Contemporary Art in Berlin // Paz Ponce Pérez-Bustamante
15 apr 2014 by Myrto Katsimicha
Myrto Katsimicha interviews Paz Ponce Pérez-Bustamante, the Curator in chief of berlinerpool and the co-founder of the curatorial collective “Calipsofacto Projects”, about the importance of cultural agitation and the force creative networks exert upon creative production.
MK: Today, the constant flow of digital data and the outburst of abstract social networks have necessitated new models of exhibition making for the regeneration of the contemporary. Could you tell us a bit more about berlinerpool and how it works?
PP: berlinerpool has a hybrid structure: we are an arts network of art professionals in Berlin (artists, curators, art managers and independent art spaces) that has a presence online via profiles that are connected through a semantic indexing system. But most importantly we have a physical archive that works as a research documentation center on Berlin contemporary art. The archive hosts a collection of folders containing documentation, portfolios and publications provided by our members, who are constantly updating it with their latest materials. In parallel to the archive, berlinerpool has also a videoteque: a collection of video works, documentation of performances and interventions in the public space. All of this materials are available in our office during our public opening hours, being open to a wide variety of independent researches, scholars, curators, art students and cultural programmers from institutions or non institutional backgrounds.
But the COOL PART is that our database is mobile, and our archive “TRAVELS”, changing location temporarily hosted by different institutions both locally and internationally. In the past, we have been hosted by art claims impulse gallery / apartment project / kreuzberg pavillion / berliner liste / mica moca projects / berlinische galerie / art transponder / meinblau and martin gropius bau. This little expeditions in a local level have been building the CV of our organisation. What is next for us is to start applying for grants so we can extend this level of conversation and this building dialogues with local operators to neighbouring countries.
Through this exchanges, we build dialogues with local institutions and the archive becomes a tool for curators to play with, and activate our content through subjective transversal readings of it. This is the way we promote exhibition making.
And here I have to make a distinction: we are an archive, we are a neutral format and now imagine that we are a body made of layers. The archive would be the architecture of that body, the skeleton, and curators are the archaeologist that dig in it. We have devoted one of our 4 legged program to this purpose: curate_it: our direct invitation to participate in the production of meaning by interpreting our content.
In this sense, our new furniture designed by architects Eduardo Conceiçao and Luna Catteeuw enhance the performativity of this curatorial interventions. The new archive has a modular structure consisting in arranged wooden panels hinged together inspired in a system used in theater, folding and unfolding in an accordion manner. Panels can always be added, and the folding allows the curator to play and compartiment the space where the archive is displayed. You can create walls, a room, or a labyrinth with it. Its amazing!
MK: What is the key component that makes berlinerpool a network rather than a simple online database and information platform?
PP: The pools! The “Pool” is a collaborative instrument for berlinerpool members designed by our curatorial department for which I am responsible. It works as a “virtual project-based room” where several members can work together.
The aim of this online tool is to provide a comfortable framework for members to collaborate between them. Members can initiate a pool and invite other members from the network to “jump” in their project, according to their needs. The initiator may invite one or several artists, curators, managers or an art space to come on board and join in the realisation of their venture. In this “virtual room” members can store information, pdfs, pictures, set events and share them with the rest of the collaborators involved in the project. Pools are linked to member’s profiles and they have a comfortable system of tags to help the user get in a glance the content and format of the initiative. The pools are specially useful for ongoing researches on a certain topic that is open for contributions or implementations, as well as temporary collaborations among members like duos, or spontaneous collectives of artists gathered around an idea, bibliography lists, etc. It has endless possibilities. The main idea is that it responds with immediacy to contemporary art debates. That’s why we call it “(virtual) project room”. Because the aim of a project room is to be open to channel this debates, in contraposition of an institution which is more stiff and has more problems being spontaneous in their programmation. Plus the collection of pools gives researches the overview of the level of collaboration in the berliner arena, focused on the processual nature of this projects, not only focusing on the final art product of an event.
MK: Is there a curatorial line that surpasses berlinerpool’s different projects? Could you give us a glimpse?
PP: Well apart from the distinction I made before, about being a neutral body passing on the mission of meaning-making to outside curators through the curate_it section, I guess our “curatorial line” would be reflected in one of our 4 lines of action inside our year activity program: the archive_it section: Which is the part of the program where we reflect on the format of the archive in itself and archival practices. As curator in chief of berlinerpool this is part of my job (and the one I enjoy the most) -- helping to conceptualise the function and nature of the archive. I specialise in collaborative practices and I research on memory, identity, modern subjectivities or mechanisms generating awareness towards identity issues. So our discursive line understands the archive as a collective tool, a collective project. Rather than being the tomb of the trace (in this Foucaultian fear of the archive as a sacred body that puts limits to the conversation), we follow Arjun Appadurai’s vision of the archive as a “product of the anticipation of collective memory. The archive is itself an aspiration to build collective identities and collective imageries” rather than a recollection of existing ones. In direct relation with the city, migrant flows of communities like the Turkish or the Spanish in Berlin, and how do we leave a trace behind. The archive as a place for collective memory, imagination and collaboration.
MK: In 2011, you co-founded "Calipsofacto Projects", a curatorial collective specially focused on new channels of distribution and spaces for the art, with a site-specific cross-disciplinary approach. Tell us more about this initiative.
PP: Oh! Calipsofacto… nice times. When I was about to graduate, my best friend, flatmate and university colleague Jana Pacheco and I decided to create a collaborative duo where to lay the convergence of our passion for aesthetics, writing and debate. Calipsofacto was a conversational piece, an extension of our sofa and the university bench where we spent countless hours thinking out loud or sharing silences steeped in wordless stories. Soon we invited some other guests to that bench, mostly as a call for help since we were preparing 3 shows for a contemporary art center in Madrid and we were overwhelmed.
Calipsofacto was always a call for collaboration. We were 7 people coming mostly from art history, but also theater, design and visual arts. Slowly our multiple interests started to shape a narrative within the group, and then the political circumstances of 2011 made the rest. Spain had the nerves on the edge (still has). The cultural and educational cutbacks by the government, the abolition of the Ministry of Culture, the lack of transparency in the economic reform, the shortage of public funds to realise independent art projects… it was a full-scaled assault! So some time after the events surrounding the 15th of May, we gathered, we wrote a manifesto and we decided to operate in the margins of culture embracing the uncertainty and promoting what we called “cultural agitation”. In search for new formats and channels which delivered oxygen to the (art) world, we developed “Calipsofacto Exprés”, a platform where compact, fast and ephemeral exhibitions could be launched, easily assembled and disassembled on the same day. So that was the spirit, and we were living in the “lemon street” of Madrid, so everything was a bit sour, refreshing, squeezed and pretty intense. We did some more projects together, but the crisis won the battle. Most of us left Spain. We scattered around Europe, the States.. and the people who remained in Madrid had already too much on their plates (too many poorly paid jobs i guess). It became too difficult to continue organizing things together. And while we conquered other lands we started to network in our respective places, drifted apart, learn other ways to work and suddenly it stopped making sense to continue our cooperation. Nevertheless I'm proud of that experience, and I follow with great interest, respect and admiration the paths we have chosen to continue our careers. I learned so much from them...
I still sit sometimes on that “bench”.
MK: Can you identify a constituency among all these new models of cultural production?
PP: Do you mean if I see a pattern on the new models of cultural production? Well I’ve been thinking for a while that we seem to be living a revival of the “guild”, meaning an organised group of people who have joined together because they share the same job or interest; especially: an association of people who made or sold goods in the Middle Ages. Capitalism was in a very embryonic state at that point. However, those late medieval associations of “craftsmen” or “artisans” had to protect themselves from the increasing competence that a demand for workshops was appearing in the modern cities. I feel that in our current times of over saturation of the art market, the rapid changes dictated by technological progress, the lack of institutional support and the increase difficulties for visibility we are looking back at alternative ways of production. Where collectivity seems to be the core aspect to achieve a balance. People sharing their know-how, joining forces, co-learning, co-curating (the future of the arts), co-surviving in the precarious cultural scheme. Somehow individuality and authorship are a key aspect that is becoming increasingly overcome. Is like a neo-guildinization or something. We killed once again the romantic genius. There is no more place for romanticism, neither melancholy. Live together or die alone...
MK: In his seminal publication ‘Art and agency’ Alfred Gell (1998) dismisses the formal and aesthetic value of the works of art arguing that the distinctive function of art is its ability to act as an agent. He thus stressed the performative power of art to advance social relationships and to produce living experiences, which motivate responses. How do you think the ongoing discussion around curating has effected on the agency of the curator in relation to the agency of art itself?
PP: My first teacher at college told us on our first day in class that art is made by a movement of challenge and response (that and “the light of a cathedral is something you need to smell, so.. travel travel travel travel!). Well I think curatorial practice is a type of appropriation art. The big lesson I have learned working in culture is that nothing ever belongs to us entirely. Collaborative practices – including the curatorial; open the door for a wide range of indirect reflections built around the axis of the creative process. They stem from communication; they are a two-way process during which certain things never come back in the same way as they departed. Sieves, lenses, approaches, opposing and overlaying selves, conversations, parallelisms, responses, translations, enrichments, alterations, pollutions, mirages, frictions and fictions (especially, the latter). In my view, the practice of curatorship is based on all of this. Power issues are just collateral damage of the parasite forms engendered by culture.
berlinerpool team 2014, From left to right: Alexandra Pronina (Manager), Gauthier Lesturgie (author & contributor), Paz Ponce (Chief Curator), Andrzej Raszyk (Director, CEO), Claudia Benedetti (PR & Communication).
MK: During your Curated by you raised the issue of scepticism as a form of openness, as a mental attitude and an ability that enables us to constantly search for the truth. But art is such an open platform that anything can be true. Where can one find truth in art?
PP: Truth can’t be found in art. I’ve never been interested in the “paragone” (comparisons) that renaissance smart pedantic men held to debate if painting or poetry were more or less the perfect form of art to express nature, truth or life. I think truth, and this is the only lesson the notion of contemporary has taught me, can be found in the experience of art. It is what art evokes in you that keeps it alive, and can maybe be called then “truth”. As an indelible print that nobody can take away from your memory. In the same way that art is never new, it is the way we look at it and the new synapses, that are triggered by art in our minds when experiencing it, that are new… Contemporary means the gap that you have to fill in. The “truth” of the artist may be only an invitation to the audience to identify with, never a dogmatic assertion of reality. It is in this sense that I believe in scepticism as a form of openness to continue pursuing for the truth, opening the “space of the propositional”.
berlinerpool archive and info stand at Berliner Liste Fair for Contemporary Art 2012.
MK: You are currently living and working in Berlin as an independent curator, project manager and fundraiser. Berlin art scene has come to the fore the past couple of years. Which are the elements that made the art scene in Berlin become so prominent?
PP: Berlin is a kid that never grew up. It's closer to Peter Pan’s neverland than to Wendy’s London. It lives emancipated but didn't cut financial ties with Papa state. It is not sustainable but loves to talk about sustainability. It's part of Germany but is “anders”. It is the capital of the super power of Europe but it continues to operate as an eastern city in too many ways. That’s its charm, so far the voracity of real-estate agencies (Berlin’s “Voldemort”) don’t end up killing it once and for all. Joking apart, however, Berlin operates as a child, in the way that play is an analogy of creativity. And in that sense Berliners are the best cultural players I have met. There is an ability to rearrange the elements of the real world in a manner that pleases the child to enact his/her fantasy; while adults tend to hide their fantasies which exist solely in their heads (as Freud put it). Berlin is a 'raum für experimente' (room for experiments). It loves processuality, doesn’t care so much about the finished object. It continues to be hard to commodify as an art product, which is a mixed between the creative impulse that gives birth to it, the communist inheritance and a lack of maturity when it comes to developing a strong local tissue of art collectors and commissioning bodies. It is a cheap place for art production, this attracts many people, but gaining market value here is mission impossible. Big artists produce here and exhibit and make money abroad (or in other German cities), or they stay some time and then they go. But above all, its a half made place with the type of energy that gets to everyone. Berlin has broken so many times, and the big narratives failed one after the other one, that there is something epic in the way the pieces are put together again. So many layers, so much diversity, such a big juxtaposition of elements that there is a sort of freedom in its kaleidoscopic fragmentation. One feels there is nothing to lose. One feels in peace with its ugliness and its beauty. But, one feels.
MK: Tell us about your next project.
PP: I'm starting a blog with my flatmates (two friends from Italy and Spain). “The Bright Hangover”. I will be editing a column about impressions on berlin-based art and life, with no pretensions.
I work with art, I date an artist, I write about art, I network, I socialise, I socialise, I network, I live, I work. The edges are blurred. And after such a saturation of art, sometimes I get the impression I can’t think straight. I feel hangovered. What do I remember after that constant exposure to new and different projects every day? What is the imprint that these projects, people, spaces and events leave on us? Then I get these glimpses, this bright associations in my mind, where I can no longer identify what is part of the art landscape or what was only in my mind. So it will be a blog where I write about art, but I won’t impose a logic to the narrative -- I will try to respect the order in which those synapses and memories reconstruct themselves in my mind. Probably another bench i built to sit on with my new friends of Berlin.
" But this is not one of those hangovers where you write the day off darkness. It is the more interesting kind, where destroyed synapses are reconstructing themselves, sometimes missing their old paths and making odd, new connections." Anna Funder
Calipsofacto Curators Team: Sara Buraya, Jaime González Cela, Elena Lavellés, Jana Pacheco, Paz Ponce, Paula Quereda, Cristina Robina y Pablo Serrano.
All images courtesy of Paz Ponce.