Before the opening of the Konschthal, you organised Schaufenster. What is your assessment of this event?
Christian Mosar. - First of all, it has to be said that the Konschthal project, from the purchase of the building by the city of Esch-sur-Alzette to its imminent opening on 2 October, was a very quick process. Usually, people think that the building site has to be taken care of first before the cultural action can be put in place, as was the case with the Mudam, for example, where people wondered for a long time what was going to be exhibited there. Here, it is the other way round: we wanted to show the population what they could find in the Konschthal before opening the building. The pandemic was not the main reason for the project, but it allowed the artists to be directly involved and to show their work to those passing by in the large window of the building under construction, which gave its name to the exhibition. Schaufenster also allowed us to highlight the future artistic thread, our mission being both to show international artists, but also to have them interact with local artists. And the fact that we have a street corner, the network of our Esch partner noc.turn and the curiosity of the visitors, during a period when public places are closed, has greatly contributed to its success. A success that I am obviously delighted with.
The transition is complete with the Konschthal, a new major cultural venue in Luxembourg, which is about to open its doors. What will the public discover at this highly anticipated event?
The main theme of the Konschthal, at least until 2023 and throughout the Esch 2022 European capital of culture year, will be transformation. For the opening, this notion of transformation will be very much evident with the ambitious exhibition by Gregor Schneider, an Austrian artist who recreates interiors within the museum spaces and exhibition rooms. The visit becomes individual and completely immersive. Lët'z Arles 2021 artists Lisa Kohl and Daniel Reuter who will symbolise the presence of local artists in major foreign events will also be present at this opening. Concerts and performances will also be organised in the building, as well as on the Kennedy Boulevard, which will be closed for the occasion. The Project Room will host artists Niels Ackermann, Martine Feipel and Jean Bechameil.
The central theme of the transformation will therefore continue through the exhibitions that follow?
Absolutely. The second exhibition will then be set up for the opening of the Esch 2022 on 27 February with an international Luxembourg artist, Filip Markiewicz, who will exhibit in a much more 'classical' way than one might expect from him. It must be said that the Konschthal will continue to be under construction for the next few months, probably until mid-June 2022. Filip will therefore work a lot with paint in this reception area that is undergoing a complete transformation. Afterwards, an exhibition featuring an installation will be held, with Danish artist Jeppe Hein, who will create a unique, multigenerational and unifying work here, which will occupy the whole Konschthal and which will be characterised by a strong sense of identification with the central theme.
Finally, in September 2022, the fourth exhibition on transformation will feature the Lithuanian artist Deimantas Narkevičius, who is well known for his work on the post-Soviet era in Lithuania and Europe, particularly through film. It will be an immersion in dark rooms with a retrospective of ten of his films and the presentation of two new ones. I thought of him for this part because I still remember with amusement a film he showed in Luxembourg in 1998 for Manifesta II in which he decided, in the wake of Lithuania's independence, to go to the geographical centre of Europe thanks to a certain newfound freedom. Except that the geographical centre of Europe--few know this, and he did not know it either at the time--is 30 km from his home in Vilnius. So the trip was short-lived!
The question of audience is of paramount importance for any cultural space. Which is the audience you are aiming for at the Konschthal?
The first thing to keep in mind about the audience is that the Konschthal is free. Everyone comes when they want. Secondly, we are in a very special neighbourhood, the Brill, which has already been the subject of some sociological studies. There are more than a hundred nationalities and it is a district that has always brought together different waves of immigration with Italian, Portuguese, Cape Verdean, Balkan and other communities very present in a place steeped in industrial history. France is also just a few hundred metres away, which obviously plays a part in identifying our audience, with whom we sincerely wish to interact in a virtuous manner, through communication but also through the very identity of the artists with whom we will be working. It is easy to say that we must be inclusive and participatory, but we must also find the means to do so! In my opinion, this is a long-term and progressive task.
Will young people also have a place at the Konschthal?
Absolutely! Especially as this is an audience with a major advantage: young people often come with their families! In any case, we have ambitions for the young public, in particular thanks to synergies with Ariston cinema, which is in the process of being refurbished, and the Benu ecovillage, both very close by. For schools, it is sometimes difficult to get a class from far away to come for one event, but in this collaborative context, I can imagine the possibility of offering local schools well-done cultural days with, for example, a play, a workshop and an exhibition combined, which would allow them to visit all three venues.
Speaking of collaboration, what is planned for the city's emblematic cultural centre, the Kulturfabrik?
Obviously, there will be synergies with the Kulturfabrik, but it will probably be more on the side of the Bridderhaus, which is very close by. We'll certainly be running the Bridderhaus artist residencies with the Kufa's Squatfabrik programme. This is just one example of possible future projects. And for the opening weekend, the Kulturfabrik is co-organising the concert series in the Konschthal with us.
Are you also counting on the transformation of the nearby Rout Lëns district to stimulate the use of the Konschthal?
There is no doubt that we are watching this urban development very closely and we have already entered into a partnership by exhibiting photos of the construction site as a preview in the Schaufenster. There will be new access roads to the many houses in this car-free district, and it will be very interesting to see how this new flow and pedestrian culture will flow into the city centre, including - I hope - through here.
You also run the new Bridderhaus, a former hospital that is now an artists' residence. Are there any particular constraints within this building because of its heritage status?
The constraints were more likely to arise during the restoration of the building, which was carried out in close collaboration with the National Monuments and Sites Department. On the other hand, the new building is very flexible, with eight large residences, double or single flats, and a small workshop for each flat. There is also, and I would like to mention this, a flat designed entirely for people with reduced mobility, which is also interesting regarding the heritage role. We are also going to implement the project Le Salon de Helen Buchholtz, which came out of the Esch2022 call for projects and which includes, among others, a blind artist, and we will try to introduce sighted people to the world of this artist, whose other senses are more developed because of her blindness, in an artistic way...
The Konschthal has a conservation vocation, but less of a museum’s.
What other cultural projects are planned there?
We have been lucky enough to be able to restore and transform an outbuilding into a creative workshop that will host Sam Reinard's immersive sound work, which will take in the night-time sounds of Esch-sur-Alzette's past and present industries. Another amazing project, also coming from the Esch2022 call, will be a radio station that will set up for 100 days in the Bridderhaus and broadcast every day 22 hours of purely artistic projects created by one or more artists as well as two hours of live music... And which will most likely have connections with Documenta 15 which will take place at the same time in Kassel, Germany.
What about the art collection of the City of Esch?
The collection will be stored and safeguarded here in our archives. The acquisition programme will be renewed and redirected towards more variety and the contemporary thanks to a new jury composed of directors of art centres from neighbouring countries. But this is not the main goal of the Esch institutions. The Konschthal has a conservation vocation, but less of a museum one.
How are the two new structures, the Konschthaus and the Bridderhaus, financed? Will you seek to develop private sponsorship?
Both structures are entirely publicly financed by the city of Esch-sur-Alzette, which does not exclude the possibility of private sponsorship in the future. But, for the moment, the priority is to respond to the public missions that have been given. The recourse to patronage, if it is made, will be built up at the same time as the identity of the Konschthal in the years to come. However, a small clarification regarding the Bridderhaus projects: those which are the result of the Esch2022 call for projects are financed at 50% by Esch2022.
After having done a lot for culture as an independent, is this more institutional position a key step, or even a consecration for you?
It's true that when you've been independent for so long - thirty years in this case - the partners in the institutions easily consider you as an eternal free electron and it can become difficult to make people understand that you are perhaps looking for a different way of doing culture, a different way of working. This imposes a certain distance. But it must be said that the succession of events that brought me to this position today was very rapid, and I had not anticipated this at all. However, the Espace Lavandier was a place that I had already spotted and for which I thought it would make a superb exhibition space. So I was lucky to be offered a project and places that corresponded so much to the desires I had at that time, after having confronted many aspects of culture. And it's all very well to criticise culture for years, but you have to put yourself in the shoes of those who make it at some point!
So the favourable conditions were already there?
Yes, not only at home but also, I would like to remind you, within the City of Esch-sur-Alzette. The purchase of the Konschthal took place only a year ago! And the municipality also decided to buy the Ariston cinema in the same way, although this was not originally planned... That all of this happened suddenly, in this way, requires a certain amount of courage. The courage to give me absolute carte blanche from an artistic point of view as well. We drew up the budgets together. I had the personal conviction that it would work and I was very enthusiastic about the idea of starting from scratch, all alone, without a net. The net has now been built, thanks in particular to the logistical support of the City and to Schaufenster, which helped to identify the first challenges of the building.
Your departure from Esch2022 has caused a lot of ink to flow. Was it a problem of mission, management or a mixture of both?
You have to know one thing already: participating in the organisation of a cultural capital permanently changes the members of the team, even after the end of the cultural year. There is a lot of pressure, you are very lonely at the beginning. To come across an artistic director who is the seventh in office and who starts work six months before the launch of the cultural year is quite significant of this situation... To come back to my experience, I saw what I wanted to do, I compiled this programme and I realised how difficult it was to complete the task. It was personally frustrating, and when I made that discomfort felt, that other door opened for me. The timing was pretty good on this one!
So that won't stop you from working closely together as part of Esch 2022.
Of course! There are already the three projects at the Bridderhaus. In the Konschthal, the exhibition by Deimantas Narkevičius will also be co-financed by Esch2022, and probably another one, and we will be, I think, a very important meeting place during this cultural year, even if we are only indirectly affiliated with it. The Brill district is an important cultural centre and very close to Belval too, in the end.
The programming of the Konschthal will be fundamentally different from that of the Casino. It will be more physical, more direct.
What hospitality and catering facilities do you have planned during and after Esch2022?
We will have a reception area here that will also serve as a bar during openings, but not as a permanent bar or restaurant. Instead, we will partner with the Ariston, which will have a real bar where we can invite the public to join us after the events. The Bridderhaus will have its own small bar-restaurant, which will initially be dedicated to one-off events - openings, concerts, workshops, conferences, etc. - and will be available to external professionals.
Do you intend to become a counterweight in the south of the country to establishments in the capital such as the Casino Luxembourg?
I'd rather talk about an alternative than a counterweight. Here, the architecture and the red thread of the transformation will determine a first part of the creation of its identity. The Casino was shaped by the first Capital of Culture in 1998 and the pioneering work of Enrico Lunghi and Jo Kox at a time when nothing was there and everything was possible. The programming of the Konschthal will be fundamentally different from that of the Casino. It will be more physical, more direct, and it would be irrelevant to compare the two. Neither in their creation nor in their programming. With these four phases of ambitious programming, we will have exhibitions that would have a place in Mudam, for example, like the one by Gregor Schneider. Our advantage, however, is the flexibility of the venue: you can do anything here! Finally, the support of the local community will also give this new institution a unique dimension and a strong identity.
This interview was originally published in the October issue of Paperjam magazine, published on 23 September 2021.