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Speculative Triggers: S.O.S. Chairs

Off of Mexico Platz, up Argentinische Allee.  Zehlendorf, Berlin is a part of town that takes you back in time.

Old villas in spring. Mothers pushing designer prams a la 1920s—shiny steel and blue sunroof. Mom-andpop shop style—Tante Emma Laden—sausage, fruit, and vegetable market and kiosk welcome you at the S-Bahn.

The Haus am Waldsee* is an esteemed cultural institution with a history of trading hands. Originally acquired by a German-Jewish entrepreneur—a Mister Knobloch—and sold in 1926, the villa was taken over during National Socialism. In post-war Germany, the Jewish Restitution Successor Organization inquired about reparations, receiving documentation of the prewar sale. Now, the district has declared the house German cultural heritage. Fancy caramel cake and frothy coffee are to be had and framed proof and praise of great men (Picasso, Henry Moore, Max Ernst) hang on the cafe walls. A new normal.

Currently on view at the Haus am Waldsee, the notorious industrial designer and international superstar Konstantin Grcic comments on how design and New Normals intertwine. His first solo institutional show in Berlin, the exhibition consists of futuristic environments, reoccurring classics such as the Mayday (1999) lamp meet upon new furniture scenarios. In pastel and neon tones and quirky material pairings, each scenario opens up a world of speculation. The new normals of each environment are numbered, and the Mayday lamp appears in every room. Enter the futuristic playground.

MAYDAY?

The Mayday lamp was one of Grcic’s first commercially successful projects. It hangs like a fire extinguisher in every room. Like a gumball machine on the street to interact with. Here, to reflect, alarm, and shed some light on this critical moment in our times. A red neon element that ruptures the smooth, sleek designer surfaces. It is a functional leitmotif. Its versatile attributes are what garnered its popularity. Handle. Hook. The lamp is a tool and redefines the typology of a lamp, named after the emergency call for alarm when the Titanic sank. MAYDAY—when you are in trouble. Entitled Normal 0 within the exhibition, its presence calls out in every room: “M’aider”. Save our souls.

Normal 1-14
Though not explicitly about Covid, it is impossible to view these works of furniture without seeing them in the context of the pandemic and social distancing. Beautifully industrially designed chairs are a reoccurring structure on this exhibition route. Meant for use every day, but thanks to some futuristic disaster, these chairs seem blocked. The friction manifests in chained chairs. Chained up with neon orange bike locks, bound with gymnastic straps. Chairs with television and radio satellites, chairs hanging from the ceiling, chairs as benches, tables without chairs. Stools in group formations. From these chairs in our home offices, we change the world. Swiping, posting?

“Do not sit or touch the designer chairs”, the house advises. The tension of not being able to interact with these social formations is palpable.

In comparison, the Haus am Waldsee offers viewers a chair in the corner of each room to sit on, and imagine sitting on the Grcic’s chair scenario. Now, this might seem somewhat cruel at first glance, but this is when the imagination begins to play tricks on you. The players who should be resting on these seats are ghosts in this furniture land. It is like downloading a hallucination.
Case in point, Normal 15 is made of surveillance LEDs, cables slithering towards and hooking up like rattlesnakes to a center stone. Red stools with little trays to catch something and to commune around the center stone. Silent and immobile, animism is projected onto the site. Is this a challenge out of the Squid Game—the Korean sci-fi Netflix show that got us through the pandemic? Dare to play and perhaps riches await, lose the game—well—die.

The architecture of the house converses with the chairs and the tiling and hardwood floors. You cannot look out of the milky glass windows. This removes the experience from our sense of time and place. Whose living room is this? Who sits or will sit on these chairs? Do we want to sit on these chairs? Are we jealous of whoever gets to sit on these chairs?
Have you settled for this new normal? Have you gotten used to this status quo? Are you used to this lifestyle? Is this comfortable? Or, is this all we know? Is this the new domestic life? Is this a dystopian or utopian sci-fi soap opera?

These chairs set standards.

Normal 5 — Champions Table
Does high society come together at this table? Judy Chicago dinner of mirrors?
Always keep your neighbour in your side-view mirror.
Sleek glass table. Society flexes its respectability and reflecting capabilities.
No chairs. Can everyone stand at the bar?

Normal 10
—It’s not spinning, but it looks like it should.
360-degree chairs. Dead or alive? You spin me right round baby, like a record baby right round, round, round. A blinking light underlines the sense of uneasiness. Are we spinning into a new future of digital and industrial possibilities?

MAYDAY …

Normal 14
A fleshy-looking pink Yoga ball, trapped in between two plushy sofas pushed together, a net hangs from the ceiling. Yoga balls are like a meme for neoliberalism:
Breathe in and relax, now, work harder!
The environment is like a deconstructed ball pit, with one big ball.
Out of all of the seating arrangements, this sensual installation could be perhaps the bedroom in this nonhouse am Waldsee. What types of play happen on these crimson cushions? Is it a trap, cage, or pleasurable haven? The world is your oyster after all … unless catastrophe strikes, your privileges are lost.

Normal 12
Golden upholstered dentist-like lounge chair. Phone holders all around. Is this an influencer’s dream or a torture device? Gen Z TikTok stars, schooling the world from the comfort of their lounge chairs. There is even a little side-board built-in for a glass—perhaps a protein shake. This lounging device is cold and rich, like most things connected to our phones. Somehow luxurious and mean. We live in inspiring and terrifying times. Digitization is understood as forward-thinking. Digital and technological platforms afford extraordinary immediate ways of sharing, producing, uploading, exchanging, communicating. On the other hand, totalitarian forms of assembly, pay-walling, data collection, and discriminating surveillance challenge our user safety.

MAY DAY!

Grcic’s work has become renowned for its aesthetic minimalism and multifunctional features. There is a certain ambiguity to each case study he sets up. This makes them indefinite spaces for projection. Aesthetic, certainly … dangerous normals, perhaps … It seems time has come to a stand-still in the exhibition space. The modular items connote flexibility, keeping an open mind both materially and relationally despite irritation. Visitor’s feedback in the guestbook shows that the imagination is activated with propositions for more chairs such as The Whiskey Sour Chair, The Love-Making Chair, The Spider Chair.

How did we get here, to this new normal? Are these singular episodes? Proof that there are continuities? A call to get up off of your chair. A silent state of alarm. Did we miss the warning signs? Grcic depicts experiments in an insecure future: speculative triggers for world-making.

This text was first published in Lerchenfeld No. 61.

Nina Prader, born in Washington D.C., is an artist, writer, curator and independent publisher between Berlin and Vienna. She runs Lady Liberty Library and Showroom. The work Soft Construction by Valentina Karga (Professor of Design at the HFBK Hamburg) and Mascha Fehse is currently on view there.

Solo exhibition by Konstantin Grcic

From September 29 to October 23, 2022, Konstantin Grcic (Professor of Industrial Design) will be showing a room-sized installation at ICAT - Institute for Contemporary Art & Transfer at the HFBK Hamburg consisting of objects designed by him and existing, newly assembled objects. At the same time, the space he designed for workshops, seminars and office workstations in the AtelierHaus will be put into operation.

Amna Elhassan, Tea Lady, oil on canvas, 100 x 100 cm

Amna Elhassan, Tea Lady, oil on canvas, 100 x 100 cm

Art and war

"Every artist is a human being". This statement by Martin Kippenberger, which is as true as it is existentialist (in an ironic rephrasing of the well-known Beuys quote), gets to the heart of the matter in many ways. On the one hand, it reminds us not to look away, to be (artistically) active and to raise our voices. At the same time, it is an exhortation to help those who are in need. And that is a lot of people at the moment, among them many artists. That is why it is important for art institutions to discuss not only art, but also politics.

Merlin Reichert, Die Alltäglichkeit des Untergangs, Installation in der Galerie der HFBK; photo: Tim Albrecht

Merlin Reichert, Die Alltäglichkeit des Untergangs, Installation in der Galerie der HFBK; photo: Tim Albrecht

Graduate Show 2022: We’ve Only Just Begun

From July 8 to 10, 2022, more than 160 Bachelor’s and Master’s graduates of the class of 2021/22 will present their final projects from all majors. Under the title Final Cut, all graduation films will be shown on a big screen in the auditorium of the HFBK Hamburg. At the same time, the exhibition of the Sudanese guest lecturer Amna Elhassan can be seen in the HFBK gallery in the Atelierhaus.

Grafik: Nele Willert, Dennise Salinas

Grafik: Nele Willert, Dennise Salinas

June is full of art and theory

It has been a long time since there has been so much on offer: a three-day congress on the visuality of the Internet brings together international web designers; the research collective freethought discusses the role of infrastructures; and the symposium marking the farewell of professor Michaela Ott takes up central questions of her research work.

Renée Green. ED/HF, 2017. Film still. Courtesy of the artist, Free Agent Media, Bortolami Gallery, New York, and Galerie Nagel Draxler, Berlin/Cologne/Munich.

Renée Green. ED/HF, 2017. Film still. Courtesy of the artist, Free Agent Media, Bortolami Gallery, New York, and Galerie Nagel Draxler, Berlin/Cologne/Munich.

Finkenwerder Art Prize 2022

The Finkenwerder Art Prize, initiated in 1999 by the Kulturkreis Finkenwerder e.V., has undergone a realignment: As a new partner, the HFBK Hamburg is expanding the prize to include the aspect of promoting young artists and, starting in 2022, will host the exhibition of the award winners in the HFBK Gallery. This year's Finkenwerder Art Prize will be awarded to the US artist Renée Green. HFBK graduate Frieda Toranzo Jaeger receives the Finkenwerder Art Prize for recent graduates.

Amanda F. Koch-Nielsen, Motherslugger; photo: Lukas Engelhardt

Amanda F. Koch-Nielsen, Motherslugger; photo: Lukas Engelhardt

Nachhaltigkeit im Kontext von Kunst und Kunsthochschule

Im Bewusstsein einer ausstehenden fundamentalen gesellschaftlichen Transformation und der nicht unwesentlichen Schrittmacherfunktion, die einem Ort der künstlerischen Forschung und Produktion hierbei womöglich zukommt, hat sich die HFBK Hamburg auf den Weg gemacht, das Thema strategisch wie konkret pragmatisch für die Hochschule zu entwickeln. Denn wer, wenn nicht die Künstler*innen sind in ihrer täglichen Arbeit damit befasst, das Gegebene zu hinterfragen, genau hinzuschauen, neue Möglichkeiten, wie die Welt sein könnte, zu erkennen und durchzuspielen, einem anderen Wissen Gestalt zu geben

New studio in the row of houses at Lerchenfeld

New studio in the row of houses at Lerchenfeld, in the background the building of Fritz Schumacher; photo: Tim Albrecht

Raum für die Kunst

After more than 40 years of intensive effort, a long-cherished dream is becoming reality for the HFBK Hamburg. With the newly opened studio building, the main areas of study Painting/Drawing, Sculpture and Time-Related Media will finally have the urgently needed studio space for Master's students. It simply needs space for their own ideas, for thinking, for art production, exhibitions and as a depot.

Martha Szymkowiak / Emilia Bongilaj, Installation “Mmh”; photo: Tim Albrecht

Martha Szymkowiak / Emilia Bongilaj, Installation “Mmh”; photo: Tim Albrecht

Annual Exhibition 2022 at the HFBK

After last year's digital edition, the 2022 annual exhibition at the HFBK Hamburg will once again take place with an audience. From 11-13 February, students from all departments will present their artistic work in the building at Lerchenfeld, Wartenau 15 and the newly opened Atelierhaus.

Annette Wehrmann, photography from the series Blumensprengungen, 1991-95; photo: Ort des Gegen e.V., VG-Bild Kunst Bonn

Annette Wehrmann, photography from the series Blumensprengungen, 1991-95; photo: Ort des Gegen e.V., VG-Bild Kunst Bonn

Conference: Counter-Monuments and Para-Monuments.

The international conference at HFBK Hamburg on December 2-4, 2021 – jointly conceived by Nora Sternfeld and Michaela Melián –, is dedicated to the history of artistic counter-monuments and forms of protest, discusses aesthetics of memory and historical manifestations in public space, and asks about para-monuments for the present.

23 Fragen des Institutional Questionaire, grafisch umgesetzt von Ran Altamirano auf den Türgläsern der HFBK Hamburg zur Jahresausstellung 2021; photo: Charlotte Spiegelfeld

23 Fragen des Institutional Questionaire, grafisch umgesetzt von Ran Altamirano auf den Türgläsern der HFBK Hamburg zur Jahresausstellung 2021; photo: Charlotte Spiegelfeld

Diversity

Who speaks? Who paints which motif? Who is shown, who is not? Questions of identity politics play an important role in art and thus also at the HFBK Hamburg. In the current issue, the university's own Lerchenfeld magazine highlights university structures as well as student initiatives that deal with diversity and identity.

Grafik: Tim Ballaschke

Grafik: Tim Ballaschke

Start of semester

After three semesters of hybrid teaching under pandemic conditions, we are finally about to start another semester of presence. We welcome all new students and teachers at the HFBK Hamburg and cordially invite you to the opening of the academic year 2020/21, which this year will be accompanied by a guest lecture by ruangrupa.

photo: Klaus Frahm

photo: Klaus Frahm

Summer Break

The HFBK Hamburg is in the lecture-free period, many students and teachers are on summer vacation, art institutions have summer break. This is a good opportunity to read and see a variety of things:

ASA Open Studio 2019, Karolinenstraße 2a, Haus 5; photo: Matthew Muir

ASA Open Studio 2019, Karolinenstraße 2a, Haus 5; photo: Matthew Muir

Live und in Farbe: die ASA Open Studios im Juni 2021

Since 2010, the HFBK has organised the international exchange programme Art School Alliance. It enables HFBK students to spend a semester abroad at renowned partner universities and, vice versa, invites international art students to the HFBK. At the end of their stay in Hamburg, the students exhibit their work in the Open Studios in Karolinenstraße, which are now open again to the art-interested public.

Studiengruppe Prof. Dr. Anja Steidinger, Was animiert uns?, 2021, Mediathek der HFBK Hamburg, Filmstill

Studiengruppe Prof. Dr. Anja Steidinger, Was animiert uns?, 2021, Mediathek der HFBK Hamburg, Filmstill

Unlearning: Wartenau Assemblies

The art education professors Nora Sternfeld and Anja Steidinger initiated the format "Wartenau Assemblies". It oscillates between art, education, research and activism. Complementing this open space for action, there is now a dedicated website that accompanies the discourses, conversations and events.

Ausstellungsansicht "Schule der Folgenlosigkeit. Übungen für ein anderes Leben" im Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg; photo: Maximilian Schwarzmann

Ausstellungsansicht "Schule der Folgenlosigkeit. Übungen für ein anderes Leben" im Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg; photo: Maximilian Schwarzmann

School of No Consequences

Everyone is talking about consequences: The consequences of climate change, the Corona pandemic or digitalization. Friedrich von Borries (professor of design theory), on the other hand, is dedicated to consequence-free design. In “School of No Consequences. Exercises for a New Life” at the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg, he links collection objects with a "self-learning room" set up especially for the exhibition in such a way that a new perspective on "sustainability" emerges and supposedly universally valid ideas of a "proper life" are questioned.

Annual Exhibition 2021 at the HFBK

Annual exhibition a bit different: From February 12- 14, 2021 students at the Hamburg University of Fine Arts, together with their professors, had developed a variety of presentations on different communication channels. The formats ranged from streamed live performances to video programs, radio broadcasts, a telephone hotline, online conferences, and a web store for editions. In addition, isolated interventions could be discovered in the outdoor space of the HFBK and in the city.

Public Information Day 2021

How do I become an art student? How does the application process work? Can I also study to become a teacher at the HFBK? These and other questions about studying art were answered by professors, students and staff at the HFBK during the Public Information Day on February 13, 2021. In addition, there will be an appointment specifically for English-speaking prospective students on February 23 at 2 pm.

Katja Pilipenko

Katja Pilipenko

Semestereröffnung und Hiscox-Preisverleihung 2020

On the evening of November 4, the HFBK celebrated the opening of the academic year 2020/21 as well as the awarding of the Hiscox Art Prize in a livestream - offline with enough distance and yet together online.

Exhibition Transparencies with works by Elena Crijnen, Annika Faescke, Svenja Frank, Francis Kussatz, Anne Meerpohl, Elisa Nessler, Julia Nordholz, Florentine Pahl, Cristina Rüesch, Janka Schubert, Wiebke Schwarzhans, Rosa Thiemer, Lea van Hall. Organized by Prof. Verena Issel and Fabian Hesse; photo: Screenshot

Exhibition Transparencies with works by Elena Crijnen, Annika Faescke, Svenja Frank, Francis Kussatz, Anne Meerpohl, Elisa Nessler, Julia Nordholz, Florentine Pahl, Cristina Rüesch, Janka Schubert, Wiebke Schwarzhans, Rosa Thiemer, Lea van Hall. Organized by Prof. Verena Issel and Fabian Hesse; photo: Screenshot

Teaching Art Online at the HFBK

How the university brings together its artistic interdisciplinary study structure with digital formats and their possibilities.

Alltagsrealität oder Klischee?; photo: Tim Albrecht

Alltagsrealität oder Klischee?; photo: Tim Albrecht

HFBK Graduate Survey

Studying art - and what comes next? The clichéd images stand their ground: Those who have studied art either become taxi drivers, work in a bar or marry rich. But only very few people could really live from art – especially in times of global crises. The HFBK Hamburg wanted to know more about this and commissioned the Faculty of Economics and Social Sciences at the University of Hamburg to conduct a broad-based survey of its graduates from the last 15 years.

Ausstellung Social Design, Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg, Teilansicht; photo: MKG Hamburg

Ausstellung Social Design, Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg, Teilansicht; photo: MKG Hamburg

How political is Social Design?

Social Design, as its own claim is often formulated, wants to address social grievances and ideally change them. Therefore, it sees itself as critical of society – and at the same time optimizes the existing. So what is the political dimension of Social Design – is it a motor for change or does it contribute to stabilizing and normalizing existing injustices?