About Acting Archives
Acting Archives is a collaborative project that the Institut für Raumexperimente, Berlin, initiated together with the Alle School of Fine Art and Design, Addis Ababa, supported by the TURN Fund of the German Federal Cultural Foundation. It unfolded through a series of events taking place both in Addis Ababa and Berlin. These endeavors were motivated by the desire to learn how to learn from and with each other and employed experimentation as a method of artistic research, co-producing knowledge around the topics of art and education. The events that took place in the context of Acting Archives including all the lectures and talks, case studies, discussions, and exhibitions, as well as selected transcripts and essays by the project’s participants are compiled to ensure the longevity of this initiative and a wider circulation of the accumulated knowledge. This audiovisual archive was also packaged as a media container, equipped with a set of basic media technology in order to allow students, teachers and alumni to continue working with the existing archives and to produce new artistic and educative content at the Alle School of Fine Arts and Design in Addis Ababa. Serving both as a content transmitter and as a research tool, this archive is accessible on site at the Alle School of Fine Art and Design in Addis Ababa, as well as via the website of the Institut für Raumexperimente. The publication “Acting Archives — A User’s Manual” appears in English, German and Amharic and serves as a guidebook through this archived material.
Art is affect is a fact
Active generosity and inclusion are ideals that I consider essential in art, and they have played a central role in defining the modes of interaction in the education experiment that I founded—the Institut für Raumexperimente at the Berlin University of the Arts. The collaboration between the Institut für Raumexperimente and the Alle School of Fine Arts and Design, Addis Ababa University, was also driven by those shared ideals. Expand…
Active generosity and inclusion are ideals that I consider essential in art, and they have played a central role in defining the modes of interaction in the education experiment that I founded—the Institut für Raumexperimente at the Berlin University of the Arts. The collaboration between the Institut für Raumexperimente and the Alle School of Fine Arts and Design, Addis Ababa University, was also driven by those shared ideals. I would like to believe that the reason for this quality of inclusion is that, even though other parts of reality often grapple with these terms, art inspires trust and hosts differences—of opinion, of expression. Let me suggest: Before there is the right to self-expression, before there is the right to speak, there is the fundamental human right to think. And art grows from this realm of thought; art lives in the freedom of thought.
Édouard Glissant writes about the imaginary in Poetics of Relation: ‘Thinking thought usually amounts to withdrawing into a dimensionless place in which the idea of thought alone persists. But thought in reality spaces itself out into the world. It informs the imaginary of peoples, their varied poetics, which it then transforms, meaning, in them its risk becomes realized.’ Producing art, working creatively, is a form of uniting thinking and doing. It risks the realisation of thinking in the very moment of its becoming. To make a sculpture, to walk in slow motion, to choreograph movement, or to design a building is to shape reality. It means gradually giving ideas and values a body, giving them space, letting them space. Once a thought has been given form it is real.
An artwork’s potential lies not only in the object or the concept; it is located also in the nature of the interaction between object, people, and the world. A fundamental skill to develop is our ability to understand the relationship between idea and action, thing and world; this is true of arts education and of life. Therefore I see art as a space that marks an important threshold: entering a museum, entering an exhibition, entering an artist book is entering the space between the realm of thought and speech, thinking and doing. Art is a threshold that connects and opens up the space between the freedom of thought and the freedom to express yourself. Stepping into art means connecting to the world, getting closer towards it.
This in-between space depends on the various ways we sense and address it. Engaging with a work of art, individuals can share the experience of seeing, while disagreeing. They see different things, they experience the encounter differently, and they experience the uncircumventable difference at the basis of their disagreeing visions. At the same time, a space opens up for the acknowledgement of a shared perspective, in which disagreeing is not a conflictual encounter but a relational one. This experience shifts the practice of knowing from grasping and conquering an idea to a notion of extending with generosity. Glissant calls this possible practice of understanding donner-avec: the French verb donner (to give) used in the term donner-avec translates to ‘generous, looking out toward’. It is meant as a generosity of perception.
Art can cope with the underlying principle of difference, because it yields and gives in to an understanding of more than one perspective. Art offers these sites of connectivity, where multiple stories and trajectories as well as different ways of perceiving and being can co-exist. This is mirrored in our obsession with poetry, where even the pronunciation of a word becomes part of the poetic momentum. It is air pushed towards you, which acquires meaning at the moment of reaching the receiver. It unfolds in the listening. It is non-dogmatic. And it might carry more than we intentionally say—if I say ‘heart’ in trying to reach out to you and to touch you, you might hear ‘art’. That is the wave that I set in motion to reach you.
The collaboration with the Alle School of Fine Arts and Design trusted the potential of looking out toward; we trusted the quality that emerges from accepting both planned and unexpected encounters while staying attuned to the multifold manifestations of artistic creation. Education and art were constantly produced, not consumed. As Glissant (ibid.) proposes: “A knowledge becoming. One cannot stop it to assess it nor isolate it to transmit it. It is sharing one can never not retain, nor ever, in standing still, boast about.” In sharing the collection of archived encounters, the media container is yet just another source of inspiration for knowledge in becoming, which is learning. This principle of learning has been encouraging further unpredictable connections by trusting in the potential, from here to hear, from here to there, from Addis Ababa to Berlin and all over again.
The Alle School of Fine Arts and Design has been the major higher institution in the country teaching creative subjects in the arts for nearly six decades. For the last five years, the school has also been highly engaged in generating productive possibilities in various local and international collaborations. These different layers of institutional engagements enable the school to function not only as an educational institution, but also as an alternative, participatory and engaging platform for various creative and professional activities. Expand…
The Alle School of Fine Arts and Design has been the major higher institution in the country teaching creative subjects in the arts for nearly six decades. For the last five years, the school has also been highly engaged in generating productive possibilities in various local and international collaborations. These different layers of institutional engagements enable the school to function not only as an educational institution, but also as an alternative, participatory and engaging platform for various creative and professional activities. It is also an achievement that the school has recently managed to establish two postgraduate programs, in which multidisciplinary creative subjects are explored through an advanced level of art education. At the same time, it is a dry fact that the shortage of accessible resources and references on contemporary art has always been one of the major critical challenges and limitations affecting the educational and professional activities of the school. In this context, working on the Acting Archives project in collaboration with the Institut für Raumexperimente has been a huge opportunity for the school.
Unfolding as a series of multi-layered professional activities performed under mutual interests and participation, Acting Archives took place in both local and international platforms. Throughout this project, an extensive amount of audiovisual references on contemporary art has been generated and a media container has been created with a wide collection of photographs, videos, sound recordings, critical texts and publications focusing on contemporary art, art education, and different archive practices. Organised in a user-friendly and accessible format, the media container will serve as an active resource and reference material in our educational activities, especially through the postgraduate programs in the school, but also for interested local artists, researchers, and writers as well as international guest students and visiting lecturers. We are very happy to host the media container in our school and look forward to activating it to its best capacity within our future educational and professional engagements.
Finally, I would like to extend my deepest gratitude to Olafur Eliasson, Christina Werner and Eric Ellingsen for generating this opportunity and for their continuous efforts to make the Acting Archives project sustainable, the Institut für Raumexperimente and Studio Olafur Eliasson for facilitating all the required steps throughout the process of project implementation, the TURN Fund of the German Federal Cultural Foundation for supporting our project activities, and all involved local and international professionals for their valuable contributions.
Waypoints, crossroads and directions — navigating the archive
The project Acting Archives – Media Lab for Artistic Research and Education offers an interdisciplinary platform for exchange and collaboration between Ethiopian, German and international artists, educators, cultural producers, thinkers and theorists. Acting Archives engages art and education through means of archival practices and pedagogic methodologies. Expand…
The project Acting Archives – Media Lab for Artistic Research and Education offers an interdisciplinary platform for exchange and collaboration between Ethiopian, German and international artists, educators, cultural producers, thinkers and theorists. Acting Archives engages art and education through means of archival practices and pedagogic methodologies. Unfolding over a period of almost three years and culminating in a collaboratively produced media container with documentation material, case studies and tools, Acting Archives can continue to inform growing patterns in artistic research and education. The media container is accompanied by Acting Archives — A User’s Manual, which you are now holding in your hands. The publication serves as a short guide to navigate through the compiled audiovisual archive of the project. A close collaboration between the Institut für Raumexperimente, Berlin University of the Arts, and the Alle School of Fine Arts and Design, Addis Ababa University, this media container, accessible on site in Addis Ababa and online, functions as a crystallisation point from which the energy, imagination and needs of artists and institutions in Ethiopia, Germany and elsewhere can be cultivated and further nourished.
From 2009 to 2014, the Institut für Raumexperimente (Institute for Spatial Experiments), under the direction of Olafur Eliasson and co-directors Eric Ellingsen and Christina Werner, and in affiliation with the Berlin University of the Arts, served as an internationally recognised project for arts education and research. With documentation being an integral part of daily activities at the institute, the ten semesters of its operation have produced a wide collection of photographs, videos and sound recordings, which, along with all the accompanying texts and publications, register the various experimental formats and serve as a repository of shared knowledge and experience. As the five-year-long educational research project was drawing to an end, the question of processing, organising and ultimately providing open access to these accumulated records became more and more central to the workings of the institute. Along with that more questions were raised, including the questions of how an archive can be practised, how it can work, be worked with, be a work, how it can serve as a tool for future artistic production, or inspire models in education.
The Alle School of Fine Arts and Design, under the Skundern Boghossian College of Performing and Visual Arts of the Addis Ababa University, and under the direction of Berhanu Ashagrie Deribew has at the same time and from another point of view been confronted with related issues. Currently in the process of founding a new film and media department as well as a curatorial masters program, the Alle School of Fine Arts and Design has been faced with questions including those of access to net-based information and online resources for education and learning purposes, while also emphasising the emerging importance of visual culture and information techniques as critical tools to respond to the rapidly changing socio-political landscape in Addis Ababa.
During the fall of 2012 the Alle School of Fine Arts and Design hosted the Institut für Raumexperimente and its participants for ten weeks of collaborative learning and teaching. The semester included a variety of local collaborations, experimental educational formats and surprising artistic ventures that brought together students, educators and artists from both schools as well as invited guests and other professionals from Addis Ababa and abroad.
In order to further these relationships and initiatives, the Institut für Raumexperimente together with the Alle School of Fine Art and Design developed the project Acting Archives, supported by the TURN Fund of the German Federal Cultural Foundation. The project’s trajectory allowed the two institutions to develop a discourse and dialogue in thinking and doing around the questions mentioned above, offering multiple perspectives and approaching the questions from diverse backgrounds. Between the fall of 2013 and the spring of 2015, Acting Archives unfolded through a series of events taking place both in Addis Ababa and Berlin, including a symposium, workshops, various educational and artistic experiments, exhibitions, as well as an art festival. These endeavours were motivated by the desire to learn how to learn from and with each other and employed experimentation as a method of artistic research, co-producing knowledge around the topics of art and education.
To ensure the longevity of this initiative and a wider circulation of the accumulated knowledge, the events that took place in the context of Acting Archives were documented and compiled into a rich audiovisual archive, which includes the comprehensive digital documentation of all the lectures and talks, case studies and discussions, as well as selected transcripts and publications by the project’s participants. This audiovisual archive was then packaged as a media container, equipped with a set of basic media technology in order to allow people to continue working with the existing archives and to produce new content. Serving both as a content transmitter and as a research tool, this archive is accessible on site at the Alle School of Fine Art and Design in Addis Ababa, as well as via the internet in the form of an online archiving experiment on the website of the Institut für Raumexperimente (www.raumexperimente.net).
The documented events span a period of more than two years and are arranged chronologically. They range from artist talks or short presentations under the “Marathon” event format, to lectures, exhibitions, poetry events and translation exercises. More specifically, this compilation starts with a series of artist talks by Berhanu Ashagrie Deribew, Konjit Seyoum, Helen Zeru and Tamrat Gezahegne, which took place in Berlin in May/July 2012, serving as an introduction to the exchange between Addis Ababa and Berlin and to a number of artistic practices pursued in that context. A few months later, already in Addis Ababa, the institute organised a series of events with both local practitioners and international guests, including talks by architect and professor Brook Teklehaimanot, political theorist Chantal Mouffe, art historian Abebaw Ayalew, curator Elvira Dyangani Ose, art historian Molly Nesbit, as well as a series of four lectures by Olafur Eliasson. Shorter presentation formats were also facilitated during that time, particularly during the Addis Art Practices Marathon. Included in the archive are also the institute’s participation in Addis Foto Fest in December 2012, as well as the art festival Jan Meda – Großes Feld that was hosted at the end of the institute’s stay inviting a wider public in Addis Ababa. Upon return to Berlin two talks by Doreen Massey and Molly Nesbit in the spring and summer of 2013 attempted to revisit and expand on the topics of time and space as well as of travel, translation and narrations as they relate to the shared experiences in Ethiopia. Central part of the present archive form the contributions during the Archives Works Marathon that was hosted at the Institut für Raumexperimente in November 2013. Guests included Berhanu Ashagrie Deribew, Jochen Becker, Beatrice von Bismarck, AA Bronson, Fasil Giorghis, Elizabeth Giorgis, Tue Greenfort, Mihret Kebede, Koyo Kouoh, Cynthia Kros, Jonathan Ledgard, Armin Linke, Salem Mekuria, Felix Melia, Doreen Mende, Natasha Mendonca, Emeka Ogboh, Georges Pfruender, Bernd Scherer, Stefanie Schulte Strathaus, Nicola Setari, Ai Weiwei, and Louwrien Wijers. The exhibition Archives Acting was curated on that occasion and included works by twenty-four artists. The last block of events that took place within the context of Acting Archives was the Ishe get ‘um, OK Poetry event in Addis Ababa in December 2012 and the A-B-A-B-A : from hear to here workshop and performance realised together with Palais Wittgenstein / Roter Salon at the Volksbühne Berlin in July 2014, including a CD album and a documentary film. The events echoed from Addis Ababa to Berlin back to Addis Ababa, where the latest part of the series took place on the compound of the Alliance Ethio-Française in February 2015. At the end of the publication one finds two republished essays by Chantal Mouffe and Doreen Massey respectively, which expand on topics raised during Mouffe’s and Massey’s talks that took place in the context of this project and carry a vocabulary of thought and inspiration that fuelled many trajectories within the project.
Acting Archives — A User’s Manual is thus put together as a guide through the compiled material from this series of events. Serving as an extended table of contents, this publication opens up a number of pathways, links and diversions through this wide array of contributions. Translated and published in Amharic, English, and German, the content is meant to encourage multiple connections and cross-readings both within and outside this present archive. In doing so, Acting Archives is an educational experiment that proposes a different way of engaging with an archive and putting it in motion. We hope it also serves as a first step towards further experiments that engage with the collected material, merging the archived entries with present trajectories leading onto future paths.
Acting Archives is a project by the Institut für Raumexperimente, Berlin University of the Arts and the Alle School of Fine Arts and Design, Addis Ababa University, supported by Studio Olafur Eliasson, and funded by the TURN Fund of the German Federal Cultural Foundation.