afloat assembly is a para-institution and residence programme for contemporary art on a sailing boat in a small peninsula in Northern Germany, which serves as a platform for artistic research and production at various sea-side locations. At the centre of the programme is the boat as a place of international exchange and transdisciplinary discourse. The decentralised model, anchored in both urban and rural locations, encourages trans-locational and durational formats and thus scrutinizes current modes of centralised and fast-paced art production. In Fall 2020, afloat assembly’s founder, curator Christian Luebbert, sat down with us to discuss the program’s first iteration, reflecting on the year just passed and the one ahead of us. This is the first in an ongoing series of artist-run dialogues hosted by space52.
In conversation with Ariana Kalliga
Where did the idea for a residency on a sailing boat come from?
Christian Luebbert: I grew up at the coast in the countryside of Northern Germany. Bringing together my worlds – the city, the rural, the seaside, the arts, and my childhood experiences of sailing – has always been top of mind for me. Working for Delfina Foundation, which facilitates artistic exchange and offers a residency programme for international artists in London, got me interested in organising my own residency. In 2017, together with Cristina Ramos, I initiated Arnis Residency – a two-week-long programme for international artists aiming to engage with the rural and local context of a small peninsula in Northern Germany. The idea of hosting an art institution on a boat had fascinated me since my curatorial studies at Goldsmiths in London. That some people were referring to Arnis Residency as a ‘boat residency’ – even though the boat was actually only a part of it – was an additional motivation. The first lockdown due to Covid-19 gave me the final push to try it, despite the odds, despite not being sure how or if this could even be possible.
What is the importance of a floating initiative like this? How do you approach the sea thematically, curatorially, or theoretically?
Simply being on a boat creates a context which allows to consider new forms of engagements from and with the ocean. The boat acts as a laboratory and meeting point, a form of alternative display, naturally making us look at the ocean as a vital but threatened ecosystem, while literally moving from a terrestrial viewpoint to a maritime perspective. However, I also see afloat assembly as an institution with different thematic frameworks, with a trans-disciplinary approach addressing issues beyond the oceanic field. I like the idea of a slow journey, taking place multiple times and allowing the initiative to unfold its practical and theoretical discourses over a longer period of time.
Can you describe the experience of the first afloat assembly?
On the one hand, there were those residents who joined during the journey at different stops. On the other, those who contributed from afar. Each leg of the journey was about one week long, starting at a bigger city and continuing to smaller rural places along the way, allowing to engage with a context beyond the urban fabric. There were 18 people involved in total with each group and week being special in their own way. It was a valuable place for encounters between the artists, theorists, curators and the changing audiences. I really enjoyed each of the projects. It was great to see those public but intimate situations where people who would otherwise rarely get in touch with contemporary art got into long conversations with the participants. But I also found great pleasure in the internal exchange and discourses taking place along the whole journey.
How do you fund your program and are there avenues for independently-run artist initiatives like afloat to fund their programs in Germany?
I knew it would be difficult to get funding due to time constraints and of course the situation around Covid-19, but this didn’t distract me from my motivation. I started planning the project only about a month before and as I was short of time I could not secure major financial funding. However, I had generous supporters providing contributions in kind which I am very thankful for. This will look different for the coming years. All of these efforts to find funding at least paid off in contacts for the following editions.
In regards to funding programmes like these, each city and region in Germany has their own cultural funding bodies. Other opportunities exist for institutions such as the German non-profit “Verein”. I can also recommend looking at funding opportunities from each of the artists’ countries and their embassies.
Are you going to be making any changes to your platform ahead of 2021? Can you tell us about some of the projects you have in store?
There hasn’t been much time for a proper retrospect and further development yet as the project was organised very shortly before its realisation. I just came back a few days ago from this year’s Arnis Residency which took place right after. There will be some structural changes, meaning in the first place to get more people involved. After that we will decide how everything is going to move on. Some of this year’s projects are continuous, which is connected to an approach with contributions growing over a longer period of time. One of them is for instance looking at the impact of colonisation on indigenous land and plant life. For me this perennial approach was important to counter an already overly present fast-paced production in the arts. With two projects of this kind so far, I aim for an on-going series, which supports durational approaches that engage with local sites and contexts for more than one edition.
Is a global solidarity between non-profit artist-run spaces needed? If so, what could this look like?
I think that we need to think about initiatives that bring people closer to each other in general. It should not solely be about solidarity between artist-run spaces but more about solidarity between individuals, collectives and initiatives. Maybe this could work once we do not only find better ways to connect the spaces but connect the people associated with them.