An Interview with Stefan Krüskemper Is the Artist as “Genius” Obsolete?

Stefan Krüskemper
Stefan Krüskemper | Photo (detail): María Linares

Stefan Krüskemper lives in Berlin as a free-lance artist and is co-initiator of the Citizen Art Days. The project focuses on the creative potential of citizens, urban stakeholders and artists in shaping common public space.

Herr Krüskemper, is participation just a buzz-word or is a paradigm shift in fact to be observed?

Participatory art emerged from work with societal issues, and has been continually evolving since the Seventies. When one thinks of Franz Erhard Walther or Joseph Beuys, or later Christine and Irene Hohenbüchler, the artists’ collective WochenKlausur or Theaster Gates, it becomes clear that it’s not some short-lived fashion. Still, I wouldn’t go so far as to speak of a paradigm shift. If participative art is currently in the foreground, I would rather surmise that very pressing questions concerning new approaches to participatory shaping of society are the reason. People’s need for participation is increasing tremendously. Compared with this, only a limited repertoire of forms for participation exists.

Why are you convinced that, of all things, art projects in which cooperation among citizens, artists and urban players are realized, constitute an appropriate means of counteracting the erosion of the public sphere through segregation, as you maintain?

Art offers a space of possibility and experience that is not so easily produced in other contexts. Socially, these open fields of experimentation are needed to develop and test participatory potentials in a protected space. When different professions work together, local projects that are viable over the long term can be developed with balanced partnerships of this kind. I believe that this kind of co-operation can counteract exclusive forms and practices.

Is belief in a political, social or individual transformation through playful artistic processes justified?

Formulated in such general terms, belief in the transformative power of art is not tenable for me. Only in specific cases can one say something about the quality of an artistic process or the success of a project with participating artists. Sometimes all that is needed to alter reality is a subtle impulse, which nonetheless unfolds a lasting effect, and sometimes a noisy provocation is what is needed to burst open doors that have been shut tight. Success is relative and it’s worth one’s while to take a close look again and again. As long as art does not lose its experimental character, it will not allow itself to be co-opted or functionalised by various interests. It thus does not absolve local neighbourhood management or policy-makers or social-welfare agencies of their responsibility. The artists’ group “Reinigungsgesellschaft” co-operated with inhabitants of the refugee camp nearby during the Citizen Art Days 2013 in Berlin. The artists’ group “Reinigungsgesellschaft” co-operated with inhabitants of the refugee camp nearby during the Citizen Art Days 2013 in Berlin. | Photo: Citizen Art Days/Photo Karsten Thielker I’d like to pick up on your key phrase “quality of an artistic process.” What criteria exist for judging this?

Apart from more general criteria, such as the original approach and a coherent concept, the shaping of the process plays a decisive role in participatory art. What is my relationship with the participants? Do I accept the responsibility I take on my self as a participant? The artist’s inner attitude is also crucial. Art is ultimately always about giving visibility to a context: if I as an artist succeed in formulating something out of reality that previously hadn’t been formulated in this way? Are new synergies and meaningful correlations emerging from my work?

What does it mean for aesthetic quality when the incalculability of the result, the open end inclusive of failure, is constitutive of artistic work? Has the hour struck for Sunday painters and amateur actors?

Many of the most successful theatrical pieces are based on the work of amateur actors. These results are then so convincing when their authenticity joins with the process of consciousness of the conceiver. Take Jérôme Bel’s “Disabled Theatre.” An amateur actor with Down syndrome cannot fail in Bel’s pieces. The artist has built a stable house, so to speak, in which there is security of action, because he has permeated the proceedings responsibly.

In this expanded concept of art, the boundary between quotidian and aesthetic space is sometimes over-stretched so far that the question as to what constitutes the difference between the two spheres imposes itself on one.

I conceive of illuminating and investigating this boundary as an important part of my artistic work. Take, for example, the Citizen Art Days (CAD), which this time was held in a market hall. In the programme overview stood the heading Artists for all project authors, whether they were creative artists, researchers, activists or whatever else, and that made sense, because the point of it all was the open process and this crucial moment of the emergence of art in an initially quotidian context. As far as I’m concerned, the artist as “genius” has long since become obsolete – in favour of an artistic personality acting at the intersection of different spheres, who seeks collaboration and partnership, who is not averse to multiple authorships. What’s important to us as initiators of the CAD is creating the framework, the secure house in which this moment becomes visible and open to debate.

Together with María Linares and Kerstin Polzin, Stefan Krüskemper (1963*) is a member of the Berlin artists’ group “Parallele Welten,” which develops project formats involving external partners. With Citizen Art Days (CAD), the group tests new forms of participation for and with society. In 2013, the CAD were held in Berlin-Kreuzberg, and in the same year, at the invitation of the Goethe-Institut, Krüskemper designed a workshop in São Paulo, Brazil; in February 2014, likewise with the support of the Goethe-Institut, “Parallel Worlds” realise an art project in public space in Bogota, Colombia.