Berlin, Aug. 2010: Mind the Box is a Berlin collective of five people. They curate and host art “events” in changing venues around Berlin. One of these events is the popular “Arty Fun Sessions: Interactive Art Playground”, where they encourage the art-goer to break out of the passive, “white box” gallery- malaise and get their hands sticky. Mind the Box’s philosophy rests on the idea of viewer participation in the artwork and they often have selected artists devise ways to get people involved. Live music, lively conversation and liquor also help lubricate the atmosphere. Based in Berlin but also with shows in Milan, they have been working together for about a year, and have already hosted four events in 2010. Their hope is to have at least one event a month, continuing with their modest funding formula of acquiring basic sponsorship from venues, who donate the location, and liquor companies, who donate the booze, and using all their proceeds to pay for future events.
For the next one—involving interventions, performances, screenings, music, libations and just maybe some art on the wall at the Tammen Gallery on September 23rd—Mind the Box will be giving the creative reins the multi-faceted Finnish artist Eemil Karila. The exhibition will show some of Karila’s latest work, which spans film, painting, installation and performance, and the exhibition is an “impetus to dare”. Karila will give viewers the opportunity to add their two cents via disposable cameras, whiteboards and voice recorders and will combine the result in a film that will be later exhibited online.
In the spirit of improvisation and play, Mara Goldwyn of ArtSlant interviewed Elisa Longhi and Rica Amaral of Mind the Box and Eemil Karila with the help of an interactive device that would create questions somewhere between the four brains. 1) Everyone write three answers to anything, throw them in the box. 2) Pick three answers out of the box and make questions for them and put them back in the box. 3) Choose a question at random out of the box and answer as a group, making for an outside the box interview.
Picked out of the Box: Can you do it?
Elisa Longhi: Yes we can.
The Box: What are the firemen doing on the North Pole?
EL: Like, saving the polar bears?
Eemil Karila: I would say that they are shooting some water.
Mara Goldwyn: Is the water freezing midair?
Between you & mountain; Courtesy Mara Goldwyn and Mind the Box
The Box: Why do you make your process collective?
EL: Because we believe in the energy of interaction—and not in the action of a singular person.
EK: I would say that in contemporary art even the most modern works nowadays are shifted by the definition of “the artwork”. This means that the content of the work is created by the activity around the work – which before used to be more in the work. I think the collectiveness – it’s like the essence of everyday artworks, almost all of them, actually. It will be anyway, even if the artist doesn’t notice it. So it’s good to be aware of that during the process.
The Box: Why do you feel bad?
EL: Because it’s raining. It’s kind of depressing.
MG: Let’s say, what could make you feel bad about the collective process?
EK: What could go bad? No one shows up. It doesn’t happen.
EL: Sometimes the problem is communication, organizing. But this is the only thing that can go bad… unless, right, no one shows up.
MG: Something I find interesting in artistic collectives is power dynamics.
EL: Of course. Always… this is one of the central things in collective actions. I think that every single person taking part has to … understand that in different situations others will have more power than they do. There’s not always one leader…
EK: It’s like making a movie. You need a director, a screenwriter, a good cinematographer, and then all the others know how to cope. And if it doesn’t work, everything fails.
Between you & me; Courtesy Mara Goldwyn and Mind the Box
MG: In this event that you’re planning who’s in charge of what? I mean, how many people are there in Mind the Box?
EL: Five. Our roles – we take of organizing music, workshops, and of course the drinks. Usually Mind the Box chooses the artists to show at the event, but this time Eemil asked us to collaborate, so he will [choose the artists].
EK: This is why I asked them to collaborate with me. Because I know that they organize activities and they fit to every event.
EL: I mean, it’s also another way to do vernissage opening receptions. More interactive, more open, not only sitting there with your wine ...
MG: So, Eemil, the last Mind the Box event you participated in, what was the theme?
EL: Oh, there’s no specific theme – it’s just about interactivity. We put the artists together with the musicians and the DJ’s and performers and see what happens. Let people interact and have fun. That’s what’s behind Mind the Box, let’s say.
Performance by the artist Kyla Kegler; Courtesy Mara Goldwyn and Mind the Box
MG: The fun?
EL: Well… to bring art and creativity to people in an atmosphere that is more fun than the white box. It’s more relaxed.
MG: So apropos, what’s your name about?
EL: It’s a container for ideas, for creativity, to bring people together.
EK: What Mind the Box says to me is like, “mind the gap”, you know? Mind the box is like, bring the art into different surroundings, out of the white box, because we have really been repressed in these white boxes by many different factors. [In the art world] selections are made in a lot of different ways, but sadly not often by artistic choices. Or more let’s say, by cut and paste…thinking about the diversity, the diplomacy and possibility of seducing and pleasing as many people as possible. You know what I mean?
MG: Do you feel like your work in particular is outside of the “white box.”
EK: Oh no no no. But I consider it important for people to understand that not all the galleries like all their artists, but they need to have a diversity of artists, because they can’t choose their customers either, you know?
EL: I wanted to add… that, what’s behind our events is not a commercial… well, there is, but I’ll say: we don’t want to exploit our artists commercially. There isn’t a commercial pressure behind our choices. We pick what we like.
Elisa Strozyk, Installation, textile; Courtesy Mara Goldwyn and Mind the Box
The Box: Why do you squint your eyes?
EK: I would say, just for the compositional reasons, and also to get an objectivity to the work. You see more of a general picture and the composition more clearly, and not the details that can distract you from the point of what you’re doing on a whole bigger scale.
Rica Amaral: Narrow your vision.
EK: Sometimes I look all blurry to see how something’s in balance, some small detail can really fuck up the whole thing …. But when you squint your eyes you see the balance and the composition.
Outside the painting, stills; Courtesy Mara Goldwyn and Mind the Box
The Box: Why did Alberto Tomba move there?
The Box: Why Berlin?
EK: I would say, why not?
RA: And I would say, Berlin is the cultural center of Europe right now. Once it was London, maybe Milan a long time ago, no? [Everyone looks dubious.] And you can see on the streets and everything, everything’s popping up, a lot of new galleries, especially in Neukölln,. I think it’s really a boiling city for art, artists. A lot of things going on everyday. Not all of them good, but you know, going on. I think Berlin welcomes art. It like hugs it, takes care of it. Not with money, but with other things. [Laughs]
EL: I think it’s less bureaucratic to do things than in other cities. First you have a lot of creative people, so you don’t have restrictions – in terms of our events, there’s lots of choice among artists, musicians, etc. It’s pretty easy to find a space to do events and to show art.
EK: Especially for collective projects I think it’s an ideal place to find people to collaborate with because they share the same sense of understanding and usually people share same reasons for coming here and it makes things somehow easier.
Courtesy Mara Goldwyn and Mind the Box
The Box: Does Berlin actually need more artists?
EK: Berlin needs better artists. I think again it’s just that open atmosphere. It increases this kind of banal, postmodern side of art where “everything goes”. That can bring great results, but more it just brings a lot of cash to the the Spätkaufs (convenience stores) open next door to the small galleries. I think the worst case … it can just alienate people from the real reality, so to speak. The art sort of loses its significance, you know? When it becomes too detached from society. And that can happen here. You know, people say “I love Berlin but I don’t like Germans at all”. Because they live in a bubble. They can’t deal with the bureaucracy, they create their own culture here, but still they have to face the same rules as everyone else. And then… what’s your position in society when you live in a bubble? It becomes kind of vague.
MG: Do you guys have any Germans in your collective?
RA: Yes, we have one.
Eemil Karila, Shitty Plates, 2009, porcelain painting, 25cm x 35cm; Courtesy Mara Goldwyn and Mind the Box
MG: How do you see the art scene in Berlin in five years?
RA: The same.
EK: … this city was created for like five, six million people. The highest population that Berlin had was before the first World War. So this city has been planned for much more people than it has at the moment…. So when it fills up the prices are going to get higher, and the artists are going to go to Poland or wherever.
EL: Artists are here because it’s a cheap city, but when this changes the artist population will change.
Artslant would like to thank Eemil Karila and Mind the Box for their assistance in making this interview possible.