Suada Demirovic and Honey Beckerlee: Artist Run festival

Coming up this May 9 -11 in Copenhagen there will be an International Festival for Artist-Run Spaces simply called Artist Run.

artist-run

The two artists behind Artist Run, Honey Beckerlee and Suada Demirovic agreed to take  time out from the huge task of organising the event to talk to me about the upcoming Festival and some of the ideas behind it.

Suada Demirovic & Honey Beckerlee
Suada Demirovic & Honey Beckerlee

Suada is an artist who works with time-based media like photography, video and often text-based. She is a long time member of NLH Space. Honey is an artist who describes her practice as time-based but mainly revolving around photography. I met them one rainy evening in a Copenhagen artists’ studio – nestled in a back building across a courtyard in the middle of Frederiksberg. After drinking some delicious hot tea I asked the artists how the Festival came about? According to Honey, one of the initial motivations for the Festival was an exchange between the artists and Raygun Lab in Australia. Apparently Honey had been invited to exhibit at the Toowoomba gallery and had later recommended Suada to the gallery. Both had a very enjoyable and productive experience with Raygun and wanted to do something for them in return. As Honey expressed it. “I felt that I should repay the generosity by trying to get them here to do a show in Copenhagen – Suada is involved in an artist run space here in Vesterbro called NLH Space, so we got together to talk about options on how to get Raygun to exhibit here.”

Through this singular thought of generosity the idea for the festival emerged. Of course, that may have given the project its initial motivation but there were also other questions and curiosities that provoked the artists to act. For instance the question of why there are so many artist-run spaces in Copenhagen at present? What needs do they come from? What role do these spaces play in the art scene? Inspired by  Hannah Arrendt’s ideas on power and the possibility for achieving a voice in society, the artists pose very pertinent and astute questions for the festival:

“Are the artist-run spaces an indication of how a multitude of voices can actively take part in shaping the art scene? How can these potential ways of finding a voice be utilized, and for what purpose?”

The artists have invited a long list of artist-run spaces in Copenhagen. I counted seventeen on their website. Aware of the sometimes blurry borders of artist-run institutions in general, where roles can be switched and mixed between artists, curators,  architects and even administrators and sometimes all in the one person, they consciously decided they would try to be  “as inclusive as possible.” The artists also requested that these artist-run spaces each themselves invite an international artist-run to contribute with an exhibition plus participate in a joint opening event and subsequent conference.  This they hope will create an international dialogue for artists. In fact this is the stated aim of the conference – “The purpose of the conference is to create a dialogue together in a public forum.”

An important consideration for the artists is to make the spaces visible to a wider public, as well as to each other, and with this idea in mind they are producing a map of Copenhagen artist-run spaces so that anyone can take a walk to see these spaces for themselves.

Interestingly, I first encountered the phrase artist-run on the event website. Artist-run what?  I’ve since found myself using this term ‘artist-run’ more often than the Australian term artist-run initiative or artist-run spaces or centres (Canada) or all the other many ways of referring to the phenomenon. It seems to me a perfect way of describing it – as I suspect the artists knew, as it leaves open the many possibilities that that term can refer to – initiative, space, centre, group, project. Artist-run all of them.

Thank-you Suada and Honey for taking time to speak with me about the festival and your own projects.

Sydhavn Station

Finding Sydhavn Station, the artist-run space in south Copenhagen, is easy. Just take a train from Central Copenhagen railway to Sydhavn Station -it takes about 5 minutes – and when you descend the stairs, there it is, right in front of you and inside the train station. It’s actually located in the old ticket office, now no longer needed as automatic ticket machines have replaced train station staff. As part of the deal with the train authorities, who rent it out to the group of artists, they, the artists, also have access to the display windows – all fifteen of them. When I visited, the windows were full of a text-based work – in Danish of course – by Digteren Sternberg, sadly I can’t read Danish.

The work in the display windows is Between “Exhibition Space Station South Port” and “South Harbour Station.” by Digteren Sternberg(taken from Google Translate)

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The minute you walk through the door there’s a sense of stepping into another world. It’s suddenly really quiet and one has a sense of peace and calm after the clatter and noise of the train station outside.

I turned up late one Thursday afternoon and was ushered into one of the studio spaces. Three artists from the collective had agreed to speak to me about Sydhavn Station, the artist collective, and their own involvement with the space – Anne Skole Overgaard, Jens Axel Beck and Mette Juul. So with a delicious afternoon tea/coffee set out generously on one of the desks we began our conversation.

Anne Skole Overgård, Jens Axel Beck, Mette Juul
Anne Skole Overgård, Jens Axel Beck, Mette Juul

Sydhavn Station was initiated in August 2012. It consists of a collective of ten artists. The arrangement is interesting. The exhibition space – which is the quiet room that I entered straight from the Station – is only part of the arrangement. On both sides there are studio/office cubicle spaces for the members of the collective. Walking into the studio spaces felt quite dense with desks and papers and all sorts of energy and activity. The artists told me that all members pay something and this pays for the rent of the entire space – which means that exhibiting artists never pay to show their work here!

The amount each member pays is based on how many square meters they have of studio space. The others, without studio space, pay a small fee to be part of the collective and to show work.

The artists explained to me how the exhibition space is organised: Each artist is given a one month period per year where the space is their responsibility. It usually works out at about a month each – and with only ten artists this means there’s some time left at the end of the year to have a group show or perhaps invite a curator to organise a show. Now this is where it gets interesting–each artist, when their month comes up, is responsible for everything. The funding, the invitations, the PR, the install, sitting the gallery whatever. Artists can use the space however they would like, to show their own work or invite in guest artists, which seems to be a very popular way to go. As Mette explained, “we help each other. but it has to work like this because everyone is a practicing artist, travelling and doing stuff so it’s the only way that it can work.”

I think this is a very practical  model for operating an artist-run. It deals with the thorny issue of artists having to pay to show their own work, instead here, artists pay for ongoing studio space.

The "quiet" exhibition space with a work by Kim Grønborg, " Detached Apparatus, 2 Flaws"
The “quiet” exhibition space with a work by Kim Grønborg, ” Detached Apparatus, 2 Flaws”

The ten artists that make up the collective all have different practices and different ways of working, which gives the exhibition program  throughout the year a lot of variety. The three artists I spoke to had very different practices.

Anne has a broad painting/drawing practice, and presently she is focused on water colours, making striking and visually sophisticated views from windows, including the view from her studio at Sydhavn Station. She mentioned that as she trained at an Academy outside Copenhagen she has always been aware of the need to create spaces for exhibition, in fact this was something that was very much emphasised by her teachers at Jutland Academy of Art in Aarhus. If you are a young artist living outside Copenhagen the opportunities for exhibiting can be a lot less, and an artist needs to come up with creative solutions. In view of this, some of Anne’s past projects have indeed been both creative and wonderful. One was an exhibition in an envelope and another was an exhibition in a corridor.

Jens describes himself as an interdisciplinary artist utilising a wide variety of materials. He makes surprising and unpredictable sculptural/conceptual works. Some of these use found materials and overlooked everyday objects – a vacuum cleaner, dust on a light shade and my favourite, finger prints on a glass display case. In his most recent work he used old posters he found at work that he remade into ‘solid’ memorials to everyday life –  in a strategy of reverse materiality he remade these flexible paper posters using the hard stone of marble.

Mette describes herself as a lens based artist using photography and video. She is particularly drawn to narrative and storytelling through photography. She makes intriguing and compelling photo-books of her many photos gathered while travelling. One of her most recent projects is what she calls a “photo-memory exchange” where she is collecting memories. What this means is that the photos she takes in one place – she says she photographs everything –  she shows people/audiences in another unrelated place and invites them to write a text about any of the photos that might stir a memory for them. This method of working has been enormously productive as Mette pursues the idea of  “collective memory” and the possibility that we may all share more than we realise.

Danish artists  get a lot of support from the State, especially young and emerging. Firstly there is the Danish Arts Council which offers some grants, but there is also local govt or community support as well.  The Social Democratic way of organising life extends to these small artist initiatives, with most of the artists that I spoke to having received some sort of funding in the past or currently.

One of the more enlightened aspects of this supportive situation is that as members of an artist-run it is possible to invite international artists to come to Copenhagen and show their work, which as Mette remarked “you don’t have to be a big museum to invite people”. The grants are sizeable enough to pay the invited international artist for their travel costs as well as a small stipend for expenses while staying in Copenhagen.

As we talked into the evening the realisation that we were in a train station was never far  away. A deep vibrating rumble could be heard every now and then as the train passed over our heads.

Behind the row of bikes are the windows of the artist-run Sydhavn Station
Behind the row of bikes are the windows of the artist-run Sydhavn Station

Thank-you Anne, Jens and Mette for taking the time to talk to me about your projects and Sydhavn Station.

Making Room: Marie Thams and Hannah Heilmann

To continue my research of artist run spaces in Copenhagen I spent a couple of days talking to and interviewing artists in their studios and spaces while staying in Copenhagen. It was a great experience to meet artists in their own spaces, to get a feel for the space, its place in the city and the artists themselves.

Marie Thams and Hannah Heilmann
Marie Thams and Hannah Heilmann

The first interview was with the artists Marie Thams and Hannah Heilmann, who organised the symposium Making Room, held in Copenhagen late last year. I met with the two organisers/artists in the studio of Odradek – an artist-run space that Marie Thams is a member. We met to talk about the symposium and their own involvement with artist run spaces in Copenhagen. Hannah is a member of TOVES, an artist-run that consists of 10 members, and located in an industrial area of Copenhagen. Unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to visit Toves this time…(I got lost)  Odradek, on the other hand is close to the Central Railway so easy for foreigners like me — I love this name Odradek, taken from one of Kafka’s stories The Cares of a Family Man, with its ambiguity and allusion to “any useless, harmless object which is kept around for no obvious reason”.

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On entering the unassuming door I found myself in a large room with several work tables. This is a  working space for the artists. There are seven members. The exhibition space is downstairs where some left-behind shelving has been utilised for their last exhibition, titled Family Man. The shelving has an unusual form, large spaces between each shelf – like large luggage racks. With the artists’s projects set amongst these wooden spaces it takes on a very poetic feel.

Image courtesy of Odradek and  Bonnie Fortune and Brett Bloom
Artists’ work featured in this image are: Honey Biba Beckerlee and Trine Mee Sock Gleerup Image courtesy of Odradek and Bonnie Fortune

TOVES is a collective of 10 members, which at first glance may seem like a lot, but according to Hannah this number is something that they thought about and realised “10 becomes a more uncontrollable mass of people” and “it also means that not everybody is at all the meetings and it therefore becomes more flexible”. TOVES is the name of the original gallery that was situated in a popular arcade in a once-poor-area, but since gentrified, part of the city, Vesterbro. However due to market forces – someone bought their space –  the collective had to move. TOVES is also the name of a well-known  local poet Tove Ditlevsen who had grown up in Vesterbro area. Today TOVES is located in an industrial part of the city, “off the beaten track”, which is much less visible to the local community, unlike the arcade where there had been lots of passing traffic. Nevertheless Hannah thinks the space is wonderful and one of the best exhibition spaces in Copenhagen at present. I will definitely visit next time.

Making Room
Image courtesy of Hannah Heilmann

Making Room was billed as “A symposium on artists, institutions and artist’s institutions during the Modern Breakthrough and today.”  It was held at Den Frie, one of the oldest artist run institutions in Denmark, with a history going back to 1891! And extraordinarily,  it is still run by artists! (more or less) today.  In a very distinctive move the symposium bought together two different eras, separated by over 100 years — The Modern Breakthrough and the contemporary moment of artist run spaces. (The Modern Breakthrough is a term, often associated with the art critic and theorist Georg Brandes, referring to  Nordic art of the late 19th century, when Nordic artists began painting in a Realistic mode.)

Rather than rely on the usual references to 1960s or 1990s radical artists’ spaces and the familiar narratives of artists’ radical resistance to the commodity culture of the art market of late 20th century capitalism etc, etc. Hannah and Marie wanted to underline instead the links between artists’ institutions today and the fact that these institutions have a history. For the Nordic countries and in particular Denmark the history of artists’ associations is a strong one.  They also wanted to emphasis the connections with the late 19th century, understanding that the institutional structures of today’s art world were developed in the second half of the 19th century, in particular the relationship between academies, collectors, museums and audiences. This is a fact that can be overlooked by the constant present of today’s contemporary artists. And it is from within this historical context that the symposium posed some very pertinent questions for contemporary artists-run spaces – now referred to as artists institutions.

“How [do] artists’ own institutions interplay with other institutions and whether or not they can – or ought to – be seen as practising an alternative institutional critique, if they are foremost a form of artistic practice, or simply function as strategic stepping stones for upcoming artists.”

These questions  were also foregrounded in the We Are Here symposium in Sydney in 2011 and again in the Vancouver conference Institutions by Artists in 2012.

The artists make the point that looking at these historical artists’ institutions can shed light on the role of todays spaces and projects where we are “always performing within this institutional landscape” and it makes clear that artists have – at least since the Modern era- always had to negotiate through the many issues that constrain their work or their needs.  It is often ‘necessity‘ either economic, cultural or social necessity, rather than simply artistic vision that propels artists to set up their own institutions. As Hannah remarked,  “Often these work as an interplay. you sort of get pushed to push the boundaries because there is no room for you and you have to change the parameters what a scene can be or where you’re working.”

Odradek space is situated in the back of this building.
Odradek space is situated in the back of this building.

Thank-you Marie Thams and Hannah Heilmann for taking time out to do this interview.

Copenhagen artist-run

Over the last few days I’ve been meeting and talking with artists in Copenhagen about their involvement with artist-run spaces. Copenhagen is currently brimming with artist-run spaces, and there will be an Artist-Run Festival held here in Copenhagen, May 10-11, 2014, with some 17 Artist-Run spaces participating. I spoke to the 2 artists who are organising the event,  Suada Demirovic & Honey Beckerlee about the event and how it came about. Much to my surprise they said that the event was inspired by their previous collaborations with an Australian artist-run initiative called Raygun Lab!!

If you go to their website there is a list of the participating spaces. I’ve also listed them below.

ANDEL31 | ANOTHER SPACE | ANTE CHAMBER | DIAKRON GREEN IS GOLD | KONTOR PROJECTS | KOH-I-NOOR | NLH SPACE | OK CORRAL | SYDHAVN STATION | YEARS | YNKB | 68 | OFFICIN | NEW SHELTER PLAN | BETON ART SPACE | ODRADEK | TOVES |