into the pill - Issue 11
[scroll down for the interview]
video by Eléonore de Montesquiou music from: „tribute to sun ra“ francois robert lloyd & gregoire garrigues
MOST (the bridge)7 min. 30,color 2009
The bridge “Friendship” on the Narva river marks the border between Europe (the Estonian city of Narva) and Russia (the city of Ivangorod). In the aftermath of the collapse of the Russian Empire, the newly independent Republic of Estonia gained control over the whole town of Narva, including Ivangorod, in January 1919, and it was subsequently recognized by Soviet Russia in the 1920 Treaty of Tartu.
Having reoccupied Estonia during World War II in 1944, the Soviet authorities separated Ivangorod administratively from the rest of Narva, and transferred the territory to the Leningrad Oblast of the Russian SFSR in January 1945. Ivangorod received the status of town in 1954.
Until 1991, Narva and Ivangorod lived one life despite being located in different Soviet republics.
Many residents of Ivangorod worked in Narva, and vice versa.
The local economy was so intertwined that some enterprises provided their staff with apartments on the other side of the river - a phenomenon that would later lead to the separation of many families.
The bridge is crossed daily by inhabitants of Narva or Ivangorod, who go shopping in Russia where goods are cheaper and use the border situation to make some money by crossing with commodities.
Economic ties between the two cities were cut when the international border appeared along the Narva River. After Estonia regained independence in 1991, the border as per 1920 Treaty of Tartu was considered by Russia legally superseded by an administrative border between two former Soviet republics drawn later by the Soviet authorities. Ivangorod thus remained a part of Russia. Due to political tensions,
a new border treaty between Estonia and Russia has not yet come into force. On the edge of Europe, this zone is a strong border with a severe visa policy though it is also a bridge between two parts of one city.
I filmed people crossing the bridge, they were on the other side of the fence, it was an unbearable sensation of how easily a harsh geopolitical situation can dictate everyday moves.
For uqbar answered uqbar collective. Interview by Vassiliea Stylianidou for Ιnto the pill.
1.When was your space founded? Tell me about its goals, direction and character.
The project space uqbar opened to the public in Spring 2007 in Berlin-Wedding and is run by an all-women collective: cultural producers Dorothee Bienert, Dortje Drechsel, Marina Sorbello and Antje Weitzel. Uqbar is conceived as a multifunctional space for exhibitions, meetings, presentations, seminars, conferences, screenings and workshops, featuring Berlin-based and international artists.
The project space uqbar is a derivation from the non-profit art association Uqbar – Society for Representation Research, founded in 2004 as platform for interdisciplinary projects and international cooperation. Uqbar e.V. aims at promoting contemporary art and culture, above all implementing, supporting and hosting projects that dedicate themselves to the research and promotion of experimental, interdisciplinary artistic and cultural practices in the international context.
The name “uqbar” was taken from a short story by the Argentinean writer Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986). In Borges’ “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius” (1940) the word “uqbar” is an entry in a fictitious encyclopedia. The word is a construct, a letter combination without meaning, used by the author in order to show how knowledge and meaning are constructed. The problem of the constitution of meaning, signification and interpretation is central to the discussion around the term of the representation.
2. What are your areas of focus and research?
7. What form of curatorial action do you propose?
8. What form of cooperation between artist and curator do you investigate?
We try not to define our program in a strict, binding way. It is a chance for us as project space that we do not have to plan our activities one year in advance. As a matter of fact, we are more flexible than any large art institutions in terms of what we show, how we show it and when. We can react to very short-term proposals and ideas. So, we try to avoid a clearly defined, limiting profile. Nevertheless, looking back at our program since 2007 one can easily read out the underlying areas of interest.
The art we show tends to be multilayered and not easily marketable. Another main focus is to give the opportunity to young and mid-career artists who live in Berlin, but do not have the chance to exhibit in the city, to show their work in Berlin, thereby filling a gap. Many artists use Berlin merely as production venue for their work, exhibiting rather in biennials and museums abroad, this may be due to the fact that Berlin is overcrowded with international artists and does not have sufficient institutions to present their work.
We understand the role of the curator as that of cultural producer and mediator, or as that of an editor. We share responsibility and ideas with the artists, and usually we request a great deal of involvement in the projects from the artists, and a continuous dialogue. We often work with artists whose work functions in an interdisciplinary way, that has a social or political dimension, that are process or research oriented, that see art as a means of knowledge production.
What we try to do with the association and the project space is to implement interdisciplinary projects that foster a critical standpoint and understanding; the promotion of discussions and debates on the current status of art and culture in contemporary societies and their use value today; and on art and culture as emancipatory tools in contemporary societies; interventions that go beyond the field of visual art and address new forms of distribution and audience participation.
3. How would you describe the artistic reality in Berlin? How would you integrate your space within it?
4. What would you change about the artistic reality of the city?
All four of us are based in Berlin since the end of the 1990s. Over the past 18 years, Berlin – formerly periphery of Cold War Europe, borderland – has become more and more central: geographically, in relation to the New Europe; and culturally as well. Nowadays Berlin again enjoys the status of a world capital, has a vibrant art and cultural scene, and became a sort of capital of artists, who move to the city because it is relatively cheap, offers good production conditions as well as a high quality of life compared to other European capitals.
Berlin has a rather poor, complicated institutional landscape and a growing money-making “event culture” and a growing art market fed by international private resources – at least growing before the October 2008 crisis – where galleries have become increasingly powerful when compared to the under-financed public sector. Together, some major Berlin galleries have started producing collector-friendly events like the “Gallery Weekend”, a small art festival or rather an art fair spread throughout the city.
Despite all this, Berlin still offers space for experimenting with new models and means of art presentation, production and consumption of art and culture. In this respect, Berlin’s non-commercial, independent art scene – with a number of very active and motivated art institutions that animate the debate – has been crucial in the past decades, and has consistently shaped the cultural landscape of the city.
We came up with the idea of ourselves becoming an institution for several reasons: For one, we did not want to give up the control and the authorship of the projects we were realizing. On the other hand, we felt that being an institution would also provide a necessary continuity to these projects. Continuity and also something that could be called “productive slowness” – or better: “deceleration” – is a crucial aspect in the art system suffering from a growing economic impact and event culture. Balancing long-term planning with our association funded in 2004 and short-term activities, we decided to open our own space in Berlin in order to be able to host projects spontaneously in Berlin and to have a permanent address and still more continuity.
Our project space is also part of a network called Kolonie Wedding, of circa 20 independent initiatives and spaces (mostly artist run). The area where we are located in Berlin has a very high percentage of immigrants, a high unemployment and micro criminality rate, and very little cultural offer. For this reason, a local public housing company offers cheap rents to the members of the Kolonie Wedding network. Of course there is a gentrification issue here, and also it is not easy to really involve a local public, but we try.
9. How do you fund your space?
The fact is, uqbar does not receive any structural funds from the city or the state. We fundraise for every single project and we function on a rather low budget manner. We are not naïve about the fact that we rely very much on the German and the European funding system, and that we work in a rather precarious state; but at the same time this is something that also increasingly affects the larger institutions these days, at least in Germany. Especially the small and medium size German “Kunstvereine” have often to rely on the curators’ capacity to fundraise for the activities of the institutions. As small, low budget institution in this respect we have some advantages and in a way we have more freedom of movement.
5. Do you pursue collaboration with local state institutions? What is your experience in that area?
6. Do you pursue other local or international collaborations and joint projects?
Networking and local as much as international cooperation are very important for the functioning of uqbar: on the one hand on a pragmatic level, in order to find funding and join forces, and on the other hand it is also a matter of exchange, communication and the circulation of ideas and practices. We very much believe in the opportunities of a flat hierarchy and a horizontal structure. The upcoming project is a joint initiative of uqbar and the Prague artist run space etc.galerie, with the very straightforward title: “Small Structures Are Beautiful”. It consists of two exhibitions, in Prague and Berlin, and the idea behind the project is to initiate a platform and a permanent network for non-profit project spaces in Berlin and Europe.
Nowadays, project spaces play an important role in the artistic and cultural landscape of the cities where they are located. The spaces often work closely alongside the production of art and offer artists and cultural producers crucial opportunities for experiments and new formats, due to their flexible and interdisciplinary structure. In the different contexts of the European cultural landscape, project spaces are developed for various reasons, although they all share a key function. This is to act as a hinge between the general public and the art system. In western Europe, they offer an alternative to a cultural landscape which is increasingly market-oriented, whereas in eastern Europe, project spaces and similar initiatives arise from the lack of available infrastructure for contemporary art.
In the upcoming years, uqbar plans to invite different project spaces from different European regions to take part in an exchange. The invited project spaces will introduce their program, concepts and practices at uqbar in Berlin and uqbar will do the same abroad. Aim of the project is not only a presentation of the respective program and artists, but also a dialogue about structures and strategies, and exchange of good practices.
uqbar collective, January 2009
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