Header BA Studios Seestadt 6 Alexi Pelekanos

The Bank Austria Studio of Contemporary Matters.
Photo: Alexi Pelekanos

30.11.2021

Joint Forces

How does one work as a collective? This is a question that many are asking right now. The Viennese art and discussion platform Contemporary Matters is showing the way: Some of its projects involve up to 20 people.

Contemporary Matters was formed in 2018 by students of history of art. Pamela Heilig is a member of the core team and explains to you here precisely how the platform works and what the central issues are.

The core team of Contemporary Matters

Anyone who has prepared a presentation for university knows how much work is involved. Ideas must be presented clearly and a structure has to be developed. How on earth can this work in a collective? “We sit together at our computers for nine hours without a break and work on a lecture,” explains Pamela Heilig, who belongs to the core team of Contemporary Matters. “Some of us are sitting on chairs dotted around our studio in Seestadt, others join in from home. We work in a hybrid manner.”

For a feminist, queer, global history of art

The objective of the platform Contemporary Matters is revealed by its name: finding a contemporary approach to issues. “We believe that every art history is written in the present,” can be read on the homepage. In other words, the past must be constantly questioned and examined from today’s perspective. How queer, feminist, national or regional was the baroque? Or antiquity? A rigid canon can’t be the solution because this excludes many individuals and interesting approaches.

Contemporary Matters was founded in 2018 by students of history of art in Vienna. The establishment of the platform was motivated by a certain level of dissatisfaction with their studies. “Our aim was to become a platform for content that wasn’t adequately taught at university: Discussions, a global history of art and feminist issues.” In the meantime, most of those involved have completed their studies and live and work in other contexts.

Decisions are taken democratically

The core team of Contemporary Matters consists of seven people but up to 20 can be involved in concrete projects. “This mutual exchange and the diversity of opinions and ideas is one of the most appealing aspects of our work,” explains Pamela. “We decide as a grass-roots democracy and this requires more time. Of course this can sometimes demand patience, but it’s essential for us to hear a range of voices.”

The collective is working in one of the Bank Austria Studios in Seestadt. Photo: Alexi Pelekanos

Countering the myth of the expert

And what about content? “The focus of our work is discussion. Rather than putting the finished product first, we’re interested in the learning process, as a result of which we’re also highly self-critical. We say: Perhaps we don’t have the expertise but we’re keen to try out new things and to learn.” However, this still leads to some very concrete things. To a journal, for example, that puts its faith in multiple perspectives and seeks to motivate young people to present their point of view. It’s not about the myth of the “expert” or even “geniuses” but, rather, about sharing points of view. Contemporary Matters takes its commitment to being an open platform very seriously: Anyone can take part actively at any time. Texts – from reviews of exhibitions to poems and academic essays – can be submitted regularly (in German and English).

Looking at the world from more perspectives

“For us, feminism is always an issue,” says Pamela. But we also want to deconstruct hierarchies of production in order to be able to look at the world from more perspectives. There’s already been a symposium on the subject of biodiversity and an exhibition on the Karlsplatz that addressed the history of the location and asked: To whom does this place in the heart of Vienna actually belong? And podcasts are also produced regularly. Plans for the future include series of workshops and reading circles.

Has that made you curious? The best thing would be to follow Contemporary Matters on Facebook or Instagram, because these will tell you about the open calls to submit texts to the journal. And there are also regular round table chats.