Wissenschatten was realised during a 2-week artist residency at the Pädagogische Hochschule FHNW (School of Education at the University of applied sciences North West Switzerland) in May 2017. The invitation by Georges Pfründer and Andrina Jörg was to develop a project to address and mediate issues around diversity through an artistic intervention.
The title Wissenschatten is a play on words, which is made up of “Wissen” = knowledge, and “Schatten”= shadow. The German “Wissenschaften” with an F, means sciences, something generally understood to be objective, illuminating and “true”. Changing Wissenschaften (sciences) into Wissenschatten (knowledge shadows) is meant to challenge this assumption and highlight the limitations and biases of what is considered common or objective knowledge, also and especially in a place of learning.
The idea behind this title is the continuation of a previous project, SCH, realized at Ausstellungsraum Klingental in Basel. SCH stands for silence – or what’s being silenced – but also for the SCH in Switzerland (German: SCHweiz) and history (German: GeSCHichte). SCH illuminated the stories of people who live on the fringes of (Swiss) society; a society that still assumes a certain “traditional” homogeneity and historical neutrality, ignoring social and historical entanglements and an already existing post-migratory and transnational present. How do these “blind spots” or shadows come about? How are they sustained? How can they be removed? These questions were the starting point for the conversations to take place on campus.
Like previous projects, Wissenschatten was contextual. The format was intended to be both inviting and challenging, not didactic. Above all, the participants themselves should be able to contribute the content towards the project. The set up was a make-shift living room in the public passageway – an exposed private space. The installation, with the artist and her actions, represented a foreign and non-contextualised body on the FHNW campus. Between flowers (Geraniums, which are considered local but are really from Southern Africa) and the chirping of blackbirds (recordings of non-migratory birds), the living room offered seating, tea and snacks for the passing public. The artist monotonously/meditatively folded origami butterflies (an action symbolic of repetitive learning and at the same time the butterfly as the symbol of transformation), on which written comments, questions and observations of the interactions were noted.
Some passers-by simply watched the happening from a distance, many made inquiries, some sat down for a conversation and others participated in the origami folding process. In this way, an archive of hundreds of paper notes / butterflies was created and installed at the end of the residency. “Wissenschatten” offered an informal framework to reflect on diversity and everyday racism. It also reflected on teaching itself as well as on desirable and necessary new approaches.