Three questions for Liliana Gómez


Since October 2021, all professorships at the documenta Institute have been appointed. With Mi You, Felix Vogel and Liliana Gómez, scholars came to Kassel who have been bringing their respective backgrounds, ideas and perspectives to the documenta Institute since then. With the series "Three questions to..." we would like to give a first impression of this. Heinz Bude asked the professors the following questions: How did you take notice of your professorship? What background do you have? And where do you want to go? This time the answers are given by Liliana Gómez, professor of the Department of Art and Society.


HB: Ms Gómez, surely you can remember reading the announcement for the professorship in Art and Society. What did you imagine this professorship would be like?

LG: So the starting point was the archive, which was and is the key concept for me. I was also interested in the development of a whole new institute, the documenta Institute. I was appealed by the fact that the professorship was not intended to fill a vacant position, but rather to build something that could be shaped. The construction of a whole new institute connected with the already existing documenta archive was and remains exciting and arresting to me.

And of course, I was also motivated to some extent by my career:  Before I came to Kassel, I led a junior research group as an SNF-funded professor at the University of Zurich, where interdisciplinary collaboration took place. I conceived it to be very profitable to bring together the different backgrounds from literary and cultural studies, philosophy and art. That's why the structure of the documenta Institute and the profile of the professorship immediately appealed to me to help shape the content of this founding work.

HB:  Can you tell us something about the starting point in your approach for research? What kind of starting point is that?

LG: Yes, well, my starting point, of course, has to do with my work at the University of Zurich and with the fact that I led the junior research group on "Contested Amnesia and Dissonant Narratives in the Global South: Post-conflict in Literature, Art, and Emergent Archives." In terms of content, the research for me, again, started at the archive: In my research, I dealt with emergent archives, lost archives, archives that have disappeared or been eliminated due to social upheavals, are absent or reappear in other ways through artistic or literary access - in other terms, the emergent archive as a kind of counter-figure to the institutionalized archive. In Kassel, I would like to continue working with these different archives and archive concepts.

Historical research and archival work were already central to my habilitation project, which I carried out primarily in the USA and the Caribbean. For years I've worked with the photo archive of the United Fruit Company and the question of what the visual, as well as the archive as a medium, can say about social transformation processes, the Anthropocene, the colonial relationship and its asymmetries of power. Therefore, I had to work very explicitly with the archive concept methodically as well as theoretically.

Both research experiences consequently determine my starting point for research at the University of Kassel, at the Kunsthochschule, and, of course, at the documenta Institute.


HB: Was that a somewhat institutionalized archive?

LG: Yes, the United Fruit Company (1891-1962) photo archive is a corporate archive. I don't think it was originally intended to be open to the public. The interface of private and public with the respective negotiation processes and contradictions was why I found the positioning of the archive very exciting. And I also gained experience in different academic contexts, which could be useful experiences for the new task at the documenta Institute - I lived abroad for some time, on the East Coast in the U.S., and later in Switzerland. I am fully aware that archives can also be a starting point for research within literary and cultural studies to explore the interdisciplinary research field of art methodologically and theoretically further. And that's why I want to introduce this global perspective and the knowledge of emergent archives and moving archives to the structure of the documenta institute.

HB: And if I were to ask you where you want to go with your research: Do you already have an idea?


LG: Yes, of course. I basically already had one when I read the bidding for the professorship. So the documenta archive has incredible potential. Both the archive and the world art exhibitions are not only inscribed in German or German-German history, but also in global history. One of my goals is to think about and develop the archive in this way on a large scale. The archive is undoubtedly one of the supporting pillars of the documenta Institute. But of course, it's not solely about researching the documenta archive. It is also about facilitating critical and independent research, for example, in order to answer questions about the untold stories of the Federal Republic, which may have their beginnings in the archive.

Exhibitions and exhibition platforms like the documenta are forums. Therefore, they are also negotiations of social processes at the same time. The documenta reflects that very precisely, which is extremely exciting. Investigating this combined with other phenomena of aesthetic practices, and considering exhibitions as forums for negotiation processes in the public sphere in general is part of my research.

These thematizations of social negotiation processes are consciously brought into focus by Catherine David with documenta X of 1997 at the latest. According to this, the documenta is not only a platform of contemporary art in which inner-German social and cultural processes are negotiated but is also to be counter-read in a global dimension. Looking at it in this way and thereby considering it globally is another important approach.