Peggy Schoenegge

Peggy Schoenegge, Foto: Mathilde Hansen

Peggy Schoenegge on digital art, accessible art education and the balance between work and everyday life

What are you working on at the moment?

Right now I’m in the process of organizing ›Digital Art Lab‹, which will open during Berlin Art Week on 13 September 2023 as part of the VR Kunstpreis der DKB in collaboration with CAA, featuring Alistair Hudson (ZKM) at Haus am Lützowplatz. As part of the exhibition ›Unleashed Utopia: Künstlerische Spekulationen über Gegenwart und Zukunft im Metaverse‹ (9 SEP—15 NOV 2023), talks, panels, workshops, and performances will be taking place around the subject of virtual reality art during a five-day festival. ›Digital Art Lab‹ will serve as a hub for the public to discover exciting, virtual worlds, immerse themselves in speculative, utopian visions of the future, and exchange ideas with renowned experts. Boris Eldagsen, for example, will discuss the development of artificial intelligence and the role it plays in art, while VR-pioneer Matt Mullican will report on the early days of VR art. Sabine Himmelsbach (HeK, Basel) and Marlies Wirth (MAK, Vienna) will discuss the challenges that digital arts and the media present to institutions. A highlight will be the prize award ceremony 15 SEP 2023, when the prize jury will announce which of the five nominated artists—Marlene Bart, Anan Fries, Mohsen Hazrati, Rebecca Merlic, and Lauren Moffatt—will receive this year’s VR Kunstpreis.

What are you reading or listening to right now?

I’m currently reading ›The Sculptural in the (Post-) Digital Age‹, edited by Mara-Johanna Kölmel and Ursula Ströbele. The collection includes several essays on the concept of the sculpture in a digital context. It explores how new media influence the sculptural and how art develops with technological progress. In this context, new art forms emerge and establish themselves. I consider this book an important contribution to understanding the meaning digital art already has for the canon of art history and will have in future. It makes it clear how important it is to confront this issue.

What does good art education/outreach require?

Good art education or outreach keeps the exhibition visitors in mind and recognizes the individual needs of particular groups. This is not always easy in terms of divergent backgrounds in approaching art, so that’s why events like ›Digital Art Lab‹ are so important. It is about opening a place of engagement and immersion. At issue is offering a low-threshold access to the public and to create points of contact to allow them to immerse themselves in the various artistic worlds. At Coding Art Labs, for example, VR experts communicate their knowledge: in workshops that cater to various levels of experience, they allow a glimpse inside the various programs and ways of working. Participants have the opportunity to create their own applications. With art, we have the possibility of achieving new perspectives and strengthening values like openness, diversity, and tolerance. Good art education and outreach provides this awareness and uses art as an instrument for education and social change. In this way, it plays an important social role.

Do you have a favourite building?

There’s no one single building that I especially like. What I find more interesting are various construction styles and forms, a mixture where the elements complement and then again contrast with one another. It evokes the spirit of the past and today and recalls constant change. Becoming aware of the flow of time helps us to leave our own comfort zone. Just as architects have over and over taken a new perspective on the building, the city, and human beings, we should also be ready to take a new position to gain new points of view and expand our horizons.

Is there someone you would like to meet?

That’s a hard question that I really can’t answer directly. It’s always exciting to exchange ideas with the pioneers of digital art. It would be wonderful to speak with Vera Molnár about the beginnings of computer art/generative art or with Char Davies about her VR work ›Osmose‹ and the challenges of VR art in the 1990s. I would also have liked to meet Peter Weibel personally. For my own art, it’s always helpful to go back to the origins of new developments in order to understand why circumstances are as they are, and to think about how they can be developed further.

Do you have a daily ritual?

In my work as a freelancer, each day is different, so there’s really no room for daily rituals. There are certain routines I have, like checking Instagram in the morning or skimming the headlines. The day usually begins looking at what is happening in art, what artists are doing and where there are exciting exhibitions on view. That helps me to get my creative juices going, to find inspiration and to stay up to date. But I wouldn’t say that had a ritualistic significance.

What accessory or object could you not do without?

In the post-digital age and as a curator for digital art, the smartphone is essential. It is much more than just a communication device that can be used to bridge geographic distances with ease. It is also a work tool with which I can access information of all kinds from anywhere at all, to research, write, and publish content. With the shift of our radius of  activity to the metaverse, the digitalization of society and all its structures, the smartphone has become a tool without which we could no longer do justice to the conditions of our time. It is the immediate interface between the analogue and the virtual that allows us to participate actively in both worlds.

What does sustainability mean for you?

Sustainability has many aspects, especially in the world of art, where it is both about the use of various materials and the social and cultural dimension.  For me, it is important to design exhibitions in such a way that they minimize their ecological footprint. That means working with recyclable and environmentally-friendly materials. At Digital Art Lab, the furniture will largely be made using recycled cardboard. But sustainability is also about combining art with a social responsibility and creating a space for engagement. In this way, we can promote debate in terms of content and sensitize the public to the relevant issues of our time. For example, together with Tina Sauerländer and Erandy Vergara I curated the exhibition ›Speculative Species‹ which dealt with the Anthropocene and the impact of humanity on our environment and presented artistically speculative visions of our future. This approach also implies social sustainability. I try to work with artists from various backgrounds and communities, and I understand art as a tool that not only sharpens our awareness of environmental problems, but can also trigger social change. Promoting sustainability is not an isolated task. It is an integral component of how we live and work as individuals and as a society.

What do you think Berlin’s artistic and cultural landscape needs?

I would like digital art to play a more prominent role in Berlin. While there are individual institutions, galleries, and project spaces like Panke Galerie or DAM that have been working in this area for many years now and present individual works that use the new media, a broad visibility is lacking. That’s way I am happy that VR Kunstpreis der DKB in cooperation with CAA Berlin is being awarded for the second time this year and providing a public platform for VR art. It shows the relevance of new media in contemporary art and at the same time the influence of digitalization and technology on art, culture, and society. Berlin as a vibrant metropolis and city that is always on the cutting edge only does this area justice to a limited extent although many digital artists live here. It would be nice if the major institutions in future could open themselves more to the digital and/or art using new media.

What do you do when you’re done working?

That’s varies quite a bit and depends on how my day goes. I usually try to find a balance, to either relax or with exercise or some other activity to get some movement. Ultimately, it’s important to keep body and mind in balance and to find a balance between work and leisure, which admittedly isn’t always so easy.