Caleido interviews Tanja Heuchele. Tanja is Commercial Director of @nomad__magazine, Director of @aokunsthalle, MD of @st_art_foundation and MM Award 2022 Jury member. Welcome to Caleido, an inspirational diary, that narrates many stories: about creative people, trends, travels, objects. / Read the Editor’s letter here
Diary of: @tanjamhe
1. You are an established curator: what are the most recurrent themes that contemporary artists deal with? Are there any topics that you perceive to be more “unmissable”?
Corona has of course been the subject of discussion over the past two years. It’s not just about the finished work, but how it was produced under the current circumstances. Many young artists were not able to visit their studios, receive state funding, or show their work in exhibitions. Many have been able to make their voices heard in the digital space, but that is hardly a substitute for the experience of visiting an exhibition, meeting the artist in person, or even making studio visits. However, when I look at the thematic focus of applications by collectives, we critically look at geopolitical changes, freedom of the press, and of expression. The concept of liberty probably stands out most clearly then, and its reception in its most diverse fields.
2. Talking about yourself, what are the social issues, or of the society in which we live, that are closest to your heart?
Definitely freedom. We must defend and protect our democratic values. When I observe the press coverage of recent years, this asset does not receive the appreciation and recognition it should. And looking deeper, I’m concerned about freedom of the press – and I don’t mean those inflammatory and displaced representations of supposed news on social media – but those researched and vetted news stories. Opinions are not news. We see how society is splitting all around the globe, even in the closest social environment – families, among colleagues or just on a subway ride – discourse no longer takes place. The fronts are hardened and do not seem to be discussed on the basis of researched facts or scientific evidence. This intolerance and the lost appreciation in togetherness scares me a lot. In my opinion, art and design have the task of asking critical questions and raising awareness. In the current year, we are focusing in Leipzig and Warsaw (and at a possible new location) on the following subjects: Democratic values and freedom of expression and of the press.
3. In your work, you are always in contact with younger generations of creatives. What are the aspects of an emerging artist that attract you most?
To answer that I would first like to define the term as I understand it. An emerging artist has nothing to do with age, nor with his/her past history, but with his/her passion. We understand our mission as providing the space for those who are artists in heart and soul, and who are pursuing or have already obtained an academic degree in parallel, to show themselves, to test and to try out. In both spaces I regularly hear how nice it is to finally be able to hang one’s own work properly, to be able to take good photos and to be able to experience the work without stress.
What drives me to work with emerging artists and also designers is probably the constant learning process. To be allowed to be there when new paths are taken, new materials are tested, the discovery of a work project, the almost intimate collaboration, because with each curation, a form of evaluation happens that could not be more intimate. And last but not least, the valuable conversations, discussions and debates that happen in between.
4. Art is a vehicle for understanding society: how do fashion, design and other creative disciplines interact with art?
The question assumes that the disciplines are clearly separated from each other, but I don’t think they are. I often hear that art “asks questions” and design “answers to them”, but I don’t agree with that. The wonderful thing about our time is that we are all learning to work in an interdisciplinary way and to learn from and with each other. Let’s look at Paris, where design, fashion and art are being celebrated in an unprecedented homage. Yves Saint Laurent was certainly a gifted designer as well as an artist and is now celebrated and shown in six museums simultaneously in Paris. In 2021 at Dutch Design Week, Martijn Paulen said during his opening speech that the future is in design, tech and science. Yes, and many more disciplines in between – that’s exactly how we can shape the future and accomplish great things together. If history teaches us anything, it is that in cooperation, boundaries can be broken and new things can emerge.
5. Let me ask you a slightly provocative question. You are the director of the a&o Kunsthalle (exhibition space for emerging artists): in an increasingly virtual world, is there still a need for physical spaces?
A very important question: Yes, absolutely! I even find that physical places give us two essential dimensions, namely interaction and time. Digital space can act as an alternative space, but it can’t replace the experience. Let’s start here with the creative. Taking one’s own work out of the cocoon, taking it on the road and setting it up somewhere else is such an elementary process that would not find those real hurdles in the digital space. Sure, it sounds a bit romanticized now, because transportation is truly inconvenient, but experiencing one’s own work in a different environment, seeing it in the composition of a group exhibition, and then receiving elbow or fist bump greetings at the opening from enthusiastic visitors as the crowning glory would certainly not be made up for with a comment under the online exhibition. And now we come to my realization after over 12 Corona exhibitions: We don’t take the time in the digital space that we would if we were visiting an exhibition in real.
6. I was very impressed by the work you do at stART Foundation, a foundation dedicated to contemporary art in any media. Can you tell us about it? What are the new media that art uses as channels of dissemination? What are some examples that have particularly impressed you?
In 2019 we had discussions regarding studio opportunities for artists in Amsterdam. We planned a mixed use for locals and invitees in the form of studios as well as residencies, but then Corona struck and the project disappeared. The foundation, which aims to attract partners, private individuals and art aficionados to raise funds for projects, was then already in the process of being established. The founders are those initiators from 2018, when we rebuilt and opened the a&o Kunsthalle Leipzig. The commitment began with the sole financial support from a&o hostels. With Corona we learned that we needed more supporters. In 2021 we got the conference room of the former Radio Factory the current a&o hostel in Warsaw. Lou Jaworski, a Warsaw native and longtime assistant of Gregor Hildebrandt of AdBK Munich set the cornerstone here and continues to work and develop the space and himself. As the foundation we have set different goals for this year. In Leipzig, we want to build a broader accompanying program with performances, panel discussion, publications etc. In Warsaw, we want to establish the space as such first of all and ask critical questions in the public space. Beyond that, we are always looking for great spaces where art can unfold. On February 19, 2022 the exhibition FLUID GROUNDS was inaugurated in Leipzig and I am especially looking forward to the work of Snow Paik. Snow works with ice, ink and canvas. In 2019 he already exhibited with us in the exhibition curated by Joachim Blank and now together with his collective named Delta.
7. We met at the Vienna Design Week: what were the aspects that most intrigued you about the 2021 edition?
From Vienna, I have particularly strong memories of those projects that played with the use of public space: in the broadest sense, to bundle with social design. There I refer once to the Grantlhuber of Max Scheidl, which cares about the public psyche and the bridge project, Unfortunately, it was only approved as an interim use project, which connected two districts of the city and that only with a few steps. And on a festival level, I thought the new app was great. In the Europe-wide app ranking of design and art fairs, the most user-friendly app I have experienced so far.
8. As a MM Award Jury member, what characteristics will you look for in the projects of the contestants?
At this point I would like to thank you again for the great opportunity! It’s incredibly inspiring to work with you guys and I can’t wait to review the applications. I’ll be sure to make a rating catalog as I review. I’ll probably look at the following qualities: Aspiration, aesthetics, developmental steps of the work progress, level of solution resp. grade of question risen and what the project does for a valuable future. An absolute key characteristic is passion. This also involves learning from mistakes for once, working out new solutions and not losing sight of the goal as such. When I read this commitment out of the work or documentation, then that is the key.
9. You are the commercial director of nomad, a magazine that explores issues such as quality of life, sustainability and society by curating the ideas of a growing global community of nomadic creative people. Do you feel like a nomadic creature (I do, a constant journey towards an exquisitely undefined future)? How does your personal life embrace nomadism? Are there certainties you could not abandon?
Yes, definitely. Just answering your questions now, I’m on the ICE to Berlin. But the physical journey begins in the head. I see myself as a person who is always searching trying to find the answers before the question is spoken. My friends and family often ask the questions when calling and talking, where are you right now? What project are you talking about? What work are you talking about? The constant search out for new perspectives and new angles fascinates me and gives me the power to look forward to a brighter future. Working for the nomad magazine is not just about finding partnerships for ads or events, but those partners who share the same values we do. In regards to certainties, I guess my biggest constant is my partner, who puts up with the constant change and eagerness.
10. What is an object in your home that you would never give up? What is the memory attached to it? Can you send us a photo taken by you?
Not so easy! We are already in moving mode again, the fourth time in two years. But I have an old travel suitcase from my great-grandmother, in which I keep invitations from eventful exhibition openings, photo booth snippets, photos and souvenirs. This little suitcase is probably the most sentimentally valuable of my belongings. Photo will follow as soon as I’m back at home.