ARFAO: How do you see the collaboration with the ARFAO platform?
GM: When ARFAO first asked, we had already been on the road for 10 years with our art space Hebel_121. So we have been involved since the beginning. Since then, the copies are always available in our art space. We have a very diverse audience, from neighbors to international artists and curators to colleagues from near and far. ARFAO is a practical format to inform people about what's going on in Basel's art spaces.
ARFAO: How do you work with the conditions on site in relation to your exhibitions? DG:
That always happens because of our corner situation on the ground floor and the two large Shop windows. At the beginning of the calendar year in the dark season we always present a
Work with light or with video projections. In the other seasons we work with the natural lighting conditions, leaving the shop window lighting on throughout the night.
GM: While the artists are setting up their work, the shop window always remains open during the day so that people can see how work is being done.
GM: At Hebel_121, you don't just see the finished presentation, but the entire build-up process. We both share the tasks. Daniel is the "emergency helper", so to speak, advisor and assistant to the artists during the construction, and I am the practical advisor, the back office, bed & breakfast and cab service. In addition, we have an attic in the house where we can accommodate the invited artists.
ARFAO: How do you find the artists who exhibit with you?
DG: We invite the artists, we ask specifically, you can't apply. As a criterion for our selection, we are interested in space-specific works and installations, especially in the front room. The artists travel and set up their work themselves on site with our assistance.
GM: You learn a lot from each other. On both sides. You also get to know the different cultures directly.
GM: For me personally, it is very important to start from the works themselves. I come from the art to the artists and not from the artists to the art. I have to get to know the work, and only secondarily the artists. The invitees should then also be able to get to know the space, read the floor plan, or find access through photographs. The point is to select artists* who can deal with the local situation, the space and the special architecture, and who can engage with the conditions on site with an installation. We are on the corner of Hebelstrasse/St. Johanns-Ring, virtually on the sidewalk and visible 24 hours a day.
DG: We usually know all the artists and their working methods from different countries and cultures personally. We make sure that there is a certain balance between the generations and the genders. We also have to remain flexible, as there are always certain imponderables that cause changes in the program.
GM: It is the conditions of space and time that determine with whom, what and when is possible. We know and know what the artists have done before, but the concept or the plan usually changes in Hebel_121 when it is applied.
ARFAO: It then develops on the ground?
GM: That's right. Because the artists work conceptually in very different ways and we challenge them to concretize something specific in Hebel_121.
DG: That's how it should be, because that keeps it exciting. ARFAO: How do you finance your program?
GM: 2020 was the first time we received financial support for an art project from the Kulturpauschale Basel-Stadt. Before that, we were very lucky. In 2018, the Fondation Nestlé pour l'Art selected Hebel_121 for a partnership, with an annual financial support. At the time, we almost couldn't believe it and then called the phone number provided. And indeed, the Fondation offered us this partnership over 2 years, because we had already been active internationally for 20 years.
ARFAO: And how have you financed yourselves to date?
GM: Maximum minimal. With my own funds from my 35 years of 'back-breaking work' in a wide variety of private and public institutions and companies. It would go beyond the scope of this article to tell everything. It has been a long dream, but it has now been realized with Hebel_121. I am a post-war child and I always knew that I did not want to complain about not having enough money in the richest country in the world. I was not born rich, but I should be able to build up something with my own abilities and means, which I personally find right and important. In Switzerland and as a woman.
DG: Everything is low budget. We don't have material battles in this sense. We also communicate that beforehand. Our motto has always been to make something out of little. Exchange is one of the reasons for inviting artists from other countries who have founded their own private art space out of necessity in the same sense as we have.
GM: It's all about art. The artists of my generation who left the institutions and galleries back then to exhibit here, that's also an important thing for me.
DG: We have had very positive experiences with artists from our generation, some of whom are already prominent internationally. They have a lot of experience on different levels of art. With younger artists, this is often not easy. They are still less clear in their own concepts, have less practical experience, but sometimes have all the more demands and expectations.
ARFAO: So in that sense you act in the tradition of institutional critique?
GM: More in the sense of independence and my own freedom of choice. For me, art and life belong together. For me, art is food for the mind and soul. Art is existential.
ARFAO: How exactly did you start your program back then?
GM: It started with an exchange program with artists of Daniel's generation and various artist residencies abroad. For me personally, the whole endeavor started back then, when I spent a year in Los Angeles as an exchange student in 1965/66. It is easy to imagine that after returning to Switzerland, I could no longer be domesticated. Then came the fact that Daniel was later the first artist in an iaab residency (today Atelier Mondial) in Australia, followed by a six-month stay at the Chinati Foundation in Marfa with Donald Judd, several times in Japan and also in New York. In the beginning, these exchange stories were, so to speak, the basis for the art space Hebel_121.
ARFAO: So these encounters, experiences and contacts that you both had abroad were the conceptual foundation for your project.
GM: Yes, it's fundamentally about international cultural exchange.
DG: In a larger network and beyond the borders of Basel. That has always been our idea. In some cases, the artists at Hebel_121 are having an exhibition in Switzerland for the first time. For the local audience, it is exciting to see what good and exciting art there is outside of Basel and Switzerland.
GM: The international exchange happens with artists on the same level. With self-organized art spaces. With artists who are on the move outside the big institutions. It is also about encouraging each other again and again to create something new.
without being permanently on the public or private drip. Personally, freedom has always been more important to me than security. And art has to do with freedom.
ARFAO: Does this also correspond to your perspective for the future, in which there will probably be fewer certainties in the cultural sector?
DG: We are already used to that!
GM: In the financial crisis 12 years ago, people sked about our crisis at Hebel_121. We replied that crises were normal for us. We learned to deal with them right from the start. That is the motto. But to come back to our concept. When Daniel was in artist residency at Donald Judd's Chinati Foundation in Marfa, Judd's idea inspired me a lot. We had been renting this former bakery since 1985, and then we were able to buy the space in 1993. So I decided at that time, following Judd's example, to build up Hebel_121 in Switzerland and within my means. A place where you can invite artists who understand that you can present art in a different way. Not just open a store or gallery where art is bought and sold. Of course, all this in the maximum-minimum format, with maximum- minimum budget.
DG: The art space is also the place where we live, Hebel_121, it is part of our apartment. We live in the midst of the exhibitions and installations, so to speak; we always have art around and with us. That's the great thing about it. As a rule, we rebuild and reinstall every two months.
GM: Every Saturday from 4 p.m. I have office hours. I am always there. Maybe once a year, when we're both abroad together with our own project, a friend of ours does herding. And when we can't travel ourselves, we bring the world home that way. A new one every two months.
DG: For us, this is the difference to a gallery. We do not represent artists. We only offer them the opportunity to present art at Hebel_121 and thus to make new contacts themselves. Conversely, this is used relatively little in comparison. And then there's the offer for passers-by and the public to see art day and night.
GM: Sometimes people from the older, but also younger generation - and especially men - ask me how long I actually want to keep doing this with Lever_121. They say that it's a dead-end job and that I have illusions. For me it is in such a way that I thought already as young woman the following: First I want to belong to the approximately ten percent of women in the world who own property. Then I want to be able to do what I think is right with the ev. added value of space, time or money that comes from wise management of my own resources. For me, this is the real art of living. I do this until I drop and I want to become a hundred!
DG: So, fortunately, it's still going on for a while. Overall, we tend to focus on the long term. And we also notice that in the immediate environment here in the neighborhood.
GM: Art has a lot to do with time. Art and we are slow. That's why our exhibitions run for two months. The people - young and old - who come by here notice when there is a change. They say: Oh dear, now it's over again! We just got used to it. They also do a hit parade of the best exhibitions.
DG: Of course, it is also difficult for passers-by and neighbors that this space looks like an empty vessel from time to time. For some, it's almost unbearable. There have been some with better ideas about what to do "properly". Or simply something that is profitable.
GM: Like many other colleagues in Basel, we don't know exactly what will happen in the future. But I am not afraid. Of course we are still very privileged and of course the financial situation in Switzerland is part of the freedom. In the past, the support of the Kulturpauschale Basel-Stadt for an art project in 2020 and that of the Fondation Nestlé pour l'Art helped us to survive in difficult times for quite a while. But fundamental for us and Hebel_121 is that we prefer to be a bit 'under the radar'. This is more interesting and exciting because the expectations are completely different.
Otherwise, every crisis is a disaster. We only work with money, with space and time that we have. At Hebel_121, we rely on a somewhat different currency. And we will continue to do so with full commitment in the future.
«Everything is low budget. We don't have material battles in this sense. We also communicate that beforehand. Our motto has always been to make something out of little.»