de en

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.

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

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

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

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.

photo: Tim Albrecht

Art defies Corona: Graduate Show 2020

With a two-month delay, the Graduate Show took place this year on the 19 and 20 September. More than 140 students showed their artistic graduation projects, from painting to sound installation.

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

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

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?