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What do you actually do? – Annika Kahrs

Annika Kahrs doesn’t have a studio. Instead, she suggests we meet at the Berlin Musical Instruments Museum, where, under the careful gaze of a pair of suspicious security guards, we wander through a collection of elaborately made pianos and string instruments. It’s a fitting place to talk to the thirty-five-year-old artist, who is best known for her ambitious performances, photo series and video works featuring classical music.

Whether working with duettists or a twenty-two-piece orchestra, Kahrs’s projects often explore the potential of sound as a form of non-verbal communication. She is especially interested in moments when communication breaks down. In 2016, for instance, Kahrs staged a concert at Berlin’s Gropius Bau comprising four singers performing Alone Together (1932) by American composer Arthur Schwartz. After each rendition the singers slowed down the song’s tempo, gradually moving away from each other until they were performing in complete isolation. With the performers left to rely on their own inner sense of timing, the piece, which was relayed to the audience via loudspeakers, eventually starts to break down, highlighting the collaborative spirit at the heart of any harmony.

“The instructions for the performers, in other words, the way they should implement the performance, is never very strict,” Kahrs says of her working process. “Usually, we don’t even really rehearse in the traditional sense. Our rehearsals are more like intense discussion about what situations or possibilities might occur during the performance. For me, the spontaneous situational aspect of a performance is what makes it exciting.”

Repetition is a recurring theme in her practice. She often instructs her performers to repeat the same pieces over and over again until even the most consummate professionals struggle to stay in character. During renditions of Strings (2010), in which members of a string quartet change instruments after each recital of Beethoven’s Opus 18 No. 4 in C Minor (1801), the musicians often break into laughter as they struggle with their new roles. It’s an interest that comes from Kahrs’ own experience of learning piano as a child. “I liked not only the process of playing itself,” she says, “but also everything that came with it: the endless repetitions, the strange situations that arise during end of year concerts, the potential of playing the wrong notes—the whole social game.”

Born in 1984 in the North German town of Achim, Kahrs has had a fascination for music ever since she was a little girl. “I would record all different styles from the radio for hours,” she recalls. “I loved replaying and organizing the tapes.” This interest led her parents—who Kahrs says were never interested in classic music themselves—to encourage her to take piano lessons at age ten. It wasn’t a natural fit, but what Kahrs lacked in talent she more than made up for in curiosity. This prompted her teacher to introduce her to the work of experimental composers such as Alvin Lucier and Steve Reich, as well as avant-garde cellist and performance artist Charlotte Moorman. “He showed me that there was a world beyond classical music,” she says.

Art world success came early for Kahrs. As a result of the popularity of Strings, which Kahrs produced while still a student at the HFBK in Hamburg, her work was shown in three high profile exhibitions the year after she graduated. “I was lucky,” she says. “Not everyone has the same chances that I had.” While luck might have been in Kahrs’s favour, it is also true that she made the most of the chances she had, building on each one in order to have the opportunity to expand the scope of her practice. This way of working comes with its own challenges; as the scale of her projects have grown, so too have the budgets and the manpower needed to complete them. “I have to start each project by asking myself: what do I want to see?” she says. “You can’t start by saying, ‘well, this is going to be complicated’ or ‘there’s no money’ because you’re constantly lowering the bar for yourself.”

Kahrs balances this pressure by working on a mix of commissioned and self-initiated pieces, as well as combining larger projects with smaller ones. At the moment she’s working on the concept for a seven-channel installation for the Bieber House in Hamburg and editing a film that she shot on a residency in Brazil. For the latter project, she recorded interviews with a group of amateur musicians who regularly play on the beaches of Salvador, which she is planning to cut together with recordings of the city’s orchestra. “It's basically a work about producing sound in public spaces and how different countries compare to what my perspective as a European is,” explains Kahrs.

Later in the year, Kahrs will head to Los Angeles for a residency at the Villa Aurora where she hopes to work with scientists on a project about gravitational waves. As usual, this collaboration doesn’t faze her. “I really love to collaborate with people from different professions or with specific skills,” she says. “Over the course of my career, I have worked with magicians, bird keepers, sailors, bicycle couriers, and repeatedly with musicians from various fields and countries. I like the fact that they contribute a crucial part to the artwork that also is a bit out of my control.”

Annika Kahrs studied at HFBK Hamburg from 2005-2012 with Andreas Slominski, Jeanne Faust and Dr. Michael Diers. More information: www.annikakahrs.com

HFBK graduate Chloe Stead, together with the photographer and also HFBK graduate Jens Franke, met former HFBK students to talk about work, life and art. It is the prelude to a series of interviews for the website of HFBK Hamburg.

Symposium: Controversy over documenta fifteen

With this symposium on documenta fifteen on the 1st and 2nd of February, the HFBK Hamburg aims to analyze the background and context, foster dialogue between different viewpoints, and enable a debate that explicitly addresses anti-Semitism in the field of art. The symposium offers space for divergent positions and aims to open up perspectives for the present and future of exhibition making.

Examination of the submitted portfolios

Examination of the submitted portfolios

How to apply: study at HFBK Hamburg

From February 1 to March 6, 2023, 4 p.m., you can apply to study at HFBK Hamburg. Please find all important info here.

ASA Open Studios winter semester 2021/22; photo: Marie-Theres Böhmker

ASA Open Studios winter semester 2021/22; photo: Marie-Theres Böhmker

The best is saved until last

At the end of the year, once again there will be numerous exhibitions and events with an HFBK context. We have compiled some of them here. You will also find a short preview of two lectures of the professionalization program in January.

Non-Knowledge, Laughter and the Moving Image, Grafik: Leon Lothschütz

Non-Knowledge, Laughter and the Moving Image, Grafik: Leon Lothschütz

Festival and Symposium: Non-Knowledge, Laughter and the Moving Image

As the final part of the artistic research project, the festival and symposium invite you to screenings, performances, talks, and discussions that explore the potential of the moving images and the (human and non-human) body to overturn our habitual course and change the dominant order of things.

View of the packed auditorium at the start of the semester; photo: Lukas Engelhardt

View of the packed auditorium at the start of the semester; photo: Lukas Engelhardt

Wishing you a happy welcome

We are pleased to welcome many new faces to the HFBK Hamburg for the winter semester 2022/23. We have compiled some background information on our new professors and visiting professors here.

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.

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.

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?