Time Without Qualities

Twenty-five years of Solitude. What has changed? Over 1,200 fellows have spent time at the Akademie since 1990, a »time without qualities,« only belonging to them. In an interview, Jean-Baptiste Joly, the director of Akademie Schloss Solitude, sums up the years following the institution’s foundation and talks about the biggest changes and latest projects. A new Digital Solitude fellowship program will start in 2016, together with the launch of a new online platform. For the Akademie, becoming its own media and therefore a new visibility for the Solitude life also means breaking »the boundaries between inside and outside Solitude, between public and private, between exchange and formalization.« How will that influence the Solitude experience and who should the new fellows be?

Clara Herrmann/Marte Kräher: Twenty-five years of Solitude: How would you sum up this time period, where more than 1,200 fellows have entered and left the Akademie? What is the main difference when you think of the start of the Akademie and when you see it nowadays?

Jean-Baptiste Joly: It is easier to speak about what hasn’t changed than about what has. We still have the same selection system with one juror deciding alone in one art field for one jury session, though the number of applicants grew from 400 in 1990 to 3,000 in 2014. We still offer the fellows a complete freedom in their use of the time spent in Solitude. I’ve probably said it a million times to new arriving fellows that the time they spend in Solitude belongs to them and not to the institution. The main difference can be deduced from the background of the fellows themselves. Today, the fellows are not only exclusively from Europe, but come from all the continents in the world. Along with the ever denser international networking in the Akademie, you can observe increasingly fast-paced developments. The fellows of the 21st century are nomads and hardly ever spend their time at the Akademie on one piece, but rather with interruptions. Everyone wants to simultaneously be everywhere and can no longer allow themselves to stay a whole year. As opposed to in the ’90s, the majority of current fellows have an exact idea what project they want to work on here. The original task of Akademie Schloss Solitude to facilitate a deceleration and a »time without qualities« for the artists here, in which they can develop and implement their ideas without any external pressure, is all the more important since small miracles can happen in such moments of freedom.

CH/MK: In hindsight, what were the biggest changes that the Akademie itself has made in the last 25 years?

JBJ: The creation of the Edition Solitude in 1991 or 1992 for the publications of the fellows; the fellowship for coordination in 1996; programs abroad from 1998 on; exchange programs with Eastern European NGOs from 2001 on. A major change was the creation of the new fellowship program for art, science and business in 2002 in order to promote the interdisciplinary exchange between those disciplines. The next major change will be the creation of the Digital Solitude fellowships, and the launch of a new content focused online platform next year.

CH/MK: Where and when was the idea for this online platform born and what is it about?

JBJ: It is somewhat difficult to precisely date the initial moment. The idea was probably born in 2013, when Akademie Schloss Solitude decided to create a new profile for a coordination fellowship. Or rather, a new double profile: on the one hand accompanying another new program called the »cooperation fellowship with local partners,« and on the other dedicated to new media and content production. Looking back, I can precisely describe the shift that we were initiating, but at that time it was an unformulated intuition: Akademie Schloss Solitude should become its own media, no more depending exclusively on the voices of others (journalists, critics, press, etc.) to communicate its content with the outside world.

CH/MK: One of the main ideas of the Akademie is to offer a protected space for artists and their ideas, projects and works. Do you see a contradiction between this idea and a more active online communication?

JBJ: Why would you see a contradiction? I don’t think that our primary role is to offer protection, but rather to promote and support them in different ways like with the fellowship, good working conditions, networking, and – last but not least – making their work and practice visible. In that sense, this new program offers a new dimension to our support for artists. We accompany them into another space of activity and transfer of knowledge on the net.

CH/MK: One focal point of the new online platform is the new Digital Solitude fellowship program starting in 2016. Who is the Akademie looking for?

JBJ: We are looking for a new division of work between artists, journalists, designers, and developers rather than for precisely defined people. We have no clue who will apply for this program, but I can imagine that we will be surprised and delighted by unexpected applications, behind which we will discover people whom we would never have thought of for this program and who will make a success out of our initial intuition.

CH/MK: Can you explain how the content, the artistic, and scientific discourse is normally produced?

JBJ: This is a difficult question. Let’s try to explain it with some images like: interested in all that is happening in the margins of the organization of a public cultural institution, there where nothing is given for granted and no one is following existing paths; organizing a kind of biotope where vegetable, mineral, and animal elements can coexist, counting on the mutual empathy between the participants (we call them »fellows«) to become curious about each other and about their different works and practices. It took me a few years to understand that these are actually the strengths of the institution. Creating our own media with a new online platform means also breaking the boundaries between inside and outside Solitude, between public and private, between exchange and formalization. Let’s see how it will influence and probably change the Solitude experience.

CH/MK: What is your vision in terms of how the online platform will hopefully affect daily life at the Akademie?

JBJ: Vision is not the right term. Let’s instead speak about the reasons why this move was necessary. The visibility of the Solitude program is international, our jurors are international, the fellows come from more than 110 countries, the topics Solitude is working on are part of a critical and globalized discourse. But until now the content delivered by the Akademie was only accessible on a local level and sold – I would say – under value. Now the content produced in Solitude will be permanently and almost immediately (because you’ll be working on this!) visible. Another important point about this is that the difference between public and internal will almost disappear, that is the difference between public events and the daily life of the Akademie, where so many things happened that are not visible for the outside. If I have a vision, it is exactly this.