Warehouse9, a primarily queer and live art venue in the center of Copenhagen, is a specially unique one. Founded by Jørgen Callesen, who currently leads on it with Emma Møller and Christian van Schijndel, the space is a welcoming home for artists and art-lovers hoping to find community and a breathing space for intersectional, local and international live art programming in Denmark.
The context of where the venue exists is a peculiar one, if incredibly illustrative of both Jørgen and Emma’s ethos. Situated in the rapidly gentrifying Meatpacking district – beautiful cobbled-stones buildings and pavements, with its galleries and studios occupying the old slaughterhouses, where ever more expensive cafés and commercial infrastructure restrict access to communities who have historically found a home there – the venue has consistently supported marginalised communities and protected the historically ‘avant-guard’ nature of community development and social-cohesion of the area. Ever increasingly, it is a venue that maintains it’s responsibilities and connections with its history, as well as being a bastion of radical thinking, artistic exploration and the meeting point between local and international collaborations.
It is under these remits that Xavier de Sousa invite Jørgen and Emma, to reflect on their history, intentions and how Warehouse9 sees itself in relation to contemporary social and artistic movements.
performingborders (Xavier): Warehouse9 is at the forefront of radical, international and live art programming in Denmark. How did the venue start and why?
Warehouse9 (Jørgen & Emma): The idea of creating an art space for performance and queer art came after Jørgen had been an active part of organising Copenhagen Queer Festival in 2006. Prior to this event, Jørgen was one of the co-founders of the radical queer performance and activist group dunst.dk (who were part of organising the festival). The festival became a big international event and it was the first time in Denmark where many different grops and people from the local queer scene collaborated on a large-scale project, which gained visibility in the mainstream.
The festival created awareness of queer politics and activism in artistic and academic communities, as well as visibility amongst the general public and helped put a new queer agenda on the cultural map in Denmark. It also made the blind spot regarding the representation of queer, feminist and gender political issues and practices in institutional art spaces more visible.
Before the festival in 2006, queer issues were mainly represented in underground spaces, such as alternative movements in Christiania or Ungdomshuset (anarchist squat), or through the support of temporary cultural events organised within heteronormative institutional frameworks. The temporality meant that there was no long lasting effect or real social change.
After Copenhagen Queer Festival, we founded Warehouse9 as an independent artist driven space to create an alternative and a new context for queer art in Denmark. In this process we reached out to the international artist community who supported the project from the beginning. In 2007, Warehouse9 was officially formed.
How has the relationship between you and the broader live art scene changed since then?
In the first few years Warehouse9 mainly worked as a pop-up performance space and queer social hub in Copenhagen. Art funding was sporadic and many art projects were carried out as one-off residencies, mini-festivals or around nightclub events with help from activists in the queer communities.
In 2009, we managed to get funding from the Danish Arts Foundation for a 3 year art project, which meant that we formally became recognised by the state as an art venue. This started a broader collaboration with the independent art sector in Denmark, who helped develop Warehouse9 as a space for cross-disciplinary experimentation.
When the funding ran out in 2011, we realised that the long term goal of creating a city and state supported queer art space was to committ ourselves to a long-term cultural-political struggle.
In the years that followed, we worked creatively and precariously to maintain our position as a live art venue with a focus on local and international queer and feminist issues. We continued to receive support from many artists, activists and researchers who made the importance of our placement in the Danish art landscape clear and helped fuel our struggle to exist.
Without stable funding, Warehouse9’s artistic profile has been developed project-to-project, mainly through one-off curated International programmes, local community initiatives and the International Performance Art Festival (IPAF).
In 2018, we received minimal funding from the Danish Arts Foundation to secure that Warehouse9 could work dedicated towards developing better and more sustainable conditions for the project and artists working with queer and feminist issues.
Today, we continue our dedicated work to maintain a space and create programmes that support artists, curators, activists and researchers who work with queer issues. In 2019 we are actively doing this by trying to fill gaps in artistic development in Copenhagen, create long-lasting support and relationships with artists, co-producing with other arts and culture institutions, being active in local and international networks and conversations, fighting to keep our international festival IPAF alive, and continuously fighting to improve conditions in the live art scene.
Creating Warehouse9 has been a process of learning by doing, this is something which continues and by which we also maintain our norm-critical approach towards participating in the local and wider arts sector. In 2019, we still see a prevelant need for a space within the Danish art landscape that is dedicated to supporting and advocating for queer social, political and artistic projects.
(photo by Warehouse9)
The Meatpacking district of Copenhagen, where the venue is, has its own history of working-class, migrant and queer communities. How has that changed in the last few years, and has that influenced your programming?
Warehouse9 was founded in an unused derelict stable building in “Kødbyen” (“Meat Packing” district) in central Copenhagen. It is situated in Vesterbro, which is the area behind the central station, historically connected with working-class people, sexworkers, migrant workers, and substance users.
In the 1960’s to 1980’s the area was very run down and many flats derelict, and the area was considered by many to be dangerous and inhabitable.
This changed radically in the 1990’s when the area experienced rapid effects of urban development and gentrification (as seen in other major cities such as New York City, London and Berlin). The result of which was increased housing prices, complete change of social structures, exclusion of working-class and migrant communities, and the development of a whole new area for gastronomy, entertainment, leisure and culture.
Warehouse9 is situated in the epicentre of this gentrification process, housed in a listed stable building with a cultural heritage that represents the birth of industrial farming in Denmark. Our location means that we feel the effects of change on a daily basis and much of our focus is therefore hyper-local. We are confronted with the harsh contrasts of ongoing unsolved social problems such as homeless migrants, substance users and sexworkers being sanctioned to one street in the city, privatisation of public space…etc. All of this, absurdly unfolding in parallel to hip middle-class city life and right at our doorstep.
We are working very consciously with this history and reality in our programming. We invite artists and experts to use the building and the surroundings to create site-specific and responsive work that in one way or another integrates aspects of the complex history or the actual development of the city. In 2019 we have expanded our focus to more directly include a focus on urban development, alongside our focus on queer issues.
Importantly for us, parallel to our programming is our advocating on a policy level to create a safer and more inclusive city. This is a process which we began advocating publicly for in 2017, and which in 2019 has gained more prominence in our day-to-day, as we have spent most part of our year in conversation with local politicians and decision makers, as diversity and safety in this part of the city is directly under threat (including Warehouse9’s existence).
Warehouse9 has a strong focus on development of local community and artists who sit outside of the mainstream. Most find a home there, where there isnt one elsewhere. Specially as the venue positions itself as a beacon of community-hope in the midst of a rapidly gentrifying area, how do you see your work affecting – or not – the social movements in the local community?
Since Warehouse9’s beginning, our art practices have been grounded in the queer activist community, and different communities have over the years developed and continue to develop social spaces and activist projects with Warehosue9’s safe space policy as a point of departure.
One example is, the T-lounge Society, which was a social and cultural space for trans people that emerged from an open studio with art photographer J. Jackie Baier from Berlin, who had a 3 month residency in 2009. The T-lounge was a group of local trans people engaged in social, political and health issues who worked with Warehouse9 artists and activists to create exhibitions, talks, debates and social events. The T-lounge also became active in immigration politics organising a successful campaign against deporting Fernanda Milan to Guatemala in 2012. We also organised an international seminar with the title “Art For Social Change” with curators and festival organisers from 7 different gender-political projects about how art practices can be instrumental in the creation of networks, social development and awareness raising.
In our day-to-day work we are trying to create a healthy balance between social projects and artistic practices. One important aspect for us, is to give access and create space for self-organising groups to establish their own projects and communities within the venue, such as the non-binary hair salon project “Queer Cut”, as well as giving opportunties for people with no formal arts education and to challenge and create spaces for discussing problems of misrepresentation, exclusion and discrimination in the arts.
You programme incredible international work in the city whilst also local artists. Why is that balance important to you, and how do you manage that?
The dialogue between international and local art projects is a possibility to exchange knowledge and ideas between artists and queer activist communities world wide. Denmark is a small country with a recorded population of 5.7 million inhabitants. There is no formal education in live art or performance as in many other of our neighbouring countries, socially engaged art practices are valued differently, elitism is poignant and the predominant focus area for mainstream institutional theatres and organisations goes towards marketing campaigns and administration costs. In other words, artistic development and education opportunities are sparse.
Warehouse9 is a meeting point for international and local artists and activists, and this is important as it creates opportunities for bottom-up and peer-to-peer learning, exchange, and forging of connections that go beyond educational and political borders.
Denmark is also a country with a majoritively white middle-class population that has internalised and embodied neoliberal capitalist ideologies, a country that has yet to confront its colonial past. We see this very visibly present in the mainstream artistic landscape.
Warehouse9 strives to remain critical and to be a safe space for conversation and learning, it is therefore vital for us to maintain a balance between the local and international.
(photo by Jacob Tekiela)
Before Warehouse9, and up to today, you both also work on your own curatorial and artistic practices across countries and with different communities. Has this shapped or influenced your thinking when it comes to Warehouse9 programme?
Our own art practices, experiences and queer political work is crucial to the ethos and growth of warehouse9, wich is to promote and develop political and socially engaged art in the local environment in close contact with the urban fabric of the city.
Our work as individuals away from Warehouse9 feeds directly into our work with Warehouse9. Warehouse9 was founded through Jørgen’s personal involvement in the queer art collective Dunst and Copenhagen Queer Festival. The dialogues and relationships that forged then, shaped Warehouse9 as a project and continues to today.
We all (Christian, Emma and Jørgen) have very different backgrounds and our individual artistic and curatorial practices run parallel to Warehouse9, but everything we do has a direct influence on our work on the project. Warehouse9 was founded through a bottom-up initiative and we continue to practice horizontal and norm-critical leadership. The personal is always political, and this also applies to how our work alone and together shapes Warehouse9’s programme and the continuous development of Warehouse9 as a physical space and building.
Finally, what’s next for Warehouse9?
Our main focus it to secure sustainable working conditions and a solid and continuous artistic programming budget so that we can support the work of local and international artists.
Over the next year, we will continue to be a key voice in the political debates of city development and the disappearance of public spaces through privatisation. This runs hand-in-hand with our focus on art in public space. Most importantly we continue working on developing socially engaged art projects in close collaboration with the local community.
In terms of our artistic programme, our (by now) cult classic Screwed Again! – Queer Xmas Cabaret is rappidly approaching, we have a workshop programme that we will be launching in Spring 2020 and IPAF’20 is right around the corner.
There is never a dull moment.
(photo by Jacob Tekiela)
Warehouse9 (est. 2017) is an artist-led performance space and gallery located in Copenhagen’s historical Brown Meatpacking district. Warehouse9 is committed to building a space and responsible conditions for artists working with ideas relating to identity, sexual expressions and body representations. Warehouse9 has a cross-disciplinary artistic profile that embraces live art, choreographic work, installation art, music, site-specific work, conversations, artistic research, parties and activism. Warehouse9 strives to create a space for innovative artistic experiences and experimentation, with a particular focus on supporting work and artists rooted in queer and feminist discourse.
Warehouse9 curates and produces the annual international performance festival IPAF.
Paralell to its artistic programme, Warehouse9 has a community programme that works to support local activist initiatives from queer and feminist communities. Projects include: Queer Cut, Queer Yoga, Piano Bar, Community Vegan Pot-Luck.
Warehouse9 has spent 13 years developing its distinct artistic profile and stage facilities in a historic stable building in the heart of Copenhagen. After many years of struggle, 2017 marked the year when Warehouse9 succeeded in securing their building via a direct contract with the City. Since 2017, Warehouse9 has been working towards securing a fixed programming budget to deliver their long-term artistic and social vision for the space. Warehouse9 practices a horizontal organizational structure, and has a core team consisting of three members: Christian van Schijndel, Emma Møller, Jørgen Callesen.
Warehouse9 is also a key voice in conversations and debates around cultural policy and urban/city development in Copenhagen. As well as being active in local and international dialogues and networks dedicated to norm-critical leadership.