Edwin Carels talks to George Clark
The State of Things: Tim Shore
10 March 2011
An Eye for An Eye by Valeria Fonseca An Eye for An Eye by Valeria Fonseca We talked to Tim Shore, Head of Animation at London College of Communication about ‘the state ...
Kiron Hussain
21 January 2011
Slick Horsing, Kiron Hussain We caught up with Kiron Hussain – winner of the Animate Projects Award for Best Experimental Film at this year’s London Short Film Festival – seeking enlightenment ...
David Jacques
13 January 2011
North Canada - English Electric, David Jacques We talked to David Jacques, nominated for the Northern Art Prize,  about his film North Canada – English Electric. An exhibition of work by the ...
Terry Flaxton
14 December 2010
Tor Portraits, Terry Flaxton We talked to Terry Flaxton on the occasion of his exhibition of high resolution digital works at London’s Ambika P3 gallery. On until 19 December, 10–6, Wednesday ...
Martha Jurksaitis
17 November 2010
Red Shift, Gunvor Nelson We spoke to Martha Jurksaitis, Deputy Programme Manager of the Leeds International Film Festival (LIFF) and founder of independent experimental film organisation, Cherry Kino. The Cherry Kino programme at LIFF continues this ...
Edwin Carels talks to George Clark
Break Even Concept Store, IFFR 2010

Break Even Concept Store, IFFR 2010

To explore some of these issues I raised in my look at how Rotterdam International Film Festival has changed, and to look at how festivals can operate now and respond to the current climate, I talked with the curator Edwin Carels who has contributed innovative programmes and exhibitions to the Rotterdam over the years. Coming from the visual arts, his projects play a fundamental role to counter-point the film focus of the festival and propose new models for how work is made, shown and disseminated. This year his project, Break Even, took the form of a pop-up store in the heart of the festival. Using this model he paralleled the festival’s various facets, from its mainstay of screenings and discussions, to his shop market, which paralleled the long running co-production market Cinemart.

How did the project come about?

Every year the festival has a big thematic programme and the central idea this year was to go online – to have a 2.0 festival with the Cinema Reloaded project to co-produce films by buying coins online as well as using YouTube as a platform. Which is relevant, obviously – it’s very topical at this moment. But what is it really about? It’s really about the economy of images, it’s about new forms of production and presentation of images and I think that is absolutely something that needs to be addressed.

So I said maybe my shop idea would work in a complimentary way to that, to present the other side. This project is resolutely off-line. I want people to come here to buy and to discover that which is peripherally in their vision and also discover other people. So I went for it. As with Kino Climates, the idea was there, but I argued that this should be part of Cinema Reloaded, as it’s another form of economic survival within a very different kind of situation. So these projects are a combination of different approaches to the central question of the festival.

How important is the location for this project – to be situated here in the centre of Rotterdam and amongst the festival venues, rather than in one of the galleries south of the centre?

As well as the online project, another inclination of our relatively new director is the desire for the marginal to be in the centre. So he was adamant about having Kino Climates in the centre at the Schouwburg, not in Lantaren/Venster. When we went looking for a site I was assuming that there would be plenty of bankrupt or empty storefronts, yet this location, which was the most central, wasn’t bankrupt! This location had been used to sell the most expensive flats in Holland, which are still to be built. I’m very happy with the location, its really key to the success.

It seems that even within this small space you’ve managed to make a parallel or replica of the whole festivals and its different sub sections?

Well for me that’s it – a shop can be sort of emblematic for the festival. We want to be on ground level, so we’re not hiding or doing elitist things. I think this festival is a non-red carpet festival, which I really like, but at the same time we don’t compromise on our tastes. If it’s all obscure names then it’s all obscure names, and you just learn to pronounce them and be excited by them.

I’ve learned my marketing terms – so my ‘bubble plan’ – which is how you organise stores – is just what I think is relevant now – in my opinion. So as a programmer, I’ve compiled shelves, rather than films in a theatre, though it’s the same principle.

I heard that Eisenstein did the same with his bookshelves and he really had an order for how to match this and that. So there is a kind of editing going on in that sense, and a reshuffle everyday. But I’ve also invited a lot of people to contribute – I said, bring your suitcase, I’ll give you some money, surprise me. And I’m amazed by what people have sent. There is this whole generosity thing going on. I used the money that I normally get to make an exhibition or film programme to develop this concept and I’ve already broken even, more or less on day one. All the rest is just a kind of bonus, as we don’t have to make a profit.

It seems like this project is very much about acknowledging the underlying presence of the market at film festivals?

Absolutely. I mean they call it the industry! Amongst ourselves, and in Cinemart, it’s nothing but economic talk, but for the public it’s just not apparent. I mean, it is for big American productions, but for art house films there are just as many economic concerns. It’s all about economy, as is the whole internet thing. That’s why getting away with the title of the store, Break Even, was already half the job done. Everyone talks about how they have to break even… it’s a purely economic term.

So it’s a concept store in the sense that I don’t mind if I sell a lot or not. I think the meeting ground is important, sharing this idea and pointing towards it is important.

Most filmmakers don’t earn a living from their work, so they have to apply for funds, etc. So this is not going to make a difference to their career apart from the fact that they want to be part of this environment. Content wise, I haven’t compromised. For very personal reasons I’m happy to change after doing so many exhibitions in the past to another location – it’s a new challenge and set of parameters. It’s fun! And also a programme of films, an exhibition, live events – they are now all in here.

Do you think that this project is also a reflection on the position of artists’ work within a festival like Rotterdam?

Well, there’s little other art in the festival this year and that unfortunately has to do with the credit crunch and sponsorship, etc. Once I got the idea and I knew I could develop it I started looking around and talking to people. It is a format, the pop-up shop is a viable format because you don’t pay rent for very long, you don’t pay staff longer than necessary. In the art world you see a lot of that, exhibitions of self-publishing, etc. I brought some of the stuff at PS1 during this big New York art book fair, there were amazing things. I mean it’s not about books there either; it’s about lots of different multiples. So this cottage industry is increasingly important.

But what do you think the status is when a cottage industry is incorporated into the institutions of art?

You could consider my role within the festival as that of a jester! I seem to be contracting the argument of Cinema Reloaded but at the same time strengthening it. I see it as a complimentary action. For instance, yesterday we had Vincent Meessen presenting his new work with 10 people and talking for two hours afterwards only about semiotics, Roland Barthes and Africa in a wonderful exchange with Kevin Jerome Everson. And if you can do that in the heart of the festival, here, between the Doelen and the Pathe, if we can talk about Barthes for two hours, that’s great, that’s generous. For me it’s a most happy experience because of the direct interaction.

Artists work often seems to challenge the structure and preconceptions that festivals have about what work is and how it can or should be presented – how do you understand the position of artists’ work at film festival?

I’m very happy about the position that I can take – maybe I don’t have a position, I don’t have a territory, I’m not [representing] Sweden, Germany, Austria and have to scout there. Every year I try out new formats, that I think are topical, of this moment – so that’s why I’ve done programmes on music, and on television, because there was a cultural relevance to the technology. It’s basically more of a Cinema Regained programme here; it’s homage to those disappearing stores. In our daily ‘trade paper’ Unfinished Business we have the story about Kim’s Video, the Mecca for New Yorkers, that is now gone, it’s in Sicily, an Italian bought it and now it’s gone. There was a shop in Brussels, Le Bonhier, The happiness, which had been there for 15 years and you went in and brought the taste of the guy, it could be chocolate, it could be DVDs, books, but also children’s toys. I like those places but they are disappearing because of the Internet, because of online stores.

The project seems to be true to the idea that the role of festivals is to propose different structures for how culture can be configured understood and produced?

Yes. I used to programme the Exploding Cinema section, but we had to explode that, and we’re trying out new formats and asking, well, is this viable? Interesting? A lot of people from a lot of festivals have seen this now, so you never know. It’s also a take on branding, there is no Tiger – the festival logo – in the store. We did tap into the house style with the Break Even logo so on many levels there’s a play with the components of the festival and that is part of the joke! It’s problematising it and at the same time trying to use and understand it. That’s why I showed Farocki’s The Creators of Shopping Worlds (2001)  on the first day so you actually get a crash course in how to do it. In the evening we had a crash course in becoming a pickpocket. So the whole give and take; theory and practice.

Depending on how deep you want to dive into the layers of the concept, you could actually just stumble in here like some police officers did and curiously look around but leave with something in your hands or you can see it as being a performance. There have been many examples before, like Vito Acconci’s bookstore for Documenta was a great one. I’m not reinventing the wheel here, that’s why I only want to do it now, within the framework of the larger theme it makes sense to do this. We had lots of lucky moments with the programming with the settling of the urban estate office and someone just brought Tati’s Playtime which is perfect!

The corporate steel and glass location is an unusual place for a screening especially the difficulty to create a blackout, for one screening here light and shadows kept coming in from the street outside…

Yes, extra shadow play! I’m happy that people are open to it and the artists are not anal about super perfect conditions, there are more important things than that. One of the best comments came from curator Mark McElhatten at the end of that night, “The setting was far from perfect but it was ideal!”

About the Author: George Clark is a curator, writer and artist. At the Independent Cinema Office between 2006 and 2008 he managed a range of touring projects including: ‘Essentials: The Secret Masterpieces of Cinema‘, ‘Artists & Icons’ and ‘The Artists Cinema 2006′. Independent curatorial projects include ‘The Unstable States of…’, ‘Without Boundaries: European Artists’ Film and Video’ and the retrospective ‘The Cinema of Miklos Jancso’ [co-curated with Travis Miles]. He has written for Art Monthly, Afterall, Sight & Sound, Senses of Cinema and Vertigo Magazine among other publications. He is currently collaborating with the artist Beatrice Gibson on the script for a film commissioned by the Serpentine Gallery and Camden Council.

Tell us what you're thinking...