The pandemic has made it more difficult for people to enjoy and interact with the arts. In the following interview, Art Collection Telekom coordinators Antje Hundhausen and Margret Fischer explain how the pandemic is affecting the art scene, and why digital spaces are a poor substitute for live experiences shared with other people. They also touch on the works that Art Collection Telekom is planning to feature in 2021.
As coordinators of Art Collection Telekom, you are in close touch with the art scene and its creative people. What kind of impact has the past year had on the art scene?
Antje Hundhausen: The pandemic has hit the art scene very hard. In fact, all the arts are hurting right now. There are no live concerts, and galleries and museums are closed. Freelance artists in particular are having difficulty coping with the situation. They're struggling financially, because they have no commissions, and no way of selling their works when galleries are closed and no exhibits are being held. And they're struggling mentally, because they can no longer enjoy shared experiences within physical spaces. The group experiences possible in digital spaces are just not the same. Art, music, communication, and shared experiences are all part and parcel of our essence as social beings. The arts are relevant for our souls; they nourish our souls.
Margret Fischer: The pandemic has heightened the disparities in the art scene. Most artists and gallery owners have seen their incomes plummet. A small handful of well-established artists and gallery owners have been less affected, however, since the demand for high-end artwork has continued to grow.
Cyberspace is where much of the art scene can now be found. What art formats and trends in the virtual world do you find particularly fascinating?
Margret Fischer: Numerous museums and galleries have been extending their exhibits by putting them online. They have been doing so as a free service, aimed at enabling people to tour exhibits in other countries and cities and to revisit exhibits they had a chance to see in person. Art Collection Telekom has become part of this trend, by offering online 3D tours of exhibits, and online talks with artists. This proved especially useful, for example, in connection with our last exhibit, “Keeping the Balance”, which we presented in Budapest. When that exhibit opened, only Hungarian citizens were able to visit it in person, because Hungary had closed its borders due to the pandemic. So, we are especially pleased that we have been able to make it available to the world at large on our website.
Antje Hundhausen: I love the way Johann König has been using the Instagram channel @koeniggalerie. Since last year, he's been using that medium to offer live-streamed discussions with artists and critics, and tours of his gallery. Moreover, “Galerie König” opened an all-digital exhibit within a specially programmed app last year. The app recreates parts of the gallery's physical spaces and, via a small avatar, enables visitors to tour them and even enjoy them as a gaming environment. Via the avatar, visitors can leapfrog physical and logical boundaries and experience spaces in a completely new way.
What impact is the pandemic having on Art Collection Telekom?
Margret Fischer: We have had to sharply curtail our exhibits and live events. At the same time, we at Deutsche Telekom have remained well aware of our social responsibility, in many different areas, and we have continued to support creative people in the arts. In the area of music performance, we have sponsored concerts such as #lauterwerden (“#getlouder”) and other online cultural events. Also, Art Collection Telekom has asked its artists to produce short clips that we can show in the Art Collection Telekom app, on our website and on Instagram.
Over the past year, you have also been working to expand Deutsche Telekom's commitments at the intersection of art and technology. Could you tell us a little about this?
Antje Hundhausen: For some time, we had been thinking about useful and meaningful ways in which Deutsche Telekom could function as a technological networker and enabler in the art world. In keeping with the Group's own orientation, we wanted to find an approach that would create new options for artists with an affinity for new technologies. Last year, we then partnered with the renowned Ars Electronica organization to establish "ArtScience Residency," a new grant program for artists from Eastern and Southeastern Europe. It links art with research and technology, and it is designed to create new impetus for all three of these areas. At the same time, it places special emphasis on social responsibility, and it focuses on the issues of sustainability and digital democracy, and on the kinds of social changes that new technologies bring.
Do you have any program results to report?
Antje Hundhausen: The first artist we are funding this year is Kyriaki Goni, a media artist from Greece. She explores questions relating to datafication, to human relationships and to human-machine interactions. During her ArtScience Residency, she is collaborating with Labor für Roboterpsychologie (Robot-psychology laboratory) in exploring the possibilities inherent in an affective AI system. We are eagerly looking forward to discussing this effort with her and to seeing the results that she will present at the next Ars Electronica Festival, which will take place next fall in the Austrian city of Linz.
It has now been ten years since the Deutsche Telekom collection was reoriented. How has the Eastern European art scene been profiting from Deutsche Telekom's commitments to it?
Antje Hundhausen: Our reorientation has proven to be a positive move. We are now making a visible positive difference in the development of the art scene in Eastern Europe. On the one hand, our support has been directly helping young contemporary artists there by enhancing their visibility throughout all of Europe. On the other, Deutsche Telekom has been receiving growing numbers of requests to loan works from its collection to exhibits. Since 2014, artworks held by Art Collection Telekom have been shown in a total of 16 countries. Also, our support has been helping to build the cultural infrastructure in Eastern European countries.
Has Deutsche Telekom been benefiting from its involvement in the art world?
Margret Fischer: Yes, without a doubt. Art connects people, in ways that are by no means limited to business aspects. In our efforts, we always strive to involve local colleagues from the relevant Local Business Units (LBUs). They are always highly committed and motivated, and they support us both organizationally and communicatively. Via our cooperation relative to “Keeping the Balance,” for example, we have gained István Kutas as a member of our art curatorship. István, who is head of corporate communications at Magyar Telekom, will now support our involvement in Hungary's art scene on an ongoing basis.
Looking ahead to the coming year, what highlights can we expect from Art Collection Telekom?
Margret Fischer: Our ArtScience Residency program, which we are carrying out in cooperation with Ars Electronica and for which Kyriaki Goni is our first grantee, is a major highlight for us. We think it is vitally important for contemporary art to be viewed, experienced, and discussed. So, we are planning additional exhibits of such art – subject, of course, to how the pandemic develops. In terms of host cities, we are looking at Sofia (Bulgaria) and Skopje (North Macedonia). In addition, we plan to expand our art walk on the ground floor of our Group Headquarters – and to begin offering tours there again as soon as possible. Also, we are reviewing concepts for ways of using our Group facilities throughout Germany as venues for presenting works from our collection to Group employees and to the general public.
Antje Hundhausen: We're also looking at the possibility of taking our art into our shops. Prime candidates for that would be our new flagship store in Stuttgart and the “Experience Center” we opened in Prague last December. A number of minor live events are already planned for those locations, and they will be held as soon as we can open our doors again. Within that framework, we're now planning to include talks and art events. We want to offer artists and their works the biggest possible stage on which to tell their stories and invite interaction. At present, such efforts are taking place primarily online. But I am confident that exhibits and public events will soon be possible again.
Many thanks for speaking with us. We wish you much continued success!