Interview with Paz Ponce Pérez-Bustamante on January 14, 2022, via Zoom
Anna-Lena Wenzel: Paz, how did you come to the nGbK?
Paz Ponce Pérez-Bustamante: In 2018, I founded the activist platform ¡n[s]urgênc!as, meaning insurgencies, uprisings. It’s a platform for at-risk artists from Latin America in Berlin. In 2018, for the portfolio reviews I organize for this platform, I invited Valeria Fahrenkrog, Teobaldo Lagos Preller, and Daniela Labra as advisors. Two years later, Valeria contacted us and Marcela Moraga to found a project group. Together we devised museo de la democracia, an exhibition and program of events in response to the wave of solidarity in the form of protests and national strikes in Latin America. Apart from myself, everyone was from Chile, which led to productive discussions about how one can speak about a territory from which one does not come. There’s one other link to the nGbK: for my first show in Berlin, Pflegeanweisungen – The Art of Living Together at Galerie Wedding in 2014, I researched the city’s self-organized art spaces. What kind of groups existed? Who was concerned with what? And among others I did an interview with the nGbK and got to know the institution.
ALW: Why did you choose the nGbK?
PPPB: The nGbK is the best place to realize political exhibitions. I like the program; there’s a contextual approach and an interest in politics in the city. The broad range of themes is also good; there are often surprises. I’m proud that we’re part of the program with our project.
ALW: Were you also a member of the Coordination Committee?
PPPB: Yes, together with Teobaldo Lagos Preller, we took turns, finally Valeria took my place.
ALW: What do you remember about the meetings?
PPPB: Sometimes it was very tedious and old-school. But is was also very interesting—if you have the time it’s a good crash course in Berlin politics. When we were realizing the project, there was much talk of the transformation of the society and the new location on Karl-Marx-Allee where the nGbK will move in a few years. I learnt a great deal. One problem was that I didn’t always understand everything—in terms of language, but also because the issues are so complex.
ALW: Your project took place in the middle of the COVID19 pandemic. To what extent did that influence you?
PPPB: We had to rearrange and rethink everything—especially the program of accompanying events. Contingency planning was very challenging and complicated. All the different rules and regulations meant we had to constantly adapt our ideas, and Annette Maechtel, the managing director, had to coordinate everything with the Lotto Foundation. That restricted the options for the art, which wasn’t cool. I also though it was a pity that there were so few links to other projects and activities, in spite of the overlaps in terms of content. It would have been good to have someone keep an eye on that. The audience often can’t tell who does what. It was a shame we weren’t more in touch, although that probably had to do with Coordination Committee meetings being held online.
ALW: Did your view of the nGbK change over the course of the project?
PPPB: At the start I was very impressed by the way the office team supervised the project. There are great tools, including advice during the application phase and the supervisory meeting with helpful feedback. It was supportive to be dealing with different experts who spoke to us about how to approach outreach or how to raise the project’s public profile. We felt well looked after.
At the same time, it became clear that the nGbK is more Berlin-style than I thought. It felt more like a self-organized art space than a well-equipped institution. I may have had different expectations because of my past work for various institutions in countries like Spain, Greece, Turkey, and Kosovo. The question is whether it’s better to have more material means, or more freedom. Unfortunately, the feeling of freedom we had at the beginning changed while we were preparing the exhibition because there was so much pressure. One might say that the nGbK is professional—but more than that, it’s political.
ALW: I know of many groups that fell out during the process. What was it like for you?
PPPB: That happened to us, too (laughs)—but only at the end, and that was partly because for a long time we were only able to meet online. It was just such a lot of work, especially due to the adjustments made necessary by the pandemic. Because we were worried about going over budget, we tried to work as frugally as possible. At the end, we actually had some money left over, so we were able to pay ourselves. That was good.
ALW: Are you still a member?
PPPB: For sure. In terms of its approach, the nGbK is unique. I like that the borders between art and curating are so fluid. I look forward to seeing what happens next. I like the decision to have a space on the U5 subway line, because that strengthens the link to the location in Hellersdorf. It’s important for Berlin that the art scene should diversify and decentralize. And the proximity to the Haus der Statistik is also productive. The two institutions have a lot in common, both focusing on practices of resistance. It’s extraordinary that the new pavilions on Karl-Marx-Allee are realizing plans drawn up in East Germany, continuing a history that has been much erased over the past decades. That’s a sign of hope for Berlin.