Dr. Regine Nohejl is a research associate in the transfer project “Mußeum of Muße and literature Baden-Baden.”
“MußeOrte – weltweit” – “Places of Otium – worldwide” As a part of the transfer project (and in cooperation with other partners) the “Mußeum. Museum of Muße and literature Baden-Baden” has been conceived and realized. The research results of the CRC have a practical application there. What thoughts led you to this?
Regine Nohejl: Those were thoughts which are relevant for the CRC overall. In the first research phase of funding a lot of intensive work was done on theoretical and conceptual aspects of otium. While we are still building upon these aspects, alongside this, one could sense a certain uneasiness. There was a question which remained unanswered, or rather it remained more or less in parentheses: can one actually occupy oneself with otium without experiencing it for oneself, that is, without engaging in practices of otium for oneself? At first glance, this may sound banal, yet it touches upon interpreted basic discussions. As a reaction to this and other questions, the CRC has aligned itself with the investigation of otium practices and experiences for the second research period. We go a step further with the transfer project in that, with the “Mußeum,” we attempt to set up otium-oriented spaces and to experiment with them. One cannot force otium, but one can make offers of it and, according to need, make changes and modifications – that was the foundational thought of our project.
“Places of Otium – worldwide”: The museum is a classically otium-oriented place, and should be regarded as such in two ways: otium is both the subject matter and the medium of the museum’s format. Could you explain about the way in which you realized this double structure?
Regine Nohejl: : The spark of idea for our project was to weave in just such a meta-level. We then realized that we didn’t have to invent all that many new things, but rather that we could productively appropriate our newer exhibits and museum concepts. For example, for the most part we do without original exhibits. That is the first step in order to reduce the distance between the visitors and the exhibit. Our goal for an exhibit is to prompt not the ‘reverence’ of the original, but rather a sense of lingering and participation. For this purpose we make exhibits of entire ensembles – meaning: texts, pictures, and objects. These ensembles tell stories with which we can ‘pick up’ the visitors and at the same time prompt them to actively step into the exhibit. Every space tells a story which in many places remains open or implied, so that everyone can continue to tell it for themselves. The exhibit functions like a book which can be read, whose pages can be flipped forward or backward, in which one can lose themself. One could also say that the “Mußeum” is designed as an immersion and otium space.
“Places of Otium – worldwide”: What difficulties were you confronted with in the conceptual design, whether those were institutional or practical problems?
Regine Nohejl: We were confronted with an entire row of problems of both a practical and financial nature. Positively viewed: we cannot ‘purchase’ any pre-packaged product but rather are forced to work with simple resources in an original and creative way. Yet more interesting in this place is another aspect, namely that of intermediating. On the one hand we attempt to communicate the results of the CRC to a wider audience, on the other hand it is our goal to recreate the experiences of our intermediary work in the CRC. While the researching colleagues could continuously work on the analytical level of otium terminology, we stand up to the challenge of making them useful for practical work. We must then determine what otium means, and in doing this a balance between undetermined, trivial, or much too complex terminology and definitions will have to do. We tackle this challenge on the offensive and disclose in the “Mußeum” which ‘stories’ of otium we want to tell through our museum. Exactly this relativity of our approach (one could also tell a different ‘story’) has the potential to encourage the visitors to reflect. In addition, we always have as a corrective measure the colleagues of the CRC in the background. The subproject R5 for example contributes to the psychological foundation of our concept.
“Places of Otium – worldwide”: You have just descried that you plan a rather reduced input of exhibits. May I ask nevertheless which exhibits you have become particularly fond of?
Regine Nohejl: Yes, there is such an exhibit. A particular armchair, as one would have in the second half of the 19. Century, this piece of furniture was also called ‘Dreiersessel’ or ‘indescret.’ The armchair forms a circle, and the seating places are set across from one another, so that those seated can look each other in the face. It illustrated in our exhibit rooms the very specific love triangle between Ivan Turgenev, the singer Pauline Viardot, and her husband Louis Viardot. At the same time, the armchair represents the founding principle of our exhibit, that it can only indicate what the story is and then invite the visitors to sit down and think for themselves about how the story unfolds.
“Places of Otium – worldwide”: You have already indicated that as a pilot-project on the way to the realization of the “Mußeum,” an exhibit about Ivan Turgenev was established.* Why did you choose this specific author in order to put your approach for the museum to the test?
Regine Nohejl: Characteristics of Turgenev were, amongst other things, a polyglot way of life, broad knowledge of languages, diverse personal contacts, and a wide variety of interests. He brought all of this with him to Baden-Baden where he stayed for seven years (1863-1870) and cultivated an otium-oriented lifestyle, par excellence. He was the center of a widely radiating international cultural circle, in which intellectuals and artists and also political representatives freely and unrestrictedly met. One should not imagine it as too leisurely, Turgenev’s biography and works also reflect the volatile political situation and the very problematic relationship between western Europe and Russia – such aspects are also relevant today and, in a certain way, require an update. The pilot-project and later the “Mußeum” should not be a cultural wellness-oasis, in which conflicts and tensions are suppressed. Therefore we have taken Turgenev’s life and work as a starting point as a contemporary examination for the relationship between Russia and Western Europe. One visit to the museum in the mode of otium can be fascinating when such volatile, and from the first appearance, otium-averse themes are negotiated. This tension between presentation form and content was interesting for us not least of all because it shows that otium can overstep its own borders.
“Places of Otium – worldwide”: Dear Mrs. Nohejl, thank you very much for this conversation!
* “Russia in Europe – Europe in Russia. 200 years Ivan Turgenev,’ exhibit in the city Baden-Baden in cooperation with the transfer project of the CRC 1015 and other partners (22.09.2018 until 07.04.2019). Find the online gallery of the exhibition here.