Giangiacomo Cirla: Hello Marina, we start with an obligatory question concerning your new role of Artistic Director of UNSEEN. How’s it going?
Marina Paulenka: Well, as I expected, it’s very exciting and I’m delighted to have been selected to take over this important role and the opportunity for challenge and change which has been given to me. I have just moved to Amsterdam and am enjoying it lots! At the moment I’m mostly focused on getting to know the Unseen team in and out, focusing on the structure and workflow of the organization. I’m doing a lot of research so I can have a comprehensive overview on all Unseen projects which I believe is necessary for any future development and strategy. Unseen is made up of several projects and programmes including (but not limited to!) Unseen Amsterdam, Unseen Magazine, a new digital platform Unseen Platform and the newly established Unseen Foundation, which is an independent nonprofit organization that seeks to encourage new and innovative ways of supporting the vital relationship between artists and their communities through exhibitions, discursive program, awards, and much more. I am prioritizing the development of these different elements and all of them together under my artistic direction.
GC: Brutal question, continuity or change?
MP: Change! Nothing is permanent except change.
GC: During the last ten years you had the chance to create, manage and develop Organ Vida Festival, international photography festival based in Croazia. What do you carry with you from that experience in your new role?
MP: Organ Vida definitely marked me and my career. It is a project that was built from nothing, which has very much defined me and how I work – developing, improving and leading the organization from the very beginning.
Our train of thought was always to act as an independent entity in the sense of selecting the program, inclusivity in approaching the public, always creating a strong and focused concept, discussing the theoretical aspects of artworks, as well our well-known personal approach and “family” atmosphere at the festival. I always felt a huge responsibility as a creator of such a platform and the power of art to break established concepts, to shape politics and to critically engage us. These are the values that I believe in and will be interesting for me to bring to Unseen and see how they will evolve in a new environment and applied in different surroundings.
GC: On which areas you wish to make your mark?
MP: I believe it is too early to say something concrete and tangible but I’d like to do more research, build on Unseen’s personal approach, more curated exhibitions, and in general more of our own production. And I will always be putting artists first.
GC: What novelties are there going to be during the new edition of Unseen Amsterdam 2019?
MP: This year we initiated a new collaboration with three Dutch art academies (KABK, HKU, Gerrit Rietveld). In addition to showcasing their best graduates of the year, we’ve worked alongside their students to create an interactive programme during Unseen Amsterdam. At Unseen we benefit hugely from collaborating with these recent graduates, learning about their pressing issues and the topics they feel strongly about. We also appreciate that it’s a great opportunity for them to have an insight into Unseen and the industry post-graduation. Another new initiative is the Artist Lab, our first artist residency which will take place for a month on the terrain leading up to, during and after Unseen Amsterdam. For the project, artist in residence Kateryna Snizhko (b. 1984, UA) has relocated her studio to Westergas. She opens up her space for visitors to experience and witness first-hand the process of what normally goes on behind closed doors.
GC: I ask you also some previews on the exhibited projects…
MP: This year, our acclaimed talks programme Living Room is organised in collaboration with the London-based V&A museum and LagosPhoto, one of Africa’s first international photography festivals, where we will explore the impact of curation and collection through two panels.
The aim is to critically engage the impact and responsibilities of institutions, curators and collectors through these discussions.
At the fair, there will be 53 galleries presenting new and established artists and a selection of unseen works which are dealing with many issues. Some of the themes that will be seen at the Fair this year include identity, archives, memory, myths and spirituality, globalisation and climate change as well as other much more experimental approaches to the medium itself.
In our exhibition program we are preparing an exhibition of Tabita Rezaire, a French-born Guyanese/Danish artist whose work navigates architectures of power – both on and offline.
Her work tackles the pervasive matrix of colonialism and its effects on identity, technology, sexuality, health and spirituality. Another exhibition will present artists from Africa and the African diaspora who are dealing with topics of family heritage, memory and identity.
Within the Site programming, we have an event planned in collaboration with one of our Onsite Projects Docking Station and a City Partner Arias to discuss food production and its impact on our relationship with Nature.
In total, over 300 participating artists will present their work at the Fair, Book Market, Exhibitions & On-site Projects, Talent Development programmes, Open Gallery Night and City Programme.
GC: What about one of the most important competition dedicated to the young artists, the ING Unseen Talent Award. What projects have been selected?
MP: The ING Unseen Talent Award is a collaborative initiative by ING and Unseen to showcase new talents in photography from all over Europe.
Their works of selected artists explores the boundaries between the artificial and natural, reality and fantasy, and reflects on our shared experience as living organisms (Elena Aya Bundurakis), issues of the representation and perception of the female body, sexuality, desires and taboos (Ulla Deventer), the way that surveillance cameras often serve to record and control a space and the people in it (Irene Fenara), the Afro Caribbean youth in a post-colonial world (Kevin Osepa) and the subjects of childhood, education and love in Poland (Karolina Wojtas).
Over the course of the next three months, this year’s finalists will undergo extensive coaching by South African photographer and professor Adam Broomberg, known as half of the internationally renowned artist duo Broomberg & Chanarin. Under his supervision, the selected artists will create new work within the theme Nature of Change, giving them the opportunity to reflect on the evolution of society and nature.
GC: I think there will be a great curiosity about this new edition of Unseen Amsterdam and, as for every news, there will be both positive and negative opinions. I wish you that you can put your idea into practice so we can better and deeper discuss about that next time.
What would you like this edition to be remembered for?
MP: Yes, you are right. We need to be realistic. Nobody is perfect and nothing is perfect. It is important to always try to make things better and be engaged and aware of reality. Of course, there’s a curiosity and it is a good thing. Working on a new festival edition is a long and hard process of research, thinking, exploring and finally producing. I came in at the final stages of producing this current edition, when my team had already done a lot of work – which is great and I can see my role clearer in the next editions. Then we can, as you said, discuss deeper about the programing and ideas. I’m looking forward to celebrating a new edition of the fair and festival with my team and all the visitors! Unseen has so many different projects and elements, and I am excited to see it all come together in this transition year.