CAT Cologne is a residency space in Germany that provides artists with the chance to create projects touching on issues and action. CAT's Julia Haarmann takes us through a day in the life of the organization -- travel with us to CAT in Cologne!
What is CAT Cologne about?
CAT is a shortcut for ‘Community Art Team’.
As an artist residency, CAT Cologne supports international emerging artists who work in the field
of social practice and community engaged work.
During a working grant to spend 1-3 months in Cologne, artists are invited to realize a process-
oriented project and to pick up issues that are specific to context and engages with local
communities. Each project closes with a small publication and a final presentation. A number of
social events such as Dinner Parties and Brunches are part of the framing program.
The project’s task is to support the dialogue between diverse communities and engage them to
their own constructive actionism by providing clever and creative ways of participation.
How did your project come together?
I have always been intrigued contemporary arts and worked for art galleries for more than ten
years. Although this is a very varied field where you’re in constant exchange with artists,
collectors, critics and curators, the market just didn’t seem to be the right format to allow for
real encounters and discourse. On the other hand, whenever I travel and connect with artists
who have a quite different background and perspective, it feels very enriching to rethink ones
own position and habits. As another finding, I got involved in socially engaged art which has
been growing for some decades and has produced some of the most exciting and relevant work
to be experienced anywhere, but mostly exists outside of museums and galleries. As a result,
partnerships between socially engaged artists and contemporary institutions have not only
become crucial for the visibility of these producers and their work but also developed
exemplary spaces for intercultural work and experience. This was when I realized the potential
of artist residencies as significant instruments for global mobility and visibility of emerging
artists and to connect international artists with a local audience and a site-specific context.
Last but not least, Cologne had lost so much of its creative capital to Berlin in recent times and
it seemed to be just the right place to revitalize some of its infrastructure by introducing this
kind of exchange.
In the art world, are there any frustrations or problems that you hope to address or challenge through CAT’s work?
I think there is a big gap between what should be said and what is shown. Art and culture have
such an important impact on our socialization and identity structures. We still need a lot more
space to really allow for diversity, however too many people still choose affirmative over
transformative power of art. Obviously one needs to be aware of the trap to romanticize a vision
of cultural hybridity and plurality. And I’m talking about providing space for direct experience
and dialogue as we don’t speak for the artist – the artist is actually present. To quote the critic
Stuart Hall: „It is an immensely important gain when one recognizes that all identity is
constructed across difference.“ Much of what we can see as art is still informed by subtle forms
of affirmation or exoticization but isn’t it much more valuable, as Bell Hooks sais, „that we look
with the received understanding that art is necessarily a terrain of defamiliarization: it may take
what we see/know and make us look at it in a new way.“ There can never be progress if we’re afraid of the risk to move out of our comfort zone and challenge our habits of being from time
If your project were a book, who would you want to read it?
That’s a good question! I guess first of all CAT wants to reach out to a broader audience. This
means the book needs to apply a certain language and be accessible, so that people who have
no insider knowledge and might not be part of an exclusive scene can relate to its contents. But
we are also very interested in raising awareness for exemplary socially engaged arts and giving
signals for responsible and sustainable agency within the global art world and the greater
creative cultural sector.
What does community mean to you?
Our community is our active audience. Community engagement is an inherent characteristic of
socially engaged arts (SEA) as it focuses on engagement through human interaction and social
discourse. As a consequence it widens the public sphere and provides mutual benefit, also to
underrepresented groups and communities that don’t have access to contemporary art in the
first place. Projects within the range of SEA often suggest innovative methods for the
development of new audiences and target groups as artists are more concerned with the
methodology and outreach than with the aesthetic of their work. SEA often works with
participatory projects to enhance and activate the inviduals and groups in decision making
processes that direct their everyday life.
How does “community” affect the decisions you make as an organization or project?
At the beginning of each project we not only only determine what we are going to do but we’re
also aking who we are doing it for and who we are doing it with. Therefore a specific
community, which can be an existing initiative or people who share a certain set of values,
backgrounds or interest, have to be identified and approached. These are the people who we
consider experts on the topics we address and who, in the end, give feedback about the
relevance and success of the project.
The work you do involves a lot of challenging aspects. What about your project makes you wake up in the morning and want to continue working on it?
That’s actually true. For example, it can be very challenging to start cooperations and envision a
project together with partners without a reliability of planning. Usually communication about a
project develops over a long time before we can even start to fundraise. This can mean that you
have a detailed concept with all the participants in place and are ready to start but then
budgets might not be approved. Another challenge is when we realize that a project just doesn’t
work out as we had envisioned it because maybe the medium isn’t right or we didn’t aks the
right questions in the beginning. All of these things can have quite destabling effects. However,
we’ve always made the experience that if there is a good partnership with the artists we invite
to CAT in place, they are very willing to find solutions together with us. Their approaches in this
are very often quite different from our ways but together we can find effective solutions which
most of the time are even better than the ideas we started with. Actually it isn’t quite the right
term to talk about these collaborations as projects. They are rather processes because you can
never determine when they actually started and when they ended. This can be considered
another challenge because not everything that happens at CAT can be evaluated in quantifiable and qualifiable ways. But the biggest success for me personally is when I feel a collaboration
leads into a new friendship. We start and speak through art but I’m tought so many lessons
which I feel blessed about and that’s why, let’s say, I’m eager to learn every day.
What is your motto?
Don’t worry if the original plan doesn’t work out - what comes after will be even better.
What are your next steps? Where would you like to see this project go in the
Artist-in- residence programs offer space for process-based work and are intense by means of
ressources and the extend to which we engage individually with each project. One priority for
the years to come is therefore to keep up with and acknowledge these requirements. But we
have made good progress in raising awareness for our program in the last two years. Besides
substantial support by the City of Cologne or the Culture Foundation of RheinEnergie, we’re
happy to have Bayer Kultur as a main sponsor from 2018, which makes it possible for us to
extend our team.
As more of a vision, we see artist residencies as a source for important impulses as they are in a
way laboratories for democracy. Residency programs gain new importance within societies that
search for new perspectives to live together in peace. With this in mind we started a European
collaboration with partners in Spain, Lithuania and Sweden. This partnership and exchange is
already of great value for CAT, but lets see what else comes from it in the future.
How can visual culture influence social change?
Art can be a medium to raise awareness, questioning stereotypes, envisioning new perspectives,
to initiate cultural dialogue and social change. Changes taking place in a globalized world, with
all the socio-political challenges they impose, have to be addressed by designing ways to keep
up with them in self-determined ways. Socially engaged art offers innovative and relevant
solutions to address these challenges, as a key feature of SEA is to engage a public to partake
and even claim authorship in the process. SEA practicioners are skilled to identify, address and
translate diffuse ideas and needs into a form. SEA is based on uniting a mindset of global
diversity with a need for certainty and belonging by offering tools for empowerment and
participation. If accompanying these processes in a demand-oriented way, institutions can help
to maintain dialogue beyond the limits of politics and have a stabilizing effect in times of
CAT Cologne // visit their site to learn about upcoming events and opportunities
D – 50670 Cologne
m: +49 172 82 666 58