Alexandra Blättler and Sabine Rusterholz Petko
(Founders and Co-Directors of the Klöntal Triennale)
Alexandra Blättler (b. 1977 Lucerne, lives in Zurich) is an art historian and curator. Since 2006, she has been director of the contemporary photography room of the Volkart Foundation (Coalmine in Winterthur) and is also jointly responsible for cultural awards on the Board of Trustees. Since 2012, she has regularly curated for the Gebert Foundation for Culture and initiated, for example, an award for young Swiss design. In addition to her curatorial work, she sits on various committees and juries (Federal Office of Culture, Art Commission of the Canton of Schaffhausen, etc.). In 2014, together with Sabine Rusterholz, she initiated the Klöntal Triennale at Glarus, which was successfully staged for the second time in 2017. Since 2017 she has been a member of the Culture Promotion Commission of the Canton of Zurich.
Sabine Rusterholz Petko (b. 1973 Zurich, lives in Zurich) is an art historian and freelance curator. Between 2008–2015, she was director of the Kunsthaus Glarus. There, she was responsible for the exhibition programme and produced numerous publications, as well as solo and group exhibitions with international and Swiss artists. In 2014, together with Alexandra Blättler, she initiated the Klöntal Triennale, an exhibition project in the outer space of the Klöntal above Glarus, which was held for the second time in 2017. As a freelance author, she writes exhibition reviews, e.g. for Kunstbulletin and Züritipp. Since the beginning of 2016, she has been a member of the Art Commission of the City of Zurich.
1. What was your motivation to work on a biennial? What was your position/task?
The initiative was born from the occasion of working at Kunsthaus Glarus in the past. The interesting backdrop, in the middle of a stunning landscape close to the mountains, was one starting point for this initiative. Domiciled at the beautiful museum building, the step was self-evident, to work—once outside the safe walls of an institution—toward new horizons, new challenges. But our ideas weren’t brand new. Another point of reference was a tradition of art events going far back into the past in the nearby valley of Klöntal. There was, for example, a colony of landscape painters in 1856 and a century later in the 1990s land art artists like Richard Long, Hamish Fulton, or Carl Andre and Balthasar Burkhard leaving traces in the region. The inspirational moments were manifold.
2. How can you describe the model of the biennial you worked for, also compared to other biennials?
After an institutional kickoff with Kunsthaus Glarus for the project, we are now legally constituted as an association, independent from an institution but very much interested in an ongoing collaboration with people and places in and around Glarus. The regional network is a very important tool to keep such an initiative alive. Right now, we are working with a very small group of people and with limited financial means.
3. What goals/wishes are connected with your biennial? What should be achieved? What were your personal goals?
Our goal was to connect people closely to art, to enhance art experiences, and to reach a broad public locally as well as globally (more virtually in this case). It has always been about challenging tolerances for cultural aspects and new perspectives. Another goal was to bring artists to special places and connect them to the everyday in order to outline possible new approaches and extraordinary strategies with new production specific to the sites.
4. Biennials have proliferated as the art world has scaled in size and global reach in recent decades; however, very little information exists about the exact number, geographical reach, and funding and governance structures of these arts organizations. Can we compare biennials at all?
We often visit biennials. In our case, we don’t see the Klöntal Triennale as something similar to any other initiative. We are definitely a small-scale project compared to many other ones. And the project has quite a personal background. We don’t really have to aim for either commercial or touristic goals, which is quite unique and a real privilege. We have a passionate and at times almost self-exploiting attitude towards it. Up to now, we have been able to maintain a very independent and experimental form of exhibition-making in a beautiful landscape. In 2017, for example, with a performative approach and a variety of ephemeral events (hikes, drone flights at night, performances and discursive programs), it was quite a risky experiment with open ends since we were taking things a bit far out, not knowing how the audience would react. We are quite dependent, though, on social media to expand into the rest of the world.
5. Biennials provide a point of convergence for the art world, expose large audiences to art (and other disciplines and mediums), and catalyze interest in cities and regions with global aspirations. Do biennials necessarily have a positive social and economic impact?
If not a concrete impact, then hopefully they can foster more philosophical or critical debates. Right now, our Triennale is too young to really demonstrate a concrete impact. It has been a challenge to connect to the local situation, and there are still many things to be achieved. The future will show how much impact art can really have in a rural context like this.
6. Can you talk about the funding processes and sources? How do you think this affects the biennial? Does it affect it at all?
Our Triennale is exclusively funded by public and private money we source from a number of cultural foundations. In our case, being in Switzerland makes things much easier, we would say. There are still plenty of possibilities to get funding. It is important to say that without the funding, the Triennale would not exist. And we have to admit that half of our energy goes into funding.
7. What sort of curatorial, institutional, or technological innovations can help ensure the vibrancy and relevance of biennials going forward?
We hope to get all this innovative energy from our network of artists from all over the world. One goal in the future would be to make the Triennale more stable in terms of finances and structures without losing our integrity and freedom with regard to the content. But after all, and this is very important: we see the Klöntal Triennale as a format that can change over time. And we try to keep it free from any expectations or obligations. It will be carried by a good amount of idealism, innovation, and experimental spirit. And, of course, in times of decreasing financial means for the cultural field, this is hard enough to maintain.