Interventions in the Third Space
This email interview was made by Nora Sdun in December 2011.
The interview in German is available > here.
Your work is about sociopolitical interventions. Your projects in public space deal with art, past and present. How do you come across these issues?
A central topic in my work is the question of the Self and the Other and how these concepts interact in societal space. I myself come from a multiethnic family, and as a migrant here in Germany I try to find expressions for being culturally "in-between". Which kind of potentials and possibilities can the "Third Space", a term coined by Homi K. Bhabha1, offer for visual arts?
Where does your interest for works in public space come from?
Public space is regulated and controlled by the authorities, however, its stipulated functions are heavily contested. What concerns me is the essential question of how public space could be created to be culturally different, discursive, and thus more free.
Since the 1990's, mapping projects in visual arts are booming. From where does this interest arise?
Classical cartography has in fact proved to be an instrument of power for defining, colonising and controlling space. Conventional maps feign objectivity and unmitigated doability. New personal mappings may provide fresh views of one's own surroundings, relationships and experiences as well as offer new perspectives for space and activity, proximity and distance, otherness and selflessness. They may reveal unexpected social contexts as well as forgotten or repressed aspects of history.
You have been mapping colonial vestiges in Hamburg. What role do colonial monuments play in this process?
I am interested in the monolithic hopes, promises and ardour enshrined in memorials as well as disappointments and iconoclasm that have left damages on their surface. Who defines what we should remember? What effect do relocations and transformations have on a monument's message? What does iconoclasm mean in our globalised society? Is it possible to transform a monument into its own counter-monument? Where can we find contemporary answers, how can we create participatory deconstructions, mobile and fluid memorials in the sense of Bhabhas "Third Space"? I have pursued these questions in the projects and wandsbektransformance (both with English summary) as well as in my concept for a park postkolonial (in German).
How do you develop a project and whom do you invite to participate?
Just to give you an example: I invited the entire city of Hamburg to participate in the project as I aired the Wissmann colonial monument on the harbour promenade and opened a debate forum in the web. The Wilhelminian sculpture ensemble describes a supposed supremacy of a white colonial officer in relation to a Black soldier. The memorial has been moved between epochs, spaces and continents, toppled several times and deposited in a basement. Today the broken memorial is estranged from its original message, and I was curious how the public would react to the monument's reappearance. I wanted to find out if people would just pass by without taking any notice of it or if I would succeed in initiating a debate. And indeed, an intense public dispute broke out which by far surpassed my expectations.
How long does it usually take to realise such a project, beginning from the first idea until its completion?
I needed two years to prepare with intensive research, talks with colleagues, reflections on appropriate visualisation, permissions passing through two art commissions, and eventually negotiations with the administration until all the necessary decisions had been made - not only concerning the difficult statics of the construction on the marshy ground in the Hamburg harbour area.
I decided on a project duration of fourteen months so that the debate would have enough time to develop. During this period I was made responsible for taking care of the monument, and the daily webmastering of in part rather controversial postings was a special challenge. The evaluation and documentation took two more years.
I understand it as a part of my art work that the decision makers have to deal with my project concepts. In the era of the right-wing Schill Party governing coalition in Hamburg, my concept was condemned to gather dust in an administration drawer and thus was headed for obscurity. Only a change in policy could make the project become a reality.
Would you say that some of your works were successful, whereas others came out less well? Are the number of visitors of importance?
Even though a few of my projects have been able to initiate public debate. I think that the number of visitors should not be the benchmark. I am interested in works that "take place", in that something comes into the world and, in the best case, can affect and change space and participators.
With "spacing the line" Gerald Raunig2 has created a suitable metaphor. He writes, that people have "lines" and limits in their heads, that is to say that we walk through life with more or less fixed ideas and attitudes. Art interventions in urban space may temporarily extend these boundaries into spaces where debate and dissent is welcomed. At the conclusion of a project, when the art space regresses to a line again, the space in the heads of the participators is hopefully newly delineated, and the previous boundaries have been transformed.
Did your Hamburg based projects inspire you to travel to Africa?
Yes, my project travels to Tanzania and Ghana and the intensive cooperation with colleagues there have strongly influenced my work in recent years. I have become aware how eurocentric our art discourse is. Topics that seem to be of importance here, when put into perspective, often become less significant there.
Your space installation in the Kunsthaus Hamburg is titled zongo. caravans of hope. This year you once again travelled to Ghana where you met people who live in zongo neighbourhoods. What is a zongo?
When Muslim traders in the past moved with their caravans from Northern Africa to Ghana, they settled down bit by bit on the outskirts of the cities in shack settlements they called zongo. "Zongo" is the Hausa word for "caravan". Today the zongo residents are rather marginalized by the majority society. Negative ascriptions circulate in the media. However, sociological surveys describe the inhabitants as seeing their own living environments in a much more positive light. They feel free and independent despite all the problems that everyday life brings.
The African cities are growing rapidly, and today many shack settlements are centrally located within cities. In many cases, for example in the Ghanaian capital Accra, they become victims of gentrification pursued by foreign investors, but the residents are now standing up against forced evictions.
We began our research in two neighbourhoods: in Old Fadama in Accra and in Ayigya-Zongo in the city of Kumasi.
In Kumasi we were invited by the Center for African and Cultural Studies at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) and were offered a workshop space on the campus where we could work with art students and postgraduates. In the first phase of our urban art workshop AWAY IS A PLACE we were occupied with the mind mapping themes "nature" and "right to the city". Subsequentially we approached the people in the nearby Ayigya-Zongo. The council of elders gave us the permission to work together with the residents. The warm welcome we were given became an unforgettable experience.
What were the topics of your art work in the neighbourhood? And what do you judge the sustainability impact of your workshop to be?
Ayigya Voices shows images of and interviews with six women. It is especially the women who are engaged in pursuing the interests of the community. I was permitted to hang the portraits and interviews on posters in the public space. Soon passers-by suggested that the women should become candidates in the upcoming communal elections since their program was already well outlined on these posters. To this day the communal administration has been firmly in the hands of men.
My work Scorched Pastures presents views and findings from Old Fadama where an enormous amount of toxins is set free when children and young people burn plastic coated computer cables to salvage small amounts of copper, and where people without any tools take apart the scrap imported from our consumer societies in order to retrieve small pieces of recyclable and resellable metals. This area, previously a garden and a pasture, has now become refuse-covered and desolate.
Additional photographs pertinent to the routes of e-waste exports I took in scrap dealers' shops in Hamburg and in its harbour.
Troubled Waters started with water samples from three memorable places. Water analyses and microscopic photography, mixed with poem fragments as well as paintings by the commecial painter Ayasco were merged to form an installation. Together with Dr. Kodwo Edusei of the KNUST University I produced theme relevant modifications of the traditional Fante Asafo flags3.
Yes, we did ask ourselves how such a short-run workshop could come up with a sustainability impact. In addition to art, disciplines such as urban planning, architecture, sociology, social work and similar subjects may be studied at the KNUST, so we informed them that the Ayigya-Zongo residents wished to be supported. Our request became an incentive for fund-raisings for bore holes for clean drinking water wells in several locations in Ayigya. The artist Ralitsa Diana Debrah is planning, together with the women, a community garden with the aim of inviting the many unemployed young people to participate as well as of improving the local food sources.
Translation: Dr. Philipp Lange
1 Rutherford, Jonathan. 1990. The Third Space. Interview with Homi Bhabha. In: id. (ed.): Identity: Community, Culture, Difference. London: Lawrence and Wishart
2 Raunig, Gerald, 1999. Charon. Eine Ästhetik der Grenzüberschreitung. Wien: Passagen
3 Asafo companies were warrior associations in the Fante land in Southern Ghana. Even today they still are active in organising religious celebrations. The most spectacular moment of these festivities is the skilful dance with one of the association's flags which illustrate historical events.
The Ministry of Culture of the City of Hamburg offers annual grants for visual artists.
Within this program a catalogue will be published where the above works of HMJokinen are introduced (in English).

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