HilbertRaum is a new artist collective in Berlin that is made up of 14 working visual artists. The space they run is a store front gallery located in the heart of Neukölln, a neighborhood that is home to immigrants, artists and a younger generation where rents are still affordable and the variety of entertainment and food options are not yet infused with international brand names.
My first experience with HilbertRaum is with bi-coastal artist and educator Andy Holtin who is a member of HilbertRaum and is a former colleague of mine from American University in Washington D.C. Andy lives between Berlin and Washington D.C. and for full disclosure, Andy curated the first exhibition at Hilbertraum that included my own work along with artist Elizabeth McTernan this past February 2015. Andy is an Associate Professor of Art at American University’s Department of Art.
I wanted to give HilbertRaum a platform to present their group on TSV as a prime example of a new artist run organization where there seems to be a wide range of art making from an international background. Their drive and energy to exhibit a diversity of art (and music) making is impressive. The curatorial vision from each of the members is also refreshing. Artist collectives have the opportunity to be more experimental and offer an experience for the participating member artists to gain experience as organizers, collaborators and entrepreneurs and basically to be part of a team, which in many artist worlds is antithetical to working alone in ones studio.
I have asked a few of their founding members to write about their participation in HilbertRaum. Daniel Wiesenfeld, Tobias Sternberg and Hannah van Ginkel have contributed to this article.
For more information and for upcoming exhibitions, check out their website at: www.hilbertraum.org
Follow them on Facebook at: www.facebook.com/hilbertraum
Over the years, Berlin has been home to a lot of non-profit galleries and independent, artist-run project spaces. Lately, it’s become quite difficult to find places that are still affordable and within city limits. We, that is the five founding members, had been meeting in my studio several times over the past few months to first agree on a general concept and then work through the details of how to run a project space. It could have ended there as a nice fantasy, but luckily Tobias found a space in the middle of Reuterkiez in Neukölln.
The basic premise behind the project space HilbertRaum is to give each of the 14 members the opportunity to curate an exhibition twice a year for the length of two weeks. During that time the individual artist has full autonomy and responsibility over the space. Our first opening was in the middle of January this year, and since then there have been seven exhibitions and one performance night. We are a diverse, international group of artists working in different fields. In fact, most of us are still getting to know each other. I cherish the excitement of being surprised by each opening and to see the space completely change its character each time. It is inspiring to develop ideas with an actual space in mind and to be in a direct and ongoing exchange with other artists. In the future, we would also like to organize ‘event nights’ that bring together different creative fields such as new music, dance, poetry and literature readings, performance as well as film. HilbertRaum got its name from the infinitely dimensional Hilbertraum (Hilbert Space), a mathematical concept by the mathematician David Hilbert. In our highly subjective and personal interpretation, we take this as our namesake to represent an open, evolving structure that can lead to surprising results.
When Daniel stopped me in the studio corridor and asked if I wanted to join him in starting up a project space, I have to admit my first response was to push it away. Did I want another labour-intensive, logistically complicated, non-profit activity added to my long list of art projects? Not really, but I agreed to at least meet the other guys and talk it through, if only to provide them with the healthy feedback of a sceptic. Little did I know that just a week or two later I would be the one sitting down in front of my computer formulating rules for how to run the space!
What made me change my mind and decide to join the project? First, I really enjoyed the social vibes of those first meetings – these were people I didn’t mind being in the same room with, but also we were clearly in agreement of what we didn’t want: endless meetings, collective decisions about every little detail, having to agree on an artistic vision, scheduled duties stretching over the entire year and mounting additional expenses. Given that as artists we were all in roughly the same situation and sharing the same needs and concerns, this might not sound so strange, but I still find the fact that all five of us took a very pragmatic view on the whole thing a really rare event, especially considering that we later managed to carry it on with the new members. This pragmatic approach is what I attest to the reason why HilbertRaum runs so smoothly and is so much fun. Admitting that none of us had that much time to spare, that our own art would always come first and that our economical situations were, well, like those of most artists I guess, was the secure foundation we could build a fruitful collaboration on.
So what was our answer to that basic situation? We needed to make sure that the space would carry itself economically regardless of how well it went. So we decided that rent and basic costs have to be covered by regular member contributions. We all pay every month, and that covers the basic bills. This meant that we didn’t have to enter any kind of unrealistic business project which would have depended on luck or large visitor numbers to succeed. How well or badly we run the space, at least the rent is covered, and anyone not prepared to chip in their monthly contribution, even when things are going swell, shouldn’t be part of the project.
Our second and much more serious fear was that our very busy personal schedules would be heading on a collision course with an endless row of brief but immovable appointments for gallery duty evenly spaced over the entire year just so they would always pop up when you least expected. The solution was to bunch all the duties and responsibilities together and dish them out in two big dollops a year but sweetened with an almost endless power of decision. HilbertRaum runs a series of two-week shows back to back over the entire year, each randomly allocated to one of the members. When one of your shows is coming up, you carry the entire responsibility to pull it off and make it happen, but you also have the full say and can make your own vision a reality without having to ask anyone for consent. This way we all know that we will be very busy twice a year before and during the two shows we organize. But for the rest of the year, there is nothing we have to do if we don’t want to.
Of course, it was clear to us that it would be almost impossible for just one person to manage all the work around an exhibition alone, including tending the bar at the opening and running the gallery during opening hours. All of us would need help from the others to be able to pull it off in the end, and that was just the thing. Since we would all be depending on the goodwill of the others for our own shows, we were likely to help them on theirs, if we could, and being fourteen members, some would always be able to when others had no time at all. If you never help anyone else, you can’t expect them to be there for you. And it has worked beautifully, at least so far. The key was to not regulate the help. Our individual lives are full of duties to work and families and projects that none of us can imagine having yet another block of time imposed upon our schedules, but between everything, we all manage to find the time to help each other in the end.
By Hannah van Ginkel on HilbertRaum and the exhibition “The Sky Is Falling”
To organize an exhibition was something completely new to me. It was great to visit some of the participating artists in their studios, to talk about their art and to pick works. A change of perspective which was uncommon and very exciting for me. I found it especially enriching to be able to verbalize how much I appreciate the works of the individual artists. I realized that, in general, I tend to think of something without taking the step of expressing it in words.
I curated the show with my friend Kerstin Grein, who works at the museum in Braunschweig. Her professional method of working and my rather intuitive, aesthetic thinking corresponded well while also creating good tension.
The space has an incredibly light and creative atmosphere, which seems to carry over to us as well as the visitors. It is fun to see how changeable it is. Its partition is always the same, yet the content is changing. In a similar way, some visitors are present at almost every opening. Others seem to attend because of a specific show or artist they know and don’t return again.
As an artist not to be solely a ‘lone fighter’ but to be able to depend on a group and to learn and to gain from it without feeling constrained, is an experience which I’m sure helps me in my personal work. To have a place where one possesses complete creative freedom is something quite precious and a rarity even in Berlin.
Also, the contact and lively exchange with people from quite different artistic directions, which I believe plays an important role for all of us, has become an important contrast to the intense but rather lonely work in the studio.