LoBe is a contemporary art residency that provides artists with an opportunity to develop their practice within a environment that promotes dialogue, collaboration, exhibition making, and interdisciplinary practice. This very special project space is led by the curatorial duo Elke Falat and Olivia Reynolds, who met us for a cup of tea and an interesting conversation on the activities of their art space in Wedding.
How did you get together as a curatorial team and started LoBe?
Olivia: I moved to Berlin about three and a half years ago. I was an installational artist and I stopped my practice five years ago to open a space in Berlin. I was interested in site-specific installations, but also the idea of residency. Also, connecting London and Berlin was important for me. I always wanted to run this project with a German curator, so I kind of waited until I met people in Berlin, and the right person came along. The idea of the program became formed, and it is still becoming formed, with Elke's and my input and the practice of running it together.
Elke: I am working as a curator since almost ten years now. I was running an art space in a smaller town in Germany and I had a Kunstverein there for three years. I also moved to Berlin three and half years ago because I think that today, in terms of contemporary art, Berlin is the most exciting place in Germany, and maybe also Europe. It was good coincidence that we met through a common friend.
What is the main curatorial strategy in LoBe?
Elke: On the one hand, the main curatorial strategy is within the group shows. We were focusing on certain situations that are beyond the curatorial, such as the gallery window smashed through an act of violence in the street. We had a street gang as next-door neighbors. It was not about doing a project on violence; it was about dealing with the situation that we maybe have total criminals in our neighborhood, and you do not want to be offensive because, in the long run, they will still be your neighbors after the show. We just pointed to it and from that a lot of communication started. So, that was an example of a group show. On the other hand, the main idea of LoBe is to bring together two different art worlds - from London and Berlin- and to bring together two artists from these cities for a residency.
What do you put emphasis on in the residencies?
Olivia: Same as with the group shows, what is important here is reacting. In residencies, artists react to each other. Choosing the artists is an organic process; it happens between Elke and I during the studio visits and while talking. The artists do not know each other before the residency, but sometimes they have contact with each other over email some months before. When they meet each other they have the whole month to develop the work and also to develop a dialogue between themselves. From the very beginning it was important for me that there wasn't an artist working in isolation. Here the German artist is a sort of a host for the British artist. Later they sometimes invite each other into group shows, and there have been strong friendships that have come out of this experience of having done the residency at LoBe.
Elke: For us it is interesting to choose the artist, but apart from that, we are not very much involved. It is not like the curator is a subject of knowledge and power. The process of choosing and matching is very important. The criteria is not only based on the artists' work and their agendas, but also on the possibility for a dialogue between them. If you have someone who is a great artist, but maybe who is a little bit difficult in terms of working with other people, it might be a big challenge.
Olivia: People's characters and ideas are as important as their work in the choosing process.
Elke: The aim or the output is a show. And of course, the artists want the show to be great. Most of the time it turns out to be a good show, but that is not the most important thing. I think it is also important that they have this dialogue. If it turns out that the artists could not get along with each other, then there is also some kind of another output. You take a certain risk into play. Otherwise, if you make it too safe, there is no room for new ideas.
What kind of art are you mostly interested in?
Olivia: Installation, site-specific, but with very mixed media. It can be from ceramics to video art. No limit.
How did you come up with the idea of preparing dinners in the gallery?
Olivia: The dinners came about because dialogue is very important in our space. We did artist talks in the very beginning of the space, but we found that actually it worked better having dinners where we can invite quite a broad range of people who maybe would not normally come to an opening, but would come to a dinner. The idea is that they come to really celebrate the show, and also that they talk to the artists and have discussions while sitting within the artwork. This is an experimental sort of situation where each dinner is different according to each show. We feel that this is a nice way to incorporate the public into the residencies; that way you can actually hear from the artists how they got along with each other and how the whole process went.
Was there any particular reason for choosing Wedding?
Olivia: When I first came to Berlin I had the choice of Neukolln and Wedding. Wedding had a lot of art studios with artists who had worked there for twenty years. Whereas I felt Neukolln was a very young area. I think for me it was better to choose Wedding in order to make the most of this sort of art community. There are other project spaces in Wedding as well and we were lucky to find such a big street-level space. Although we are located in Wedding, we also have group shows that take place in flats in other areas of Berlin. And now, we started a program in London. There are going to be exhibitions in different spaces, including non-art spaces as well. So, we do not only stick to the parameters of the gallery, but it is nice to have that base.
Is there some kind of relation between the projects and the immediate surroundings?
Olivia: Artists who do the residency often use it as a starting point. They do not have to, but they do. It is nice to have a permanent space that we can also build a relationship with. There is quite a community developing in Wedding with artists and art spaces. I think our space fits in it quite quickly.
Elke: Apart from the art world, we have some relationships with also the neighbors. For example, with the people at the bicycle shop who were babysitting Olivia's child. The art at the residency is not dealing with the immediate neighborhood directly, it is not this kind of art we want to do. It is always very risky and I do not want to use people. It is true that the neighboorhood is influential; the surrounding is important, but it is a frame and it is not what brought the artists there.
Where do you find your inspiration?
Olivia: Matt's Gallery and Goldsmiths were the things that inspired me from London to start the space here. The artists continuously inspire us. Especially during the residencies where you have a deeper relationship with the artists. It is very encouraging how they seem to bring about very individual and wonderful situations.
Elke: I think the curatorial always starts from a different point. It does not start immediately in art, but in society. The overall question that should be present in art is - how do we want to live? Sometimes you focus on something, but it all leads to the same question. Again, the situation with the smashed window was about how do we live and how do we deal with this situation. It is not about putting artists together and telling them to make a show about something. It is not about illustrating ideas because I do not have the ideas. I have questions and I go the artists and look for the answers. Or not even answers, but things like comments or reactions. This is what art should be about. It is so simple in a way, or maybe banal, but I think that is it. Otherwise, art about art is boring.