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"Shifting contexts and making them visible"
Angelika Stepken on Freisteller at the Deutsche Guggenheim

Angelika Stepken, Villa Romana 2008
Foto © Gregor Hohenberg

Angelika Stepken is the director of Villa Romana in Florence. Since 1905, the winners of the oldest German art stipend have lived in the villa, which was founded by the painter Max Klinger. The Villa Romana fellows are selected each year by an independent jury consisting of artists and curators. In an exhibition entitled Freisteller, Angelika Stepken is now presenting works by the 2008 Villa Romana fellows: Dani Gal, Julia Schmidt, Asli Sungu, and Clemens von Wedemeyer.

How did you come up with the exhibition title Freisteller?

The title tries to touch upon a common denominator among the four artistic positions. The artists – Dani Gal, Julia Schmidt, Asli Sungu, and Clemens von Wedemeyer – were not, of course, chosen for a specific exhibition, but as the fellows of the Villa Romana 2008. But the idea of freeing, approached in various different ways, is something they all have in common: setting things free, shifting contexts and making them visible. Asli Sungu, for instance, frees painting from the wall; she builds a paint wall out of wall paint.

Julia Schmidt reproduces images by making particular motifs visible through multiple layering. In Clemens von Wedemeyer’s films, the protagonists always act like placeholders, and Dani Gal’s new works transfer the texts’ authority to the user: leaving him or her free to activate them.

How will you present such different artists in the Deutsche Guggenheim?

We also approached the room as a kind of placeholder. The works will be seen here for a temporary length of time. This temporary use frees us from having to adopt certain conventions of the exhibition space, for instance closing the window wall or a wall to separate the space from the visitors’ counter. The walls of the exhibition space almost remain unused by the works: Julia Schmidt’s painting is hanging on a lightweight leaning mobile wall. Von Wedemeyer’s “Probe” (Rehearsal) transplants an artificial backstage box into the space. Dani Gal’s sound work only turns on when visitors’ movements set two record players into motion that play sound documents of important 20th-century architects. Asli Sungu’s works are freestanding in any case: the paint wall and a new multiple-part video work shown on monitors.

The show presents a subjective excerpt of the contemporary German scene. What does it seek to convey to the visitor?

What do you mean by “subjective excerpt”? It introduces works by four artists awarded the Villa Romana Prize for their excellence, works for the most part made for this exhibition. These works examine questions of image production today: this includes reflections on the relationship between fiction and reality, value and product, the writing of history and authorship, as well as biographical experience. In the work of Asli Sungu, the experience between cultures plays an important role, the experience of home and distance and a stubborn resistance against expectation.

As director of the Villa Romana, an interconnectedness with the international art scene is very important to you, particularly in that Florence is not one of the leading centers of contemporary art. What do you wish for the future?

I would like the Villa to work on both levels, as an artists’ residence and as an exhibition location that establishes the Villa both internally and to the outside world as a communicative forum of artistic exchange.

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