Interview with Pascale Jeannèe of the artists' group WochenKlausur
We first met Pascale Jeannèe in 2001 when she visited Glasgow
with two other members of Wochenklausur to be interviewed for a commission
within the Reputations public art programme that we have been developing
for The Castlemilk Environmental Trust.
Pascale had been our main contact at Wochenklausur during the e-mail and
telephone conversations regarding the group's possible involvement
in the project. After a remarkable presentation of their previous projects
Wochenklausur were appointed. We spent a couple of days together making
site visits and discussing many of the issues covered in the following
Pascale and the two other members returned to Glasgow to undertake further
research, hold strategic meetings and conceive of their project. Pascale
was central to the development of this project and was extraordinarily
dedicated to the collective aims of Wochenklausur, to the expansion of
the dynamics of art in the public realm and the aims of Reputations itself.
Throughout our dialogues she revealed her intellectual rigour and capacity
for generosity and fun on many occasions.
Earlier this year we learned from Wochenklausur that Pascale Jeannèe
had suddenly died of heart failure at an incredibly young age. Her loss
has marked Wochenklausur as extraordinarily as did her presence. This
interview is now published in memory of a remarkable artist whom we must
now miss professionally and personally.
Jason E. Bowman and Rachel Bradley (Co-Curators of Reputations) and Matthew
Finkle (Project Manager, The Castlemilk Environmental Trust)
Variant: Could you describe WochenKlausur, the way you work and the work
Pascale Jeannèe: Today many artists are devoting their efforts
to the challenge of setting processes in motion instead of leaving objects
behind. WochenKlausur are such a group of artists who commit themselves
to addressing identifiable social problems.
WochenKlausur has been carrying out social interventionist projects at
the invitation of art institutions since 1993. WochenKlausur roughly translates
as "weeks of closure", 'Klausur' being related to
the English words 'enclosure', 'seclusion' and 'cloister'.
The group's projects are collective efforts that take place within
a few weeks in the concentrated atmosphere of a closed-session working
situation. A strictly limited timeframe gives rise to an unusual concentration
of the participants' energies, allowing the interventions to be realized
quickly. The inviting institution's exhibition space has served as
an office for WochenKlausur during this period.
For the Vienna Secession in 1992, WochenKlausur was invited to work on
addressing a local situation. Karlsplatz, the plaza outside the exhibition
building, was a heavily frequented meeting place for homeless people.
Within the duration of an exhibition, the group worked in closed session
to develop and realize a small but concrete measure to improve conditions
for these people. WochenKlausur created a mobile clinic. Since then healthcare
has been provided free of charge to more than 700 patients monthly.
Since 1993, WochenKlausur has realized 14 projects, including a shelter
for drug-addicted women in Zurich, at the invitation of the Venice Biennial
the group set up eight language schools for refugees in Kosovo, and in
2000 an agency for bringing project teaching to schools in Fukuoka, Japan,
V: Does working by the invitation of arts institutions place limitations
on WochenKlausur's practice, yet perhaps provide access to funding
and resources that might not otherwise be available?
PJ: There are two areas of independent decision: You can choose the subject
you deal with and you can chose to work with, or reject, the institutions
that offer you co-operation.
Art is awarded its status through its recognition, such sanctioning comes
about within institutional mechanisms. Art institutions can reaffirm a
traditional, object-orientated understanding of practice or can participate
in its transformation.
Understanding of what can constitute art changes when the term is used
less to subsume fetishistic characteristics and mercantile aspects, and
instead designates immaterial works that contribute to the transformation
and improvement of ecological, political and social conditions. If WochenKlausur
works at the invitation of art institutions, the institutions are acting
to anchor Activist art practice in human consciousness.
WochenKlausur's intention is in two ways a political one. On the
one hand, each project is a small, concrete contribution to the improvement
of our co-existence and the living circumstances of fringe groups. On
the other hand, the interventions are intended to demonstrate the opportunities
art has to selectively intervene in real life, i.e. in social, political
or economic conditions.
Beyond establishing projects and ensuring a basis for their support politically,
providing for their financing has always been an important part of WochenKlausur's
work. The funding of a project sometimes requires WochenKlausur employing
canny strategies. Our experience from the completed projects shows that
in many fields an unorthodox approach often opens doors and offers usable
solutions that would not have been achievable through conventional methods
and institutions. As such, the art institutions' 'cultural capital'
has been useful when seeking to circumvent bureaucratic hierarchies and
mobilize decision-makers from politics, civil administration and the media.
V: How do you sufficiently inform yourselves in readiness for a project,
who do you consult and what roles will they have in the project?
PJ: The focus of our research depends on the recommendations of artists
and different kinds of experts living in the city, on what was being discussed
in the local media during the last months, and last but not least on the
ideas that arise discussing strategies for the intervention.
V: WochenKlausur's projects have set time-frames within which they
are to be realised. This deadline may reflect a very real sense of urgency
about the conditions that your projects, in part, attempt to deal with.
But, does a strictly limited time-frame for the interventions allow for
sufficient development of the project through interaction with those who
you are working on behalf of?
PJ: The subjects we deal with are very widespread. For this reason we
have to define very strict boundaries for what we intend to change. If
we do not define a concrete goal we will not succeed in bringing about
any real change. Sometimes it is difficult to solve a problem within a
strictly limited time-frame but on the other hand it sometimes gives rise
to an unusual concentration of the participants' energies, allowing
the planned interventions to be realized very quickly.
There are different aspects to the projects at different times. Some are
based on the participation of the people with whom we are concerned but
with others such an integration would not be effective for the project's
success. Some problems can only be solved through political negotiations.
V: What are your criticisms of increasingly fashionable interventionist
projects which have a cathartic function, such as the representational
'Homeless' art you refer to on your web site?
PJ: WochenKlausur believes that art has got its big chance to take part
in the shaping of society and of course there are different opinions of
how this can work. There are artists and critics who see interventionist
art as a mirror that shows us problems and relationships, others see interventionist
art as a kind of depiction of an utopian world where everything is better,
and still others want to see it as a way of healing the human condition
by changing its formal environment.
WochenKlausur prefers the approach which accepts the boundaries of what
can be accomplished. This means not setting the hurdles too low or too
high. If artists set them too low, what they do is trivial. If they set
them too high, they always want to change everything but finally wind
up not changing anything. Thus in the art of intervention we prefer an
approach which is effective. One where clear goals are defined on starting
and which ends with concrete results.
Effectiveness does not have to be a criteria for art in general. Nevertheless
intervention without results is not really an intervention. It is only
the attempt at an intervention or it is just a show.
WochenKlausur is sceptical against fashionable trends that disappear as
quickly as they come up. We do not criticise the fact that art institutions
invite artists to take part at an exhibition that follows a specific topic,
but rather the fact that artists tend to show their work under the heading
of an exhibition without any adaptation to its content. Such homoganization
of different approaches and methodologies provokes misunderstandings concerning
the intended message of the artists and of the exhibition makers as well.
The concept of interventionist art has undergone an inflationary trend
in recent years. In the tradition of many artists who understood how to
actively take part in the shaping of society, WochenKlausur develop concrete
solutions for problems that are solvable. We are very strict with the
use of the word 'intervention' and we would never change its
meaning according to what has become trendy.
V: Could you respond further to the question on your web site: "Does
not WochenKlausur encourage the trend in government towards abandoning
responsibility for social issues?", as you also state that: "The
criticism that WochenKlausur's efforts could be merely treating and
hiding the symptoms - where the state should have acted to bring about
fundamental improvements - is justified?"
PJ: In society, we are used to delegating certain tasks to certain experts,
but there are tasks that cannot be delegated to politicians, social workers
or experts. Artists go in for other tasks than they used to do, and it
could also be their responsibility to find solutions to problems in our
If an artist has an idea of how to decrease poverty in their area, should
they first become a politician to realize their vision, or should they
drop the idea because it's apparently not up to them to deal with
these sorts of issues? WochenKlausur believes that every human being has
V: Is the sustainability of a project a concern when planning it, and
what is your relationship to them on completion?
PJ: All of our interventions are intended to be sustainable, which means
that their continuing functioning can be guaranteed. Still, one of our
projects nearly failed under these terms: Some months after we had opened
a shelter for drug addicted women in Zurich, we were informed that it
had to close again because of massive pressure in the neighbourhood. In
1995 (one year after our intervention) an altered form of the WochenKlausur
group came together again with the goal to bring the project to an effective
close, in which we finally succeeded. But still it's true: The more
projects WochenKlausur has realized the more difficult it gets to keep
in touch with their co-ordinators.
V: WochenKlausur have been developing a project for Castlemilk, Glasgow,
could you describe your intended project and what you hope to achieve?
PJ: We were invited to present our projects to The Castlemilk Environment
Trust by Jason E. Bowman and Rachel Bradley who are curating a programme
of public art commissions on behalf of the Trust.
In April 2001, having been selected, WochenKlausur undertook a period
of research in Castlemilk. From this we were able to define the area of
intervention well in advance of the project starting. This was an interesting
opportunity to develop our practice, being able to define the intervention
before the working period of the project.
In Castlemilk there is a lack of facilities for teenage girls to come
together. They have the feeling that there is nothing to do. WochenKlausur's
research demonstrated that these young people want more opportunities
to meet, socialise and make new friends beyond existing boundaries. For
young people, leisure facilities are a crucial aspect of community life.
They provide a public meeting place for friends outside the home which
retains a certain intimacy and is not as controlled as school.
Our proposal for Castlemilk is to establish an indoor facility that would
be used as a meeting point and creative space for teenage girls.
We'd like to open up a space where girls between the ages of 13 and
17 can meet in privacy. The project seeks to improve the availability
of convenient social facilities for girls. The building would be divided
into several units made available to small groups. What the participants
actually do with their units would be completely up to them; they just
have to use their space actively. To the greatest possible extent, the
facility should be self-managed and autonomous.
Small groups (a minimum of three girls) will take over responsibility
for a certain portion of the space which they can use for any reasonable
purpose they choose. Within this frame, what they do there is completely
up to them. Some of them might use their space for talking with friends,
sharing music, whatever. They can use the space as long as they want for
free, with the only stipulation being that they continue to actively use
and maintain it.