How to Promote Video Art with No Money: Cultural Heritage NGOs of Berlin

HeritageForAll – Global Collaborations Program (2018)

An interview with Mr. Olaf Stüber, Art Dealer, Curator, Publisher and Lecturer

Olaf Stüber,Candice Breitz, and Ivo Wessel

By Ms. Evgeniya Kartashova (janekartashova@gmail.com)

She has a bachelor in journalism. Then, she has worked for two years in Institute of Russian Realist Art in Moscow as a PR specialist. Also, She was an intern in GARAGE museum and volunteered in GULAG Museum in Moscow. At the moment, she is studying at the master program “World Heritage Studies” at BTU Cottbus and doing an internship at Momentum Worldwide gallery in Berlin. She is interested in the fields of cultural heritage management together with the educational museum programs interacting with the audience.

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In the list of the most diverse representatives of the art-scene in Berlin is somewhere at the top. The amount of governmental museums and non-profit galleries is almost uncountable. The numbers constantly change as the city lives and continues to develop – new galleries appear, old ones get closed.

How these galleries are connected to the topic of cultural heritage NGO and, what is even more interesting, how does it all apply to the topic of heritage? In case of contemporary art we are talking about human made values that content social and cultural value and represent an intangible mediator between modern people and heritage. It definitely works on understanding of modern and past contexts and gives the base for working with them. It has, so to speak, educational purpose.

We can also take a look from another side – in terms of city development a huge amount of galleries nowadays are located on territories that often represent unofficial heritage of 20th century. Even though, location is not considered as a heritage and is not put in the World Heritage List, it still can have the meaning of heritage for a local community. In some cases reused buildings get a second breath, as, for example, Kunstquartier Bethanien, Urban Spree Gallery and other spaces.

Speaking of the community – it is one of the main points that distinguishes between commercial and non-commercial galleries. Commercial ones are more profit-oriented, whereas non-profit galleries have to work together with a community and orient on community and city interest. Otherwise, they won’t find any supporters, or stakeholders, who will provide the budget. The role of community is incredibly strong in this case. This is another common feature for heritage managers and those of NGOs – their dependence on local support.

But in the part of Berlin we can`t compare it to the life of cultural NGOs in other big cities, as Berlin definitely has its own specific. I want to emphasize the most interesting feature of Berlin that gives birth to great cultural projects: it is a huge space full of passionate people of culture, which constantly creates possibilities to implement ideas on non-profit base. For better understanding of this phenomenon we have to give it a closer look. Giving the example, I decided to refer to the project which was organized by two people and represents a cultural initiative that appeared at the right moment in the right place – Videoart at Midnight.

Mr. Olaf Stüber & Mr. Ivo Wessel

Videoart at Midnight is a program that was founded by Mr. Olaf Stüber and Mr. Ivo Wessel in 2008 with a purpose of bringing unknown video artists to the art scene. Throughout all these years, 99 artists have been represented. Alongside the artist No. 100, they will participate in the festival dedicated to the program’s 10 year anniversary in December 2018. Their works will be displayed during public programs at different venues of the city: Hamburger Bahnhof – Museum für Gegenwart, Berlinische Galerie, KW Institute for Contemporary Art and others. How is it possible to organize such an event for a non-profit cultural organization, where to look for support and who is the audience of contemporary video art – I have discussed these and other questions with Olaf Stüber.

VideoArt at Midnight

Straight to the point – how do you find funds for the project?

Over the last ten years we have had no money for the program Videoart at Midnight. We don`t ask for admission fee. The artists didn`t get any money, we didn`t get any money. Also the cinema never got any money.

And how does the cinema agree for this?

Actually I don`t know. I think the Babylon Film Theater is supported by the city and I could imagine that they also have to show that they are working in many disciplines, not only in cinema field, but also in the art field. One day, ten years ago, I came to the cinema and I asked the manager if he might be interested in making of something between art and cinema, and he was very open and enthusiastic. But he also never expected that this experiment will last so long.

Did you know this manager before you came to him with your proposal?

No.

And it worked out?

Yes, it was a really lucky moment. I think it’s a bit of a Berlin thing. I was in discussion with film theaters in New York, Paris, Hong Kong and so on. And they all asked for money, at least 600-800$ per night. When I came to Berlin in 1993, there were many projects and off spaces, all for free. I couldn’t run this project with a constant struggle for budget.

And the artist and the audience appreciate it.

If you started the project now, do you think you could also do this so easy with no money?

Probably not. We are a little bit survivors.

As I understood, you sell these videos with blue-ray, which artists present you, if I`m correct. You have an edition, right?

No, this is not totally correct. The “Videoart at Midnight Editions” includes works by the artists who were our guests. In discussion with the artists (and their gallery) we select one work of their oeuvre which never was presented on the art market and offer it in a bigger number of copies then usual: 40 copies for the market and 10 for the artist. These are not explicitly works we showed at our midnight screening.

So you get some profit?

No. It would be nice if I had some profit of it. The idea is that they are really cheap, much cheaper than other artworks on the art-market. It`s not just a DVD, that you can use privately at home. It is a bundle of rights, an artwork, which comes along in a nice box and that you can include in your collection, private or institutional. Most buyers are museums or big private collections. The idea is to give artists a permanent visibility – beyond our one-night event at the Babylon theatre.

So you are like a mediator who doesn`t have any money from sales?

There is a share for me of course – actually like the gallery model 50:50 – but it still doesn`t cover the costs There are a lot of representation costs such as the new web site, travel and exhibition costs. The Videoart at Midnight Editions are a bit like editions by art-magazines or Kunstvereine – they all have these kinds of editions. But we are the only building up an anthology of video art.

How do you avoid the influence of the stakeholders? Do you have it?

As I don`t have any private stakeholders – there is no influence. I’m free whom I want to invite to Videoart at Midnight.

And the guys from symposium and exhibitions?

Now you are talking about our festival celebrating the 10th anniversary of Videoart at Midnight end of this year. We will show with Ed Atkins our artist number 100, we will have two artists’ film days with all one hundred artists of the last 10 years coming back to the Babylon Theatre and we also have exhibitions in various institutions and a symposium at Hamburger Bahnhof – Museum für Gegenwart.

For this festival we got for the first time a financial support from the city of Berlin (Hauptstadtkulturfonds) which enables us to realize a great event with a lot of partner institutions. And of course there is a discussion with the partners, what to show and how to show. Together we found fantastic artists and art works. We will not only celebrate Videoart at Midnight’s anniversary but also the city of Berlin as an international and open place for artists and their art work.

Speaking of the museums, there is an audience that they need and the one they don`t. Do you think there’s any specific audience that you need?

The artists themselves need Videoart at Midnight. Most of our audience are artists. Some curators, critiques, very few collectors, but also more and more young people. Two months ago we were showing Wolfgang Tillmans, and there were one thousand people who wanted to see the screening. We had to schedule two screenings, one at midnight and one at 2am, and still there were a lot of people queuing for the second screening.

Videoart at Midnight is made for the artists. To show and to see video and film works together in a cinema, from the beginning to the end, is something special, a chance for the art works but also for the audience.

We do it for the artists who we invite. That’s also the reason why I don’t feel bad when I don’t give artists money, because I work for them, I try to create this audience and this frame and a visibility. And when Wolfgang Tillman sits in the cinema with 500 people and gets a round of applause in the end – it’s something special. From my own experience as a gallery owner I always noticed that people don`t see a work, they don’t give a chance neither to the work nor to themselves to see the work. And it was the point why I had to find something where people would get the chance.

As I do it for the artists of course I’m interested in a qualified audience. It’s good if there are artists there, because they are discussing much more than collectors. Tourists are nice but for me it`s not important if there are 20 or 100. It’s nice if the cinema is full, but if there are 20 good people sitting – it`s more important than 100 tourists.

I see it from another perspective. You are saying that you want to promote young video artists, to put them on the map, but how can you do that showing the video to the people who are mostly from this field and most of them already know where and why they come. Shouldn`t you attract people who know nothing about it?

I think we do attract people who know nothing about it. And you see them often. In the beginning young people come so excited and they stay 10 minutes and they look at each other and you see how they leave. And that is also the reason why it is good to do it for free – these people can take a chance to have a look and some of them stay.

How do you choose what to show? Is the role of the audience strong?

I knew a lot of these artists. This project was dedicated to Berlin-based artists, who live here and work here, or worked and lived. So it’s quite easy to go from one to another. I try to visit two or three artists pro week. And there are a lot of artists working with video, so it’s a long list of artists who I want to show. If you want to show an artist, normally you just should find the dates.

How do you understand that you don’t like the work?

If I don’t like it – I show it very rarely. It’s my collection, I can decide what I want to show.

How long do you think will the project exist?

I`m not sure. I think for the next two years at least. Because I still have a list of artists who I want to show, and who want to be shown. But after ten years there is a kind of routine and I have a feeling that something should change but I didn’t find the right key what I could change. Because still it’s a kind of hobby, I don’t have money from this project, I can’t spend too much time with it. If I make it once a month it’s somehow handable, but when I make it something bigger… And actually I don’t want to make it bigger, I like it this size. It’s not underground, but it’s something beside midnight, when everything is over and it’s a Berlin thing. I like it as it is and I don’t think I should change it, but sometimes I think something should change. But I don’t know what, why and how.

One thing that we have now on the festival is a discursive part – discussion about video art. This is what I miss a little bit in our project. There will be a series of discussions – possibilities for students and professionals who come all together for exchange. And it’s a bit hard to realize in our project, because when it comes to discussion – it comes to money. And then it becomes a job.

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