Duty-free warehouses hold art worth staggering amounts of money. In contrast, the cultural goods at www.zollfreilager.net are freely accessible. Project initiator Ruedi Widmer discusses the first two years of this successful niche publication. Affiliated with ZHdK’s cultural publishing platform, the venture takes its name from the established institution.


Caroline Süess: The German-speaking Internet magazine “Das Kulturmigrations-Observatorium Zollfreilager” has existed since 2014. What brought it to life?
Ruedi Widmer: At the time, the Rietberg Museum offered ZHdK’s newly founded Cultural Publishing lab the opportunity to run an independent publishing outlet dedicated to cultural migration. Together with several enthusiasts, especially Cultural Publishing student Daniela Bär, we conceived and launched the “Zollfreilager” as a longer-term project.

What experiences have you made?
Since the launch, we have had four opportunities to do a special issue with external partners. The interviews published in the series “Der Balken in meinem Auge,” which were co-curated with Damian Christinger and Katharina Fliege, have also appeared in the cultural magazine Coucou since July 2015. This clearly suggests that we are being taken seriously as a professional niche publication.

How does culture migrate?
Well, for example, one entry in the “Zollfreilager” dictionary is titled “I” for “Inspired by Woodcut.” It reveals how cultural migration links Japanese art history and classical European modernity.

What does this online venture have in common with a duty-free warehouse?Not very much as regards their functions — unless one opens the doors of a duty-free warehouse holding art worth staggering amounts of money to the general public…

What are the advantages of observing cultural migration in a duty-free warehouse?
One can learn a great deal about oneself and one’s culture.

Who are the observers?
There are eighty authors. The author list reaches from primary schoolgirl Chevonne to writers Michel Mettler and Peter Weber, from drawer-illustrator Ruedi Widmer to artist Tanya Habjouqa.

What goods does the Internet magazine have?
If taken seriously, cultural goods are goods that are experienced. This is also true for the contents of the “Zollfreilager.”

Where do these goods go after their temporary storage in the “Zollfreilager”?
In the best case, they become valuable experiences for their readers.

Are there any particular costs that this format helps avoid?
Engaging with texts, images, and ideas requires attention, time, and open-mindedness, nothing else.

Why does the platform provide a dictionary?
The “Zollfreilager” dictionary seeks to counter the ignorance of contemporary global consumerism.

Which current “Zollfreilager” articles would you recommend to your readers?
The contributions to Holy Shit (forthcoming). This is a catalogue of a long-lost exhibition centered on figures like Georges Bataille and Aby Warburg. It has been put together, among others, by cultural publishing students doing a Master of Arts in Art Education.


Ruedi Widmer is a cultural studies specialist and journalist. He is head of the Specialisation in Cultural Publishing, Master of Arts in Art Education at Zurich University of the Arts.
Caroline Süess (caroline.sueess@zhdk.ch) is a cultural sociologist and deputy chief editor of Zett.
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