At the symposium “Artistic interventions in the context of feminist and migrant self-organisation and collective practices” in November 2013 lectures were held by the artist and theoretician Marina Gržinić, the artist and writer Emma Hedditch, and the artist collective Klub Zwei — Jo Schmeiser and Simone Bader. In the discussion that followed, together with Elke Zobl, Rosa Reitsamer, and Laila Huber they debated questions concerning the role of interventionist practice in their work and in broader feminist and anti-racist struggles, appropriation and equal relations within the arts, and the role of institutions and the creation of counter-spaces and counter-publics.*1 *(1)
To begin with, we would like to discuss the term “artistic intervention”. Could you explain how you see art as an interventionist practice? Is this term a good term to work with, or not?
Emma Hedditch: I think for me what’s interesting to look at is this concrete situation of each time making an artistic work or being invited for a specific situation, and trying to look at what the space you’re in is, for example, this institution. Who comes here and what is it that you propose and what you want to do with inviting us, and the students and how does that fit into your broader program? From that point of view I would say in a sense to respond as an artistic intervention would be to see what we could add or do as a group of people in this moment. What are some of the very apparent, particular, and specific things that are raised at this moment and in the discussion today with the students? What are the most pressing questions? And then try to work with some of those issues. So for me, the artistic intervention is being able to see to some extent the field or the landscape in which you are working and trying to bring something to the discussion and make a kind of a break into the space. But not a break in the sense that it stops or halts the activity in this space, but in the sense that it tries to reexamine what this institution is and what these spaces are. So I have this quite conceptual approach, but this is also the starting point of my thought processes for working.
Klub Zwei/Jo Schmeiser: I find it difficult to define or even to use the term “artistic intervention”. It implies that, as an artist, you would “own” the expertise to act, to suggest changes and should therefore be heard/seen in the public domain. And this is problematic, I feel, especially when collaborating with migrants who are denied such a privileged status in society. Structural differences and how they impact on our thoughts, views, collaborations were a permanent topic of discussion with maiz (Autonomous center for and by Migrant Women): What does it mean to intervene? Then you presume you, yourself, are someone who has the power and the authority to make a certain intervention. Who can intervene? And who can’t? But of course there is something like an artistic way of approaching political issues from a slightly different angle, so that it shifts these issues a little bit and raises new questions. As artists we have a lot of knowledge about images in terms of how they are read by audiences, for example. That is something that we can bring in while maiz brings in knowledge from their political practice. They develop postcolonial/decolonial strategies from a queer feminist perspective and apply them to the Austrian context. They pass on decolonial knowledge to refugees and asylum seekers in their educational work, in German classes, for example. So what results from our collaboration is perhaps a political-artistic intervention, from our point of view.
Marina Gržinić: I will actually take the opportunity and claim this interventional practice, claim in the sense that at the moment that we start to talk about interventional or interventionist practice is actually the moment when I can say that new agencies and new subjectivities are entering what was once the canonical and institutional framework of contemporary art. And here, I mean precisely, for example, new political figures, who are actually immigrants. And if they are not recognized, I actually claim the power of these positions and also the possibilities for art, which was in need of new possibilities. So I would say that the interventionist practice starts also with the demand for self-determination on a double level: one level is the question of what contemporary art can actually do today because it seems that almost no other site stays relevant for relevant questions. That implies social and political bankruptcy. So you don’t talk about these topics in these fields, which would be very necessary, but we actually transpose everything into the field of art. And if this is so, I think it’s very important, because those who are not seen as subjectivities are actually intervening, including myself, because I’m also an immigrant in a certain way although I’m a very privileged one because now I’m a professor, but historically I was just someone from Eastern Europe. I think this is a possibility of self-determination and the new elaboration and determination for contemporary art. So it’s very open and if it’s so open, let’s actually take advantage of this and make a new configuration of what contemporary art can be, and especially, what interventional practices are. Let’s take the power of this, if there is any possibility for art to do something substantially. To finish, as Marie-Hélène Bourcier said: if feminism does not take the questions of race, class, and gender seriously, especially the question of racism, internally, then it is over. I would say if the fine arts do not take these topics seriously, it actually does not have any power in any sense.