Einmal stehenbleiben bitte c Daniel Sadrowski

Stop there, please!

by Manischa Eichwalder & Emilia Sliwinski

As everywhere in the realm of art, corona has also brought the daily business of art mediation to a standstill and blown a hole through well-practised routines. Having been kicked out of the ever faster accelerating logic of production new contexts can now be explored in an endeavour to escape the vortex of one’s own practice and face up to the core issue: what is the aim of art mediation and what does this collective experience mean for the aesthetic perception of artistic works?


Communicating art in public space is first of all nothing other than a loose agreement about the shared reception of art: meeting-point, appointed time, way of moving around and, in the broadest sense, theme are fixed. Everything else depends on the participants and their ideas as shaped by their various expectations, wishes and desires.

A student is preparing for an oral exam on the subject of an artist in the exhibition and hopes to acquire useful inside knowledge. A father and daughter are planning their next Sunday excursion and looking forward to a relaxed, guided bike tour. Two good friends heard a report on the radio last week about the exhibition in their neighbourhood and want to check out what has changed in their neck of the woods. A journalist writing an article about the exhibition wants to take part in the guided tour to learn more about the background. And the art mediator is looking forward to seeing her favourite work, but is also a bit nervous about the group’s possible composition and how its dynamics will develop. In addition, she also wonders whether, once again, she is adequately prepared to ensure that as an ambassador of the institution she can fulfil people’s expectations of bringing the exhibition alive.

So since all these and probably many other perspectives are converged in a single mediating constellation there needs to be a framework. What is required is an independent notion of art mediation which is capable, like a common thread, of tying together the various interests with the themes of the exhibition and thereby creating a common point of departure.

Over and again

Art mediation fosters collective situations and temporary gatherings around an artistic work, thus inserting something between the work of art and the receiver. It supplements the situative set-up with a social component, thereby adding a level of communication to the primary reception. In public space art and art mediation serve as an irritation, an interruption of everyday and mostly functional relations. They embed artistic practice into life, into an unfamiliar context, foster non-aesthetic correspondences and build bridges between separate social realities.
A significant element of the hybrid reality of a work of art in public space is constituted by the receivers who multiply the connections, extending them by means of new mental activities and associations. Hence mediating art as communication about the shared reception has to develop a sensibility for this multiperspectivity towards artistic works and be able to generate its own idea precisely in relation to this.

To and from

Furthermore, sharing the same movements within public space – especially on bikes – ushers completely new variables into the reception context and activates a series of additional perceptions. The student is fascinated by the aesthetic qualities of a gigantic waste disposal site we pass on the way to the next artwork. At this point one of the two neighbours gets a headache and prematurely departs to go home. Her friend finds she has a puncture and is briefly annoyed, but is soon cheered up by the fact the art mediator – and not the sole man in the group – repairs her tyre. The journalist is delighted to be riding a bike since her work is normally desk-bound and she has not felt so pumped up in a long time. At some point on the way the father has to put sunscreen on his daughter, so some random spot on their route becomes the place to take a break. Art communication creates space for collective dialogue and fosters temporary alliances among the participants. And all these impressions, incidents and moods influence how the next and the previous works of art are perceived.

But this is not somehow to play the level of experience off against the artistic work. Rather, it is about each person recognising the contextual sensitivity of art and constantly reassessing their own observations against this background. Art mediation does not provide an explanation of the (art) world, justifications or discursive positions about relative values. It generates a space for the exchange of knowledge, a space for confrontation with other opinions and for reflection upon one’s own conception of art. The well-rehearsed and comfortable approach of the art consumer will not function here since learning and discovering one’s own and other perspectives always requires continuous re-positioning within the current setting. This not only means departing from the accustomed blind trust in the authorised and monopolised spokesperson status of the mediator but also requires considerable personal commitment, specifically a willingness to embrace unfamiliar situations and the courage to accept one’s vulnerability.


So if the core idea of art mediation means maximum openness to the contextual sensitivity of art, then mediation functions as a form of moderation that establishes precisely this approach as the framework for collective exchange. It activates different perspectives regarding the artistic work and navigates between various movements of thought in order to open up the situation time and again and in ever-varying ways, for everyone. In this, the mediator also contributes in the appropriate places her*his own knowledge and her*his own reflections on the artistic works and their locations. Nonetheless, in the end it is perhaps the one neighbour who shares all her inside knowledge concerning the work’s construction with the student. Or the journalist who tells the girl why she finds her job so interesting. In turn, the girl grasps what art is actually about and tells her dad she hopes he will give her a camera, while he is giving the art mediator a crash course on the topic of traffic and protecting the environment.

Art mediation s about collecting stories and exchanging experiences. It means switching between different vantage points and perspectives. It is a democratic exercise in how to deal with various life plans. And it needs constantly to be rehearsed as a social experiment.

The Ruhr Ding’s art mediation programme offers Irrlichter Tours. These are guided visits to the exhibition that link up various art sites and their surroundings either on foot or by bike.

Irrlichter tour in Steele

On a Saturday morning, under the heatwave called El Niño, I went on a walk in Essen-Steele with seven people and visited public artworks created specifically for places you wouldn't normally enter ...

Beyond the imaginable

Eva Koťátková in conversation with Britta Peters about the exhibition My Body Is Not An Island

Loss of Control Is the Necessary Condition for Sleep

To what extent do working conditions influence our sleep behaviour? In the post-industrial era, do we sleep better or do digitalisation and the unboundedness of working conditions deprive us of sleep?