Do you know a telephone number by heart?"
During their 1-week residency, the stonekollektiv (Julia Nitschke and Caroline Anne Kapp) explored performative approaches to the library. This resulted in "instructions for action" that visitors to the library can follow. Through personal memories, individual approaches to the collection are provoked. Chance plays just as important a role as subjective decisions. The telephone number e.g. becomes a personal access code.
Impossible Library: We are happy you are here.
Julia Nitschke: Yaaaay!
IL: Julia Nitschke and Caroline Kapp are residents at the Impossible Library. We will start with a tea ceremony. There are a lot of cups on the table and there is a sunflower seed in each cup.
JN (pours the water into the cup): We are here to reactivate the knowledge in the Impossible Library. This wonderful place is full of treasures in the shape of magazines and zines. But unfortunately, libraries and public libraries, or any place holding collected knowledge can only be activated if somebody from the outside joins and reads from it. And that is why we are here. We will read.
Caroline Kapp: And as you can see a lot of knowledge is already flowing into the environment from these teabags.
IL: Knowledge to drink.
JN: This is a digital detox tea. Here, in the library, you don’t require your phone a lot. You are surrounded by magazines and zines.
IL: We can already experience how you are perceiving the library. Maybe we can start by talking about “labern” (German for babbling). You work together as the stonekollektiv and babbling is your artistic, performative method and approach. How would you call it? Can you explain what babbling is?
CK: “Labern” is an old German word for notebook. A loose collection of notes, a bound thingy. Eva Busch, a very smart person and also our former dramatic advisor and performance partner researched this for us. That is how we learned about the word’s origin. We know the word comes from this but for us, babbling is a casual everyday thing.
JN (laughs): What I associate with babbling is free association. Babbling creates connections or new ideas, that are not so obvious on the first view, this is part of it.
CK: It is also something one always does on the side. One babbles through every day all the time. One reads articles together, then, one talks about them, then, you play a song in-between, that somehow also fits, because you can think of a connection, and then, we thought, wouldn’t it be great to do that in a museum sometime. And since then it is art. Totally classic.
JN: I think what also plays into the babbling is that it is really low-key. It is not a lecture and people are sort of surprised when they sit in on one of our performances that there is any content. This is our charming way to share uncomfortable facts or occurrences in relationship to Germany with our audience.
IL: I find this interesting. My first associations with babbling are kind of negatively connotated. I have to think about how it is not based on arguments. And thinking about populism and conspiracy theories and all that, then those are things you are babbling against. Are you beating populism with its weapons?
CK: It is as always a lot. (laughs) No, I don’t know, for us, it would fit better: humor is always ambivalent. We are wearing super cheap nail polish, we think it is hot, and at the same time, we still try to practice a critique of capitalism. And that is how we understand babbling. As well as, you can’t take yourself out of the equation. That comes from feminist struggles and movements, that thankfully took place before us, in which the private is always political. That’s where this practice comes from. We are now talking, drinking detox tea after spending half of the morning on Instagram. Yes…it is story-worthy. But also babbling.
JN: I also don't think we reclaimed "a strategy of populists". It was more about finding a way of talking and thinking that does not have barriers. Anyway, no one likes to listen to criticism of Germany. Spoiler: not so many. It is also uncomfortable because we live in this country and it concerns us all. We meander through it and then it is playful to follow and think: huh, how did they get to that? One is distracted by the technique of babbleing. And then one is surprised, that a revelation takes shape. For it is all researched and not completely made up. It is based on anecdotes from our private life, that we explain a little more flowery, so the story gets better. But that is also the freedom of art. Everything else that we critique when we talk about Germany and its Nazi history that is true. You can research that.
IL: Do you surprise each other sometimes or yourselves?
JN: Sure, yes.
CK: Actually, it is the most fun, when you push the other person in a certain direction or babbling. We were once invited to a symposium and there —like here— we were also supposed to talk about our work in a structured way. That worked partially, with a prepared PowerPoint presentation, podium, speaking, sitting, and people writing down notes, and then one of us played Christiane Rösinger’s „Was jetzt kommt“ ("What comes now") and all of a sudden, we were sittingthere with academics, and there was an anthem against patriarchy playing. But we did not prepare it. (laughter). In a way, it was so grandiose. The other one has to deal with it.
JN: I remember a situation on a stage: That was our special “Vacation in Bavaria” and once again, uncomfortable populist critique of Islam was on in the news, followed by the usual stereotypes, that are spread in daily newspapers and other terrible magazines. Something along the buzzwords "harem" and that a man can have like 10 million wives etc. and then Caroline found this “fun-fact” in Bavaria. I don’t have it down exactly, but it was about the Nazi regime and how high Nazi officials created laws to legally have more than one wife. Essentially, they tried to establish in Catholic Bavaria, what they accused other religions of. What was the book called again?
CK: "Bayern ohne Lederhosen" (Bavaria without Lederhosen).
JN: Really recommend the book. There are many anecdotes from Bavaria in it.
CK: That is true.
IL: In your application for the residency you connect babbling to Fluxus. Can you say a few words about that, what interests you about this?
CK: Good, that you ask this. We purposely spent some time reading up on this on Wikipedia for like 45 minutes. And Julia has something nice to say about this.
JN (lacht): I think what I love about Fluxus is that it means something like fluid or flowing. In Fluxus, the idea and concept of space are the focus, not the material or the object. FLuxus and Dada are for me very close to each other. I don’t know if this is also like this for other people but it is about established art in institutions, to bring onto another accessible level. What I also connect to Fluxus is a Fluxus gallery that was in Bochum by Inge Baecker. That became clear to me by reading the catalog, Fluxus is a lot about creating groups and group exhibitions. In Bochum, Wolf Vorstell encouraged Inge Baecker to open this gallery. He also had his first solo exhibition there, and then he said, Inge, I just had my first exhibition and now you have to invite all your friends. The idea was simply to not think individually as an artist, but to share reciprocally. What I also found super interesting about artworks in Fluxus is that they are repetitive. All kinds of people and artists can copy them.
CK: The Fluxus movement goes with a critique of certain classical image formats. So like everything that is easily turned into money value on the art market. The material value of our art is—I don’t know—here, in the Impossible Library is maybe at 20 Euros. If someone wants to have it then, take it. (Laughs). It is immaterial, you can tell it as a story to someone else and also in the senes of Fluxus, like Julia meant, continue performing—easy to distribute, hard to sell.
IL: One could summarize that as “ephemeral practices”. Babbling as well as Fluxus and travel, which seems to be a big part of your artistic practice. And at the same time, so much of what you have said is also in the magazines here. If you think about them as periodicals, that are out of date in the next month, one also has to correct oneself, take a different position, and the reproductions of the zine culture for example, in zine culture. What connects tases ephemeral practices, that are not really materially connected? What collects? How does that develop over time? A lovely answer was that networks form, like you described with Julia.
CK: A possible answer or a question I ask myself is: how do we create a resonance room or a noticing or an intense experience of an ephemeral or fleeting text or material? Our manuals are about this. This is a question that we are concerned with anyway: how to create awareness? This is also the question in much more ephemeral channels that we use daily. I would also be interested in your answer because you also write in your mission statement that publishing practices are a question. As people who create zines or magazines, this is also a constant question: How do we publish this? How do we design this? These are different questions, that get you to reflect on your work in an ephemeral art form. One has to always question oneself again, that different works with a different time frame ask differently.
IL: I am not driven by the thought of how the IL and its practice resonates in the mainstream. This is not the goal. It is always about this in-between. Who does it reach when? Who is interested in it? This working in-between is also what is necessary for magazine publishing. To create counter-publics that create an identification with different stuff than they are allowed in the mainstream.
CK: I just thought: Babbling—like Julia described it— you stumble into a theme and wind up talking about your family history, want to talk about racism in Germany, and these topics get enmeshed and then you come to a point. When I stand somewhere or am traveling, I get myself a magazine and I flip through the pages, then there is sometimes this situation where I think, ah, that moves me deeply, I was not expecting this. It is visually so interesting or prepared or so concentrated, and maybe it has to reach us in this moment and the “something else” happens. It can disrupt. Even though, at the same time, you can close it very quickly. Do you know → Glue Magazine?
IL: I don’t.
CK: It’s a magazine that designers from Norway publish and it is like the Dummy Magazines, each magazine is designed completely differently. It always takes a topic from a feminist perspective. Body, Identity, Economy, Insurance and such. That comes to me as an example where this happened to me a few times.
IL: Can you explain how you worked with the library? Because of Corona only a few people could visit the library. These magazines are not sorted by any standard. They are piled loosely in shelves. That's how you happened upon it. So, how did you begin? How did you engage?
JN: My first reaction was to let myself drift. I read a lot of the book spines. There are also some displays where the covers of the magazines are visible. Then I noticed, I was not making a lot of progress, because very quickly had interesting magazines in my hands. And that is why I had the first impression was ok: we could stay here for another week to even read a magazine. I am a big fan of coincidences and at the same time, I think there are no coincidences. In this tension, we create our manual. There is a certain idea to follow to reach the magazines meant for a person. At the same time, it is outwardly completely random, which magazine lands in your hands. I think this is exciting and freeing, that there are no categories in your library. We also thought about doing the categorization for you, new fresh categories that then again problem don’t categorize anything. But then we decided against it because we actually think it is cool not to categorize.
IL: Can you describe how an action manual works?
CK: One reads a booklet or zine that is like the key that creates access to the library via your data. It can be connected to your bank account, your telephone number, or a random telephone number that you still remember. These numbers we have put into a manual to connect to a particular shelf number and a specific zine in a specific row. You then read these partially or tell them to someone else or don’t do anything. [laugh] You can always say no. You are not forced.
JN: Yeah, we wrote an action manually, that you can follow if you so choose.
IL: What role does the Impossible Library as a space play?
JN: It holds the whole thing. (they all laugh)
IL: We already mentioned it a few times but in conclusion, we want to talk to you about the relationship between accessibility and content. We could position them against each other and say, you create content but the individual magazines are not so important for this. Maybe they don’t have to be. How do you deal with this relationship? Are they related to you? What role does accessibility in general play in your work here?
JN: Accessibility plays a very large role. This also emerges perhaps from the fact that I have a collective atelier with friends in Bochum. [→ Atelier Automatique], where we organize events. We thought a lot about how to involve our neighborhood. This is important to me when one lives in a quarter to also look around where you are. Now you, unfortunately, opened during Corona, that is the most impossible situation to get to know the neighbors. I think it is also sometimes not to be underestimated, who one reaches in one’s bubble and who one does not reach. That is why in our action manuals, played by recordings, little notes are written down on how to connect to the outside. Since we decided to, for example, use a number that you know by heart, write it down, it could be that it is a landline, so like really old, that you still know from your childhood. There the chance is to address a person from a different generation or a from a different environment, than for example all of us academics and art world people. I think this is interesting. How to explain to this person that I am currently in an art performance and what kind of place is this? At the same time, it is also a chance to talk about this place, for it is also accessible for all. To content, I would say: in one of the action manuals it is exactly about this. In the end, one receives time to read an article closely and you have to log in for the inventory. Here, it can happen that you connect with the magazine and think, I want to continue reading this.
CK: There is another category. „Wishes for the Impossible Library“. We have not talked about these until now. That is for creating a small ramp to overcome the steps. And then we will create an action Manual for people who can not walk up the stairs, who need a person to mediate. And about the content—I think it is a funny question—because you are multiple collections that were put together, that’s why I think is particularly exciting to enter. Partially it is a specific collection about the city, structure, history, urban space and then different collections connect to different topics. What kind of relationship to the content would you wish for? Or how do you see your content?
IL: I could not speak to the overall content of the Impossible Library but each individual booklet has content. I also think these points "content" and "accessabiltiy" are connected in this sense because access leads to content. And at the same time, you can think about how accessibility is created for content or how content can be made accessible. These are maybe different categories. I think there is this content in the Impossible Library, but one could surely say like you mentioned earlier, one can categorize the booklets, sort the content, and not take the accessibility the sorting into account.
CK: Ah yes. We assumed that everything here is 100% precious because it is in the Impossible Library.
IL: Precious for whom?
CK: For everyone.
JN: I also think your collections are very impressive, there are really great magazine that I like…
CK: never would see!
JN: Yes or I also found it interesting that you specifically searched for these when you started collecting. We also notice this about your collection. There is very particular knowledge here, which is not in every press & book train station book shop. That is really great.
IL: Wow. let’s end here.
JN: The life of things.
Interview by Ina Römling and Torben Körschkes
Support: Nina Prader, Annika Dorau, Urs Spindler, Malte Spindler