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Portrait_Himmelsbach_1_Ivana_Kresic_edited.jpg interview in contemporary art magazine THE GAZE

Spotlight Interview cont.

Sabine Himmelsbach, 

Director, HEK

by Hazel Clarke


I was eager to explore Himmelsbach's personal journey towards becoming Director of HEK. She explains that her love of electronic art took root early on. ‘I was very much interested in film and video when I was a student.  I studied classical art history, so film and video were not on the curriculum.  After my studies, I briefly worked in the film industry and realised that if you are not a creative it’s really super boring. Knowing that wasn’t what I wanted, I went to work for a gallery and learnt the hands-on handling of works. Thereafter, it was really chance that brought me to media art.’ 


Himmelsbach explains that she worked for the Steirischer Herbst Arts Festival in Graz, Austria, with guest curator Peter Weibel, who subsequently invited her to join him at the influential Centre for Arts and Media (ZKM ) in Karlsruhe. There, she was able to build her international network and pursue the topic of global media. ‘At that point, my career and personal ambitions in media art merged. Sometimes, it’s a mix of personal interest, luck and also trust that it will happen,’ she says with a smile.


Our gaze moves around the interior space of the quirky building, which reminds her to mention that the responsibility for the move into the new building was on her desk.  ‘It was an opportunity of a lifetime, she enthuses, ‘as I could structure and shape the institution.  It starts with technical detail like - How should the ceiling be built? Where do we need the power outlets? The architect had in mind the classical museum ceiling, white and few lights!   I insisted that we had all the technology we needed, given our focus on electronic media.  Daylight shafting in just won’t work.  It was an intriguing process for me to specify the precise needs of the exhibition space.  It’s not large, and the exhibition rooms are at human scale, so we cannot do an eight metre projection. But for what we are doing here it really works well,’ she concludes.


Personal Journey...

Future vision

There is just one more question to cover and my interview checklist is complete, and that’s her vision for the future. I wonder whether there could possibly be room for anything else given the volume and quality of activities already described! The response comes without hesitation, ‘To have a stable funding situation that enables us to stay active. It’s not easy for cultural institutions like ours that are very dependent on extra funding. Hopefully in the future our funding situation will stablise.’ She says positively.


Two additional goals mentioned for the future are to grow the art collection, and to become a service partner for knowledge transfer and the preservation of media arts. 


Commenting on the collection she says, ‘It’s tiny, at just 82 works, but we are a young institution and have collected for only a couple of years.  That said, there are not many institutions with our specific technology focus.’ Contemplating further she says ‘I believe that media art will enter other collections.  As we will have a wider and more historical knowledge base, we can share the expertise we have built, with other museums.’


Our 52 minute interview concludes and we say our goodbyes. I have gained great insight into this fascinating institution that takes on disruptive themes to show the relevance of contemporary art and its capacity to reflect society’s mood. In Himmelsbach’s words ‘Art is an active voice in shaping our world and our visions of it’ 


For me an empowering perspective in a world that can seem uncertain.

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