In dialogue with artists and exciting exhibitions at KW Institute for Contemporary Art

Maria Papadouli aims to become a curator after her studies. Her three-month internship at KW Institute for Contemporary Art in Berlin has already brought her a little closer to her dream. In the interview, she told us about the highlights and challenges of her internship as well as her studies in Visual and Media Anthropology.

Maria Papadouli has meanwhile successfully finished her master's studies at HMKW.

Maria Papadouli has meanwhile successfully finished her master's studies at HMKW.

Recently, you did an internship at KW Institute in Berlin. That sounds really impressive. Tell us more about your internship institution!

I think it is a place where the connection between its “manifesto” and its actual course of action is undoubtedly very strong. The institution was founded by Klaus Biesenbach, Alexandra Binswanger, Clemens Homburger, Philipp von Doering, and Alfonso Rutigliano in a derelict former margarine factory in Berlin-Mitte in the early 1990s. It now operates under the direction of Krist Gruijthuijsen.

During my internship, I worked closely with Léon Kruijswijk and Kathrin Bentele, Assistant Curators and Project Managers, Linda Franken, Public Program and Outreach Coordinator, and other members of the curatorial office. I did get the sense that the team tries to engage with issues of sociopolitical and anthropological importance, while trying to maintain a thoughtful and careful approach to contemporary artistic practices and, mostly, succeeding. It’s a very progressive and rather welcoming and multivocal environment.

The company’s mission statement is to “maintain a high degree of flexibility in creating its programs and addressing its audience”. I chose this organization because I find its mission to be important and relevant to my career goals, as I wish to combine my background in Architecture and my recently acquired knowledge of Visual Anthropology to try and become a curator myself.

How did you come across the internship? How was the application process going?

I had been following the Institute’s Instagram account for a while to keep myself updated on exhibitions and events happening during the last couple of years. I saw an ad for the position there. Then I found its full description on their website and decided to start my application process. I emailed them my documents, and they reached out to me a couple of weeks later, if I remember correctly, asking for an interview on Skype. I talked with both the assistant curators of the office - it was a very nice, relaxed conversation. After a week or so, they called me to ask if I was interested in taking up the job. I immediately said yes - I was very excited.


What did you expect from the internship? Could you please tell us more about your goals, task definitions and fields of activity?

I think my experience was the closest possible to what I was expecting before I started. I wanted a good inside view of how a contemporary and progressive cultural institution operates, full-scale. I think, even if I was just an intern there and just for three couple of months, the number of programs running simultaneously and the relatively small size of the team that is responsible for delivering everything provided me with a very rich and intense working experience.

My tasks included taking care of correspondence, inquiries, office communication, and the co-organization of the internal office structure. Additionally, I was responsible for the supervision of artists and support of productions such as “Disproof does not equal disbelief” by Michael Stevenson and “Zeros and Ones” by Lutz Bacher, Jay Chung & Q Takeki Made, Hanne Darboven, Jana Euler, Jef Geys, Tishan Hsu, Ilmari Kalkkinen, Silvia Kolbowski, Pope L., Louise Lawler, Carolyn Lazard, Lee Lozano, Henrik Olesen, Sarah Rapson, Margaret Raspé, readymades belong to everyone, Ketty La Rocca, Stutevant, Otto Wagner, and Martin Wong.

Moreover, I was responsible for the communication and contact with various galleries and artists, and the supervision of any additional processes for the hosting of all upcoming events/ exhibitions/ performances. One of the most exciting aspects of it was that I got to meet some of the artists.

I worked a lot more on “Disproof does not equal disbelief”, and Michael Stevenson was there almost every day for the month before the exhibition’s opening doing hands-on work himself, and we were trying to assist him in the best way possible. I also got to assist a lot in the organization of several events. Trying to provide everyone with a smooth experience, while abiding by all the COVID-19 related regulations was very challenging, but I think we made it happen.


Which general and study-related kinds of knowledge, skills and qualifications were you able to apply in the internship?

I think I was very aware of the importance of the decisions being made when it came to the structuring of each exhibition, because of the program’s courses like “Artistic Practice in Transcultural Context” and “Decolonized: Images, Race and Representation”. The knowledge I have acquired from these courses helped a great deal in understanding conversations better and in being more mindful of the variety of factors one needs to take under consideration during all the phases of putting together an exhibition from approaching the right people to conception, to production, to the public program.

I was lucky to be able to also use some of my architectural skills to help out with the arrangement of different spaces for the events (we had to carefully calculate capacity, always maintaining safe distances and clear pathways to emergency exits and bathrooms for every single one of the happenings). I offered to use CAD software to make things easier for all of us. I also created a couple of 3D models of the gallery’s spaces with upcoming exhibitions set up in them, to see how things work. I enjoyed these tasks a lot.

You have also handed in your master thesis a short while ago. Please tell us more about it!

I think it’s safe to say that it’s the first time I feel so connected to a research subject I chose for a project of mine. My thesis' topic is walking, and how it connects you to yourself and your urban surroundings, especially when viewed as a creative practice. To explore the subject in a fun and meaningful way I organized The WALKshop (a workshop on walking), which acted as the main inspiration and library of materials from which I built the platform I submitted as my project. Ι am interested in building a community of people (facilitators and participants) who want to participate and contribute in more of these "walkshops" that will keep happening (hopefully), starting soon.


In your opinion, from which experiences/courses/projects during your studies will you benefit the most in your future career?

Ι’d say that the courses that have benefited me the most were definitely “Space and Place” and “Autoethnography in the Vlogger Era”. They provided me with several tools and points of view to integrate into my research practice. I was introduced to Autoethnography and Psychogeography, and I understood the importance of including practices of embodiment in a research process.

As a future curator and/or designer, I feel that my perspective is widened, and I am now in a position to seek more meaningful ways to design and create for change.

What’s your advice for (prospective) students who are thinking about studying Visual and Media Anthropology at Media University?

I think of it as a very self-directed program, I feel. I think, one piece of advice that comes off the top of my head is to try and create a strong community with your colleagues (something that was particularly challenging for my generation because of the pandemic and how disruptive it has been for our lives). There is a lot of meaningful knowledge to be absorbed and processed, and having people around you that are willing to engage in dialogue and explore the material together with you helps a lot - even if it’s done virtually.

I have been advised to start thinking about what my thesis would be about from very early on, and that that’s a good strategy. I disagree.

I think the material that this program has to offer is so rich and eye-opening, that it would be a shame to not give yourself a chance to dig into different subjects, explore different perspectives and find different ways to approach projects, before settling with a solid idea for your final thesis. I think, in the end, the most important thing is to enjoy it. It is a very rich program information-wise, so there is no way that you won’t find, not just one, but multiple topics and areas of research that will excite you.

Thank you for the exciting insights into your internship. All the best for the future and much success!