The Intern Experience

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This is maybe the rudest thing I have ever admitted thinking, but when I watch a semi senile Über Artist being attacked by flashes and moronic journalist questions “You are in the...autumn of your career, what comes next?“, I just can’t help but think: Dudeee get off the pot already! (Or rather, let the man be- he can hardly care or enjoy the attention anymore, if ever.) I can’t help it. The line is just getting bigger and bigger and it might be the arrogance of the semi youth, but I always thought the only thing I want to paint when I am 80 is my lipstick all over my face. Then I can use the extra time to help (while mildly abusing) the younger, fresher of my species on their way. With that attitude, it was probably not entirely uncalled for when not one, but a couple of the “older“ artists at my new gallery last year “mistook“ me on my opening night for the new gallery intern...

This was more or less the time when I had gotten my own intern, and if it sounds like a present is because it felt like one. Pigs has been growing, albeit or because of its urgency, with the basic business planning of a shopping list. “Employing“ “interns“ ( and I am going to use all the terms very loosely) did not occur to me until a friend offered one, a year in. I have been doing so since, feeling alternatively very guilty and very relieved they are not paid.

One intern became two, two became three, four, seven... (and I swear I only fed them once or twice). The email offers just keep coming and I have never been able to grasp the value of refusing something that is for free. When I caught myself suggesting to my interns they should get some interns, started planning group inductions and jokingly using the terms „pigs army“- I should have known,  as megalomania is a Greek word. The first intern never made it to the interview, caught in the U Bahn without ticket and dragged back to a bank to pay the fine (by what seems to me a very very out of line BVG officer). One was waiting outside my appartment the whole time. The three next made it through, their posts never did on the website though, we are still looking. Two left town within a week. The last intern seemed ideal, young, competent and just about the right amount of desperate. She told me the story of her last position as an au pair-slash-working-from-home-gallery-assistant, which I will not be able to forget any time soon, then promptly left to work full time at a call center, as she needed the money more than the glory.

This is all nothing new of course: the exchange currency in the cultural industry has always been time and contacts. Time being the equivalent of drachmas lets say, and contacts something like a norwegian krone –or in some cases gold. (You can of course buy contacts, as I recently found out, it is not that expensive, but it is still not the same.) Plus we live in Berlintern, the city of the gracefully underpaid. Aren’t we all a kind of intern, feeding on network possibilities and free drinks, fighting our way to a darker and darker shade of the VIP belt? It takes hardly a black belt to know that employing interns to get there is a grey, grey area...

Is it still an internship, if you are working longer hours/know more computer programs than your boss?(no, it is slavery). But how long can a career start take? (forever, you should stop trying earlier though) How long can you/ should you invest in an underpaid, very possibly badly treated position, before trying something else? (if it’s in Vogue long, anywhere else get out of there) Is it advisable to be an intern at 30? What if you are new in the city? (No..not really). Are you allowed to „fire“ or refuse somebody who offers to work for free? (You actually should already be skeptical why they would be willing to work for free in the first place) How fucked up is serial interns employing (very) and is it really more economical to spend time showing new, half awake people what to do every three months, than find a competent one, train and keep?( I don’t think so) And the question concerning all of us- what is the way to more money, success, recognition, twins, etc( more money- away from berlin, for twins it’s fertility treatments, the rest is situational). How long is the queue and how (the hell) can you skip it? (skipping queues is frowned upon in most northern European countries, but look how advanced they are).

Addressing and/or obsessing on all these questions is what the interns diary blog is about. I started it with our first long term intern, thought it would balance up a bit the power relation, give an outlet and a voice to the (possible) frustration/ questions/thoughts while interning.
It turned out (as I found out in the last entry) she hated the idea, but did it anyway because I had said so.
I also nagged her a couple of times about starting Internada -  a database with all the interns working in Berlin at the moment, with frequent meetings, a members forum, where they exchange experiences and plan for the future. Some of them will be after all the gallerists of the day after tomorrow. She ignored me, so I guess that is good.

And yes! We are still looking for an intern. One! To love and to hold, part time. To train and to challenge, to keep and make filthy rich when we enter the stock market (november 2012).

Berlin Independents Guide is an artist run communications platform. The exhibition guide comes out every two months and is distributed for free in project spaces, galleries, institutions, and bookstores. Listings are accepted from project spaces, galleries, art institutes and art related venues in Berlin.
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