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08/27/2021 | Podcast

How do you exhibit suicide? Podcast about the exhibition "Let's talk about it

On September 10, the exhibition "Suicide - Let's talk about it" begins at the Museum für Sepulkralkultur in Kassel. The aim is to de-taboo the topic and thus also facilitate prevention. A scientist from the University of Kassel and his students are and were involved.

We spoke with Prof. Dr. Reinhard Lindner (theory, empiricism and methods of social therapy, in the picture on the right), with Dr. Dirk Pörschmann, the director of the museum, and the curator Tatjana Ahle about the challenges of such an exhibition, about special exhibits and the question when this exhibition succeeded.


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Telephone counselling: 0800-1110111
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More about the exhibition:

Transcript of the podcast

"Let's talk about it!" That's the name of an exhibition at the Museum für Sepulkralkultur in Kassel that begins Sept. 10. What is meant is suicide, so: let's talk about suicide. Welcome dear listeners, to a podcast about a difficult and special topic.

Talking about suicide, is it allowed at all and if so, how? We ask Dr. Dirk Pörschmann, the director of the museum, Tatjana Ahle, the curator of the exhibition, and Prof. Dr. Reinhard Lindner. He holds a professorship in social therapy at the University of Kassel, heads the National Suicide Prevention Program in Germany, and he prepared the exhibition scientifically.

Professor Lindner, media usually do not report on suicides in order not to provoke imitation. But as a researcher, you say it is particularly important to talk about the subject of suicide, and even in a museum exhibition?

Lindner: Yes, it is a very good opportunity to talk about a taboo. This taboo suicide is in our society and means that people who want to commit suicide or think about it, do not find a way to have a conversation, a talk, a togetherness, and this exhibition in turn is a way of talking about this taboo subject.

Mr. Pörschmann, how do you exhibit suicide if you want to offer something more than an outline of the cultural history of suicide?

Pörschmann: We discussed this for a long time. If you were to work in a classic museum way, you would have to exhibit a revolver, a rope, the snout of an ICE. That's not what we want. We want to inform, we want to give the visitors the possibility to inform themselves very broadly about the topic of suicide, suicidality, suicide prevention, that is the one important pillar of this exhibition. But it will not only be a matter of imparting this knowledge here - we also have a thick catalog with 360 pages, where you can read up intensively - but also to enable visitors to experience it, as a visit to the museum should be. So we have found works of art that, when viewed, can enable people - if they get involved - to understand what it means or can mean to be suicidal, to lose someone as a loved one. We have these two levels. One is the imparting of knowledge, which is quite central, and the other is works of art, which then open up associative spaces so that they can be processed again and access can be created in a different way.

Can you explain, using the example of an exhibit or a station here in the exhibition, what food for thought awaits you when you come to your exhibition here?

Pörschmann: For example, we will be showing a work by Nicola Torke. It's an installation of originally nine cones, made of ceramic, of porcelain, and these nine cones are suspended in a grid, quite fragile. They were already shown once in an exhibition in Hamburg, at that time also co-organized by Mr. Lindner - and at that time one of these cones broke. So there are only eight of nine left, and the fragility that shows itself in this work, in these collectives - because it's not one cone, but there used to be nine, now there are eight - is also a bit of an image for society. For the fragile, for life, we hang on the thread, we don't know when it will travel, and through the fact that this empty space has now actually arisen, through this event in Hamburg, at the exhibition, another level of meaning is added, which can then be conveyed directly. I don't want to interpret or anticipate too much, because that's the good and special thing about free art, that it offers everyone a direct field of association with what they bring with them, which then enables discussion and, in the best case, an aesthetic experience that then also leads to a realization.

Ms. Ahle, as curator, could you perhaps give a second example of an object that perhaps sheds light on another aspect or perhaps gives visitors another impetus?

Ahle: We have another object that is somewhat different from Nicola Torke's cones, namely one that creates a very individual, personal, and immediate reference that is also accessible to visitors. Namely, a work by a photographer from the USA, Donna J. Wan, who herself suffered from postnatal depression in childbirth, but then overcame it and in advance visited the places again and again in her imagination and practiced the methods with which she would have wanted to take her own life. Namely the fall from a height, for example from a bridge, a cliff. The places she visited in her mind during her suicidal phase, she then, after she had overcome or survived this phase, also visited in person, with a camera, but with a different goal, namely no longer to throw herself down, but to capture these places photographically. To photographically reexamine the view that she has taken in her mind and thus also to create a distance to these ideas from the past and then to direct the view back to life.

Mr. Lindner, you advised the exhibition organizers. What was your most important advice, what do you have to bear in mind when you put on an exhibition like this?

Lindner: For this exhibition, the most important thing - as we have already heard - was certainly to focus on the emotional experience that people have when they come to this museum as visitors. We want to inform, we want to offer a series of very factual information, but we also want to offer an opportunity to deal as a person with the question: How does a person who is suicidal feel? With the question: How does a person feel who has lost a close person to suicide or who knows that a close person will or can commit suicide? And how does society actually feel about the issue of suicide and suicidality? What do we actually do as a society with this issue that there are people who have such a hard time with life that they can't imagine any other situation than to walk out of life themselves?

You said in the preliminary interview that there are also student teams or students who are here on site. The whole thing had a history anyway, rooted in student courses at the university. Perhaps you could outline again what the students' task is here in the museum, in the exhibition. I don't imagine that will be very easy either.

Lindner: Yes, the students here at the University of Kassel have several tasks. They were involved in thinking about what actually could be exhibits that inform in an exhibition about suicide, about suicidality and suicide prevention. The second was the question that is particularly directed at social workers and psychologists - or aspiring social workers and psychologists - namely, how to talk to people who are thinking about taking their own lives. We have practiced and trained this and are doing so during the exhibition, namely by developing a small offer. Three days a week, students will be here at the exhibition to counsel people, people who have an interest. That means, whoever through the exhibition or in the exhibition has the desire to speak with a person who is psychosocially competent, can speak here with someone from the University of Kassel, a student, a student, and can consider what the next step can be, for example.

Mr. Pörschmann, the exhibition already carries an appeal in its name "Let's talk about it!" Is it then a successful exhibition if the guests find it easier to talk about the topic of suicide after the visit?

Pörschmann: You can say that. That's what it's all about. Talking about it. Talking with friends about the fact that you once thought about taking your own life. Talking with friends and acquaintances about losing someone to suicide, which you may have kept quiet about for a long time. Discussing together what the collective, social reasons might be, in all diversity. Clearly, what is needed here is to dissolve the stigma that lies on this subject. Because if I put myself in the place of a relative, of a bereaved person who has lost someone through suicide - and this is a very intensive mourning process - if this person does not have the opportunity to talk about it openly and intensively with the people they care about, with their friends, with their family, then we take something away from the relatives. That's when the stigma kicks in. They are actually punished twice. They've lost someone, it's a heavy loss that usually accompanies them for life, and we're actually taking away a collective form of sharing. I think that is also one of the tasks of this exhibition - in this Museum of Sepulchral Culture - to not only raise the issue in society with this talk, but we want something to change there. And that's why we also have weekly events. The exhibition runs for half a year. We try to have an event once a week, with lectures, with workshops, sometimes a concert, all kinds of different formats to get in touch with people, because this call "Let's talk about it!" is in principle also the responsibility to us, that we make the space possible. And for that we are a public museum, and we want to use that very intensively, use it much more than we have ever done with any exhibition.

Thank you very much. Then we are excited. The exhibition starts on September 10, lasts about half a year. Thank you very much Mr. Pörschmann, thank you very much Ms. Ahle, thank you very much Mr. Lindner.

Interview: Sebastian Mense