Shedhalle / Institution / History

The Shedhalle on the area of the ”Roten Fabrik”

The Rote Fabrik [Red Factory] was originally built as a mechanical silk-weaving mill according to plans drafted by architect Carl Arnold Séquin in 1892. As in many industrial buildings erected during the period, the natural light required for the production halls be provided either by sawtooth (shed) or skylight roofs, for which Carl Arnold Séquin and Karl Löhle held the Swiss patent. Following a succession of different owners and a period of vacancy, the city of Zurich purchased the Rote Fabrik in 1972. The original plan was to demolish the building to be able to widen the adjacent street. But the Monument Preservation Society and the Social Democratic Party launched a successful grass-roots initiative in opposition to these plans. The factory was to be preserved as a culture and recreation centre. In 1977, the City Council was for this purpose tasked to develop a plan for the utilisation of the Rote Fabrik. Three years later, popular unrest prompted accelerated efforts to establish the Rote Fabrik as an alternative cultural centre.

The institution Shedhalle
The Shedhalle, forming part of the Rote Fabrik, evolved from an interest group of local artists who felt under-represented in the established art system. Later disagreements between the artists and the group that ran the centre led to the separation of the Shedhalle from the Rote Fabrik in 1986. The Shedhalle founded their own association, and shortly after that, in 1987, publicly advertised the posts of curator and manager for the first time. During the subsequent years Harm Lux as curator, and Barbara Mosca as administrative manager, shared the work of making the Shedhalle a significant place for artistic activities.

At the beginning of 1994 there was a fundamental revision of the programming concept of the Shedhalle. During the Lux/Mosca era, the institution was dominated by a rather traditional approach to art and exhibition in regard to form as well as content. However, the board urged the new team to search for new ways to produce and disseminate art. The main aim of the renewal was to open up the programme for unconventional ways of art dissemination and for interdisciplinary co-operation with different social and scientific organisations. In order to achieve this aim, people had to be found whose work was at the intersection of art and discursive, as well as political, engagement. The foundations of it all lay in the very constructive framework of a communicative and egalitarian work philosophy. The curatorship was involved in administrative issues and the management was involved in curating projects. Additionally, the idea was to create a partnership of two to three curators who would work together as a collective.

Curator's practise
In order to pave the way for a different practice of art dissemination, Shedhalle had to become a place in which not only products were on view but also their relationships with the work and exchanges through which they came into existence. This implied that the engagement with political conditions and actualities of art production and perception became an integral component of the work at Shedhalle. Existing notions of art were examined and alternatives sought. In this way the NatureTM exhibition (1995) was staged as a trade fair, where artistic, social and political projects were presented, which related to the so-called new technologies in an emancipated way. Another project about pornography and prostitution, Gewerbeschein Künstlerin [artist work permit] (1995) created a relation between commercial pornography and prostitution and their “interest-free” representation in art. This way the project referred to the origins and the exterior of art. On the occasion of the project named 8 Wochen Klausur [8 weeks of seclusion] (1994), a group of seven people made the Shedhalle their work place and specifically intervened in the drug politics of Zurich with two projects. Art was to make effective contributions to current issues, rather than cutting itself off from all social and political reality.

Das Projekt «8 Wochen Klausur» von Wolfgang Zinggl

The Project “8 weeks of seclusion” by Wolfgang Zinggl


Subjects and positions
Questions of gender relations and feminist theory were a central focus for the Sex and Space (1996) as well as the Supermarket (1998) project. This was also the case for other projects about technology critique and the consequences of globalisation. Before the background of the economic demand for increased consumption and profits, and the increasingly user-unfriendly operability of High Tech, the LowTech project (2000) encompassed work that originated in subversive interests and called developments in technology and economy into question. Projects based on interdisciplinary principles, such as Game Girl (1994), played central roles. By confronting critique and image production, it became not only possible to investigate the educational character of images of bio-technology in advertising, but also to represent them in their functions as the generators of dreams. Shedhalle provided the location for the moneynations@access project (1998), for which the space was used in a different way for concrete and controversial art. The main focus was on the active involvement of, and networking between, artists and cultural workers from Eastern and Western Europe.

The strategy of using art for critical thought, was applied to the exhibition If I ruled the word (1997), in which the political content of pop music was investigated, mainly based on the reading of image politics in pop music. Visual appearances of groups, image strategies, artwork in pop magazines and for labels, as well as the furnishing of clubs, became the objects of artistic reflection.

Using humour, charm, sensuality and great socio-political commitment, mondo immaginario [imaginative world] (1999) created another world, different realities and different states of consciousness. In this, mondo immaginario was less about the analysis of the project, but rather about new drafts and utopias, which were based on the background of the previous years of work in the Shedhalle and its findings. The Colour of Friendship (2000) searched for current forms of friendships (in the broadest sense), and took a critical look at the absorption of actionist relationships by consumer goods and advertising, and investigated critical coalitions.

New approaches on how we organise of our social and sexual relationships, among them the homosexual marriage and the recognition of non-marital civil unions were the focus of Pedigree Pal (2001). One of the main concerns was the question if these changes are genuine or merely political corrections? If Western democracies have truly entered the post-familial age, new desires, lines of discourse and policies should not only be articulated but also recognised by government and the market as well. Although the principle of concubinage, for example, is widely practised in Switzerland, 90% of Swiss infants are born of married parents. If we do indeed have so many different options, why do people choose the traditional, dominant one? Musik Didactique - Content and Message in Electronic Pop Music ‘After’ Techno (2003) put a focus on contemporary music makers and their intentions as well as on adequate formats and channel of dissemination. Apart from producing an ingenious new style and emphatically influencing neighbouring musical genres as well as societal realms, techno has been characterised by a spectacular renunciation of content and message. Inasmuch as the once prevalent ‘form is the new content’ axiom seemingly left any need for social and political pertinence unsatisfied and as content and intention are becoming important to producers of electronic pop music, a new definition of content and theory is timely. Citizen Queer (2004) was an interdisciplinary exhibition project discussing trends, joys and dilemmas in contemporary queer practices. The project aimed at visualising and above all initiating relations and processes between people that might be designated as queer. Instead of narrowing in on different fixed sexual identities, CITIZEN QUEER sought to complicate dialectic relations inherent in much gender and gay-lesbian studies as well as in mainstream gay-lesbian culture. Thus, the ultimate success for CITIZEN QUEER will be to begin conceptualising how to truly substitute a queer quagmire for neat (i.e. binary) categories of sex and sexuality.

The Shedhalle programme has received significant international attention and become an important reference point for an experimental, sociocritical, and contemporary art practice.

Curators of the Shedhalle:
Harm Lux (1987 - 1993)
Renate Lorenz (1994 - 1997)
Sylvia Kafehsy (1994 - 1997)
Marion von Osten (1996 - 1998)
Ursula Biemann (1995 - 1998)
Justin Hoffmann (1997 - 2000)
Elke aus dem Moore (1999 - 2002)
Frederikke Hansen (2000 - 2004)
Sønke Gau (2004 - 2009)
Katharina Schlieben (2004 - 2009)
Anke Hoffmann (2009 - 2012)
Yvonne Volkart (2009 - 2012)

practised in Switzerland, 90% of infants...