the format Tricksen, conceived by the artist Annette Krauss. There we explored how to interact with exhibition visitors by intervening in their everyday life. Looking for possible ways to do so, one young man crawled on the floor under the chairs of people in a restaurant, and another lost an imaginary contact lens and soon had many people helping him to look for it. Through such created situations, the young people interacted with strangers. Such actions were prepared for with a sensitisation for everyday conventions and people's habits, observations of how one usually moves and behaves at certain places.

Just like the art, sometimes the education programmes also confront people. And that is a means and method to help children and young people gain self-confidence and to open up a potential space for an emancipatory process: To observe carefully, to have the courage to pose questions, to test and extend your sphere of activity.  

After such actions, the group went into the exhibition, where the young people looked for works of art themselves that have a potential for trickery, where artists break the rules of their everyday lives. And in so doing, they were quite easily able to decode the method of artists such as Lotty Rosenfeld or Jiří Kovanda.

Photo: Isabel Winarsch
What was well received, and what less well? What worked well, and what would you do differently next time?

I had an interesting experience yesterday. In a photography workshop with the documenta 12 artist Lidwien van de Ven, the young participants were invited to visit various religious sites in Kassel and photograph them. Afterwards, we invited them into the exhibition. The degree of curiosity, but also the understanding with which the young people approached the art works, which they had gained through their own photography, was simply unbelievable, with the result that they couldn’t get enough and came back again on Saturday. That shows that an engagement with contemporary art works better if it is tied in with your own actions and interests.

The outreach and education formats of aushecken were most successful when we didn’t proceed with a specific pedagogical goal in mind, from A to B. It was important, especially with the children of day visitors, that a group could be formed and that everybody found his or her place in that group, a space to articulate their own thoughts and ideas. Our educational offers were most effective when we concentrated less on creating a product that the children could take home, and more on experiencing a process.

What would I change? In future, a programme for children and young people at documenta such as aushecken should take place at two levels. That is to say, next time I would offer programmes for children and young people, but integrate adults, such as educators, care-givers, professional pedagogues, and even parents. In this way, approaches could be tested together and passions could be awakened that would then be continued later, thus creating an extended sphere of action for all concerned.

Aushecken was the first programme ever for children and young people at a documenta. Did that set up a new standard as far as later events are concerned, but also for other museum and exhibition projects?

Yes, it was the first time that there was a project for children and young people, and it was certainly a necessity at this documenta with its high goals for outreach and education. But I can only hope that documenta 13 will also offer a space to children and young people where they can engage with contemporary art.

Generally speaking, in many ways it is necessary to offer programmes for children and young people at the various institutions for contemporary art. One should take art as an occasion, as a source of stimulation to experience something together, to think and speak together. In this way, art education can lead to a kind of democratic culture of conversation, it can contribute to exploring and negotiating social cooperation. All that can happen just as well with children and young people as with adults. But that was in fact the vision.

What do you take with you from your work in terms of personal experience?

Personal experiences – well, there are lots. It was a great experience to engage with the art through my work with the children and young people. I encountered so many different perspectives, and I saw things that I would have overlooked without the children. I really enjoyed working with the outreach and education team here, and with the artists. And the happiest experiences are the ones like yesterday, the 95th day of documenta, when the boys from Bettenhausen, who had never before been to an art exhibition, voluntarily decided to come back, on Saturday afternoon, the best time for soccer. Of course, we also looked at Harun Farocki’s work on the World Cup final game.

Thank you for the interview.

The interview was conducted by Claudia Jentzsch.


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