Markus Ambach und Elke BAckes

Markus Ambach

Markus Ambach und Elke BAckes
The city as a studio

Düsseldorf, May 23rd, 2018. Hidden in a backyard on Harkortstrasse is this traditional studio house, which has already served Gerhard Richter and Blinky Palermo as creative inspiration. Today, it is the organisational control centre of the artist Markus Ambach. Ambach, who is constantly developing new formats for his extraordinary art projects as an exhibition organizer, describes the city as his studio. Why, he tells me today while referencing his current project “Von fremden Ländern in eigenen Städten”, which has been visible in the area around Düsseldorf Central Station since June 2nd and will run until the 19th of August, 2018.

Markus Ambach Atelier, Die Arbeitsstätte von MAP-Projekte

The working-place of MAP-Projekte, Photos: Natascha Romboy

In the midst of the hectic hustle and bustle of the countdown, the initiator signals a thrill of anticipation. It took three years to prepare for this project, which initially had to be politically approved, supported and financially secured. Together with artists, actors, dancers and musicians, 18 different ideas had to be developed with a common goal: “to encourage urban planning in a district that is the last unexplored urban space in the city and to look to its future”[1]

[1] Project newsletter: “Von fremden Ländern in eigenen Städten”. Düsseldorf 2018.

Markus Ambach Areal Übersicht

Image 1: Düsseldorfer Central Station, Von fremden Ländern in eigenen Städten, Photo: Markus Ambach _ Image 2: Spa in Hotel Nikko, Von fremden Ländern in eigenen Städten Photo: Markus Ambach _ Image 3 and 4: Area around the Central Station, Photo: Markus Ambach

The subject of art in a public space is not new, but it can be interpreted differently and therefore be realized in very different ways. What interests me above all is to what extent Markus Ambach as an exhibition organizer expresses his own artistic attitude.

While we sit down to talk, I see and hear project manager Irina Weischedel in the background flitting back and forth between the ringing telephone and the doorbell. It is easy to see that there is still a lot to be done. To be on the safe side, we decide to have a ‘light version style’ chat and quickly get into the subject…

“I’d like to understand how your journey from visual artist to exhibition maker has happened.”

Markus Ambach und Elke Backes

Talking with Markus Ambach, Photos: Natascha Romboy

Ambach: “I realized quite early that a classical artistic career would bore me. The art market was simply too restrictive for me in terms of linear structures. I was looking for new forms, I didn’t want to pursue the existing concept of the work, but rather extend it. Very early on, I realized that I was not interested in individual pieces of art or a certain art genre, but rather in the artwork in the context of the space it occupied. That’s why I started to work typologically. From the overarching theme of cinema, for example, photographic works or from the theme of library, sculptural works emerged.”

Was it the themes that drove you out of the studio early on?

Ambach: “Yes, it was. Studio work was never my thing. A Garden which I was allowed to use, back then ideally located right next to my studio, provided a welcome opportunity. It was actually a classic bad place next to the main station, but at the same time wonderfully hidden in the middle of Neuss. I not only integrated this garden into my work as a whole, it also marked the beginning of my project work. As a gardener, I invited artists there to find out what we artists could develop on our own – without an institution, without an art market. The garden in the city offered special conditions for this.”

What were these special conditions?

Ambach: “It was, and still is, the social and political atmosphere of the area around Düsseldorf Central Station that simply challenged us to explore its hidden qualities and make them visible through artistic projects. That’s what I mean by art in context. It does not always have to be a public space. It can also be a museum, as for example in the project Von den Strömen der Stadt at the Museum Abteiberg in Mönchengladbach, which calls for a project. The decisive factor is that we can achieve an urban planning effect and cause social change.”

In the concept for “Von fremden Ländern in eigenen Städten” you describe the station as a special place in the city because it “links the local with the global as a reception space and often hides something amongst the anonymous stream of travellers which cannot exist elsewhere in the city: People without a place, the milieu and the creative, the dissident and the settled, the attractive and the abysmal”[1]. It doesn’t sound like somewhere where there would be no art. What can artists do in a place where there is a lack of political initiative?

Ambach: “We all have different views on things and approach problems in different ways. More specifically, this means talking to the people on site, exploring the hidden, making it visible and integrating it into the urban context. Take the Mintropplatz, for example. Here, at one of the most problematic places in the city, a wide variety of ethnic groups, interest groups and urban sceneries meet. The Moroccan community on the other side of the tracks has long been dreaming of transforming the dark tunnel leading to their district into a brightly tiled Gate of the Orient. During the project we take this idea and stage the different protagonists in the square in a first attempt to make it a vital meeting point for locals and thus show perspectives on how it could develop into a gate of the Orient. A traditionally Moroccan tiled edge on the flower beds with an exhibition area serve as a building sign, which is intended to represent the entry into the civic development of the square. Perhaps at the end there will not only be the Gate to the Orient which will be a luxurious, inviting passage into the quarter on the Ellerstraße, but also a new self-image of the square and its residents.”“

[1] Ibid.

Markus Ambach Menschen im Gespräch

Image 1: „Rendezvous beim Boxpapst“, Pola Sieverding with Wilfried Weiser, Photo: Katja Illner _ Image 2: Prolog 2017: „Die Welt ist nebenan“, Literaturbüro NRW, Photo: Markus Ambach _ Image3: Prolog 2017: Jacques Mayo, Frank Schablewski and Maren Jungclaus, Literaturbüro NRW at „Mayohair“, Photo: Markus Ambach

What criteria do you use to select the artists?

Ambach: “Ultimately the context determines the artist. A project develops in several stages. When I discover an interesting space and have developed an overarching concept or theme for it, I automatically think of artists who could fit the theme or the place. After I have invited the artists, in the next step they look at the respective places and develop their ideas. My task is to connect the individual projects, to choreograph the entire space, so to speak.”

And then to secure it politically and financially. What is the financial framework of the current project and who helped to implement it?

Ambach: “It has come to a total amount of 700.000€. Almost a quarter of the sum was subsidised by the city of Düsseldorf, the Kunststiftung NRW is the main sponsor, followed by the state of NRW and other sponsors. When calculating all projects, it is particularly important to me that artist’s fees are taken into account, which unfortunately is increasingly becoming an exception in cultural work.”

This is indeed a huge problem that urgently requires a change in thinking. To what extent do you think it is important – besides the financial aspect – for artists to (also) work in public space?

Ambach: “Public space challenges us to confront completely different conditions. In contrast to a museum, this space is available to everyone. The artist is therefore not limited to their own art, but has to, or rather may, work with the people who are also using the space. Also, the artist must take the infrastructural conditions into account, which often require flexibility in the modification of the design. At the same time, however, public space allows formats that could not be realized in the working structure of a museum and make a major contribution to fulfilling the very mission of art as a socially and politically relevant medium. Therefore, I consider the project work as an extension of artistic production possibilities and an addition to museum and institutional work.”

Is it still possible to incorporate your own artistic mindset within the meanwhile gigantic organizational effort of your project work?

Ambach: “Absolutely. On the one hand, it is the respective concept idea that I develop as a whole. On the other hand, it is the choreography of the whole space that I approach differently from an artist’s point of view than a classical curator would do.

Final question: Who will be present and how can those interested find out about the schedule of events?

Ambach: “Present are: Katharina Sieverding, Neïl Beloufa, Ines Doujak, Natascha Sadr Haghighian, Andreas Siekmann, Manuel Graf, Paloma Varga Weisz, Christiane and Irene Hohenbüchler, John Miller, Christian Odzuck, Pola Sieverding, Fari Shams, Maximiliane Baumgartner & Alex Wissel, Palina Vetter, Mira Mann & Sean Mullan, Isabelle Fürnkäs and Jan Hoeft. In addition to the project newsletter, which is available all over in Düsseldorf, there is the possibility of subscribing to the newsletter or keeping updated using social media.

I look forward to seeing what you come up with!

Markus Ambach mit Elke Backes

Studying the project newsletter

More Information

… about the artist:

… about the projects:

Von fremden Ländern in eigenen Städten:

Der urbane Kongress:

B1|A40 Die Schoenheit der großen Straße:

Choreografie einer Landschaft:

parcours interdit:

wildlife- ein Garten von.fuer Künstler: