Jan Künemund might be known to some of you as the new head of press and public relations at the Schwules Museum. But in this interview, Jan also reveals himself as a freelance writer, film critic and curator – for which we choose him as our darling of the month. A conversation between queer work life and cinema.
Hi Jan, how great of you to sit down and chat with me! I already know you, but maybe you’ll introduce yourself anyway.
Well, I’m Jan, I’ve been doing press work at SMU since March, as you know, together with you and Julia (laughs). I studied literature, but then I worked for a queer film distributor for about 10 years. After that I went to college for six years to teach media studies and worked freelance as a film critic and journalist – I still do. Above all, I’m interested in queer cinema, though at my old permanent job I also did press work. So on the one hand, my employment at the Schwules Museum is something new, but it’s still within a framework in which I’ve moved before.
Did you only come to the SMU because of the job advertisement for press manager, or were you already familiar with the institution beforehand?
Exactly, I was a member of the association since 2018, when it was also about other voices coming forward, apart from those of white gay cis men – to which I also belong. Since then, I’ve been following the museum in terms of content, but I also know people from the board and the team.
And how does it feel for you to be behind the scenes now?
Quite nice, I like the institution a lot, I like my colleagues and I get a lot out of it professionally. At other workplaces I was often the only queer voice, for example at film festivals, which is why I was asked. Here I’m sort of in an activist context where you don’t have to talk about certain things because they’re just clear. It’s kind of relaxed.
Do you then feel that your media expertise is better applied here?
I can’t really say too much about that, I’ve also always found that important to bring a queer perspective to non-queer institutions. I liked doing that, it just took a lot more effort. Here it’s done from an activist perspective, which allows me to bring in my perspective within the spectrum, that the Schwules Museum already represents, and to make it strong.
Does the work at the SMU sometimes present you with challenges that you didn’t expect?
Well, it’s just a very complex structure because you’re dealing with four players: the Association of Friends of the Schwules Museum in Berlin on the one hand, the board of directors on the other, as well as the team of full-time employees and our volunteers. All of them are crucial for keeping this going, which is why one of the most important things for us is the communication between these parts. And that’s what I’m here for now.
That’s right. We haven’t had you with us long, but have you already been able to chalk up a favorite day at SMU?
In the short time I’ve been here, I’ve already seen three exhibition openings, and they’ve been beautiful and very different. My first opening was for the Rüdiger Trautsch exhibition, and since I also knew Rüdiger, it was very touching for me. But I also think the exhibition itself is very great, with everything that’s attached to it: I think it’s important to honor someone who was so closely connected to the house, but whose pictures you don’t really know in a larger context. For me, they become visible as artistic works, and not just as simple documents of our history. Now you can see the larger contexts, from the diploma thesis, when Trautsch was still not outed and wanted to find out ‘How does the gay scene work?’ With the show, you can see all of that, and that was a nice experience.
From Rüdiger’s projects to one of yours, Jan, please introduce us to your darling.
Yes, my darling is a bit of shabby self-promotion (laughs) I once developed a queer film magazine, called Sissy. It’s still being published online. In it, we had very interesting authors review the queer films that came out in theaters. At the time, we were looking for people who wrote interestingly and idiosyncratically, so that we could open up a space that went beyond this ‘here are films in which we are depicted’ and discussed films more as multi-layered works of art that you can think about in different ways. And so we brought together writing about the films and the aesthetics of the films and made an enjoyable issue out of it. During Corona, we, Björn Koll and Christian Weber from Salzgeber and I, had the idea of picking out the best texts and using them to create an overview of queer films of the last 20 years. The result was this cat killer, as we called it internally, because it’s very big and heavy and you don’t want to stand under it if it falls over. I was really happy that our book is known in the museum, that you knew it, and that I can meet it again here.
In fact, we’ve featured the anthology before on TikTok channel, it was really a crowd’s favorite. It must be very close to your heart as well, right?
Yes, the first texts I wrote are actually in there too, my first film reviews. In my case, a text I had commissioned blew up in my face because the author couldn’t meet the deadline. The printing was getting closer and closer, so I took it on myself. I don’t like reading my earlier writing, but that was definitely the start of something new for me back then.
What do you do differently now when you write texts?
I think I’m a little clearer about my own stance, which I think is an important starting point when you’re writing about something; that you have a clear stance and that you can communicate that well. So in general, when someone writes about queerness or queer cinema, I think it’s good if that person makes it clear what they stand for. And this clarity wasn’t there right away, in the beginning I rather tried to appear as flowery as possible, and as I knew it from my role models, quasi as ‘smart-talking’. But that was also partly a reason for founding sissy, because we simply had the feeling that there were too few texts about queer cinema. Straight film critics like to ignore these films.
You’re really buttering us up! Where can we find this anthology?
You can buy it in stores, for example at Eisenherz, for 50 Euros – I can always remember that price easily (laughs). But it’s also available in our library, and in many city libraries, sometimes even in multiple copies. So, getting hold of it is not difficult at all.
And if you could give your treasure away, who would it go to?
Hmm… It’s always difficult to give away things you’ve been involved in… But I would like to give the volume to all heterosexual people who are interested in film, so they can benefit from other perspectives.
Can you describe your sweetie in three words?
Dazzling – Smart – Beautiful
Aww, how nice to be able to say that about your own project! That’s perfect, thank you Jan.