Have you met... District Berlin

Text by Katy Hawkins, pictures courtesy of District Berlin

District Berlin, located in the Malzfabrik grounds in Schöneberg, exists as a interdisciplinary think-tank and studio work space with a thematic focus on the present-day appropriation of public urban space. Born out of District Kunst- und Kulturförderung, the project, which looks to support market-independent critical practices, has developed through the collaborative efforts of three young curators: Susanne Modelsee (2010 -2011), Ulrike Gerhardt (2011-2012) and Susanne Husse(since 2012) and founder Frank Sippel.

Methodological advocate's of: "experiment" as a mode of knowledge production, District is fueled by a conceptual desire to develop and nurture alternative ways of thinking capable of catering for, and cultivating, sustainable ways of living. This creative stance is exemplified in their two current outdoor installations, both of which work to induce a heightened sense of social consciousness by initiating dialogues, and resultant situations, which achieve in momentarily illuminating one's relationship to their immediate urban surroundings.

Now, on January 31. District Kunst- und Kulturförderung opens with a four-part series of exhibition "experiments" and performative exercises, , and advocate of "experiment" as a mode of knowledge production the first of which is Achim Lengerer's Rehearsing P.W./ Documents and Footnotes.

I spoke with Susanne Husse, curator of the upcoming show, to discuss her involvement in District to date...

Does District Berlin have an overarching conceptual focus?
There are more than one, but one important focus can be described as the invitation to cultural producers, individuals from other fields of knowledge and different audiences to reflect upon societal, technological and cultural developments from a critical perspective, to deal with urban spaces and modes of its appropriation and to re-evaluate the commons. Crucial for me is to rethink the art space as place, where concerns can be expressed and negotiated and to experiment with the performativity of displays as modes of engagement. Another conceptual ground–more an attitude than programmatic aim–is to cultivate space for the unexpected and the paradoxical.

What is you curatorial angle? Has your curatorial approach changed throughout the course of the project, and if so what factors have caused this shift?
I just started to work at District since July, so the shift I experience is the one from an independent curatorial practice influenced by very different situations and constellations of production to the responsibility for a space, its contexts and aims. In the framework of my curatorial focus, this commitment opens questions that are more related to the ethics of curatorship, i.e. for whom and how should the program of District be developed? What are the power relations it is inserted in? Which are the issues, narratives, practices and contexts that are underrepresented and should be activated? I am curious where the shared exploration of these questions leads and I am very excited by the chance to work from a defined local situation. I am interested to discover the politics, communities and narratives of Districts surrounding urban spaces and to facilitate artistic and interdisciplinary projects to investigate, involve, intervene in and re-interpret these neighbourhoods.

How do you finance the project?
District is privately funded in its infrastructure, studio program and part of its projects. For the realization of our activities to a full extend we do need support from public and other private partners. Therefore much of our efforts are necessarily directed in the development of sustainable funding models as well as collaborations and fundraising.

District's two current site-specific, public art installations (Public Face and Banner Study for an Agora) both allow for, and invite, active visitor participation. Have you seen a willing from the public, or "Berliners", to respond and adapt when presented with newly appropriated urban spaces?
I think this depends very much on which kind of practice is on stake and on which Berliners we are talking about. Artistic appropriation of space probably has a very different meaning to people who start to be unable to afford the raised rents in Neukölln than to the customers of Ikea and the other interior shopping temples close to District in Tempelhof. In the cases of Public Face by Bismarck, Maus and Wilhelmer, a critical (and quite monumental) comment to the relationship of affect driven consumer culture and surveillance, and Agora by Discoteca Flaming Star, more a gesture or a spatial notation for a personal movement, that changes how we move, feel and experience in a space, the ways how these installations can be approached by the people are very different: While “Public Face” is visible from far and almost impossible to ignore when it glows in the dark, “Banner Study for an Agora” might not be detected at first glance but nonetheless change our perception of ourselves and the space. In both cases we can only guess how people react to it, as we are not able to measure their effect.

What importance does the name of the gallery hold?
Politics of space http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/District

Do you have a vision for the future? Is it hard to plan in advance when District Berlin is tied, in terms of concept, to the fluctuating city?
The next project at District is titled “(Dis)playing paper: hours and constellations” and is a series of four micro-space exhibitions and performative interpretations that take their departure point from publication formats. Central to this series is the idea of the rehearsal to which the papers relate in forms of scripts, scores or other forms of notations. The first contribution by Achim Lengerer/ Scriptings is based on his research on the rehearsals for a theatre play by Peter Weiss in 1970 that were stormed by a left wing student association.

Your studio grant program is solely available for contemporary female artists, why did you decide on this specification?
Since we have only one studio that we can fully grant to an artist for six month, we believe that it is best to direct our support towards female practitioners, who still have to struggle to obtain recognition, remuneration, opportunities and support comparable to male art producers.

What advice would you give to budding curators?
I think it is important to create ones own structures and contexts of thinking, producing and exchange. The experience of sharing ideas and critique with other professionals from very different backgrounds always helps and inspires me very much to sharpen my own position and find the strength to follow it. These relationships especially with people of the same generation rely on shared concerns and can bring about affect and idea driven economies of work relations, exchange and knowledge production which overcome boundaries of status, discipline or geography. But it is important to not create new closed circles in that. We are facilitating this kind of exchange in informal meetings and talks for example at Note On, the project space I am co-organizing within a team of four.

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