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The Flash Job Campaign

Per Traasdahl of Flash Job Campaign

interviewed by Kathryn Fischer and Eleanor Hadley Kershaw

Berlin, 14th June, 2008

Flash Job Campaign is a participatory project initiated by Per Traasdahl, founder of ArtsSourceLab, an interdisciplinary network for the development and societal implementation of sustainable, social micro-models. Based on the ArtSourceLab project TeenKom, Flash Job Campaign has selected nine participants to act as “Catalysts” in the area of Neukölln (one of the most disadvantaged areas of Berlin), bringing together a representative of a local business (the Customer) and a teenager willing to work (the Maker) for a three-hour one-time “Flash Job”.

Kathryn Fischer (KF): To me Flash Job Campaign seems all about creating a set of rules and working with it; it seems to be about the process rather than the outcome. Maybe it’s not about if the job gets set up, maybe it’s more about playing the game. Where does your focus lie?

Per Traasdahl (PT): I can illustrate that from how the project proceeded. On Wednesday of the first week of the project Shelton [one of the Catalysts] managed to find a magical job, where everything went well despite all kinds of obstructions. She took the wrong train, ending up in the wrong neighbourhood, not in Neukölln. She found a flash job very quickly. Shelton didn’t seek out an opportunity somewhere else purposefully – it just happened by chance. That was the first job created on this particular occasion of Flash Job Campaign and it was a perfect success. Afterwards I thought, ‘okay’, this would be the perfect model of how to do it; jump in and play it by chance and everything might happen in the right way.
But in this project we are, of course, interested in more things than just rules and realising the job. One thing is about the city and the inhabitants and what they are about, but equally it’s about the person intervening and if something is important to that person, that catalyst. For the Catalyst the issues are ‘How do you see yourself, what’s your dilemma? Do you see yourself as salesman, as missionary, as grass-roots activist, as artist, as politician?’ As a catalyst, you overlap into many different roles. The Catalyst is an undefined role; it’s not the same as the conventional role of an artist in a social intervention.

KF: In what ways has Flash Job Campaign, Berlin, 2008 been different from the other different manifestations of the same project in the past?

PT: I know if I’m ever going to do anything in the arts scene with these social intervention projects, it needs to be very structured around sustainability. That’s why, this time, Flash Job Campaign Berlin 2008 had another focus than just the job itself and the community building. The idea was to highlight the intervening force, the catalyst, and so get a multitude of different approaches and people from different places, educations and professions, so it isn’t just artists. I advertised the project outside the Wooloo website and outside the art scene. It means we have people who are not predominantly artists but they have this urge to experiment or to unfold or to document things or to talk about things in a more broad and open way than is possible in their own profession. One goal of Flash Job Campaign that has been really successful is to show that art can be a forum for a lot of different professions.

Eleanor Hadley Kershaw (EHK): In that way Flash Job Campaign is sustainable for the Catalysts, but perhaps each particular Flash Job is much more ephemeral for the other two people involved: for the employer and the teenager?

PT: That was a hard point to know how to deal with. Because doing this short term, just giving them a one time job, is exactly what we don’t want to do with TeenKom. When we give the teenagers a job we show them what is possible, then we close the door and walk away. How do we deal with that? This is an open question, and it’s a risk. We have talked a lot about this risk in the group. The Catalysts have this responsibility – how to set up a frame of association around their offer. If they manage to set it up like a playful thing, like a one time or ‘flash’ thing, maybe people will go with it. We can only hope that for the teenager it’s a little thing. For me, Flash Job Campaign is only justified because TeenKom is there doing longer term work with teenagers. In TeenKom we have a project frame of three years. Maybe in time we will find ways to launch Flash Job Campaign as part of TeenKom, to the tackle the issue of sustainability for the teenager and the employer.

KF: What about doing Flash Job Campaign in other areas? Since it is so short-lived, what about taking it and trying it anywhere in Berlin, in Charlottenburg for example?

PT: You suggested in your text [http://www.wooloo.org/opendialoguesblog/s3Blog.php#ANC_545] doing Flash Job Campaign in the whole city. We actually ended up doing that! The two most magic moments of the project have happened outside Neukölln.

KF: And in that case the target group goes out of the window. So I wonder: is the point that you try to reach out to disadvantaged kids or does it have nothing to do with that?

PT: It really has nothing to do with that I think. And also TeenKom doesn’t. It really positions itself as a mentoring project.

KF: Given the aims of the project [if it does not intend to reach out to disadvantaged children] why is the target area Neukölln specifically?

PT: There’s one reason; you could say it’s a little populistic [sic], because Neukölln is always profiled in the press as a problem zone in Berlin. Running Flash Job Campaign in Neukölln could have the risk of just confirming that it is a problem zone...But it also could do the opposite. There are a few comments on the Flash Job Campaign blog that deal with that, from Catalysts who don’t see it like that. Fedele, from New York, says Neukölln is not a ghetto at all, it looks nice, feels good. We have a lot of maps from the statistic authorities of the senate of Berlin but also from the statistics of Berlin-Brandenburg, with social data. The reason for choosing this borough, you could say, is a political frame: Neukölln has a mayor, a Bezirck, and they have planning zones. I wanted to touch upon that because the development of a city really has to do with planning zones. That is where they pick up their justification for development – in statistics. There is no other way of proving a city’s needs. Politicians, social scientists, city planners have no other way to justify a political statement than statistics. So I wanted to incorporate that and I think very, very often artists don’t acknowledge this at all. Flash Job Campaign is one of the first projects to work with the new Berlin planning zones that came in 2006. This is the part of the project that hasn’t been dealt with very much but in the intention of the project it is quite an important thing because they had other planning zones before, but now they have created new ones. So what’s the value of the old statistics? No-one can reverse time, so do you start from scratch; what do you do?

EHK: Do you think you will report back to these city authorities on Flash Job Campaign?

PT: This hasn’t happened in Flash Job Campaign but it’s certainly something that we will do in TeenKom. We will have a long time to collect and monitor data; we are going to do that very conscientiously because with TeenKom we overlap into working life, into schools and into the family context of these kids…

EHK: In her review of Flash Job Campaign, (http://www.wooloo.org/opendialoguesblog/s3Blog.php#ANC_549], Ann Rapstoff mentions a project where the teenagers are empowered by being enabled to employ their own skills whilst teaching adults how to use mobile phones. Would you think about doing something similar where the teenager is put in the position of “leader”, or where they’re allowed to take control of the situation more?

PT: We monitor what the teenagers say they can do: we have three categories – “expert”, “knowledgeable” and “ready to learn”. We try to all the time give them a feeling of independence- in the way they look and learn and see things and pick up things- and not set up an internship. This “ready to learn” position takes a lot of social skill for a teenager, you have to have a social background of learning capacity. And that unfortunately is a class thing, among other things. That’s also the reason why the ‘Flash Job’ is the ignition to give them a feeling of empowerment within a short time frame. The focus is also on learning because doing an ‘internship’ takes a lot more capacity, it’s a higher standard and perhaps more difficult to achieve.

KF: Are you happy with Flash Job Campaign so far, are there things you’re not happy with this time?

PT: The Catalysts are confronted with big pressure - some of them couldn’t take two weeks out of the calendar, they had to do other things. I wouldn’t say this meant there wasn’t enough intensity; there was already a lot of intensity. On the other hand, I imagined two weeks where people would go fully into the work and would be fully engaged in documenting, and the discussion about how to document, then take that discussion back into the field. Also for the Catalysts to go out onto the street, [some of them] not knowing German, can take a lot of energy, they have to be very open to what happens. What is admirable is how some of the Catalysts went out and did the project in their spare time, in the evening. And that they started to operate alone. In the first week Flash Job Campaign was very much about coming from “me” the lead artist, so to speak. A few Catalysts in the initial group felt very unpleasant about the whole structure and left the group. Those who stayed found their own life within the very imposed game structure of Flash Job Campaign.

EHK: How do you feel Flash Job Campaign sits within the context of the rest of the New Life Berlin festival?

PT: Open Dialogues: New Life Berlin is the festival project I think fits perfectly alongside Flash Job Campaign because both projects have an ongoing process of reconsideration. It’s very challenging for a project like yours, [Open Dialogues: New Life Berlin], because you are working with processes that are hard to grasp. For a complete outsider it would be hard to evaluate the output, people go in and have these strange experiences, but what’s the message? This, in a way, is the doubt, the risk, within Flash Job Campaign and Open Dialogues: New Life Berlin – the output.