Does this sound familiar to you? You try to make yourself understood by a lot of talking and writing, and then somebody comes up and does a small drawing, and you realise – that’s exactly it! Amazed and enthused, you see that despite all reduction and contraction the essential aspect is pinpointed. The little felt-tip pen drawing “vision – subvision” by the Romanian artist Dan Perjovschi is such a stroke of luck for me. A person’s perspective is enlarged in Perjovschi’s understanding of subvision to a real corona, a kaleidoscope of many individual visions, an astounding expansion of the line of vision.
subvision. kunst. festival. off. is a festival of international contemporary art in Hamburg. subvision is a very special endeavour, challenging, complicated, full of contradictions and problems. I have rarely worked in an exhibition project in which it so frequently occurred that – according to the motto “Return to Go!” – everything had to be reconsidered, newly conceived and implemented. It starts with securing the festival budget, continues with the small, colourful team in statu nascendi, all the way to the at first lacking infrastructure, electricity, architecture – everything that, even in the case of art projects, can be taken for granted, except for projects in public space. On the one hand, the latter applies to subvision as far as its temporary and outdoor character is concerned – without, however, discharging it from adhering to the strict requirements of the construction licensing procedure. On the other hand, the festival will take place in Hamburg’s HafenCity, the largest intra-urban building projects in Europe. All in all, subvision is based on initial conditions that are not favourable and certainly not convenient.
This rather unusual list of adversities must, of course, be followed by a big BUT. For not only our “stubbornness” is the reason that despite all circumstances we stuck to subvision. First a few facts: subvision. kunst. festival. off. will take place from August 26 to September 6, 2009. The festival brings together 30 artists’ initiatives from (almost) the entire world, namely, no less than from 20 countries. The concern of the initiatives is to experiment with new exhibition and mediation formats beyond the traditional forms of the art business with its commercial fairs and proliferating biennales. Among them are independent exhibition spaces, off spaces or artist-run spaces, nomadic projects, special artist archives, curator collectives, self-published magazines, as well as alternative mediation networks and research projects. “Kleine, geile Firmen (small, cool companies)”, then, that are not intent of making a profit (a formulation alluding to the casual and concise title of a recently published book on historical alternative projects); projects that no large audience cares about, except for the usually passionate operators and a die-hard community of fans.
subvision focuses on a phenomenon that is usually “off screen” – the meaning of “off” originally stemming from film theory. But it is also about the diversity, autonomy and peculiarity of these artists’ initiatives, their working methods and strategies of presenting and conveying art outside prevalent, established institutions and beyond direct, commercial utilizability. This “outside” of and “beyond” the establishment/mainstream and commerciality are points of orientations, relational concepts, and at times the attempt to circumscribe an imaginary boundary.
As diverse as the artistic positions represented at subvision may be, what they all have in common is that they originated in a notion of collectivity. subvision does not invite individual artists to Hamburg, but instead offers groups, collectives and networks a forum. How important collaboration as a social form and cultural practice is for many artists’ initiatives is often already indicated by their names: Konsortium, Komplot, Cluster, Guestroom, Les Complices etc.. Several persons jointly working on a project is at first nothing unusual, not in the fine arts either, although this phenomenon is by far not as common as in music or theatre, for example. Yet it does shake two traditional foundations of art: sole authorship and the self-containedness of the artistic work. Multiple authorship replaces the “one voice”; what is developing and in process gains importance vis-à-vis the static, completed work. In this respect it is consequent that what takes on a prominent position at subvision are projects in a state of flux and development, inviting people to interact and participate.
subvision grasps itself as a heterogeneous presentation platform for the artistic production and the mediation of art, as well as for reflecting on them. subvision is structured in three parts, exhibition/academy/stage: an exhibition that will repeatedly be altered during the course of the festival depending on the dynamics of the artists working on site; a temporary academy with panel discussions, artists’ talks, lectures, and seminars; as well as a varied event program with performances, book presentations and concerts. We hope that the special combination of exhibition and working situation will give rise to new networking, exchange and communication possibilities – between the individual artists’ initiatives as well as interested visitors. The artists will be present during the festival – not, as usual, just to set up the exhibition and at the opening – in order to make contact, convey their concerns and explain their artistic working methods themselves. The entire structure of the festival is generally geared to communication, to talking with each other. Starting with sufficient space to sit down, eat and drink together, to the possibility of participating and discussing, be it with the initiatives on site, at public artists’ talks or when partying together at the end of the day.
The Architektur Werkstatt Hamburg has designed a temporary exhibition architecture consisting of ship containers and scaffoldings specially for the festival. It is oriented toward urbanistic models, citing them en miniature and not without irony. Hence, a “city in the city” is created on Strandkai that with its block structure is reminiscent of both the city map of Manhattan and a playing field. Its structural elements and materials will be returned to their original contexts of use after the festival. It is a temporary architecture, a flying structure, and the implementation of a foreign body to which the invited artists must and are eager to respond. In general, the festival offers many participating initiatives an incentive to show new projects and works conceived specifically for this occasion that in varied, critical, ironical, and surprising ways deal with the wide spectrum of tensions that subvision unfolds. “Art is to change what you expect from it.” (Seth Siegelaub)
Under aggrevated conditions, subvision is concerned with fundamental questions posed to art, its aesthetic function and social role. subvision focuses on initiatives that do basic research and do not lose sight of their original motivation when dealing with art, beyond traditional and routined paths and procedures and beyond quick market success.
I find that this is reason enough to risk the adventure of subvision.
(Brigitte Kölle, curator)