Elena, you were invited to participate in a residence in Berlin at the ZK/U as part of the Magic Carpets platform. Can you tell us about the theme that was suggested to you and about your research?
ZK/U invited me to carry out a reflection on practices of sharing and support within the cultural sector, mainly in the Berlin area. I found this project on the artistic community to be of fundamental importance, especially in a city that focuses greatly on cultural openness and artistic offerings. Not surprisingly, the community of cultural workers in the city is international and varied.
Already interested in the topic for obvious personal reasons, I decided to collect a series of documents already published on the topic with the help of Lotta Schäfer, the curator of ZK/U. At the same time, I started to interview cultural workers in Berlin (artists, curators, event organisers, directors of small and medium institutions, activists and managers of non-profit spaces), asking them how they were able to manage their financial situation, and what difficulties they encountered along the way.
During your research in Berlin, you focused on the relationship between contemporary artist – work/ minimum wage. What did you understand from this research?
Above all, I aimed for an inclusive perspective that went beyond the city of Berlin, comparing methodologies and possibilities to understand how to work best. What I found is that, unfortunately, there are difficulties present in almost all European countries and elsewhere, although in different ways. During the months of my research, I was particularly struck by the fact that cultural workers themselves lacked awareness and were ignorant of possibilities and their own rights. Thus, they accept unfavourable proposals and contribute to the poor management of the cultural sector. I decided to tackle this first hurdle by doing a practical exercise during the final workshop, where participants were encouraged to reflect on the management of their time, both real and ideal, and compare the two.
From your point of view as a young artist who works in Italy but has had several work experiences abroad, how are artists treated professionally in Italy? Do you think the Italian situation is in line with what’s happening in the rest of Europe?
The situation in Italy is pretty dramatic, but it’s not necessarily worse than other countries in Europe. During the workshop, we gave participants from around the world a small anonymous survey. Although the sample size was limited, it confirmed what I had seen in other statistics in my research: artists often do not break even minimally with the production costs of their work, nor do they often receive compensation for the exhibits they create, nor are they always reimbursed for expenses like the work’s travel, transport and setup. I think it’s necessary to rethink this working structure, which puts the artist in the condition of accepting any offer without any kind of critical reflection, personal or collective. Mostly I think we need to rethink the role of the artist in contemporary society. They are often not considered active subjects, but rather time wasters who would conduct their artistic activities for passion or personal need regardless of the compensation received. These are truthful conditions, but must be recognised by society as characteristics intrinsic to artistic practice, to be safeguarded and supported with cultural policies that are conscious of the fact that the artist is a professional, and not a hobbyist.
During this research, did you have the opportunity to work with groups located in Berlin? What was the response from them?
Two months isn’t a very long time to do research in an unknown place. The response has been active and interesting, although I didn’t manage to map out all the situations I would have liked, mainly because of time constraints. I would have liked more of an exchange with the group of activists that won the The Berlin Fact Finding Committee, in residence at ZK/U, who were working on the same themes in those months but weren’t as active as proposed.
Do you foresee further development on the research you started at the ZK/U in collaboration with working groups in Italy?
I’m doing this research out of personal interest, and the exchange with colleagues in Italy is more frequent within circles of friends. I would like there to be more debate and dialogue about this. Actually, many artists and workers are hesitant to talk about it, and I think this comes from a sort of shame in dealing with financial topics, as there has historically been in the cultural field. But, with a typically Italian attitude, it’s easy to complain. I think we should all commit ourselves to legally working on our rights and on the possibilities provided to us, without shame. Only in this way, starting to refuse unfavourable situations that are degrading to our work, can we improve our status. Let’s learn to say no.
Giulia Pardini is Magic Carpets‘ Emerging Curator on behalf of Latitudo s.r.l.