By Rosa Pfluger



reflecting backcoupling


Art practice and transculturality - art in a globalised world

The globalisation of goods, media and communication has a significant impact on our world and our lives together. Our living conditions are also dynamic and shaped by worldwide networking. Fixed identities and rootedness in a certain place or culture are giving way to new, more open ways of living. Even culture itself, which always seemed to be firmly defined as a matter of course, increasingly appears as a construct that has little to do with the reality experienced in everyday life. The preoccupation with this new reality manifests itself not least in contemporary art. According to Doris Summer, director of the Cultural Agents Initiative at Harvard University, art practice itself, i.e. the combination of creative and critical thinking, of free discovery and reflection on what has been discovered, offers an ideal strategy for confronting this dynamic and diverse world.[1] Art and migration educator Inga Eremjan also emphasises: "Inherent in art is the foreign, the other, which arouses interest. Art practice is also characterised by strategies such as re-appropriation, re-contextualisation and hybridisation."[2] Moreover, a collaborative, transcultural art practice has the potential to transcend language barriers and national borders. In this way, art can become the ideal approach for engaging with a dynamic, globalised time. What can such an engagement look like and under what circumstances can it succeed?


Collaborative art practice as a means to a conducive transcultural exchange

For a successful transcultural exchange, not only mutual learning from each other, observation and communication are indispensable. Joint creation, collaboration and cooperation are also required. Accordingly, it is not only about joint organising, curating and exhibiting, but about actual, collaborative, aesthetic or visual creation. Reception, i.e. written or discursive reflection on an artistic work, can also be understood as a form of artistic production.

Artistic collaboration never happens in a vacuum and can also be very political. Artists from different social, local and temporal locations have always influenced and inspired each other. This can be problematic if there is no real, symmetrical communication. If one party suffers economic or social disadvantages, this is called cultural appropriation.[3]  So how can real artistic co-production take place and what are the best possible conditions for it? In the exhibition project back coupling - transnational artistic cooperations, which was realised in Munich in the summer of 2021, students of art education at the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich dealt with precisely these questions in practice. In the following, this project will serve as a model from which principles for successful artistic cooperation across cultural "borders" can be derived.


The seminar: objectives and implementation of a student project

In spring 2020, students of the Academy of Fine Arts gathered in the seminar "Globalisation and Transculturality - Approaches and Methods in Art" under the direction of Dr. Ernst Wagner to conceive an exhibition in cooperation with international partners. The aim was to test theoretical approaches and strategies developed in previous seminars, during exhibition visits and in discussion rounds in practice and to make them available to other interested parties in the context of an exhibition and to put them up for discussion. This project, which came to its (temporary) conclusion in the exhibition back coupling in summer 2021, will be analysed in detail in the following in order to be able to draw conclusions and reflect on a methodology for transcultural artistic communication and collaboration.


The participating artists: establishing contact and communication

From the very beginning, the aim of the seminar was to present an exhibition of artistic works that were conceived and produced together with partners from all over the world especially for this occasion. At the beginning of the realisation, the search for suitable collaborators and the question of which "criteria" they should fulfil was accordingly the focus. The focus was on a transcultural perspective, so the partner should come from a "different" cultural background or be familiar with "different" visual habits and aesthetic or cultural practices. But at what point is someone "foreign enough"? The greater the cultural difference, the more exciting for the exhibition?

Such considerations quickly reach their limits: Neither nationality, nor language, nor religion appear to be suitable categories, since a diversity of nations, languages and religions can already be found within a city, even within the Munich Academy of Fine Arts. In addition, there is the following paradox: on the one hand, transculturality is considered a practical and contemporary concept; on the other hand, everyone seems to instinctively know what "his" or "her" culture is, in distinction to the "other", "foreign".[4] However, political nationality is not decisive here, "because then naturalised Germans would not be labelled as 'people with a migration background' or even more drastically as 'foreigners'"[5] , Inga Eremjan notes.

Accordingly, the artistic partner in the project does not necessarily have to be of a nationality other than German. In the sense of transculturality, the differences within a culture can be greater than the differences between different cultures anyway. Trying to define exact categories and standards for an ideal collaboration partner therefore seems as futile as it is useless. Within the seminar, this lack of a fixed set of rules was countered pragmatically and individually: The seminar participants first exchanged information about the people they personally considered possible project partners among themselves and contacted them shortly afterwards or made new contacts via the Exploring Visual Cultures (EVC) network.

In conclusion, it can be said that the factor of individual contact and communication possibilities outweighed all other possible influencing factors. The earlier and more courageously the artistic partners were invited to participate in the project, the more time there was for collaboration. In the end, the pairs formed in many different ways: The partners from Ghana, Hong Kong, Iran, Japan, Spain and South Africa were recruited for the project partly through personal contacts, partly through the EVC network; some of the partners knew each other very well, others not at all; some were able to meet in person, others only made contact online; some had already lived in Germany, others had never been to Germany.  The artistic training and working methods were also very similar in some cases and not in others.

From this, the following factors play a major role in establishing contact and communication in relation to an artistic project: the distance between the partners (and accordingly the medium of communication); the duration of the acquaintance; the place of residence and thus the familiarity with each other's environment; the level of knowledge/experience/type of training; the material/motif/topic. Based on these factors, for example, the wood sculptors Martin Lehmer and Shigeyuki Myagawa, both living in Munich, had the closest connection, while my partner Lawrence Kyere, a textile design student from Ghana, and I each got involved with a completely unknown person and situation. The experience of back coupling shows that both extremes, but also all constellations in between, can be fruitful. However, the less common ground there is, the more time and work must be invested in communication and building a sustainable partnership.


The results: six art works and their presentation

Over the course of a year and in collaboration with three exhibition spaces, the six teams each worked on a project; the exhibition finally took place in Munich from 03 - 19 June 2021.

The first artistic work is the already mentioned collaboration between Martin Lehmer from Munich and Shigeyuki Myagawa, who comes from Japan: The two wood sculptors placed their sculptures "Gandhara Buddha" as well as a fragmented human figure without a title in relation to each other, and Shigeyuki's sculpture "Ametaphysics" was additionally created. Martin also placed a fragmentary sculpture of a cow in the exhibition space. The result is an exciting dialogue between the transcendent and the earthly, between spirituality and corporeality, which put the exhibition space of Galerie achtzehnkommazwei in a meditative mood.

In the same exhibition space, a sound work was heard that was created by the Munich student Mira Sattelberger in exchange with several collaborators. "Alien Nation - experiment on communication" began as a non-verbal exchange between Mira Sattelberger and Kam Yi Lam April, a Hong Kong artist living in Munich, and Hong Kong artists Tracy Wong, Ka Yan Luk and Tracy Tse. Over several weeks, Mira and her collaborators exchanged audio files with found sounds from their immediate surroundings. From this collection of fragmentary, often subtle everyday sounds, the musicians and artists Masahiko Saji from Japan and Manuel Bellini from Italy developed opulent works of sound art that are reminiscent of upbeat film music and instantly create a pleasant atmosphere. Ana Sofía Gaitan (Colombia) and Tobias Krug (Munich) created matching visuals. Here, too, the focus is on communication itself and on a wide variety of levels. "Alien Nation" fills the space with life and makes the communication that takes place between the sculptures by Shigeyuki and Martin resonate.

The third collaboration took place between the Munich student Stela Vula and Octavia Roodt from South Africa. The media artist and the graphic designer jointly developed a stage-set-like structure onto which a video was projected whose symbolic language picks up motifs and narratives from the most diverse cultures and sets them in dialogue. Viewed in the evening through the shop window of the Digital Art Space, this stage-like impression is reinforced.

Entering the gallery, a trail of fragile miniature dwellings made of roof tiles and paper leads into the back room. It is dominated by a tent constructed entirely of precious fur coats and lined with reflective rescue blankets - a work by Georg Schatz (Munich). A black-and-white video is projected onto the wall behind it, in which the little houses and their creator, Hosein Ghafouri (Iran), appear again. "Shelter", the title of the work, is at the same time the linking contentual bracket: it is about two very different perspectives on the same thing, namely the shelter, the shelter. Hosein interprets it as ephemeral, fragile, existential. Georg's work, on the other hand, seems downright decadent, but he, too, refers to shelter as an archaic human need via the material fur.

The fifth collaboration was between Maria Obermeier from Munich and Clara Ciriquiain from Spain: A large painting with strongly luminous colours shows a scene in a street café, the figures seem stiff, the gestures and actions are symbolically charged. In front of it is a small table that seems to have fallen out of the picture: the same size as in the painting, almost life-size, it shows a plate, cutlery, but also a smartphone and other everyday objects on its tabletop, which is made of a painted canvas. This object ingeniously breaks up the pictorial space and connects it with the reality of the viewers. In addition, a fragmentary dialogue of digital short messages between the artists was shown.

In the same space, the super+ CENTERCOURT, I (Rosa Pfluger) showed our joint work "Safety Suit" with my partner, Lawrence Kyere from Ghana. Several usable objects, reminiscent of protectors from sports or the military, are presented on the wall and on various pedestals. They are wrapped in brightly coloured patterns consisting of shapes and symbols with political messages inserted: "Covid-19 is real", "Climate Change" and "Stop racism". The idea for "Safety Suit" came as a reaction to the Black Lives Matter movement. [6]


Cooperation in art: communication as a formal and content-related motif of artistic works

Collaboration and communication took place at various levels during the preparations and implementation of back coupling: Firstly, between the seminar leader, Dr Ernst Wagner, and the seminar participants: Expectations and goals were formulated and discussed. Then, in the early summer of 2020, the exchange between the Munich students and the respective partners began. This exchange formed the core of the entire project. Then, step by step, came the exchange with the directors of the exhibition spaces; non-commercial off-spaces, which in turn depend on communication with colleagues, public agencies and also (e.g. via social media) their subscribers.

In all the artistic works created, communication itself is an important element of design or content. In the sound work "Alien Nation", for example, which is derived from a non-verbal exchange of found sounds, communication itself became the content of the work; the same applies to Clara and Maria, who made the exchange itself, which preferably takes place informally over a shared meal, the motif of their paintings. The role of communication was quite different, but just as important, for Hosein and Georg, Octavia and Stela, and Lawrence and me: the joint work created a basis for conversation and thus facilitated communication with a previously unknown person. A third variation emerged in the collaboration of Martin and Shigeyuki, who placed their individual works in relation to each other through their placement in the space, thus allowing them to communicate with each other - in a way analogous to their communication as sculptors.    

Communication as the basis or/and motif of artistic creation

1. How to speak? Conditions for successful communication

Under what conditions can productive communication succeed? In answering this question, the external factors must first be considered: Of course, the political and socio-economic backgrounds of the interlocutors influence their possibilities in terms of communication. On the one hand, censorship (restrictions on freedom of speech), closed borders and embargoes (possibility of a personal meeting), but also technical and location-related factors (time difference, available hardware, internet connection, etc.) can influence communication, sometimes considerably. These external factors also affect the content of communication. As philosopher Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak points out in her essay "Can the Subaltern Speak?", real communication at eye level between partners from such different backgrounds is impossible, as the superior party alone has the power to let the other party speak at all. [7]

back coupling counteracted this power imbalance:  Through the joint project of the exhibition, which could only come about with the cooperation of the participating partners from "other" cultural backgrounds, both parties were equally dependent on each other. Since the works were to be made especially for this exhibition, the one-sided appropriation of already existing cultural practices or aesthetics by the Munich seminar participants was largely excluded. At first glance, working together and the pressure to produce and present something seems to be a hindrance to the success of a dialogue without pressure, expectations and disappointments. However, especially when communicating with a stranger, a common task can be very conducive to communication.

2. What to talk about? Factors influencing the content of successful communication

Are there topics that are particularly sensitive and should therefore be avoided - or perhaps for that very reason should be discussed at all costs? Should conflicts be excluded or even provoked? During the preparation for back coupling, it happened that one partner repeatedly expressed his or her extreme political opinion in a vehement, almost hostile way, so that this cooperation finally had to be broken off. In this case, the discussion of political content caused the failure of a dialogue. However, it should also be noted that it was not only the content, but especially the hostility with which it was communicated that was decisive. In such a scenario, the speaker does not expect a response, he only wants to provoke for the sake of provocation.

In the case of Lawrence and me, the conversation about political matters was fortunate: I had watched a speech by the Ghanaian president, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, which had impressed me very much, and wanted to ask Lawrence for his opinion about this politician. Later on, we also talked about socio-political issues, which eventually even led to finding a theme for our artistic project. Therefore, I can say from my own experience that no topic needs to be excluded per se. The intention is decisive. The necessary sensitivity can best be learned in practice - learning by doing.


Advice for transcultural artistic communication

In summary, the following empirical values for successful artistic communication and collaboration emerge from my point of view:

  • All participants must be clear about the objective and be willing to invest a lot of time and work towards a common goal.
  • The common goal establishes a new interdependence among participants to which all other dependencies (financial, political, infrastructural, etc.) must be subordinated.
  • The communication media can be freely chosen, but inevitably condition the outcome and should therefore be chosen consciously.
  • Prior categorisation, e.g. for the selection of collaboration partners, and fixed rules are of little help; instead, pragmatism and individual initiative are more purposeful and realistic.
  • Communication should take place regularly and over a longer period of time (small talk or communication as an end in itself is also beneficial so that contact does not break off).
  • Communication can succeed between partners who know each other well as well as between partners who did not know each other before; it can become the content/motif of an artistic work, through which the common basis of cooperation is established or, to a certain extent, take place vicariously within an artistic work (e.g. between individual components of a work).
  • Cultural differences or "otherness" should not be expected or assumed. Rather, it should be about allowing diversity and at the same time looking for commonalities instead of trying to find the "exotic" in the other person.



  • back coupling - transnational artistic cooperation. Exhibition catalogue (link)
  • Eremjan, Inga: Transkulturelle Kunstvermittlung - Zum Bildungsgehalt ästhetisch-künstlerischer Praxen, transcript, 2016
  • Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty: Can the Subaltern Speak? , last accessed 14.10.21
  • Summer, Doris: The Arts Educate - Twenty First Century Skills for Literacy, Innovation, Citizenship. In: Sherman, Mary: International Opportunities in the Arts, Vernon Press, 2019
  •, last accessed on 11.10.21


[1] cf. Doris Summer: The Arts Educate: Twenty First Century Skills for Literacy, Innovation, Citizenship. In: Sherman, Mary: International Opportunities in the Arts, p. 3

[2] Eremjan, Inga: Transcultural Art Education, p. 211

[3], last accessed on 11.10.21

[4] Cf. Eremjan, p. 60

[5] Eremjan, ibid.

[6] Cf. back coupling - transnational artistic cooperation. Exhibition catalogue

[7] Cf. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak: Can the Subaltern Speak? , last accessed on 14.10.21


The link to the back coupling exhibition (link)