MOMENTUM: A gallery of galleries. An interview with Cassandra Bird and Rachel Rits-Volloch

Interview by Anna Russ and Anna Smith, photos by Anthony Georgis in Berlin; Saturday, May 26, 2012

Part one of a two-part interview. Parts 12


A nonprofit institution, a gallery space that has an exhibitions program as well a salon, a public art space, a residency. MOMENTUM is a gallery of galleries, with no limits. “We are about bridging arts internationally” as Cassandra Bird tells us. “A platform that loves to share, to collaborate” Rachel Rits-Volloch adds, “in contrast to what often happens within the arts where things become cliquey and segmented”. What is important to them is to bring in galleries from abroad, to bring art from around the world to Berlin audiences and at the same time take their exhibitions to other countries and to the streets of Berlin. “We are not just creating exhibitions, we are stopping and sharing and reflecting with art professionals, to look and reassess what we are doing, why we’re doing it, and to hopefully educate” says Cassandra.

MOMENTUM. Cassandra Bird and Rachel Rits-Volloch

Cassandra grew up in Australia’s art industry and eventually inherited her great aunt’s gallery, Von Bertouch Gallery (est. 1963), among the country’s most famous and influential art spaces. Additionally, she received an MA in curatorship and an undergraduate in Theatre & media. US-born Rachel has a background in research (PhD in Film Studies). The two met in Sydney in 2010, where Rachel had decided to start her own version of an art fair, which she refers to as “a symposium, a coming together of time-based arts”. Life then brought Rachel to Berlin, where she decided to turn MOMENTUM worldwide and the two of them began their collaboration. This nomadic platform later found a home in Kunstquartier Bethanien’s first floor where we met them one Saturday afternoon.

MOMENTUM, exhibition view


BAL: MOMENTUM is a platform for time-based art. Why did you choose to have this focus and how can you define time-based art?

CASSANDRA BIRD: My background is in theater and art and Rachel’s is in research and sciences and art. So the media of performance, video, and sound merge our respective backgrounds perfectly.

RACHEL RITS-VOLLOCH: We saw this discrepancy between what was shown commercially, what was shown non-commercially and what artists are actually doing in their studios. Commercially in art fairs and biennales there are a lot of videos, new media and performances being shown, a lot in really interesting ways. What really struck me during studio visits was that, even artists who weren’t video artists were engaging with video, where using the technology, which is accessible to everyone and that’s not necessarily reflected in the commercial arena. Everyone has an iPhone, you can make fantastic quality videos on it. And I was trying to figure out why Sidney doesn’t have an art fair and the reason is because it’s so expensive to ship works to Australia, but what if we focused on the medium that is underrepresented commercially and is easy to ship?

Can you tell us a few things about Momentum Sydney?

RRV: It started as a symposium. It was a coming together of time based practices where six galleries were involved, both commercial and non-commercial, there was also a micro residency for local and emerging artists and then we had a two day symposium with thirty-two international speakers including directors of MoMA and of White Cube. You can watch all of that on our website in the Sydney section. And so it was important from the very beginning to establish MOMENTUM as a resource and a platform.

MOMENTUM, exhibition view

How do you see yourself as a project space in Berlin?

CB: To differentiate our place from other project spaces, we are bringing together international artists from Asia to Australia and America. I don’t think there are other project spaces doing that, but that’s a real focus of ours. To give exposure to the artists and galleries here.

RRV: We think very carefully about what we select and support. We have no limits. If artists come to us with a really fantastic idea that we believe in and want to support, we find a way of making it happen. And what’s remarkable is that we prove that amazing things can happen on a tiny budget. People want to collaborate; there is a thirst for that.

CB: That’s what makes me so happy about what we are doing, even with the art salon, people want to be involved, they want to make it happen, they want to see it grow. It’s the same with Sky Screen. That’s so wonderful.

Can you tell us more about Sky Screen?

CB: It started as an idea to bring arts to the streets, in collaboration with Jan from Uslu Airlines who is a good friend and he had a space he wanted to show art in. What we wanted to do differently was providing the element of sound. There has been video art on the streets, but never with sound, so we had the headsets installed in the Sankt Oberholz café so people can put them on and hear the sound of the art till 4am when the café is open. We wanted to bring good quality art to the streets.

RRV: Our launch programme “SubjectsObjects” brought together this group of artists to mirror what MOMENTUM does; bringing museum quality artists from all over the world together. It’s a difficult space to curate, it’s challenging, the works have to work as well with sound as without, because a lot of the people will be driving or walking by Rosenthaler Platz, so it has to work if you just look up.

MOMENTUM, exhibition view

You also have a video collection.

CB: Exactly. Artists we worked with donated the works to help support MOMENTUM, and now that collection tours. This month it’s touring to Jerusalem to be part of a festival or arts and at the same time we are lunching our residency in Jerusalem.

Is this another direction MOMENTUM will take?

RRV: Yes, our latest project is a residency programme in Jerusalem and it launched at the end of May 2012. A two bedroom home has been turned into a residency space for artists working on time-based art. The three month residencies will be on an invitation basis and we hope the artists will respond to the energy in this very unique space. Many of the world’s major religions claim this tiny piece of physical space as theirs, and these arguments that ensue over who believes what; they are all congregated around this tiny mileage. There is energy in this place, whatever your beliefs and however you feel about it, and I’m very personally very curious to see how artists will respond to this. I wanted to be able to offer actual services to the artists, not a hotel for artists. We’ve entered into partnership with Musrara School of Art which is also a very community orientated art school based just outside the walls of the old city. They were established twenty five years ago and they focus on media and performance so it is perfect. They provide studio space, artists’ assistance and assistance with the language.

CB: Initially we will allow artists who have worked with us directly (especially the ones that have donated work, to return the favor) to have time at the residency. The artists will have, through the school, access to the local art scene. At the time that we will be launching the residency we will have the collection shown at the streets as part of an art festival.

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