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Interviewed by Noémie Jeunet

Sabina Kohler, jevouspropose

jevouspropose is a curatorial series by Sabina Kohler and accomplices. Several times a year, jevouspropose invites someone to propose an artist with a specific group of works. The works are installed in the space, celebrated with an opening, and exhibited for a while. At the same time, the respective presentation is expanded and continued in a virtual space: on the jevouspropose Instagram account, the proposer and the artist will have a chat, a free visual discussion on the works and themes on display.

Noémie Jeunet: Sabina Kohler, how did you come up with the concept of jevouspropose?

Sabina Kohler: Two years ago, I decided to open my own office and to follow different projects in the contemporary field of art. The aim was and still is to have an open office, where people would come, and each time they visit, they could discover something special in a room that has, although tiny, a unique character. I wanted to fill the space with art and people, to let them meet each other in a sort of contemporary salon whose content continually changes. The idea is to connect the different bubbles which exist in the art world and break down the borders between the different art fields. It’s in the end about art and not about where you belong to, about dialogue and making things possible. Giving two people a platform for a certain period of time that will bring different networks together and make the best of it. It has a totally open character within a clear and defined concept.

NJ: What is your professional background and how did you arrive here today?

SK: A long time ago I was a pharmacist. Then I studied modern and contemporary art at Christie’s Education in London. When I came back to Switzerland, I did an internship in the art gallery staub*gfzk where I was involved in many different things, until I became a partner of the gallery (staubkohler). After two years, Rolf Staub decided to resign. Following this, Bettina Meier-Bickel and I decided to start a new art gallery together: Rotwand. After nearly ten interesting years, we closed the gallery and I started my own office.

NJ: As you said, Sabina, you closed your art gallery Rotwand in 2017 as a co-owner and co-gallerist. Do you now feel closer to this new concept? Is this a new beginning for you in the field of artistic mediation?

SK: It’s a difficult question, because I have been always working with passion. My long experience in the gallery world is the base for my new project. During the realization, I took the freedom to concentrate on the things I like and where my strengths lie. When you do something, especially in a creative field, you have to do it with your full heart; otherwise, it doesn’t produce any good result.

NJ: How would you define your curatorial practice individually, and what exactly is your role in these curatorial series? To what degree do you get involved with helping to develop the shows?

SK: First of all, I would like to say that I’m not a curator. In my opinion, this term is used in an inflationary way, used by so many people for so many purposes. My role is not so much a curatorial one. It’s more bringing people together, making things possible, looking for solutions, giving a platform, and helping people express their ideas. My main role is to invite a person that I find interesting. I do this very thoughtfully and consciously. If you like, this might have a certain curatorial aspect. It was only recently that I realized that, unconsciously, I often invited people that I didn’t know so well. This is really interesting and rich for the whole project, as it makes it possible to open up. Of course, it is at the same time a big adventure to contact people you don’t know really well, meaning, you don’t know how they work, but it is an interesting and important part of the game. The diversity and the surprises have become a crucial part of the project. My other roles are to help the artist with the space, to coordinate the technical part between the artist and the technician, to discuss with the proposer and the artist about the people who will be invited for the opening, etc. In short, it is a close collaboration between the tandem made up of the proposer and the artist and me, where each has their own role.

NJ: From which field are the invited proposers? Are these people mainly from Switzerland or do they come from the international art scene?

SK: So far, they have been mainly curators, but I would like to open it up and to invite people from other fields, not only from the contemporary art scene. It was already the fact with Susanna Koeberle, who I invited in June 2019. She’s a freelance journalist, writing about design, art, and architecture. Next year, I will invite Gesa Schneider from the Literaturhaus Zürich and Marc Streit, who is responsible for the artistic direction of zürich moves! I try once or twice a year to invite somebody from abroad. This year it was Francesca Gavin, she is a London-based writer and curator, very well connected, and François Piron, a French art critic, curator, teacher, and publisher. They both invited people from abroad. Sometimes also proposers from Switzerland invite somebody from abroad, e.g. Lars Willumeit who invited the Italian collective Discipula. I like to have this international approach

NJ: What is the role of the invited proposer? Does this person influence the selection of the artwork group that will be shown, or maybe the display of the artwork?

SK: There is no strict rule, and each time it’s totally different. It’s what I like in these series. For example, Fanni Fetzer (director of the Kunstmuseum Luzern) who proposed Marion Baruch, a 90-year-old amazing artist, decided to do a kind of a tiny retrospective of the artist’s work as a teaser for the artist’s big retrospective show opening in February 2020 in the Kunstmuseum Luzern. Therefore, Fanni Fetzer was focusing on three different working periods of the artist: the ‘70s, the ‘90s, and today, with textile as the connecting element. The display worked fantastically, and the visitors really got a sense of Marion Baruch’s thinking and approach to art. On the other hand, François Piron who together with the artist Jules Lagrange, a former student of his, focused on a totally new production of works. Or Martin Jaeggi and Mathias Renner who chose to play with the space by transforming it. I normally leave the conception of the show up to the tandem of proposer and artist. Of course, if they need advice, I will intervene with my experience as a gallerist. It’s important to say as well that the proposer always writes a small text, which serves as introduction to the exhibition. The text is distributed in a handout format during the exhibition, and you can find it on the website as well. So, I am much more the host and not the curator.

NJ: As you said, you don’t always know the invited proposers really well. Could a proposer propose the work of an artist which she/he doesn’t feel close to or is the relationship between the tandem always a strong one?

SK: Usually the relationship is quite strong. The proposer and the artist know each other pretty well. But I think that the experience at jevouspropose seems to strengthen this existing relationship, which is always nice to see.

NJ: How many female and male artists will be shown in your space?

SK: I only invite the proposers. Who the proposers then will invite, male or female, is up to them. In choosing the proposers, I try to keep a certain balance. But for me, the most important is to generate an interesting and diverse program through the invitations.

NJ: jevouspropose shows sometimes one artist’s work, sometimes several artists’ works at the same time. What can you say about it? Is it more interesting to gather more than one type of work in the space?

SK: The concept of the project is mainly to invite one proposer and only one artist. There have been two exceptions so far: with the gallerist Elisabeth Kübler and for the edition with Kunst: Szene Zürich 2018. Elisabeth Kübler brought pieces of art from different artists who played a strong role in her gallerist life into the space. For the special edition Kunst: Szene Zürich 2018, I was assigned four different artists. Under the title Abstract Playground, we put on a multifaceted exhibition and the talk series sofa talks. Each artist could invite a conversation partner.

NJ: What are these talks you organize for the exhibitions about? What role do they play in the series?

SK: The idea is that there is at least one conversation for each edition of jevouspropose. They take place either at the opening or during the show. It depends on the edition, and it’s not an obligation. It could also be a short intervention of one of the two invitees. It’s not a formal talk but more an intimate discussion in a tiny room. Often, the audience participates quite actively in the conversation.

NJ: Do you have a target audience? What type of audience does your exhibition space attract?

SK: What is interesting is that the audience always changes, depending on the two invited people. But it is always a mix of different scenes making connections with each other. The exhibitions are totally open to everyone. Of course, I also send out personal invitations for the openings. And sometimes we organize a talk in a very private setting.

NJ: Do some artists sell their artwork during the exhibition?

SK: Selling is not in the foreground. As I said, it’s about opening a platform and accompanying people for a certain time. But if there is something for sale, which is not always the case, of course you can buy it. At the end, if I can sell something from the artist, who has to make a living, I am more than happy for her/him.

NJ: Regarding the conditions, are the proposers and/ or the exhibited artists paid by you?

SK: I pay the proposers who I invite. It’s not a huge amount of money, but I would like to esteem their work. As an artist, it’s great to have the possibility to be visible in a project space like this, but, of course, this is not sufficient. So, I always buy myself something small from the artist exhibited. The proposers and the artists always know in advance what the conditions are.

NJ: Could you tell more about the visibility of your project space, how do you make it known and visited?

SK: Here, the Instagram account of jevouspropose plays a decisive role. Not only to spread the project further but even more: @je_vous_propose is an integral part of the project. For the duration of each exhibition, the proposer and the artist take over the account of jevouspropose and run a visual dialogue that goes beyond the works shown in the exhibition. The project also gains visibility through its website and some press articles, in particular the one in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung in August 2019. This is a rather tricky point: on the one hand, I would like to keep it small and keep its “salon” aspect, but on the other hand, of course, I love when people hear about it.

NJ: How do you finance your project? Do you have funding? If yes, from whom?

SK: For the first two years, I thought I would like to cross-finance the project with the other things I do in the office, so I didn’t apply for funding at the beginning. I only had funding when I was part of the Kunst: Szene Zürich 2018, but this was a special case. Then something really great happened with the philaneo association that approached me and my concept. philaneo is a rather new charity organization promoting contemporary art that is headed by two women, Christina von Rotenhan and Caroline Baumhauer. The association supports the production of new works, exhibition projects, and acquisitions for public collections. I submitted the project, and they approved funding for three editions. Now I am considering applying at other places for a new round of financial assistance. The jevouspropose project is definitely a non-profit project.

NJ: What role do the other functions you have play (management of the artist Klodin Erb/ ambassador of Klaus Lutz’s work)?

SK: My office is made of four pillars. One of these is the jevouspropose project; another very important one is the studio management of the artist Klodin Erb; furthermore, I am an ambassador for the estate of Klaus Lutz. The fourth pillar is made of different running projects. Currently, for example, I am involved as an external art expert in an art in construction project of the City of Zurich, and since very recently I have had a mandate by Galerie Urs Meile regarding the artist Marion Baruch—an artist they discovered through jevouspropose. All these functions are complementary to jevouspropose; one nourishes the other.

NJ: What role does your project space play in the City of Zurich? How can you use your work to promote difference and variety?

SK: Actually, that’s a question you should ask other people. That’s quite hard to answer, but the feedback I get from the audience is that they like it, because it’s a different concept, very simple in its construction and yet playful and changeable, offering a huge variety in an intimate surrounding. The concept helps to raise awareness for difference. A good example for this is the wood carved-works by Jules Lagrange, which “talk” about the quality of slowness.

NJ: How are you connected in the Zurich art scene? Do you have a big network? Is it important in your case?

SK: After more than fifteen years of activity in the art field, I hope that my network will have a certain reach which is essential for the project of jevouspropose. I have to know what is going on in the Zurich art scene and beyond.

NJ: What was the most successful edition, and which was the most challenging?

SK: It’s hard to say, but a very successful edition would be the one with Fanni Fetzer and Marion Baruch because a lot of things emerged for the artist through this show. At the opening, there was this very special vibration in the air, and I knew immediately that this was a very precious if not to say magic moment I was attending and that you would hear a lot more from Marion Baruch in the near future. The most challenging edition was probably the show with Elisabeth Kübler who brought several pieces of art by famous artists such as Louise Bourgeois or Pierre Klossowski. The small space of jevouspropose had been transformed in a little museum, and I was quite afraid that something might go wrong. Apart from their monetary value, the works also had a huge emotional value for Elisabeth. It was like bringing part of her life into my little space. It was challenging but such an amazing experience for me and in the end also for the audience. And the friendship with Elisabeth Kübler and the proposer Susanna Koeberle which resulted from this exhibition is definitely the most beautiful reward. Your question opens up the issue of success, which is interesting to define from my point of view. Society often values success in a monetary way, but for me success can be seen and evaluated in many more different ways such as courage, strength, creating a special feeling or a certain atmosphere.

NJ: What is the role of art in your opinion and from your position?

SK: It’s a big question. Art is extremely important because it can change and sharpen the way you look at contemporary life. Be curious and attentive, and suddenly you see or understand things you haven’t been aware of before. You have to actively engage with art, and it will open up your mind. It’s a sort of a motor for the present culture and the heritage that will remain of our culture in the future. Finally, it’s a vehicle to bring people together.

NJ: What do you wish for the Zurich art scene?

SK: I wish for an art scene that is lively. It should be open and curious and offer space for a wide variety of actors and ideas. I also believe very much in collaboration and hope it will play an even more central role in the future. I wish that the art scene will not be completely pushed to the outskirts of the city, but that there will always be opportunities for exhibitions and studios more in the center. The art scene should have an important and active voice.

NJ: Thank you, Sabina Kohler, for your answers and the very interesting exchange about your work and art in general. It was a pleasure to meet you.

Installation view, jevouspropose#6 Susanna Koeberle vous propose Elisabeth Kübler, 2019

Elisabeth Kübler (right) in conversation with Susanna Koeberle (left), sofa talk during jevouspropose#6 Susanna Koeberle vous propose Elisabeth Kübler, 2019. Photo: Martin Jaeggi

Installation view, jevouspropose#6 Susanna Koeberle vous propose Elisabeth Kübler, 2019

Installation view, jevouspropose#2 Fanni Fetzer vous propose Marion Baruch, 2018. Photo: Conradin Frei

 

Sabina Kohler has been running jevouspropose since 2018. Prior to that, she was co-owner and co-director of Rotwand Gallery and staubkohler gallery, both located in Zurich. She has been an external expert for art in construction projects in the city of Zurich, and, amongst other activities, she is the studio manager of the artist Klodin Erb and ambassador and advisor to the association for the preservation of the work of Klaus Lutz. She holds a diploma for studies in modern and contemporary art at Christie's Education London (certificate University of Cambridge) and a Master of Science (ETH Zurich).

Noémie Jeunet (b. 1988) is a Swiss architect; she received her Diploma at the EPFL in Lausanne (CH). She has lived and worked in Zurich (CH) since 2013. After working as an architect for Park Architekten and Armon Semadeni Architekten for several years, she decided to study curation in more depth, beginning a CAS program at the ZHdK in Curating in 2019. At the same time, she is now working as an exhibition designer at the Museum Rietberg. She has been part of the Postgraduate Programme in Curating, CAS, at the ZHdK since 2019.

19.

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