Run by Dorothee Bienert, Dortje Drechsel, Marina Sorbello and Antje Weitzel
Q: When was your space founded? Tell me about its goals, direction, and character.
A: 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, which 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 Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986). In Borges’ “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius” (1940) the word “uqbar” is an entry in a fictitious encyclopaedia. 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.
Q: What form of cooperation between artist and curator do you investigate?
A: We try not to define our programme 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 programme 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-carreer 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 maybe 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.
Q: What would you change about the artistic reality of the city?
A: All four of us are based in Berlin since the end of the 1990s. Within the past 18 years Berlin, formerly periphery of Cold War Europe, borderland, became progressively more and more central: geographically - in relation to the New Europe, and culturally as well. Nowadays Berlin enjoys, again, the status of a world capital, has a vibrant art and cultural scene, and became a sort of capital of the artists, who move to the city because it is relatively cheap, and offers good conditions for production and also a high quality of life if compared with 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 if 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 in the city.
Despite all this Berlin still offers space for experimenting with new models and ways of art presentation, production and consumption of art and culture. In this respect, the Berlin 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 becoming ourselves an institution for several reasons: One of these is that we did not want to give up the control and the authorship of the projects we were doing. On the other hand we felt that being ourselves an institution would also give a necessary continuity to the projects carried on. 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 economical impact and event culture. Balancing long term planning with our association funded in 2004 and short term activities, we decided to open our own premises 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 we are located at 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 to the members of the Kolonie Wedding network cheap rents. Of course there is a gentrification issue here, and also it is not easy to really involve a local public, but we try.
Q: How do you fund your space?
A: The fact is, Uqbar does not receive any structural funds from the city or the state. We fundraise for each 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 something that affects more and more also the larger institutions these days, at least in Germany. Especially the small and medium size German Kunstvereine, mostly depend entirely 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.
Q: Do you pursue other local or international collaborations and joint projects?
A: 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 straight forward title: “Small Structures Are Beautiful”. It consists of two exhibitions in Prague and in Berlin, and the idea behind the project is to initiate a platform and a permanent network for non-profit project spaces in Berlin and in 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.
For the coming 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 programme, concepts and practises at uqbar in Berlin and uqbar will do the same abroad. The aim of the project is not only a presentation of the respective programme and artists, but also a dialogue about structures and strategies, and an exchange of good practices.
Uqbar collective, January 2009