REPRINT: “Art wants to be seen”: Julia Stoschek & Olafur Eliasson

vor 3 years

What possibilities do new technologies offer artists and the public in times of pandemic and self-isolation?

Collector JULIA STOSCHEK and artist OLAFUR ELIASSON are united by a love of art and a shared interest in the digital.

During the second German lockdown, the two have been thinking about the future of art. Will we meet in the museum as avatars in the future? What possibilities do new technologies offer artists and the public in times of pandemic and self-isolation? A nostalgic look into the future.

This conversation is taken from our current print issue on Life

Fräulein: During the second lockdown, what is triggering feelings of nostalgia in each of you?

Julia Stoschek: A few days ago, I was in Düsseldorf, where I lived in the exhibition house for years [editor’s note: the Julia Stoschek Collection]. The visit made me nostalgic. We celebrated countless openings; there were performances and concerts. I remember so many enrich-ing encounters. Those were ten intense years, which I now look back on even more nostalgically than usual during the second shutdown.

Olafur Eliasson: My children are teenagers. I have a seventeen-year-old son who goes to school in Denmark. In the schools, they’re not very careful with corona. That’s why we have agreed to take better care of each other at home and keep our distance from each other, as recommended. In the past, we used to lie on the couch in a big pile while watching TV. We haven’t done that for a long time. A few evenings ago, my son wasn’t feeling very well emotionally. All of a sudden, it got to be quite late because we had talked for so long. Before he went to bed, I hugged him. Only then did I realize how long it had been since I had held one of my children in my arms.It was a moment of shock. And it was very nice to be able to feel and com-fort my child again. I’ve started a new project dealing with exactly this topic. Together with my friend Andreas Roepstorff from the Interacting Minds Centrein Aarhus (Denmark), I’ve created a website called We used to ( where people can upload statements about their experiences with life and society in these difficult times.

Did you both grow up with television and video games?

JS: Growing up, MTV was the gateway to the world for me.I was a real MTV junkie. I danced and sang along in front of the TV. In general, the medium of video was very present in my home in Upper Franconia. My family is very fond of technology. Actually, my father wanted to study photography and film. He photographed and filmed so many things; many of the events in my life were recorded. To this day, we still watch family celebra-tion and birthday videos.

OE: I am much older than Julia. Luckily, when I was young, there were no video cameras at all, if I remember correctly. In Ice-land, there was an American military base in Keflavík with its own television station. There were always cartoons in the morning. During the summer vacations, the sun hardly set. When I woke up at four or five in the morning, I watched cartoons until eight o’clock. I only found out much later that I could also receive three or four German television stations in Denmark.

Do you have the feeling today that you spend too much time in front of screens? Now more than ever, you hear that people want to go back to a time when screens were less essential.

JS: I like being in front of a screen. My smartphone has become my work tool. I use it to answer my emails and I use it to watch movies and new video works. But I don’t spend more time in front of the screen than before.

OE: It is impossible to go back to a time when there were no screens. I’d rather think about how screens have changed the way we deal with the world. And, of course, that also means that people experience art differently. That’s something that, to be honest, I still don’t quite understand. I’m more used to working physically in space,where I can see how the audience reacts to a work of art. The digital aspect also has tremendous potential. There are new ways in which the audience can coproduce a work of art and participate in more extensive discussions about art and society. Especially in this moment of self-separation, people reach each other more directly via screens.


A lot happened in the art industry during the first shutdown. Did you gain a new perspective on art mediation possibilities in the digital world, Ms. Stoschek?

JS: I looked at more studio visits and artist talks on social media than I usually do. The Museum of Contemporary Artin Los Angeles did a series of studio visits; Klaus Biesenbach also visited you, Olafur. I like to watch something like that from home on the sofa. I can follow conversations between artists and curators without having to travel. We also did a series of talks in the collection.

OE: I see it similarly to Julia. Some meetings, however, still cannot happen without being physically present. Pragmatic things like budgets or annual planning can be clarified more quickly online. Emotional issues, such as questions about about good art or good design, are better discussed in person.“Is this a good chair?” To answer this question, you have to see the chair, touch it, sit on it.

Where do you see opportunities for art in the digital world? Young artists who have long felt at home in the digital world have received more attention since the first shutdown. Have you visited online exhibitions yourself and discovered anything new?

JS: I’ve been used to watching new video works online for a long time. There are good formats like the Daata, an online video art fair. Gallery David Zwirner has launched the PLATFORMinitiative, which presents online works by artists from various galler-ies. But that remains above all a translation of analog works into digital. As a collector, it is, of course, especially interesting when young artists use digital space as such. In her Instagram series2 Lizards, artist Meriem Bennani, as the title suggests, follows two lizards during the shutdown in New York. This was accessible as a format for everyone and a very pr-cise, reflective observation. 2 Lizards will be looked at in a few years and people will say: “That’s right, that’s how crazy it was back then.”

OE: In any case, the art world is constantly evolving. I find it encouraging to see how many people are turning to cultural works in these times of physical distance, for example, by sharing art online or by engaging with digital art-work.


Ms. Stoschek, works from your collection can be viewed online on the website. What made you decide to make the videos freely accessible on the internet?

JS: Art wants to be seen. And video art is an absolutely democratic art form; it can be reproduced without loss of quality. Its scarcity only became apparent through the market. I want to make it possible for everyone, no matter where in the world, to see the works in my col-lection at any time without restrictions. This is a long-cherished hope of mine and a great project that corona has finally triggered.


You also collect works by artists of the POST-INTERNET ART generation such as Jon Rafman and Ian Cheng, Cao Fei and Ed Fornieles. What criteria do you use to select works for your collection?

JS: It is part of the collection’s mission to represent different generations and periods of time-based media art, from its beginnings in the 1960s to the present. Although the collection already reflects a certain diversity, it is important to include new voices and perspectives. A collection shapes the understanding of our past, “an archive of temporalities,” as curator Daniel Birnbaum beautifully put it. This, in turn, determines the possibilities we can imagine for the future. Art, literature and film build worlds. And as Beuys once said: “The future we want must be invented. Otherwise we’ll get one we don’t want. ”Through collecting, one shapes the future.” I firmly believe this.


Mr. Eliasson, you have worked with Acute Art and have made some augmented reality works public. For example, a rainbow or a rain cloud that people can place in their living room. What attracted you to working with AR?

OE: I’ve been familiar with AR technology for several years. We experimented with it in my studio, but I hadn’t been able to make the connection between technology and an artistic idea. At a time when digital spaces are the only safe environment for people, it suddenly made sense to create such a work of art. The AR work, titled Wunderkammer, is about looking at natural elements and objects that we would otherwise take for granted, in a new light. It is also about seeing the environment differently by adding something new and unexpected.

Since July, I’ve also been working on a huge collective artwork with chil-dren all over Europe and beyond, called Earth Speakr, which was created on the occasion of the German EU Presidency. The artwork uses a specially developed app, accompanied by an interactive website in twenty-five languages (, allowing children to record a message about their wishes for the planet’s future. The children can project this message into the mouth of any object that they choose in their surroundings. This way, children can speak up for the future of the planet and adults are encouraged to listen to what children have to say.

JS: Anyone with a smartphone can use augmented reality. It offers a playful approach to art. No matter where you are, you can use the smartphone’s camera function to place a work of art in the room, just as Ola-fur makes it possible with the rainbow and rain cloud. In this way, people who haven’t previously engaged with art have a chance for encounters. VR is a little more challenging to access because you still have to put on a headset. It fasci-nates and scares me at the same time. What I find problematic about VR is that you can only enjoy it alone. Usually, when you walk through an exhibition, you talk to friends and exchange ideas. That is not yet possible. So the aspect of isolation in reception is difficult, but at the same time, it opens uppossibilities for a new formal language in virtual reality. Technology will evolve so that headsets become smaller or we’ll wear normal glasses or even contact lenses. We are a media collection, so it is natural for me to follow technical developments. I can’t say exactly where it will go. When 3D came, they said that this was the break-through. Now there is VR and AR and they say that this is the future. I think these formats will stay.

Daniel Birnbaum, director of the London-based company Acute Art, sees the strength of augmented reality and of works such as those by Olafur Eliasson in the fact that the viewer becomes the curator. Hans Ulrich Obrist recently said that augmented reality is the future, technology should not be used for entertain-ment and passive consumption alone. Augmented reality is probably the bridge to Social VR, i.e., to virtual spaces in which we can come together via Mozilla Hubs and, at some point, Horizon (Facebook), for example.

OE: I am convinced that AR and VR will endure. In terms of development, the art world is strongly oriented towards gaming, and when it comes to the social dimension, there will undoubtedly be solutions soon. We’ll be able to meet as avatars in virtual space without being in the same place physically. AR and VR can add an interesting new element to art cre-ation. Using personal technology, we can create art-works that are distributed over time and space in a way that makes the connection between artist and audience more diffuse, but perhaps also more intimate. This technology can be a fascinating tool. We think about what we perceive. We think about the constructed nature of our environment. And, ideally, we’ll reconsider what we believe to be reality.

Here is a perhaps provocatively intended statement by Peter Weibel, the director of the ZKM Karlsruhe. In an interview with Monopola few weeks ago, he said that you don’t have to experience art in reality. “In the museum, where people who don’t know each other and only get on each other’s nerves are crowded in front of the pictures, a closeness is conjured – just like in a concert hall or theater. This is a fictitious closeness, lied about by mass industry,” says Weibel. Does art need closeness, in other words: the on-site experience? Does it perhaps simply depend on the medium ?

JS: We are digitizing my entire collection. But that will never replace a visit to the exhibition, also because it’s technically possible to present the works in a completely different way. Exhibition spaces are free spaces in which we have the opportunity to think about ourselves. The digital is an addition, but not a substitute. People will always want to go to exhibitions. When we reopened after the first shutdown, 1500 people lined up for two hours a day to see Jeremy Shaw’s exhibition. The desire is there.

Interview by Anika Meier. 

Taken from our F/W 2020/21 Issue on „Life“. 

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