“French Letters” are CondomsReflection on the Liaison Officer position between Kunsthochschule Kassel and aneducation
In an ideal case, a Liaison Officer serves as communicator or cooperative agent, which facilitates a close working relationship between people and organisations. Quite a dry description for such a charming title, isn't it? But liaison is also the french word used to refer to a love affair, a relationship between two people who are not married to each other. Looking back to those constant comings and goings during documenta 14 and its preceding months, I can say from my personal experience that this passionate definition matches more closely the relationship that I embodied between the two learning institutions: the Kunsthochschule Kassel and aneducation.
It is well-known that romantic love is a twelfth century french invention. Moreover, everyone has experienced the symptoms of being madly in love: enthusiasm, blindness, naivety and sometimes even certain stupidity. Very likely I suffered some of these symptoms when I got a positive response to my job application and believed in “the ideal relationship” I was going to help to develop. Call me a romantic. However, I would soon learn that the relationship already existed and that it was facing a crisis due to a lack of communication. So Cupid soon became a marriage counsellor and I would learn that this summer would not be a summer of love, not in a scenario where relationships are mostly just seen to capitalise on each other.
So from April to September 2017, I would be constantly asked who was I, what were my tasks, who was I working for, or even who was paying me. These questions reflected the common confusion and lack of clarity of my role. Liaison is an uncommon term, sometimes even unintelligible -an inaccessibility that seems paradoxical, considering its main communicative aim. Soon I realised that in these complexities were a series of further questions, that would drive me to reflect on the conflict of interests I encountered.
It is expected, that a big institution such as documenta should have the capacity to employ its own Liaison Officer; yet, it was a gesture from the Kunsthochschule Kassel towards documenta, showing its interest in working together. Sadly, some colleagues from the Kunsthochschule expected to receive something in exchange. Quoting the play on words “Earning from Athens”, I shall begin saying that it was not about earning, but about learning and this seemed to be unclear to the Athenian graffiti artists, and some members of the Kasseler scene, who saw an opportunity of profiting out of this relationship with documenta and, by being in between, I was seen as the personification of that opportunity. Saying this I do not deny that this whole institutional event has -in my opinion- some political/economical inconsistencies; yet, there were those who, while criticising them, expected to earn instead of learn. In my opinion this is certainly reproachable, especially in this field of culture and education.
Although I am a positive person and believe that every relationship contains confusion, especially in a relationship between two institutions, each one being represented by very different individuals, with very different expectations, I also believe this confusion could have been clarified by listening to the other party. From time to time I would feel that I could not properly inform each other because I was not informed. Very likely there were fractures in the long information chain of documenta and, surely, its length delayed the reception of information. As a result, my lack of decision-making power frustrated even more those expecting me to give them what they felt belonged to them. So sometimes I felt that my presence hindered the communication that was supposed to facilitate. I was like a marriage counsellor that never met with both parties at the same time, and did so even when one of the parties had no interest to meet me, since they wanted to meet directly with the other party. It felt as I was like the ball being thrown from one side to the other of the playground, or as if we were playing the game of the telephone (or Chinese Whispers) in the age of global communication.
So, if you ask me to reflect on the sense of the figure of the Liaison Officer, I would first ask myself if the liaison is a gesture of togetherness or a solution to an already existing problem. I believe in the first case it makes sense to have a diplomatic figure, a communicator, who seeks the best for both parties. In the second case placing a person in between only worsens certain problems, deteriorating the relationship and decreasing the possibility of liaising. Either way expectations, as well as motivations have to be clear, especially by planning to establish a conversation between big organisms. This requires, for instance, one-to-one meetings, so that all those who experience any kind of discontent can express themselves and do it towards the concerned parties. Needless to say, that both institutions have to be openminded and be able to give up their interests to the benefit of others.
Finally I would like to add that these dark coloured expressions come from a young passionate woman and are the result of my deep involvement in this project. Despite “french letters”* turning out to be condoms, a lovelessness tale in the city of the brothers Grimm, I still see the glass half-full and know that this relationship will flourish again. Whether this happens through the support of a Liaison Officer, or avoiding the embodiment of this linking agent, I can only express my hope that next time communication will not suppose a big burden on the achievements of objectives, and that these lines will serve one or twobeginners in their attempt of bringing different parties together.
I am very thankful for this working opportunity I was given, which turned to be a life experience. I am especially grateful to Cigdem Özdemir, who supported my work from the beginning, to Thomas Fröhlich for his patience with my -almost daily- early visits to his office, and to Clare Butcher, who always took my opinion into consideration.
Natalia Escudero López
*("French letters" are condoms, the term coined during WWI as they were handed out to British soldiers going on leave in France.)