There are not many places in Vilnius in Lithuania that carry out their cultural activities integrally. By ‘integrally’ here, we do not mean a model combining the studios of artists, musicians and other creative people, or a blend of exhibitions and concerts, but rather a connection between one culture and another. These cultures are club culture and Internet art. This ‘union’ was the basis for a conversation with Panke’s owners, Erika-Vabaliukas (Šiekštelytė) and Justas-Liezhuwis (Rudžianskas), the panke.gallery curator Robert Sakrowski, and Milena Černiakaitė Morkevičienė, who is responsible for the development of the gallery’s activities. Panke opened in Berlin in 2009 as a space for music, contemporary art, discussion, performances and films, but became better known on the Lithuanian scene as an innovative space generating and producing projects during the Newman festival of contemporary music and art in 2015, when its music and artistic line-up were noted as being particularly relevant. Berliners and visitors to the city became better acquainted with Panke last year, when it was a host location for panke.gallery, with its defined concept and focused line of activities.
For those who have not heard of Panke, could you describe briefly what sort of place it is, and its position within the Berlin context?
Justas: To describe Panke, we use first and foremost the words ‘multifunctional space’. The space that we opened invites different people to take part, create and organise events. Yes, that activity shouldn’t contradict what we ourselves like [smiles]. So basically, everyone is invited to contribute to Panke’s activities, but of course we do have a selection process. Very often, if we meet someone and they and what they do seem interesting to us, we’ll suggest working together straightaway.
Erika: It’s a DIY place, so sometimes time is needed to achieve what you want. For instance, there had been a gallery space planned for Panke from the very beginning, but we only managed to achieve the desired results last year [meaning panke.gallery]. With the gallery which has a defined concept, we can currently see that the audience is changing, or rather a new one is developing. In five years’ time, Panke could become, say, a place for artists’ residences. This is also a vision we had from the very beginning. So, the place is constantly changing, as we set new goals for it. By the way, taken apart from panke.gallery, Panke on its own is our favourite club, it has the best hip-hop parties in the whole of Berlin [smiles].
Justas: There are plenty of multifunctional places in Berlin, this is not how we’re different. Where we differ is our music. Also, the place we have with all its space allows us to organise all kinds of events, since there are yards and terraces around Panke … We’re also based in the Wedding area, which hasn’t attracted many tourists yet, and which has its pros and cons.
Milena: As a space, for Germans and Berliners, Panke is like a Mecca of the 1990s, because there aren’t many places like this left, most have been renovated.
You mention the audience of Panke and panke.gallery, Erika. What is it like, and can we call it a community that over a couple of years has become inseparable from the place itself?
Erika: Since there are a lot of events taking place in Panke that are organised by other people, naturally, the audience depends a lot on the kind of people that come to these events.
Justas: I agree. While every event organised in Panke has its own audience, we as a place do have a community, which is made up of the neighbours, cafés and shops. We’re in touch with local artists and visit their events. So, the audience for every event is different and growing, while the community is more or less stable.
Do Lithuanians visit events organised by you and by others? Are you maybe an embassy for alternative culture and music for the Lithuanian community?
Erika: We’re a very specific place, so we can’t really be a place for Lithuanian music or the Lithuanian community.
Justas: Most Lithuanians who come to Berlin to study or live come over to us at some point, but we do not promote the Lithuanian identity in any way. One of the legendary concerts that took place here was the one given by Andrius Mamontovas [on 4 June 2016], where you could meet probably eighty per cent of the Lithuanians living in Berlin. However, what connects us is our common interests, not our nationality.
How did you get involved with Panke and panke.gallery, Milena?
Milena: I’ve known about Panke and its activities for many years. But a working relationship, if you can call it that, began in the context of Vorspiel [https://vorspiel.berlin/ ], which is the parallel programme of the Transmediale international digital art and culture festival. At the beginning of 2016, we were invited together with the photography artist Visvaldas Morkevičius to organise an exhibition. Later on, when Erika and Justas decided the gallery should move in another direction, and Sakrowski started to curate it, I was invited to organise exhibitions, and to be responsible for communications. That was one of the main reasons for my move to Berlin.
In 2015, Sakrowski, you curated the artistic programme of contemporary music and the Newman arts festival, whose initiators were Erika and Justas. Was that the beginning of your friendship with Erika and Justas?
Sakrowski: That moment wasn’t exactly the Newman festival. My friend had a studio here [in Wedding, close to Panke]. We met at his studio to talk about a project we were doing together at that time. He suggested visiting a bar that was just around the corner. I should mention that at that time there weren’t a lot of places around here. I didn’t know that place, so my friend wanted to show it to me and introduce me to local ‘players’. He was planning an exhibition at Panke of his own and his friends’ artwork, including mine, for his birthday party. He wanted me to present part of my project called Curatingyoutube.net.
So, we came to the place, and I was introduced to Erika and Justas. First of all, I liked the space, the openness to different art projects, and the fact that these people were interested in digital art. And that was the first time Panke appeared on my mental map.
The same year, I worked on the Transmediale festival, and as a curator, Daniela [Silvestrin] and I were thinking of including a more local scene in the programme. I saw Erika at one of the meetings, and after the meeting she shared a plan for the Newman festival. So, it was even before Newman, and after the festival our friendship got much stronger.
So how did you become a curator with panke.gallery?
Sakrowski: Last year, a friend and I were interested in opening a gallery in Berlin for Internet-based art and net.art. I remembered Panke, but my friend didn’t like it, because of the ‘smell of the club’. He left, but I stayed. I remember thinking: ‘why not, the space is great, the guys are nice, maybe it’s not a ‘white cube’, but that’s not my thing either’ [smiles].
How can the main concept of panke.gallery be described?
Sakrowski: As a curator, my main interest is digital art, especially net-based art. I’ve been working in this field for over twenty years. The exhibition space inside Panke is not a gallery space, it doesn’t have a ‘white cube’ effect, it exists together with the club, and is part of Wedding, which is still a bit outside the centre. However, it’s inseparable from the club, and has a multifunctional effect, so you need to be in conversation with others and their ideas.
I try to change the perspective, because Berliners see Panke and don’t know what it is. I try to position the gallery with a strong concept, which is to connect artists who are connected with club culture. They’re visual artists, but still have a strong connection with club culture, and with Internet-based art. And because of my age and my experience, and also my position, artists who exhibit here need to be from different generations, my generation and younger. So, I bring them together because I have contacts with both sides, and I often realise that they don’t know each other.
Milena: I’m convinced that one of the strongest aspects of panke.gallery is its curator. In my view, Berlin is the capital of digital and Internet art, and so the curator of panke.gallery is a Berliner who has lived here for almost all of his life, and has been in the field for over twenty years. This is very important in Berlin. Many things come down to him: connections, sustained interest in and detailed knowledge of the field, and the focused development of activities. You could joke that Sakrowski was curating Internet art even before it existed.
I agree with Sakrowski that there was a clear concept for the gallery from the very beginning, as well as a dialogue between old and new generations of Internet artists, and between art and the club. The link between club culture and Internet art is unavoidable, since most artists come from ‘nightlife’.
Sakrowski: Internet-based artists, or artists who work in the field of Internet culture and exhibit in panke.gallery, have to live in Berlin, because I’m interested in creating a dialogue between them.
Why do Internet artists need to present in a real physical space?
Sakrowski: Because Internet art can be performance or site-specific art, it might be a visual object, and so on. Another reason is that during openings we don’t just have exhibitions, but also musical events. I think that, for me, part of art is the discourse and relations between people. We don’t just produce art, we also discuss it.
Art is really important to define your identity, at least in Berlin. And for me, it’s important to create a scene, to bring people together. I’m often in the gallery, I take tours round, I have a lot of talks. This is a rule of the gallery and a tool to mediate it. Internet art is, normally, usually, mostly, a very intimate form of relation, a one-to-one interaction or participation. The gallery is like a media discourse, a place to meet, talk, and see each other. Building a community is what I do.
Milena: Having a club and a gallery in one space is really exceptional, and it’s not even very common here in Berlin. Apart from the fact that after exhibition openings people often move to Panke spaces or on to its stage, this element of a single space allows the gallery to carry out its activities beyond its limits. For example, this is how panke.gallery soundnight, an experimental event for electronic and avant-garde music organised by the gallery, was born. It takes place in Panke, but is curated by panke.gallery.
The activities of panke.gallery are not limited to exhibitions: we also organise other events in parallel with it. I see the space itself more as a project space than a gallery, since we don’t sell works and don’t represent artists as a gallery. In the short period that we’ve existed, we initiated the boox.store and router.gallery projects. We also publish artists’ editions. The virtual game ‘The Internet. Express’, created by the artist Jonas Lund and Sakrowski, took on a physical form and was presented at panke.gallery in September 2017. It has now been transferred to Panke.
The router.gallery project is an interesting model for representing Internet art exhibitions and projects. Could you tell us how you came up with the idea for an ‘offline gallery’, and why it is located at Panke rather than in a gallery space?
Sakrowski: It’s a digital space which is not connected to the Internet, and it’s inspired by the work of the artist Aram Bartholl. I really like the idea of exhibiting Internet art in a device, for example, using a router. Everybody can see the device by connecting with WiFi, and see the works or projects that are on show at that moment. It’s a good possibility to invite other curators to curate projects, to present something that doesn’t work in a gallery space, or when exhibiting it there would be really hard. Also, the projects at router.gallery are accessible during club events after gallery working hours. For people who are looking for free Internet and who choose router.gallery, this is often an ‘Aha’ moment … And that’s how people get closer to art …
Milena: Also, projects available at router.gallery rotate less that those in a gallery setting, while the information is easily accessible through any device with a WiFi connection, whether it’s a computer, tablet or mobile phone. There’s a project Public Library/Memory of the World currently taking place, which has over 2,000 uploaded e-books that you can download and read online.
Talking of the artist Aram Bartholl, I’ve been following his artistic career for a long time and I’m a fan of his, so I was very happy to get the opportunity to meet him in Berlin. By the way, one of the projects he initiated, Dead Drops [https://deaddrops.com/ ], a USB stick cast in concrete in a publicly accessible wall, as an anonymous peer-to-peer way of exchanging information, has spread around the world, and somebody has installed it in Vilnius too: you can find a USB sticking out of a wall on Subačiaus Street.
What about panke.gallery’s position in the context of Berlin and Internet art? What distinguishes it from others?
Sakrowski: I would say that there are not so many galleries dealing with Internet-based art in Europe. Here in Berlin, Internet art has a long tradition, going back to the 1980s: strong figures, the Transmediale festival, and so on. Berlin plays an important role in developing Internet art, because many artists still live here. The gallery is lucky to be able to include them in the programme. Talking about galleries in Berlin, there are some, such as the Future gallery, which presents artists of the post-Internet generation. It’s an influential gallery, which goes to art fairs. I can’t compare myself with that kind of gallery, because I’ve never been interested in the art market, or art as business. I’m interested in reflecting it, but not having dealings with it. That’s part of my personal history, because I was born in East Berlin. I wasn’t trained in that activity, and so it’s a bit strange to me. It’s not bad, but it’s not my position. I’d like to have a gallery with discourses. Also, I’d love to finance the gallery from membership and from our editions. We’ve only been working for a year, so everything is in the future …
Thanks to all for the conversation.