“Karlsruhe has Problems? Ghana ThinkTank has Solutions!” claimed the text on the postcard with which the artist’s collective
Ghana ThinkTank went in search of problems in advance of their workshop in Karlsruhe. Video, 1:45 min. © ZKM
The arrogance, or even cynicism of Western industrial nations when issuing prescriptions to other nations in the name of ‘development aid‘ as to how they could solve their problems, is something that has been occupying Christopher Robbins and John Erwing.
Since the founding of Ghana ThinkTank 2006, they have regularly interviewed an oppositional radio team in El Salvador, a group of Spanish teachers in Mexico, a Cuban revolutionary and a circle of artists from Tehran about how, from each of their perspectives, the small and larger problems of the West may be solved before going on to implement their proposals on-site. In the Blog, founding member Christopher Robbins, himself a former member of an international aid organization, presents a problem which was solved for Karlsruhe by the Mexican ThinkTank.
Christopher Robbins: For The Global Contemporary we compiled problems in the city of Karlsruhe, and sent them to think tanks in Ghana, Mexico, Serbia, the Gaza Strip, and Cambodia. These problems ranged from "our theatre shows crap", "there is no hope for bicyclists in this city" to "there is a lack of housing for students and visitors." Often, the think tanks’ solutions reveal something that has been staring us in the face, but to which we have become blind from sheer habit or familiarity. This was certainly the case when the Ghana ThinkTank came to ZKM.
One problem in particular addressed this idea of other countries revealing the obvious to us: the topography of Karlsruhe is so flat and boring. Our think tank in Mexico responded by claiming that, essentially, this is impossible. They told us that if your city has buildings, then your city is not flat. The real problem here was that Karlsruhe citizens had not noticed the topography their city already has. They told Karlsruhe to "Learn Parkour –the discipline of moving through the environment by vaulting, rolling, running, climbing and jumping, and essentially treating buildings as playgrounds or mountains to climb. You will discover the urban landscape is not flat.”
And so, we set out in Karlsruhe to find people who performed Parkour. We scoured message boards, stopped by at a bar known for Parkour enthusiasts, and finally found Raffi Debatin, who works with a group of Parkour people known as movement-karlsruhe. Raffi told us that Parkour was not about finding the perfect spot to climb in your city, but about learning to see your city differently. His views on Parkour seemed to reflect ours on the Ghana ThinkTank process quite perfectly: what you need is often right in front of you; you just have to notice it. So we organized Parkour events at the ZKM and the State Theatre, recorded some interviews that looked at Parkour as a way to acquire new perspectives on your city, and even printed up some T-shirts for the Parkour crew to encourage this new way of seeing Karlsruhe.
For more problems and solutions from the Ghana ThinkTank workshop in Karlsruhe visit The Global Contemporary and the Ghana ThinkTank website.