Together in Solitude

Interview with Jean-Baptiste Joly by Marina Fokidis

Accurately describing Akademie Schloss Solitude in the limited space of a magazine article is nearly impossible. It’s a challenge to find the right words for an entity as perplex and as alive as this one, a place where art and education are the aim but knowledge is gained in the corridors, a place where chance encounters in the laundry room can not only change your life but, through professional networks that extend far beyond the Akademie, Stuttgart and even Germany, also alter the lives of others. Consult Wikipedia and you’ll learn that Akademie Schloss Solitude is a residency. It is a public foundation subsidised by the state of Baden-Württemberg (one of the richest in Germany), and its main raison d’être is to support and promote mainly younger, gifted artists through residency fellowships. It also organises events and exhibits work by its residents.

Having lived at the Akademie for some time, I have to admit that the above description is very limited and is incapable of even beginning to give an impression of what exactly Solitude – as it is known by its residents – is. I feel lucky to have experienced this particular ‘house’ of art and culture where nothing is forced, where everything happens organically and where every tiny detail, as trivial as it may seem, becomes part of the entire ‘lesson’. It is a place where binaries such as the public and the private, the collective and the individual collapse in favour of their direct beneficiaries – the residents, above all. I still do not fully understand how it functions so successfully. Internationalism, an interdisciplinary approach and openness to novelty are three notions mentioned in the same Wikipedia article that make much more sense. Yet even better are a few words taken from a long discussion we had with the brain, the heart, the soul, the head, the hands and the feet of Akademie Schloss Solitude – Jean-Baptiste Joly, its director.

MARINA FOKIDIS: Twenty-five years on, and Solitude is still so progressive…

JEAN-BAPTISTE JOLY: Starting a residency, back then, my main concern was not how to be progressive.
In a way it was simpler than that; it was like an equation. An ancient building (the castle Solitude) with its own memory and status among the local population and a prime minister who, as a politician, wanted to have an institution for international cultural exchanges with the status of a foundation – generous and vague at the same time – that promoted artists, brought them all together and then went public with them. I took these elements and began with my own ignorance. After learning the parameters well, studying the place and looking at other (sometimes very boring) residencies, I decided to stop prevaricating and build within this very ignorance.

Above all, why should there be a residency here? I knew the answer to this first question already from my own background. I studied German history, culture and literature, and I did research with a collective in France in the seventies about the history of German emigration to France. Why did people move to France? They wanted to, or they were forced to, or there were political issues – they were Jewish, or there were economic and other political reasons, or they knew something bad was going to happen at that time in Germany. Why should good artists decide to move from the place they live to come to Solitude? How could we get them to apply and be part of a selection system to enter into this? Money was the first and obvious answer. We were in one of the richest states of Germany, after all. But money alone is not good enough. Many people would move for money, and not necessarily only the good ones. So we needed something else. Maybe we could entice them with the promise of being with other interesting people in a secluded place, but how could we prove that was the case? The place had no history and thus no reputation. Where to start?

MF: Multiple disciplines – is this what makes Akademie Schloss Solitude so particular?

JBJ: The thoughtful formation of the institution and the selection strategy of its people and the disciplines were an answer to the question of where to begin.

My main influence was the Collège de France, a higher education and research establishment in Paris that King Francis I, urged by Guillaume Budé, one of the first Hellenists, established as an alternative to the Sorbonne in the sixteenth century. At this college that still exists, well-known theorists, scientists and philosophers who are invited to join the faculty suggest the very name of their own discipline, give lectures open to anybody who wants to join them. There is neither a specific acceptance selection for this academy nor conferred degrees, only research laboratories and an excellent research library. Michel Foucault, Pierre Bourdieu and Marcel Mauss are among the famous professors who have taught there.

So the question of which disciplines our residency would accept, and why, was fundamental to determine how it would be shaped. The initial request included classical disciplines such as music, theatre, visual arts and literature, but there was no reason why film, architecture or design wouldn’t also be included. And if these too, then why not others? Like a blind person who walks with both hands along the wall, we tried to put a logical start and an end to this question and then we arrived at one answer: we had to be open to all the disciplines. But how do you define various disciplines, and how sustainable can they be in their definition over the years? Taking the epistemological point of view that disciplines move and change along with history, again related to the ideas of the Collège de France, was another approach. We entered into a dynamic game, with individual jurors, each with their own sense of understanding of categorisation, following the transformation of disciplines over the years. The Akademie invites a chair juror who is also responsible for inviting different jurors for each discipline, and he or she (at the moment it is the Swiss curator Corinne Diserens) has to ask whether the selection should be based on contradiction or not, on overlapping views or not. In a way, this solves the question of clear definition and division or interdisciplinarity. It is a very subjective act and a very private selection. Like inviting friends for dinner. Will these people fit together? Who will sit next to whom and why?

MF: Could you give us a short history of the chair jurors?

JBJ: The first one was a man called Johannes Cladders, a museum director in Mönchengladbach who brought the golden apple of modernity – people such as Carl Andre, Marcel Broodthaers, John Cage, Yves Klein and the Nouveaux Réalistes – to Germany and changed the history of contemporary art here. I was keen to invite someone who was twenty-five years older than me and from whom I could learn the written and unwritten history of the years before. Also, I predicted he would understand our mission, as he did. So the first years were based on very famous and excellent artists of the seventies who were our jurors and had a left-wing or even anarchic take on the notion of the institution.

Let me take the example of the selection process in visual arts: obviously, people like Dan Graham, Allan Sekula, Jeff Wall or Catherine David, who have all been serving as jurors for visual arts, have very different and fairly subjective understandings of the most recent history of art. In this regard, a turning point was Jeff Wall, who brought another genealogy of artists that put an end to the post-Fluxus minimal and conceptual tradition. Somehow the terrorism of simplicity that was leading the arts until then, and was of course a power mechanism, was coming to an end. Catherine David, who took over as our juror for visual arts in 2000, saw one world with many different options that corresponded to each other and thus identified the complexity of different art scenes. This was obvious in her documenta 10. We were close to her and her team, and she worked with fellows on creating publications and parts of the programme. Some of the fellows took part in that documenta 10, but this was before she became our juror.

MF: Tell me more about the content and focal points of Solitude’s research.

JBJ: Our main focal points change periodically. It is mandatory for fellows in the scientific and economic disciplines to follow these focal areas for research, but not for the fellows in the arts. We still feel that the traditional artistic disciplines such as visual arts, music, literature, theatre or architecture should be freer from constraints. “Dealing with Fear”, “Design of the Inhuman” and “Chronicles of Work” are a few of the subjects to which we have dedicated our research in the last six or seven years. Around 2000, we anticipated quite strong activist and anti-globalisation movements. These became popular topics for fellows’ presentations and internal discussions. By that time, a strong network of former fellows had been established, and they seemed to be working well together outside the Akademie. Around that time, we decided to open up our disciplines into more concrete science and economic areas.

The questions that artists and art professionals have are also questions other sectors such as the pharmacy industry or businesses are asking themselves. But the various parties don’t know that. So we decided to create a shortcut to bring all these people together. It has worked well so far, perhaps differently to what we had imagined, but we still have a way to go because we are exploring unknown territory.

MF: Beyond a residency, perhaps this is an ideal proposal for an arts academy?

JBJ: What we are doing is much easier than offering the basic knowledge needed in the first years of becoming an artist. In those initial years, there is a double-bind in education: freedom claimed by the establishment is what should prompt you to invent yourself everyday but certain canonical knowledge might be needed to become an artist. This is a tough balancing act.

We come in after these first years, and, through a very selective process of around 1,800 applications from over a hundred countries, we accept about 70 people every two years to whom we give full trust and support.Once here, there is no questioning of who they are or if what they are doing is good or bad.

We help them confront themselves. Then they also begin discovering the other fellows, but in a very different situation to other similar institutions. Here the relations are based on what is called in psychoanalysis the ‘emphatic relationship’. The fellows create liaisons through likeness and sympathy before knowing what everyone is doing. They meet in an informal grey zone of relations before they confront each other in a more official work forum. This abolishes the competition found in other systems where fellows have to prove from the start that they are better than the rest or where they simply don’t care about each other.

Here, the methodology is respect and friendship before profes- sional exchange: this is our proposal on how one can enter into difference. You could say that Akademie Schloss Solitude is a (mostly uncontrolled) laboratory of various kinds of relationships between the art and the art world and that from this spectrum of exchanges a concrete proposal might emerge. One that will beat the patterns of cultural creation and consumption in the art world as we know them now.

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