CO-OP Encounters #8: Upominki

by Unseen2 August 29 2018

Unseen CO-OP is back for its second edition. Introduced to increase the representation of artist-run initiatives and collectives worldwide, CO-OP encourages artists to present challenging works of art, dynamic presentations and new commercial formats. In the coming months, we’ll be speaking to each of the participating collectives to find out more about the collaborative processes that drive their practice forward.

Upominki is a collective and non-profit space devoted to exploring the ways individual artists' vision challenges that of the curator, promoting interdisciplinary dialogue and enrichment of photographic material treatment. We caught up with  the founder of Upominki, Weronika Zielinska-Klein, to get to the heart of this ever-questioning group and further, what we can expect from them at this year’s edition of Unseen Amsterdam.

What inspired you to start working as a collective?
Upominki means gifts in Polish. Proverbially and in the figure of speech, Upominki functions as a gift shop. While basing its practice on the ideas of hospitality and reciprocity, Upominki wants to create an alternative to the value of exchange, a concept particularly developed through the capitalistic economy. We are interested in the multiple relationships built throughout creative processes and wish to stimulate people’s awareness for new artistic possibilities.

Upominki is more of a platform than a collective, without a fixed number of members, always searching for different collaborators, both for the short and long term. Working together and collaboratively lies closely to our ideas on art and life. We believe we are most productive in this way. Through negotiating the different roles we take on in a group, we constantly learn from and with each other.

How has working as a collective changed the way you interact with the art market?
We have never been selling on the big art market. This is also the reason why we deliberately tend to call ourselves a project space, rather than a gallery, which to us has more of a commercial connotation. However, ever since its establishment—at the time when the global financial crisis hit The Netherlands and impacted the local founding structures for culture and art—Upominki has been open and transparent about our finances and consciously chosen for sustainable system that primarily runs through selling artists’ editions and works donated to the space.

What sets you apart from other collectives?
We look for connections and commonalities rather than differences. Don’t get us wrong; oppositions are good and inspire us. Nonetheless, with our projects we usually aspire to bring people closer together, similarly to how we often find ourselves browsing the Internet and being completely thrown into the ideas and discussions we are occupied with. It is this that defines us: hospitality, reciprocity, alternative economies, friendships and other inter-relations, motherhood and the politics of a home, feminism, architecture, home-run art spaces, domesticity versus public space and gender identity.

Since we operate as a project space and not as a collective, our interests, programmes and methodologies change, depending on the people who partake in the events, our friends, family and collaborators. Therefore, we have a flexible programme that moves from exhibitions and window displays, to small private gatherings, public community-engaged activities and walks, etc. We are very interested in maintaining a relationship with our collaborators, looking to create a support community that can enrich our lives as artists and our practices. Right now, for instance, we are interested in creating a more engaged relationship between the artists, their work and audience. Not only showing their work, but also their previous works and influences, developing workshops together, they have the space to converse and become acquainted with the artist’s practice.

What do you have in store for us at Unseen Amsterdam 2018?
We are looking forward to presenting some of the series’ (prints and books) by deceased artist and friend Ger C. Bout. We will be showing an unpublished photographic series Beyond The Moon, his latest work before passing. We will also include some archival material, so that we can share parts of the artist’s varied body of work. Having become acquainted with Ger in 2016, we spoke about working together, showing some of his photographic work with Upominki. Once you get a glimpse of his practice and character, you are immediately drawn to his use of curvature, material and texture. Unfortunately, however, we were never able to show his work when he was alive. Nevertheless, maintaining a relationship with Ger’s partner Riitta, we believed CO-OP would provide the perfect setting—one Ger would be very proud of.

Image: 226, Performance Documentation, premiered on the Schouwburgplein in Rotterdam, 1983 © Ger C. Bout