3 Questions to Anna Eschbach, I: project space, Beijing
1. What constitutes your work and in which areas are you active?
I: project space is a platform for international art discourse and exchange located in the heart of Beijing and was founded in 2014 by Antonie Angerer and myself. We combine exhibitions, residency programs and research projects to transgress different creative disciplines and geographies, and respective political economies. Dedicated to build support structures for artists and open possibilities for long-term dialogues between artistic, curatorial, research and other modes of knowledge production, I: project space operates solely not-for-profit. Ultimately it augmentats contemporary art institutions, by using the freedom that comes from running an independent practice.
2. What is the situation for artists and cultural workers in China at the moment? Is there any state aid for artists?
To understand the current situation for the art and culture scene in China, it is probably important to describe the differences to the European system in broad strokes: Besides artists that work as salaried state artists there are next to none state-run art foundations, grants, scholarships etc. That means that all the artists that we would typically work with rely on sales and support through their galleries, or have other jobs on the side, to make a living. This means that they cannot fall back on any state aid in this crisis. From my viewpoint the Corona crisis reveals a multitude of flaws in the funding system of art and culture internationally, but for China it means that the dependence of artists on the art market has become very visible. Hopefully this crisis will spark a discussion about alternative funding structures for contemporary artists and cultural workers in China.
Nevertheless, it seems like some form of normality is slowly coming into view in China and while Beijing as the Capital is still keeping the doors to art institutions shut, other major cities reopened their galleries and museums with certain restrictions. The Chinese culture world aims to emerge from hibernation in mid-summer with several fairs and art venues confirming new dates for delayed projects.
Another aspect to the crisis that seems to be unique to China or at least Asia-specific was the speed and volume of content production and presentation that moved online. Of course, that is something that is happening around the world, but as daily life in China is much more connected with a constant online presence, the migration happened very seamlessly, and will most likely have a lasting impact on how we will do programming in the future in China.
3. How does the Corona crisis affect your work and how do you deal with it?
As a space that operates internationally and heavily relies on exchange between countries 2020 was pretty disastrous, at least for the first part of the year. We had to postpone and cancel all the exhibitions, residencies and talks that were planned. Our budget as an institution is a mix of project-based funding we get from our partners and every project that gets cancelled puts us at risk. After the initial shock settled, we were fortunate to receive a lot of support from some of our larger partners that wanted to ensure our survival during this testing time.
For our research projects but also for the exhibition program we decided to move everything to an online realm. As our two main focuses for 2020 the research project “Beijing22” (http://beijing22.org) and an upcoming exhibition about digital image production in collaboration with Kunstverein Bielefeld were always meant to have a digital existence. Circumstances prompted us to push the boundaries. Both of these projects are now fully online, and we are excited to see how that will morph our curatorial practice.
Another reaction to the crisis is a publication project called “Spreadsheet” where we invite artists, we have worked with to contribute small texts from their research and analyse together what that globalised and connected world means now and how it could look like in the future. Spreadsheet will on the one hand be a tool to generate alternative income for these artists by giving 80% of the revenue straight to the artists, but also have a more DIY-style publishing method where we circumvent the need to print from a professional workshop.
Last but not least we are in a phase of re-configuring our annual Independent Art Spaces festival, which normally takes place in the beginning of September. As it is not clear yet whether public gatherings in Beijing will be possible at that time. We are considering changing the festival to be a more introspective moment for the scene itself, where we try to figure out ways to create a more sustainable independent art space scene together with our fellow spaces.