Halfway Home: HomeBase Projects Berlin
by Nicole Rodriguez
Though the age-old adage reminds us that “home is where the heart is”, few would ever allow themselves to tag such a revered term to a veritably deserted urban wasteland. The popular connotations of this deceptively innocuous four-letter word most generally stir up ideas that might best be swallowed as ‘quotidian in the raw.’ It’s supposed to be sweet and comfortable; the place that defines the everyday, a private niche where we’re able to choose how and with whom to commune. Artist-run collective HomeBase challenges this conventional notion of abode, suggesting it to be problematically limited, but also a thing taken for granted. Embedding themselves wholeheartedly in a different community each year, they integrate the works of their far-flung expatriate members directly into a city's living topography, trying to sew seeds in local pots of multiculturalism with hopes to grow fresh shoots of progressive urban living.
Founded by Israeli-American multidisciplinary artist Anat Litwin and originally conceived in New York, the site-specific artist residency program has already experienced five successful incarnations across the City from Brooklyn to Harlem, before making its fledgling transatlantic voyage to its current base in the hauptstadt of Germany. Contemporary nomads, the HomeBase crew sniff out structures with curious pasts in neighborhoods of uncertain futures. Previous HomeBase locations have included a former nursing home in the Lower East Side of New York or a foreclosed credit union for Slavic immigrants in Brooklyn. The implicitly transitional nature of these places is then adopted as the linchpin from which their ideas hang. The defunct and crumbling Engelhardt brewery in Berlin’s northern district of Pankow — a pseudo-suburb of former East Berlin populated mostly by picturesque parks and an overabundance of retirees — is the current host from which their ventures are germinating.
The space has a motley past, ripe for exposé by these site-specific practitioners. Built in 1890, the Engelhardt brewery produced one of the most popular beers in all of Germany during the 1920's. In the decades that followed it was expropriated by Nazis, later seized by the communist party, and finally used as a youth hostel by the Freie Deutsche Jugend (Free German Youth), before its eventual abandonment after the Wall fell in 1989. After a 20-year slide, it was in a complete state of neglect when HB got its hands on it in 2010. For decades the space had produced libations for some of the most influential and notorious political parties of 20th century, but its current proprietors are set on churning out performances, installations, and special events that function as an ongoing investigation into the nature and possibilities of the home and of urban living. Boasting a research center, library, garden and outfitted with a microbrewery that carries the torch of the original landlord, the highlight of the live-in project is by and large the 17 artist studios that dually function as residents’ living quarters and as their workspaces. Living and working within designated chambers, artists and coordinators co-mingle and feed from their shared, history-laden adopted home, and from the ideas they freely exchange during the length of their stay. After serving at this three-month post, the HB residency concludes in a three-day open studio and performance festival where they put their artistic investigations on show.
“Conventional” is something you could never confuse the residency space for. Studio quarters resemble corridors in an old hospital, with artists and open-studio visitors darting about like nervous nurses trying to soak up as much as possible — peeking through discretely labeled peep holes in the hallway, open and closing mystery doors, and swooshing away improvised curtains. Artist statements and other explanatory text are confined to a central curatorial catalog, while within each studio is found a more personal, almost diary-style account of each artist’s unique grapple with distance from their home. “Letters Home” offers a private account of both the artist’s creative perspective and their vantage point of domestic issues.
With the inevitable convolution between work and play, it’s sometimes hard to distinguish between the art and personal artifacts. The clothesline installation by Shintaro Yamakawa (Japan) for example, interrupts his studio to such a degree that it intersects and interferes with the viewing of her drawings and sculptures. Instead of hosting her work, her sculptures are in fact threatened by the mere proximity of her personal belongings. Alternately, Miami-based Franky Cruz condenses bio and deco by merging the interior atelier with exterior garden, comingling dirt and canvas.
“The Rhythm of Privacy”, a performance and video intervention by German artist Moritz Geiser, keenly draws focus away from the physical territory he claims and chooses instead the conceptions of privacy itself as his protagonist. With a background in psychology and theater and a new found interest in video, Geiser examines the quintessential gestures of solitude —hand jerks, facial touches, restless and repetitive motion about a room. While performing seemingly unawares via a webcam in his studio, an audience gathers in a conference room to voyeuristically study his robotic habits. After a humorous yet also unsettlingly accurate depiction of a human in isolation, he merges the distinct realms of the protected space within the video and that of the rapt audience. His home is a meditation on displacement; on our interior spaces and the relationship we sometimes unknowingly have with them.
As HB Build III comes to a close, HomeBase is currently holding an open call for the HB Build IV winter residency program that begins November 5, 2012, and will be held in this same Berlin location. As the project nears its seventh year, the collective also has plans to continue sojourning eastward to a historic hospital in Jerusalem, with a long-term goal of linking the three cities of New York, Berlin, and Jerusalem in continuous a dialogue between artists, collaborators, curators and viewers alike. Lively new ideas are expected to mushroom from many more otherwise forgotten mossy walls.
Those interested in joining the HomeBase caravan can submit their applications in the link below. The deadline is September 16, 2012.
Apply for HB Build IV Winter Residency
Nicole Rodriguez is an independent arts writer and curator from San Juan, Puerto Rico, currently based in Berlin, Germany. A graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, she writes about contemporary art and culture for ARTslant, and sugarhigh’s BerlinArtJournal.view all articles from this author