Barbara Steiner

Free School for Art Theory and Practice

The Free School for Art Theory and Practice considers as the basis of its philosophy the concept that contemporary art and culture produce an excess of knowledge and experience, which can be recycled and used in broader social discourse, beyond their own primary context. The aim of the Free School is to increase the theoretical and practical arsenal of the local art scene based on active participation and dialogue in seminars, and also by analyzing artistic positions, critical aspects and the institutional system. With its name, the school marks community gatherings for people to meet with a view to exchange knowledge and learn from one another.
The school will function in the form of regular weekend seminars, held by invited curators, theoreticians and artists, allowing for the specificities of the contemporary Hungarian art scene and local discourses.

Application deadline for the first seminar: September 8, 2006
Send applications to:

Barbara Steiner
Curator and director of the Galerie für Zeitgenössische Kunst Leipzig. Selected exhibitions: Performative Installation, Galerie für Zeitgenössische Kunst Leipzig, 2004 (with Angelica Nollert); Die Zukunft ist nicht was sie einmal war, Galerie für Zeitgenössische Kunst Leipzig, 2004 (with Igor Zabel); Shrinking Cities, Galerie für Zeitgenössische Kunst Leipzig, 2005 (with Philipp Oswalt). Research projects: Bilder einer DDR, 2002 – 2005; Cultural Territories, 2003 – 2004; Shrinking Cities, Detroit, Iwanowo, Leipzig / Halle, Manchester / Liverpool, 2003 – 2005. Selected books: Autobiography in Art, Thames & Hudson, London, 2004; Kulturelle Territorien / Cultural Territories, Walter König, 2004.

Being critical. Still.

1. The (socialist) past and its effects on the present 2. The various functions of the gallery (temporary exhibitions, library, collection, residencies, education) and the programme of the various departments; the “commercial” projects (gfzk garden, café weezie/neubau), hotel everland) 3. The architecture (gfzk 1/gfzk 2/ gfzk garden) 4. The role of artistic/curatorial/institutional critique/criticality

To operate not only on a pure abstract level, the Gallery of Contemporary Art (GfZK) will serve as a model, describing certain features of a contemporary institution, which had to operate from the beginning under the new conditions of capitalism in a post-socialist country. From the very beginning the remodelling of political, economic and social structures established hierarchies, which in their turn – even if in many cases rather later on – heralded the search for a different identity and continued to present an obstacle to the coming together of the two Germanies. Moreover, it is only today – at a distance of 15 years – that various categories of selection and of the post-Reunification order, driven as it has been by political and economic interests, have become plainly visible and so been subjected to public debate. In 2002 the nature of the founding programme was questioned through the start of an almost three years research project (Cultural Territories) on the role of art and culture in post-socialist countries and a series of exhibitions evolving around this focus. A public negotiation has started about the programme of the institution, its social relevance, its past, its local and international role. The heritage of Modernism was put on display (Heimat Moderne) and the role of artistic critique in contemporary practise (againstwithin). In short: The specificity of the GfZK was taken as a starting point for the new adjustment: to talk about its genesis, its construction, its function and role in public and to start a debate about the nature of an institution. The time frame of the projects covers two up to three years. The developing period of the projects was enlarged, which allowed the curators and the audience to deepen the topics and to relate to its programme. The institution itself turned into the topic, its mechanisms, the hopes connected to, its ideology.

The gallery consists of two buildings, gfzk 1/gfzk 2 and a garden, gfzk garden. The various functions of the gallery are: temporary exhibitions, library, collection, residencies, education and “commercial” projects (gfzk garden, café weezie/neubau), hotel everland). Under the roof of the gallery, each department has gotten its own visual appearance, runs its own programme and addresses various audiences. The “commercial” projects, all developed by artists, aim to take the new economic needs into consideration, reflecting them and putting them on display.

Under the light of the new programme the topic of the architectural frame was taken up, knowing that architecture is never a neutral background to the objects exhibited, but rather organises the gaze of the viewer and prescribes distinct modes of reading and interpretation, shaping the relationship between the perceiving subject and the object on view. End of 2004 the second building of the GfZK opened. From the beginning it was conceived in a stark contrast to the converted villa of Peter Kulka, to raise – because of the difference of the two buildings - a debate about the role and function of architecture and its relation to art. Kulka´s building followed inside of the converted villa the concept of the white cube. He designed spaces, which allow a full concentration on art and its aesthetic qualities. The architectural concept, however, faded out, it seemed to be given, irreversible and ideal. The conception of the second building bases in contrast on the attempt to define a spatial structure as a reversible set of relational elements, which represents specific institutional functions and modes of production. AS-IF designed a single-storey structure based on a polygonal configuration of spatial segments. As a whole, these segments form a changeable infrastructure for a contemporary practice of exhibiting and curating, which allow a simultaneous and side-by-side presence of different programs, visual and thematic relationships, which can be re-configured by means of sliding walls and curtains for each specific exhibition. Starting from the position that the function and significance of architecture exists on the basis of a certain social agreement, an act of communication as a result of which a space can be endowed with significance at all, we find spaces that are provided for negotiation. The spaces are no longer designed with a single definite function in view – rather they imply the possibility of their own reinterpretation.

Problem number one and two of artistic and curatorial criticism/critique are the authoritarian formulation of the concept of truth and the voluntary and involuntary complicity with a system that is critisised. The first desires to get rid of contradictions, revealing the truth beyond them. The second requires a reduction of complexity: certain aspects are picked up and others, in consequence, are suppressed. This, however, was already sufficient to guarantee the continued legitimation of the socialist and capitalist system. But contradictions cannot be that easily smoothened as the example of socialism shows nicely - and probably this was one driving force to push the totalitarian socialist system into a collapse. To push certain codes into a position of dominance, to define the meaning of cultural forms and the relation of that meaning to reality, to suppress all alternatives, opens to conflicting directions, opens to an “against” or “for”. In actual fact, different truths (the official and the dissident) were competing with one another, they commented each other and hold sight with the other perspective. All this happened as a by-product for sure – the aim was certainly not to produce contradictions and collisions. The other case mentioned above, the transformation and reduction of artistic criticism/critique originally formulated in an emancipatory sense in relation to the necessity of accumulating capital implies that the suppressed elements have nevertheless not disappeared. They can be retrieved and activated at any time and form a tension between several options, which can be conflicting and competing as well. Probably we should put aside the authoritarian formulation of the concept of truth and look closer to this double/multi-bind, which produces contradictions, not only into consideration but as a strategic point of departure. How can we, can an institution, produce contradictions consciously for the sake of a critical debate? Instead of claiming truth there would be a shift towards discourses of truth, accepting and setting up (conflicting and competing) alternatives in thinking and acting. This section will bring in examples of conflicting and competing elements in the programme of the gfzk but also of its general conception.

The Free School for Art Theory and Practice
Goals are:
- To examine the current phenomena of contemporary visual culture in artistic and curatorial practice;
- To enhance critical thinking and dialogue within the art field
- To define the role of art theory and art criticism, to analyse critical concepts and study the possibilities for their adaptation to different contexts
- To discuss the identity /role of the curator and the artist in an international context.

Subjects covered:
- The role of context in cultural production
- The interplay of theory and praxis
- The public domain between the institutional system and forms of self-organization
- Constructive interplay between curatorial and artistic practice

Target audience: Artists, curators, students and anyone interested in contemporary art

Dates and lecturers 2006
21 - 24 September, 2006
Barbara Steiner, director Galerie für Zeitgenössische Kunst, Leipzig

19 - 22 October, 2006
Who What and for Whom (WHW) formation, Zagreb

23 - 26 November, 2006
Branislav Dimitrijevic, art historian, curator. Founder and lecturer of the School for History and Theory of Images, Centre for Contemporary Art, Belgrade

16 -17 December, 2006
Jens Hoffmann, artistic director, Insitute of Contemporary Arts, London

How to apply
Artists, curators, students, who undertake to prepare for and to take an active part in the seminars (as is relevant to the lecturers), are invited to send a letter of motivation.
One seminar may be attended by maximum 15 participants.
Application deadline for the first seminar: September 8, 2006 (for the II. Seminar October, 8, 2006, III. November 12, 2006, IV: December 3, 2006)
Send applications to:

Planned Schedule
Thursday Public lecture by invited lecturer (s), afterwards discussion;
Friday-Sunday (Fri-Sat 10-13, 14-18 , Sun 10-13) seminar for the closed seminar group with the lecturer.

Attendance at the free school is free. On request we can help in organization of accommodation.