"Kyoto is a place of innovation"

Jörg Koopmann, Markus Wernhard, Andreas Hartmann, Sven Pfeiffer and Dorothee Curio / Photo: Goethe-Institut/Noriko Yasui

Artist residencies are places of inspiration and international exchange. Since June, Markus Wernhard has been the director of Villa Kamogawa in Kyoto. In this interview he talks about his goals and the good conditions provided for the residency programme by the city of Kyoto.

Mr Wernhard, in June you took over the directorship of Villa Kamogawa. Have you set yourself definite goals as to the programme’s further development?

The main goal right now is to enhance the effect of the artist residencies and improve the networking of the residency fellows in Japan. Villa Kamogawa should become an internationally reputed platform for the exchange of creative people from Germany and Japan. To this end we introduced in July, among other things, a new format Creators@Kamogawa. These are moderated panel discussions with the resident artists at the beginning and the end of their stays and changing Japanese guests. The artists at the Villa will enter into dialogue with creative people from Japan – artists, curators, intellectuals – on themes that interest both sides. As a rule, questions about contemporary culture and society in the German-Japanese context.

Could you give us an example?

The first Creators@Kamogawa event in June had the theme of "Berlin-Kyoto". It was about the working conditions for creative people in both cities and about contemporary cultural techniques such as sampling. It also discussed the problem of originality against the backdrop of an overwhelming history of art. The focus of the launch event with the current residency artists at the Villa was the theme of "Documentation-Remembrance".

Alongside the events and making contacts, do the fellows have enough time for their own work?

With all the events and socializing, the private sphere of the fellows must nevertheless of course be maintained. We provide opportunities for presentation and networking. On the other hand, however, the stay at Villa Kamogawa exerts no pressure on the fellows to present results after the three months. If that’s possible, it’s welcome. But the process of artistic creation isn’t oriented to such a timeframe and runs and shows its effect rather on a longer-term basis. Quite apart from the direct presentation of results, the artists can contribute content to Creators@Kamogawa events and be part of a German-Japanese dialogue.

Aren’t such dialogue events difficult if only because of the great difference in the language of the participants?

So that such "word events" don’t drag on boringly and productive dialogue doesn’t come to nought because of the language barrier, simultaneous translation is essential. If the discussion is translated consecutively, it wouldn’t have an adequate pace. Through the high profile launch event at the beginning of the residency, the artists from Germany are swiftly introduced to the local cultural scene and form contacts that then develop by themselves.

Creators@Kamogawa, Photo: Goethe-Institut/Noriko Yasui

How do you document the events?

The Creators@Kamogawa events are documented bilingually on film and in texts and presented, among other places, on our YouTube channel. This results in the demand to produce really interesting discussion events whose content warrants the effort. The documentation should also be accessible to interested people in Germany and Japan who couldn’t be present at the event. At the same time, in this way we can give something back to the Japanese participants who perhaps aren’t yet so well-known abroad by providing a documentation in a Western language on the Net.

And as another track of the programme, we want to establish dialogue events with multipliers, thinkers and representatives of cultural institutions in art and society, and so produce where possible relations to the resident artists and their projects. The important thing is to recognize possible German-Japanese themes and bring them into Villa Kamogawa whenever the opportunity presents itself. In future I can also well imagine Villa Kamogawa as a good place for high-level discussions on current issues in an international context and with partners from Germany, Japan and other countries.

What makes Kyoto special as a place for artist residencies?

Though somewhat larger than Munich, the city and its cultural scene is relatively manageable and in this way easier to understand for a resident artist. This facilitates networking. In mega cities it’s sometimes more difficult to find access. At the same time, big cities like Tokyo and Osaka are easier to reach.

Because of the predominance of traditional culture here, it’s a common misunderstanding that Kyoto is a kind of "open air museum". The city has in fact a rather pastoral character. But Kyoto was and is a place of innovation. For example, an important impetus from the student counter-culture of the 1960s came from Kyoto. And today too the city banks on contemporary culture: in 2015 a new international biennial for contemporary art, Parasophia, will take place here, and a theatre complex with several halls, the RhomTheatre, will be opened. Here too we’re looking here for cooperations with Villa Kamogawa and synergies with the resident artists.

What is your personal experience with the fellows?

Villa Kamogawa is an unusual place to work. The institute director’s family lives in the villa under the roof, the fellows on the second floor in their studios. Thus we have many encounters in the course of our daily lives. One encounter at the first Creators@Kamogawa event was particularly enlightening: we had two writers on the panel, Marion Poschmann and Shin Fukunaga. As Mr Fukunaga doesn’t speak a foreign language, an exchange was practically impossible, although each of them had a great interest in the work of the other. During the event, both had very good contributions to make and questions to ask. Afterwards, Mr Fukunaga wrote me about how good he found this format and chance to speak directly through a simultaneous translation. I then realized that in future we should recognize the opportunities for such encounters sooner and if possible organize and record, for instance, a separate conversation. I’m confident there are quite a few people in Germany and Japan who would like to watch that on the Net.

In your view, what is the importance of an artist residency of several months?

The fellows stay for three months at Villa Kamogawa. Multi-month residencies can ensure a much more lasting networking and deeper exploration of themes and the surroundings than short visits. The artists then take the creative stimuli with them back home, where they continue to ferment and sooner or later become visible: on our website we point to the manifest results of the residencies.

Markus Wernhard, Photo: Goethe-Institut/Eriko Shigematsu Markus Wernhard joined the Goethe-Institut after completing his studies in Sinology, Japanology and German philology at the University of Munich. He has headed the Goethe-Institut in Peking and Taipei, and supervised the programme work of the East Asian region. Since 2014, he has been Director of Villa Kamogawa.
Pia Entenmann conducted the interview.
© Goethe-Institut, 2014

Translation: Jonathan Uhlaner
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