Practical Advice for Producing an International Exhibition

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Blue fabric in trees

Blue Ribbon
Photo Credit: Ralf Bauer, Cologne, Germany

Ulli Boehmelmann, Installation Artist • www.ulli-boehmelmann.de

Practical Advice for Producing an International Exhibition

I began the Round Table by introducing a piece that I did in the summer of 2009. I heard of the Russian art space OkNo Gallery (www.oknogallery.ru), a private cultural venue that hosts a contemporary art and film program in two cellar rooms at the State University of Chelyabinsk. Chelyabinsk is located in the South Ural region and has about one million inhabitants. In cooperation with that gallery, I showed three site-specific installations (two of them indoors and one outdoors).

In the gallery space, I presented the installations Einkehr Contemplation and Gespinst Spun Thread, both of which focused on the spatial and temporal apprehension of space.

The main installation, called Blue Ribbon, was exhibited in Pushkin Park in the town center. The Blue Ribbon, which was suspended from the trees at a height of about five yards, crossed the pathways and meadows several times. Underneath the crossings, there were four different poems written in Russian and German on the park’s paths. The poems originated from two classical (German and Russian) authors and two contemporary (German and Russian) authors. All of them dealt with spring and dawn in the broadest sense.

In Russia, art projects in public spaces that do not serve a propagandistic agenda are very unusual and rarely done because of the country’s political situation and history. The installation Blues Band- Blue Ribbon was the first outdoor installation of its size in Chelyabinsk.

My experience in producing this work led me to formulate the following Guidelines, which we then discussed in depth for the rest of the Round Table discussion:

The first e-mail exchange with any local partner should answer these questions:

  •          Are there similarities in content? Does my art fit into their program and context?
  •          How is their network? How is mine? Are there opportunities to work together anywhere?
  •          In my case, the OkNo Gallery knew the Moscow Goethe Institute, so there was a fairly good chance of getting an official partner for this project from the beginning.

The first visit should lead to the following results:

  •          The establishment of mutual sympathy and a mutual understanding of teamwork.
    •     I was really afraid of the Russian custom of drinking a lot. I was told in advance that there wouldn’t be any results without having lots of vodka. But my partners at the OkNo Gallery turned out to not drink alcohol at all, so I was lucky.
  •          The development, to whatever extent possible, of an exhibition concept.

Some avenues for funding the project and covering the travel costs:

  •          Seek private sponsorship – reaching out to the embassy of your home country in the host country, the International Chamber of Commerce or national Board of Trade, and/or foundations with a focus on the host country.
    •     In my case, the German Goethe institute funded my first trip to Chelyabinsk, which is a five-hour flight from Frankfurt with a stop in Moscow. Chelyabinsk is five hours ahead of Frankfurt.

Back home:

  •          Create a precise elaboration of the project’s timeline and cost plan.
  •          Search for sponsorship with the help of these facts.
  •          Don’t underestimate the time needed to prepare, and don’t set the exhibition date too soon! Organization, logistics and acquiring sponsorship take about 50 – 80% of the whole preparation time! There must be enough time left for the artistic development part!
    •     I spent months on the computer trying to figure it all out, and my cooperation with Dmitry Lathukin from the OkNo Gallery went extremely well. He always answered as soon as possible so we could prepare all the details really intensively. This helped us to proceed with the installation on-site in a concentrated and smooth way over the course of only five days.

The second preliminary visit (often inevitable in the case of in-situ projects):

  •          Present the detailed concept to the local authorities.
  •          Funding the second trip will be more difficult because often, only one visit in advance is seen as necessary, but being there in person increases the chance of realizing the project.
    •     In my case, I found a European fund that facilitated travel costs for international projects. (Maybe the Lighton International Artists Exchange Program can help.)
    •     A pleasant ambiance given by a local, well-liked intermediary often decides the progress of the planned project. Often the people in charge are not really specialized for their jobs; they are often moved into these positions because they know the right people. It is important, then, to have an intermediary who speaks both languages.
  •          Make a closer inspection of the local conditions (climate, environment, direct neighborhood, etc.).
  •          Inquire about local materials.
    •     It is preferable to use local materials because doing so is more interactive.

Back home:

  •          If local materials are not available, try to get sponsored materials from home.
    •     In my case the blue mesh material for the outdoor installation was very specialized. One company who produces it had just started to export it to Russia, but if I had bought it from them in Russia, I would have paid almost three times as much, so it was better to return to my former business partner and ask them to support a really specialized project and give me a special price for that.

Transportation of material brought from home:

  •          The safest mode of transportation is by air, on your own flight! No long trips overland or unconfident customs handling.
    •     The allowed maximum baggage weight per flight passenger is 50kg (110 lbs.).
    •     The excess baggage charge in 2011 was 20€/kg ($10/lb.).
  •          It is advisable to arrive in the early morning: customs officers are tired too!
  •          Take detailed declarations with you – the more the better. Bring an invitation letter from the local partner, a materials list and a description of the exhibition concept, all written in the language of the host country.

I wish you good luck and success!

LINKS

www.ulli-boehmelmann.de

My website

www.vimeo.com/93369082

Blue Ribbon. Documentary in German, English and Russian. 31 min. 2011-2013

www.oknogallery.ru / www.facebook.com/art.okno

OkNo Gallery website and Facebook page

www.culturalfoundation.eu

Step Beyond travel grants

www.goethe.de

The Goethe Institute’s website