Interview

with Annelies Bakker

Annelis Bakker

Annelis Bakker, Back Office Management Assistant for the Technical Production Team

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dOCUMENTA (13) - Behind the scenes: 

Interview with Annelis Bakker, Back Office Management Assistant for the Technical Production Team

Ms. Bakker, please introduce yourself briefly and describe what you do for the documenta.

The Technical Production Team is responsible for the architecture at the various exhibition sites for the documenta , as well as for planning and installing the works on site, among other things. We are in close communication with each of the other departments—the Project Director’s office, the Artistic Director’s office—as well as with the artists, of course, about their plans and ideas. Also, we deal a lot with the architects, movers, and the construction teams. My position is called the Back Office Management Assistant. Back Office Management does a little bit of everything: we support the head of the construction team and his employees; we collect all of the plans for the whole installation process, and have access to all of the important buildings.

So you have to deal with the artists a lot?

I personally do not. After all, we have two Heads of Installation, and each one has his own assistants. Along with the Curatorial Assistants, they are in close contact with the artists. But ultimately, it’s always a group discussion. The curator has particular wishes, as do the artists, of course, and our department figures out if everything can be accomplished, in terms of the technical details. That all has to be worked out to everyone’s satisfaction. This gives me a great deal of insight into the whole process, but I don’t actually interact closely with the artists.

What sort of education do you have? What did you do before?

I just finished my master’s at the University of Masstricht in the Netherlands. The department is known as Arts and Heritage: Policy, Management, and Education. Before that I studied art history, but I wanted more practical experience, as well as more of a connection to the present day. To do things that had actual results. So I registered for this program. And it was really the right decision. I’ve learned a lot there. Last year we took a field trip to Berlin. There we had a long conversation with the Kulturprojekte Berlin GmbH. Right then and there, I spontaneously applied for an internship at the Kulturprojekte Berlin GmbH, and then spent four months working on the exhibition Based in Berlin, doing event management. We were responsible for planning and organizing the evening programs. Every evening there were various events. Here in Kassel, I’m working with more or less the same people. Three of my colleagues there are now working for the documenta, and one of them asked me if I wanted to join in. So that’s how I landed here. As I’ve already mentioned, I didn’t have much to do with contemporary art before. That’s why I think it’s exciting to be here now. Sometimes I have the feeling that I don’t know enough about the scene. But here, I’m thrown right into the middle of things, can soak it all up, and in the end, perhaps, take a few new experiences home with me. But right now, it’s just an ongoing process. The documenta will, hopefully, help me to keep on developing.

Do you look forward to meeting the artists in person?

That’s not my major concern. Of course, I enjoy meeting the artists and seeing what they are doing. But I come from a family of artists, so I know how it all works, how artists think or behave. And some of my friends are artists. So I’m familiar with this kind of exchange in my private life.

So you don’t have any catching up to do?

Not as far as that’s concerned, no. For me, the exciting thing is working behind the scenes. What’s going on here now? How do we manage all of that? It’s interesting to be here, especially behind the scenes. To see how we organize this exhibition, get it up on its legs. The documenta 13 is so large, there are so many artists involved, and everyone wants to do their own thing and do their best. That is a real challenge.

Without giving away too much, what are you working on now, in specific?

Right now I’m working on an overview of our projects in the Karlsaue. We’re working with very advanced project management software. I integrate the planning from the technical direction with the plans from the architects, the registrar, and the media team, to create a large, overall plan. This overall plan is accessible to everyone, as well as to the other departments. This way, everyone knows what is going on when, and where. The overall plan is really huge—if you want to print it out, you need five meters’ worth of paper!

What are some of the typical problems, when it comes to realizing the projects?

First of all, my colleagues and I have to make sure that everything runs as closely on schedule as possible, and that the budget remains in the acceptable framework. That communication channels stay open. A lot of coordination is required. After all, every artist starts out planning for him- or herself. But we have to keep an eye on the whole project. That starts with simple questions like, “Who actually has the keys for a particular exhibition site?” or “When can the architects start their work?” or “When can the artists start installing their works?” When an artist arrives here from China, for example, everything else has to have been prepared in advance. That requires a lot of planning and organization. After all, we can’t just start sometime in May and get all of the works of art installed in one week. Everything has to be planned in detail ahead of time. And you have to pay attention to so many things in the process. Are we allowed to take out a certain wall? How are the works being brought to Kassel? How do we organize the guided tours? How do we plan the entrances and the lighting in the exhibition space, and where are we going to ultimately hang the signs with the titles of the works?

That, of course, requires many decisions and developing new solutions to problems?

Yes. I work more in the background, in controlling and planning all of the procedures. Here, we make sure that there is enough manpower for all of the tasks that have to be done.

So you’re job involves a lot of communication?

Yes, it’s about getting a communicative infrastructure going, in order to connect a large number of very diverse participants.

Do you also have to deal much with the bureaucracy? For instance, in order to get permits?

Yes, although I don’t do that directly, but naturally, the team plans these things. The big exhibition sites have their own managers. We also work with them hand in hand, in order to get the necessary permits. For example, we work very closely with the fire department, to be very certain that nobody is harmed here.

And the city is cooperative?

As far as I know, yes. But I wonder about other things. For example, we need a large storage place for all of the packing crates in which the works of art are transported. Of course, you wonder why there isn’t a fixed location that can be used every five years for that. But that would probably be too expensive. The documenta is a process. So every five years, you have to start all over again from the beginning.

Are most of the members of your team in technical professions?

With technical backgrounds, yes. Many of them are also artists, though, or studied art at some time. One of my co-workers also majored in cultural studies. So it’s a colorful mix. Very different life stories. But the atmosphere here is really good. We’re really a nice team. Very relaxed. It’s a little bit crazy: actually, all of us were in Berlin before. Now we all have apartments here, in the same building. So every morning we go to work together. And every evening—usually very late—we all go home together. And then sometimes I cook for everyone.

That sounds like a very harmonious work atmosphere.

Yes. We also put a great deal of energy into it. We really have a very special workplace here. It’s my first real job, and I’m totally happy that I’m part of such a great team. With nice people who are interested in their colleagues and support each other whenever possible. Here, so many people are involved that it’s almost impossible to get to know everyone on the other teams. And every department has its own atmosphere. It’s very interesting to observe. Right now, we’re working in an old gymnasium. It’s an enormous room. They’ve put up dividing walls in order to give the whole place some structure. But a great sense of openness still predominates.

Maybe just another couple of words about Kassel. Have you already found a few favorite hangouts? Where do you spend your free time?

I don’t have a lot of time to go out. But I’ve already been with one of my co-workers to the Lolita Bar. That’s a nice place. And one where people still go. It was supposed to have been that way five years ago. I’m familiar with the supermarket where I buy food to cook. But that’s about it. Tonight I’m going to the sauna, just to relax. Work days here are really long.

So the city itself doesn’t play a big role?

Actually, it does, because we have to take care of the exhibition sites. But there hasn’t been any time for anything else so far. But I’m now planning to just spend a weekend here and have a good look around Kassel. I’ve never been to this city before, nor have I ever been to the documenta, unfortunately. So of course I’m very curious to find out what kind of city Kassel is.

Are you already planning what you’re going to do after the documenta?

I would like to keep working with contemporary art, planning events. It’s fun to be part of such a large project, to make things possible. But I wouldn’t want to be in charge of curating. I feel more comfortable as an employee on the periphery. On the other hand, more of my artist friends are asking me to write about their work. I would also be interested in doing that. That might be a good challenge. And I’m also publishing a book in the Netherlands with my mother, who is an artist.

May 22, 2012

 

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