8 questions to...Fatima Hellberg

Fatima Hellberg worked as a curator at Cubitt, London. Since 2015 she is the artistic director of Kuenstlerhaus Stuttgart (until 2019).

1. Can you tell us something about where and when your engagement with contemporary art started?
I can still see how my work and approach are shaped by that question of the ‘where’ and the ‘when’ – my parents are artists, and growing up in Sweden in the ‘80s there was an immediate and inevitable closeness to contemporary art. To me, art was as familiar, as it was defined by this undeniable pull. That said, it was not until much later that this attraction started becoming a more formulated and directional one. It was really when I was studying history of art at Oxford University and started combining writing with more hands-on work with a group of artists that I started seeing that this combination between conversation, thought and practice was something that felt right.

2. You lived in Berlin for a few years, today you’re living in London. Where do you see differences and similarities in the current art scene of the two cities?
The thing that strikes me when thinking about Berlin and London are two very different relationships with space, differences that at the end of the day have a lot to do with economics and access. In London the palpable pressure has partially generated a high level of precision and energy, yet has also made it difficult to initiate and sustain forms and approaches that do not ‘deliver’ in this way.
Berlin has of course changed a lot since I first moved to the city back in 2002, yet I think it still has those important gaps, and that this continues to define a great deal of the work being made. To me, the fleetingness of a lot of Berlin’s initiatives, where something emerges because of a moment and a constellation, gives the city a rare importance, yet one that is more slippery to define or quantify.

3. From January 2015 you will be artistic director of the Künstlerhaus Stuttgart. Except, of course, being the head of a contemporary art space - what attracts you to Stuttgart and the Künstlerhaus?
I had visited the Künstlerhaus Stuttgart before, and what really drew me in was the space and its history – I am interested in the Künstlerhaus as an artist-initiated organisation and a space also for making. It is something that has been important for me in my current role as curator at Cubitt, an organisation which similarly was founded and formulated by artists. I am interested in how the urgency that brings about a space can be maintained, but also updated in its current moment. I have also been following the work and programmes of a number of the cultural institutions in Stuttgart, not only spaces like the Württembergischer Kunstverein and Schloss Solitude and nearby Badischer Kunstverein, but also the impressive work taking place within dance and theatre. Another aspect that has fascinated me and attracted me to the city has been seeing the unfolding of Stuttgart 21 and the strong public response and organisation. I very much look forward to getting to know it better!

4. Being just 28 years old, you take over the direction of the Künstlerhaus as a quite young curator. Can you briefly outline your career?
Since I started working so early, I have also had the time to build up experiences and curated across venues varying in scale and approach - from Tate Modern, Malmö Konsthall and the ICA, to much smaller and artist-driven spaces. During my studies at Oxford University and later on at the Royal College, I started simultaneously developing an independent practice of curating and writing, something that I have continued throughout my work. A key place to not merely do shows, but to develop all aspects of exhibition making was during my five years at Electra, an organisation which for me was an invaluable platform to grow and mature. Many of these experiences have been consolidated and developed further in my current position at Cubitt, a space where I have the autonomy to develop the artistic programme but also underpinning questions of strategy and approach. Cubitt has been a platform to think not merely of curating but what it means to cultivate the kind of space you are looking for.

5. What is your understanding of your role as a curator?
For me curating has a lot to do with its etymology - of curare, or ‘taking care of’. I think especially if you are interested, as I am, in a politics of representation and strategies associated with feminist and queer politics you need to think of how you work. On a more abstracted level, I think this also boils down to a question of how you take care of the work - of how you build up an exhibition or programme where the practices and artworks charge each other. When works start resonating and communicating on levels that also extend beyond what a wall text could fully explain, then something starts happening! Communication is really a key term - this does not mean that everything communicates with immediacy or through a straight line, but that there is a desire for exchange, even when that exchange also involves a certain level of resistance, or frustration.

6. What are your goals for your work at the Künstlerhaus?
I would like to further develop and nurture the delicate balance between being a space of international significance and reach yet one which also maintains its closeness, relevance and dialogue with its local context and audiences. On a more existential level, I would like the programme and the work at the Künstlerhaus to grapple with its time – this is massive of course, but something I always try to keep in mind, I want my curatorial practice to reflect work and thought that take place also outside an immediate contemporary art context, and to engage with and reflect other aspects of life and experience.

7. What may visitors expect from your first exhibition at the Künstlerhaus?
The programme starts in March with a show with a great deal of emphasis on ‘liveness’ – a moment to experience the Künstlerhaus in quite a different configuration.

8. Any wishes from the Stuttgart audience?

(August 2014)


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