QUASI-OBJECTS & SHOOTING HOOPS
RECENT GRADUATE FIONA GANNON DESCRIBES HER TIME AS AN INTERN AT STUDIO OLAFUR ELIASSON, BERLIN.
My graduate exhibition was in June 2013, and I remember not quite knowing what I would do next. I knew I wanted some experience before heading into a master’s programme and a break from education for a year. So I decided to look for a job. While researching online, I intermittently checked my email and Facebook accounts. Facebook can sometimes lead to time wasting, but on this occasion it was incredibly useful. The course I’d just completed, Visual Arts Practice at IADT, Dun Laoghaire, had just posted a link about internship opportunities at Studio Olafur Eliasson in Berlin. A college friend had tagged my name in a comment below the post, so I clicked on the link.
For the initial application, I sent an up-to-date CV, a letter of interest and a reference. This was fol-lowed by a Skype interview with Geoffrey Garrison and Anna Engberg-Pedersen from the Studio Olafur Eliasson archive. They gave me a topic –’the use of ‘borrowed views’ in Chinese and Japanese gardens – to write a short text on. I also had to write about an Eliasson work relating to this topic. Both assignments were short, as the idea was to demonstrate my ability to condense and clarify information. I had four days to research the topic and write the two pieces.
I was incredibly lucky to get the placement, but it is also worth saying that my interests fell exactly in line with Olafur Eliasson’s work – it was no half-hearted application. It was the only internship I applied for, because it was the only team of people I could picture myself working with. I think it is important to apply for exactly what you want, and to take time and care doing so.
The internship was paid, which was fantastic and rare. The stipend covered my rent and most of my groceries, which are very affordable in Berlin, and I used a bike to cut down on travel. I did look into Dublin City Council grants, specifically the Travel and Training Award, but this no longer covers art internships. So I saved money working full time in an outdoors shop until I left in February.
My internship began on 2 March 2014. I was given a quick tour around the studio and introduced to the team. I was also told about some of the ongoing projects and shown the different parts of the building. The basement and ground floor of the studio building were construction spaces. The first floor was divided into various zones for: the archive, exhibition planning, research, press and com-munications, as well as space for architects, financial workers and receptionists. The ground floor also housed a communal kitchen area, where all the staff could meet for lunch or coffee breaks.
My desk was situated between the archive team and the research / press team. On my first day I was referred to Biljana Joksimovic-Große, the studio archivist, who tasked me with scanning Olafur Eliasson’s drawings, which would be uploaded to the studio website. I also documented some dummies of upcoming books to send off to the artists for feedback. It was suggested that I familiarise myself with the various books about and produced by Olafur Eliasson. I wasn’t actually sure how long to spend reading, as it seemed like there were a lot of people around me who were incredibly busy. I figured I would let the work at the studio guide me and then ask around if there was anything I could get involved in.
After asking Anna Kreutzträger if I could give her a hand, I was given an introduction to the studio database, which is archived on a server on the premises. As Geoffrey Garrison put it, this is the “meat and potatoes” of the Olafur Eliasson archive. All of the images documenting any work or event, text materials or books from the library are stored in the database. Each image or file is ar-chived into folders on an internal server and linked to the database by its file path.
Eliasson’s website, www.olafureliasson.net, works through this database. During my time at the studio the staff were preparing for the launch of a new website, so there was a big push to get things done. The project really needed all available hands and eyes to proofread and edit each page, check for glitches and generally keep things moving.
I spent most of my time at the studio working on this project. The site contains a WebGL based archive called your uncertain archive, which is an artwork in itself. The uncertain archive can be navigated by ‘swimming’ through a space full of material, where you can stumble upon things, or use the tag view, which sorts works into a network of relationships. The tags work as categories for works grouped together under common characteristics. For example, a tag such as ‘slowing down’ would contain material that addresses ideas around changing pace.
The most interesting part of creating this system was our tag meetings. Each week we would come together to discuss the tags and decide which ones were working and which seemed to be too expansive or too narrow. We would discuss which works should be allocated to each tag and which works should be left out. Often the borders of these groupings were quite blurred and there was much discussion about where to draw lines. The formulation of tags is a dynamic process and the tags will evolve and change over time. The drawings that map these networks of relationships are quite beautiful.
In between the tag meetings and proofreading I also conducted some light research. I looked up relevant material that related to the work being done at the studio. I collected quotes and condensed information down to a few short paragraphs, so that I could email them around the various office departments. During these times I found myself reading theorists I hadn’t encountered before. One of these was Michel Serres. I read his essay Theory of the Quasi-Object, from the 2007 book The Parasite, which sparked my interest, as I had noticed Eliasson’s use of the term – most notably for his Quasi-Bricks.
Serres’s essay discusses the shift between being an individual subject and being part of a collective. Passing a ball during a game, he writes, is the locus point of change. The ball is an object through which the ‘we’ is woven – a quasi object that exists through relations between people. In Serres’s view, when you have the ball you’re an individual subject; when you no longer have the ball, you return to inter-subjective ‘we’. In passing the ball ‘I’ is exchanged for ‘we’.
Outside the studio, in a space that acts as a mix between a parking lot and a semi-courtyard, there is a basketball net. During the week people take cigarette breaks here and have coffee outside if the weather is good. After work on Friday evenings people from each section of the studio gather to play basketball: the department heads, architects, technicians, archivists and interns. After working in our various zones, on very different projects, the ball is passed between us. We think through our bodies, orbit the ball, take it, pass it, watch, weave.