Ifa-Galerie - Internship Report
The Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen (Institute for International Relations), ifa for short, is an important German institution founded in 1917 in Stuttgart. Having recently celebrated its centenary, after years of transformation of its objectives and occupations, the ifa is now less concerned with cultivating relations with German minorities in countries around the world (as was the purpose of the ifa during its beginnings), but more with promoting German culture on an international level and, most importantly, with fostering an international cultural dialogue.1 For this purpose, the ifa cooperates closely with a wide network of cultural institutions on a global scale. Currently, the ifa’s organization operates on the basis of different departments dealing with separate focus areas: Dialogue, Media, Administration and Art. At the same time, the art department is subdivided into different activities and roles. Since the propagation of German culture is one of the main objectives of the institution, it is logical that one of the main tasks of the art department is the conception of touring exhibitions (Tournee Ausstellungen).
These exhibitions concentrate mainly on German artists and are brought to international institutions with which the ifa cooperates. Another of the occupations through which the ifa has gained so much notoriety is the coordination of the German contribution to the Venice Biennale.
Finally, the two ifa-galleries located in Stuttgart and Berlin are also an integral part of the art department.
In contrast to the other departments’ objectives to promote German culture, the ifa- galleries work to promote art from international countries and cultures on German territory.
Specifically, they focus on contemporary art by artists and creators from the global south, often addressing social and political themes, with a postcolonial perspective and transnational concerns, such as ecological or migratory crises. The gallery’s exhibitions and projects are based on collaborative and co-creative processes,2 not only with the artists, but also with the involvement of external institutions and curators. In this way they try to avoid or minimize the imposition of Western perspectives and discourses and offer the exhibition space to accommodate a plurality of voices in a coherent and meaningful way. The gallery, located in the center of Stuttgart, comprises a relatively small space of about 300 square meters. It generally offers four main exhibitions, as well as several smaller and shorter exhibitions in between the major shows. It also hosts events such as collaborations with projects, biennials or festivals that take place in the city, or even provides the venue for various projects as for example lectures related to art and culture.
I started my internship in early September 2022. At that time, the gallery team had been preparing for a major exhibition planned to open at the end of October. This exhibition was linked to the OtherNetwork project that was being developed by the touring exhibitions department, as well as with the collaboration of many other institutions on a global scale. The main objective of OtherNetwork is the interconnection of independent art spaces and projects on an international level. With the help of an online platform,3 it hopes to enable these independent curators, artists and spaces to connect, interact and collaborate with each other.
This database is designed in a way that rejects any hierarchies in terms of geography and status,
1 Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen e.V. (ifa), Stories, Relations, Perspectives. 11 Years ifa. Steidl, 2017.
2 Ifa-Galerie Stuttgart, Homepage. Accessed 10. 02.2023, https://www.ifa.de/en/exhibitions/ifa-gallery- stuttgart/
3 OtherNetwork, Homepage. Accessed 14. 02.2023, https://othernetwork.io
challenging the long-standing Western tradition of cultural content creation. OtherNetwork aspires to be a tool for these projects to continue to develop independently outside of institutional frameworks. The developers of OtherNetwork, however, did not want the database to be the only way for the project to be realized, but also decided to materialize these connections between art spaces through a series of exhibitions. The idea is to create a chain of collaboration in which a space hosts an exhibition conceived by an external team of curators and artists belonging to one of these independent projects. Then, after the realization of this exhibition, the invited group will be the one to cede its space to the next group of artists and curators from another project.
It is with this concept of the collaborative chain that the ifa-Galerie enters the picture.
As this is a project conceptualized primarily by the ifa, it was proposed that the first of this series of exhibitions be held at the Stuttgart gallery. The institution invited to develop the exhibition was the Foundation for Contemporary Art Ghana (FCA Ghana for short), which is a non-profit institution located in the capital Accra, and as they define themselves, is a “network of artists created to offer a platform for the critical presentation, development, and promotion of contemporary art in Ghana.”4 For the exhibition at the gallery, two curators of the foundation together with six artists came up with a concept entitled “If we are Happy in Our Dreams, Does That Count?”. This is a quote from the novel The God of Small Things (1997) by Arundhati Roy. The exhibition dealt with current issues such as the health crisis affecting the world on a global scale and the consequences it has had, especially within the framework of the city. With realistic, mythological and oneiric elements, the exhibition aimed to transport the city of Accra to Stuttgart and to establish connections between the two.
Although the project had already started long before I arrived, I had the opportunity to be involved in it. I took part in the meetings to discuss the organizational matters, which in some cases were about the things that the gallery team needed to prepare, and in others, through videoconferences, we communicated with FCA Ghana to discuss how to incorporate new elements, discuss doubts and establish what had to be ready until their arrival two weeks before the opening. I also helped in the management for the events of the program, such as the communication with several institutions in the city to host a workshop and a performance by one of the artists. When the artists and curators arrived, I was also able to collaborate in setting up the exhibition. As the works on display were five different installations, the creation of the works happened almost entirely inside the gallery. We worked together with the technicians (who had been working for weeks) and had to finish the rest during the two weeks before the opening. I assisted in installing at their direction and provided any missing material they required. Finally, on the day of the opening, I attended the press conference that was held in the morning, helped with the final preparations, such as setting up the beverage and catering tables, and arranging the space for the scheduled performances. As people started to arrive, I welcomed them, gave them a short introduction to the event and the exhibition topic and briefed them on the program for the evening. The event was a great success, with more than one hundred people attending.
Simultaneously, at the same time that we were preparing this exhibition, we had already started with the conception of a future show planned to open in May 2023. This would feature the work of Brazilian artist Camila Sposati. Her artistic production consists of sculptures and other types of plastic arts, installations and performances, and is influenced by a great diversity
4 Foundation for Contemporary Art – Ghana, About. Accessed 14. 02.2023, https://fcaghana.org/about/
of subjects, geology and ecology being some of the most recurrent themes in her work. One of the most challenging components of this new exhibition is the reproduction of one of her installations/performances, her artwork entitled “Earth Anatomical Theatre”.5 In this piece, Camila Sposati was inspired by the anatomical theater built in the city of Padua during the 16th century. Like many of the anatomical theaters that started to emerge in the late medieval period, this was a large circular space in the shape of an inverted cone, with different strata at descending levels from which the audience could observe by facing the center of the theater, the lowest stratum of all. In it, there was only a table on which during lectures a corpse was dissected by the anatomy professor. In Camila Sposati’s work, already realized once in Bahia in 2014, the theater takes the same conical shape with descending levels, but however the anatomy lesson does not focus on the human body, but on the anatomy of the earth. The project consists of digging a large hole several meters deep, in which the viscera of the earth can become exposed to the observer/participant. This action, understood by the artist as a long performance from the moment the excavation begins, raises many questions: from issues of ecology and conservation of natural spaces, economic issues, land use and property, but also in the sense of the boundaries and meaning of the theater (is the theater understood as just a space?
Who are the actors? And what is the play?)
Because of the complexity of the project, the gallery integrated two Stuttgart institutions as collaborators. One of them is the Bureau Baubotanik, which is a group of artists engaged in the construction of architectural structures integrating living plants and botanical design. The other is the Theater Rampe, which collaborates with initiatives in urban space to broaden theater into the public sphere. We all got to work together to make the project a reality. We had several meetings to discuss where we could physically build the theater, the financial expenses and grants we could apply for, the legal arrangements and agreements with the city, and also what significance and implications building a theater (or even, digging a giant hole) has for the city and the people of Stuttgart. Camila Sposati came to Stuttgart for a week in mid-November.
During that visit, she was also joined by Brazilian curator Marcelo Rezende, who had already collaborated closely with Sposati in the past (including on her exhibition in Bahia in 2014), and who was now going to co-curate the exhibition at the ifa-Galerie. During that week we worked intensively with all the parties involved to develop the project, to include the perspectives of Camila Sposati and Marcelo Rezende and to resolve all the doubts that had been created so far due to the lack of their presence in our previous meetings. After their departure, I was also briefly in charge of researching different books and academic articles on various topics connected to the exhibition. I did not have to write or produce any text, as this selection only served to understand the topics and to be able to produce the catalog later on (See attached PDF Recherche Camila Sposati).
In addition to taking part in the conception of future exhibitions, I was also involved in the digitization work of the past exhibitions. This has been my biggest contribution during my internship. During the last few years, following the global tendencies, the ifa has given great importance to the digitization of its projects, making its work accessible and available to an international public. The tool used for this task is called MuseumPlus, a Collection Management Software. In this platform, all the information concerning the exhibitions, the artists and each of the works exhibited is added. Among others, the information that can be detailed are the
5 Camila Sposati, Earth Anatomical Theatre. Accessed 16.02.2023, https://camilasposati.com/category/teatro- anatomico-da-terra/
descriptive texts of the works, the events of the program or the technical aspects of the works (materials, size or duration of a video). It is important to understand that this is the platform from which the information will be extracted to link it to another digital platform, such as the website of a museum’s digital collection. In the case of the ifa, this website is called Agora.6 However, MuseumPlus is also a very useful tool among the employees of the institution, since much of the information that can be added is more for internal purposes than for public access.
For example, one can enter data on the physical location of a work in the depot, references on transport, on loans, as well as the contact details of an artist.
Even though this platform had already been in use for several years by the ifa’s Touring Exhibitions department, the gallery content had not yet been digitized. Since I started working with MuseumPlus, I completed the digitization of nine exhibitions. My work began by familiarizing myself with the exhibition, reading the catalogues, brochures and wall texts, the gallery’s website guidelines and all the other in-house documents produced during the conception and development of the shows. I would even study the photos of the openings in order to make a floor plan of the distribution of the artworks in the space. Once I had all the information selected, I could start adding it to the platform. Throughout the development of this project, during the meetings in which we discussed the process, we realized that the platform in the way it was developed did not fit the gallery’s requirements. As the software had been configured to meet the criteria of the Touring Exhibitions, we found it difficult to fit the gallery’s information into that format. Because of this, together with the Gallery's director, Bettina Korintenberg, and curator, Valérie Hammerbacher, we started work to identify all the questions we had, the flaws within the current platform format and the suggestions for improvements we wished to include (See attached PDF MuseumPlus_OngoingProcess). We then had several meetings with the programmers to address the questions and discuss the implementation of these features. Finally, before the end of my internship, I developed a usage guide for the platform so that the gallery would know how to continue digitizing future exhibitions (See attached PDF MuseumPlus_AnleitungGalerie).
One last project in which I also took part was the development of a website for the November 2021 exhibition “Umbrales: ¿como anudar el tiempo?”, which took place both at the ifa-Galerie Stuttgart and in Santiago de Chile, in collaboration with the Bienal de Artes Mediales de Chile. Including works by three artists working in Chile in different areas of interest, such as the social protests of 2019, ecology, and the destruction of natural landscape in the country, the exhibition wanted to expand with the creation of the website constelaciones.xyz in which the content of the artistic interventions in both countries would be displayed.7 Unfortunately, the team ran out of time to complete the website and the work was left unfinished. I took on the task of reviewing the existing content and correcting the errors in the three languages in which the website was created. I then contacted the artists to expand the content with the audiovisual material that they could send me (photos, texts, videos, audio recordings, etc.). From there I contacted the programmers and curators of the Biennial to decide how we wanted to display these contributions on the website, and I edited them according to these decisions. It is planned to translate the content of the website into a publication later this year.
6 Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen, ifa Agora. Netzwerk, Sammlung, Archiv. Kunst. Accessed 16.02.2023, https://agora.ifa.de/de
7 The Website has unfortunately been offline fort he past two weeks. https://www.constelaciones.xyz
Overall, this experience has been very enriching. It has given me a very good introduction to many aspects of working in an art institution. Being a small gallery with a reduced number of workers, I have had the opportunity to follow the work processes in a closer and more participative way. I found the gallery to have a very interesting way of working.
Following its objective of providing its space to outside perspectives, one of the recurring aspects is the involvement of curators closely related to the featured artists. In my opinion, this is a very respectful way of coordinating an international exhibition, prioritizing the contributions and significances of the participants, and minimizing the unilateral points of view coming from the host institution. In this sense, I have been able to observe the decision-making processes and negotiations that take place in a project of such structure.
On the other hand, I have learned the importance of the work that is done after the inauguration of an exhibition. I had always understood curatorial work as a process of conception and development of a project that culminates with the opening of a show. However, thanks to my work on the various digitization projects (and helping with the production of a forthcoming second publication for the 2021 exhibition entitled Pool Malebo) I have learned the importance of the continuation of projects. Exhibitions open doors to new ideas and avenues of development that allow for expanded content and diversified meanings and even modification of established notions in the future. In addition, they are also major providers of knowledge relevant to academic research. Their digitization and accessibility to the public also allows the creation of new content by external parties.