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To leave existing paths and walk across country

During the planning phase of the festival, Olaf Bargheer talked with the curator Brigitte Kölle and Tim Voss about the artistic content and the structural balancing act involved in organising subvision.

What is off art?

Brigitte Kölle: The concept of off stems from the field of film technology and describes what can be heard but not seen, i.e., that which takes place outside of the film screen but is perceivable and important all the same (off camera).


Today, one usually uses the prefix off to designate forms of cultural production that deliberately delimit themselves from established and commercial business activities. This is frequently associated with subculture and underground, implying the notion of a counter-position to what is regarded as on. One of the questions we would like to raise with subvision is whether this normative dualism of on versus off is not too simply conceived, whether, upon closer examination, this field might reveal itself as far more complicated and complex.

Tim Voss: It doesn’t make sense to speak about off art as a limitation to the relations of production, for example. The conditions and motivations are too different and the criteria applied are therefore quite fluid. Exploitability is always given on the art market, as well, even if often only immaterially.
What does exist is an off attitude in the fine arts, i.e., self-attribution ranging from delimitation to opposition. I am off, we are off – in the sense of a standpoint of assertion that sets itself off and comments on what is displayed. Off is therefore an imaginary border, especially for an art festival such as subvision. What remains is the popular expectation regarding off as a topic, which we face as an incentive and as a reference to those comments.

Brigitte Kölle: What comes to my mind in this context is a wonderful piece by the Polish artist Pawel Althamer, which he showed last year at the sculpture projects muenster. It helps make the structural field clearer: Away from the tarred pedestrian and bicycle paths near the Aasee in Münster, Althammer laid out a track leading out of the city over meadows and fields that abruptly ended after one kilometre. To leave existing paths and walk across country is a nice image for evading routine procedures and creating open structures in which possibilities can and must be newly negotiated. The issue is not necessarily to decide against something but in favour of one’s own path lying in between or on the side.

Tim Voss: Or perhaps, less poetically but in the same visual vein, the parkour movement known from France. Similar to skateboarding, obstacles in urban space are surmounted merely by means of bodily force, dynamism and creativity. A kind of performative re-appropriation of urban architecture under extreme conditions.

According to which criteria are the artists selected?

Brigitte Kölle: What characterizes subvision is the decision to work together with artists’ initiatives and not with individual artists: The festival is not dedicated to individual artistic positions but to networks, collaborative working methods and structures of mediation. The question pertaining to the quality of the work and the clarity of the profile is decisive. With subvision, we want to present a lively, international panorama of experimental modes of working, meaning that, in the end, we intend to work out the heterogeneity of the initiatives and not postulate their similarity.
With our selection of artists’ initiatives, subvision does not claim to be representative. It is a selection from far more than 200 initiatives that were proposed to us by so-called scouts living on location all over the world. We invited around 60 artists’ initiatives to Hamburg that work in the most various formats and disciplines. Some understand themselves as free projects and event locations, as so-called artist-run spaces, or as nomadically operating initiatives, others as archive, research centre, network, neighbourhood help or an interventionist-activist group. Some of them organise readings, film evenings, exhibitions, while others publish magazines or provide, comparable to an academy, venues for learning and debate; or they are predominantly active in the World Wide Web.

Tim Voss: Despite off, we count on a basic institutional structure, a strictly defined committee and a broad public. We think that this is necessary to lend subvision its own profile and not simply claim plurality. An exhibition demands a tensional relationship in which it must be possible to clarify the standpoint of the viewer. Of course, it is up to the exhibiting groups what they display. All we do is set the conditions, and they will relate to them.

Why is subvision taking place under the two influential museums of contemporary art in Hamburg, the Hamburger Kunsthalle and the Deichtorhallen, as well as the art academy?

Tim Voss: The fact that subvision, as a festival of off strategies, originated in this specific collaboration, is only contradictory upon first sight. Established institutions are well aware of and know how to utilize the significance of off initiatives, both as a critical corrective and as a hotbed and pool of artistic energy and quality. Hamburg possesses a quite lively history of off culture shaping the city and keeping it alive. Especially an art academy such as the HFBK benefits quite strongly from this. Subvision indeed views itself in the tradition of festivals such as ‘artgenda’ (2002) or ‘Wir sind woanders’ (2006 und 2007). Yet as opposed to ‘Wir sind woanders’, subvision does not take an organisational approach but presents itself as a large-scale event highlighting and supporting the significance of the initiatives taking part.

What will be on view?

Brigitte Kölle: What will be seen and experienced is art that programmatically represents the locations and initiatives on view. The approx. 60 artists’ initiatives will be present on location during the ten-say festival and offer insights into their artistic working methods, formats of mediation and event organisation. The festival atmosphere condensed in terms of time and space will offer the visitors, expert audience and artists a programme that is more intense than is the case with the classical format of a 6 to 8-week show. If you as a visitor are not able to immediately make sense of what you see, but it lastingly preoccupies you and stays on your mind, then subvision will have contributed to precisely the need for debate that we wish for. And it will have shown that art takes exciting, unexpected and also disputatious paths.