Neukölln is transforming from a problem area to a thriving arts district with breathtaking speed. Until recently, drugs, violence and poverty made the district one of the German capital’s trouble spots. These days, new cafes, bars, galleries and studios open in Berlin’s hip creative centre every week. Even the author, who lives in the district, is astonished by a tour of the Neukölln art scene.
Gallery owner Heike Tosun named her gallery “I am captain” – in Spanish. Ms. Tosun worked in a number of other galleries before deciding to set up shop herself in “Kreuzkölln” in October 2010. In nine years of living in the northern part of Neukölln she has observed first-hand how an art scene has developed as the district has attracted more and more artists. “You can set up a professional operation anywhere,” says Tosun, who continues to be amazed at how fast Neukölln is changing. “But this district is ideal for me because it’s quiet and I can take my time building up my gallery and growing with it.”
Eli Cortiñas, Video Artist, Berlin-Neukölln
Artist Eli Cortiñas is sitting on the floor of the exhibition space of the gallery “soy capitán”, working with gallery owner Heike Tosun to connect her Mini-Mac to a projector. Cortiñas, who was born in the Canary Islands, is a video artist and has been living in Germany for nearly 20 years. In addition to sculptures and collages she works mainly with video – she researches archives and existing films and combines them in new ways. Her videos are either single linear projections on screens or video installations.
”I don’t buy the assumption that something you shoot yourself is more original than something that already exists”
Cortiñas edits the existing film material and puts it into a new context, giving it a new rhythm or putting it into constantly repeating loops. For her new video work “Perfidia”, she shortens a single theatrical film to just two minutes with three edits. “I don’t buy the assumption that something you shoot yourself is more original than something that already exists,” says Cortiñas. She compares her compositions to collages. “My work bears my own signature, which gives it a new character.” But sometimes she mixes in elements she creates herself. For example, in one physical installation she used her mother’s voice in a dialogue with the voice of an American actress, and she changed two scenes of a film by digitally stamping the individual film elements into a body made of two monitors.
Saloon Su de Coucou
The gallery Saloon Su de Coucou is in the heart of Neukölln on Weserstrasse. There is a new exhibition every month, with a focus on figurative painting and photography, usually featuring contemporary female artists from Berlin. The styles range from collages to photographs. The colourful gallery is also an art shop, where street art, photos, wallets and drawings are on sale for between one and 500 euros.
Monika Berstis/Studio Baustelle
As you go further south in Neukölln, the galleries and studios seem to be more spontaneous and makeshift, and “Studio Baustelle” is a perfect example of this phenomenon. The handmade business card reads: Kunst, Events, Experimente (“Art, Events, Experiments”). The three rooms are filled with all sorts of trinkets, cardboard packaging and broken tiles, reminiscent of an installation by the Swiss artist Thomas Hirschhorn.
The artist Monika Berstis is right at home here. She studies architecture at Berlin’s Technical University and works on her art in this studio. “I make art out of old materials – textiles, concrete or recycled kitchen tiles,” says the 29-year-old American. Berstis finds the material on the street and at flea markets – broken cups, old dresses. “I put old things into a new context.” Her wish now is to live in her studio in order to further refine her idea of the relationship between architecture and art. Because the materials she uses come from human environments, Berstis says “my art should take place in a living space”.
Schwarz Contemporary is one of the best-known galleries in Neukölln. Since 2011, Anna Schwarz, an art world mover and shaker, has been exhibiting young international artists who have not previously had individual shows or gallery shows. The artists come mainly from the areas of new painting or works on paper. The gallery’s location on Sanderstrasse puts it in the middle of the booming creative environment between Kreuzberg and Neukölln. Schwarz Contemporary is surrounded by cafes, shops and bookstores, as well as musicians, designers and other galleries.
Walking through Neukölln, you constantly encounter galleries and studios, like the studio of jewellery designer Jenny Sweetnam. The 27-year-old Englishwoman is not an artist in the conventional sense, but she is an impressive craftsman: “I make luxury statement body pieces.” Her jewellery is simple and elegant at the same time. England is the main market for Sweetnam’s collections, but she is happy practicing her contemporary craft here in Neukölln: “It’s quiet here and I can concentrate when I spend 10 hours filing on a piece.” The common thread in her work is the human silhouette. It's no surprise, then, that she has also designed clothing as well as jewellery. But all her work speaks the same design language: simple and to the point. Handmade from timeless material. Sweetnam finds the inspiration for her creations in vibrant Neukölln and through her work she spreads this feeling throughout the world.
Grove The art collective Sameheads, which is not far from Karl-Marx-Strasse, is the prototypical Neukölln art establishment. It combines a gallery, cafe, cinema, clothing shop and venue for events in a single space. Young artists exhibit their work on the ground floor, while in the evening art lovers meet for a beer at the bar and on the weekends you can see live performances by experimental musicians in the cellar. This is the quintessence of the charm of the art scene in Neukölln.
”Art should be accessible to everyone, so everyone should have space to show their art”
One of the co-managers of Sameheads is the artist Chloe Grove, who is originally from London and has been living in Berlin for five years. She organises openings for exhibitions in Sameheads every two months. “Art should be accessible to everyone, so everyone should have space to show their art,” says Grove. In addition to the exhibitions, Sameheads sells handmade Berlin fashion in its Art Space and has operated a popular bar for the past two years. Grove says that in Neukölln art isn’t about marketing and revenue, it’s about something happening in the moment. “Art is produced in Neukölln, not sold,” she says. That’s why many artists still have other jobs and don't have the pressure of having to live from their art, the artist continues. “It’s not about the money, it’s about revealing something about yourself and about the joy that art can bring.”
That is Neukölln art in a nutshell: The art scene in this district isn’t as clean and established as in Berlin-Mitte. “There’s a trial-and-error factor that allows artists to experiment and not to take art too seriously.” Grove adds: “There’s no art industry here, just people making art out of passion.”