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Interview with Christoph Tannert from Künstlerhaus Bethanien

Interview with Christoph Tannert from Künstlerhaus Bethanien
Gallery entrance Künstlerhaus Bethanien on an opening night. Photo: Georg Schroeder

art:i:curate's Ashton Chandler speaks with Christoph Tannert, the Artistic Director of Künstlerhaus Bethanien


Christoph talking to visitors, opening of the exhibition "Falkenrot Prize 2013", November 2013, with artworks by Japanese artist Maki Na Kamura. Photo: Zsu Szabó



AC: Tell us in a few sentences what it is like to work at Künstlerhaus Bethanien, such as the energy felt by its artists-in-residences and exhibitions and what KB means to you.

CT: Künstlerhaus Bethanien is a strange hybrid operating between commercial galleries and public galleries and museums. We are a non-profit space that provides grants for artists and gives them the possibility to work, research and develop their (often utopian) projects over the course of a year. In other words, we are supporting young professionals by offering a platform and think tank for developing new ideas and exploring uncharted territory. The artists are on site 24/7, which means that the team at the Künstlerhaus is expected to play several roles at once – including those of lion tamer, nanny and caretaker. And I’m the warden of the youth hostel, if you will, who sometimes feels like a buoy in choppy waters.


AC: As KB is an international cultural centre which hosts artists from around the world, how have you seen artists from various backgrounds influencing one another and can you give examples of cross-pollination of cultures merging through collaborations at the centre?

CT: The contacts between artists are a key factor. People come together according to their mutual affinities to chat, cook or explore Berlin’s famous nightlife. It’s the exchange of ideas that enlivens this coexistence of artists. And it’s only in this relatively stress-free environment that special ideas are born. As an institution we try to support this interaction by inviting experts – curators, critics, gallerists, theorists, writers and journalists – to make studio visits. We believe that the most important thing for artists is not to produce work that sells quickly, but to build a lasting network of connections. 


AC: How have KB’s partnerships, such as with art:i:curate, benefited the centre and its artists?

CT: Our partners are the backbone of our worldwide network of institutional supporters. Without their scouting and input, we would not have the global remit we do now. They help us secure funding for our various missions and programmes, and by working with us in selecting the artists, allow us to connect the world to Berlin and, conversely, to disseminate our work into the rest of the world. This, in turn, strengthens the city’s reputation as a major site of artistic production. To the extent that many of our artists decide to stay in Berlin beyond their residency, you could say that we are gateway to the city. 


AC: Do the exhibitions at the centre feature only work by their artists-in-residence or does KB feature outside artists too? Which exhibitions have especially interested you and which ones are you looking forward to this year?

CT: At any given time we are working with resident artists from 25 countries around the world. But, we must avoid becoming a ghetto of foreigners. We invite artists from Berlin to take part in our projects, we host guest-curated exhibitions and we organise projects in other venues and places in Berlin and the rest of Germany or abroad. At the end of the day, we are an agency that connects the local with the global scene. Since the launch of the Künstlerhaus in 1974, we have welcomed over 1,000 artists. This year we will be celebrating our 40th anniversary – an occasion to cast an optimistic yet critical look at things to come, embodied in an exhibition that brings together art and non-art around the visionary worlds of Jules Verne. Among others things, we will also host a concert by the Sons of Kemet from London. This is testimony to our efforts to cross over into other disciplines, to merge high-brow and popular culture, to transcend boundaries and venture into various cultures and subcultures, from punk and jazz to clubbing.


AC: As artistic director of KB, how do you to position/promote the centre as an exciting cultural hub for artists and art-enthusiasts while encompassing its mission and vision?

CT: I put complete faith in the potential of the artists and let myself be guided by their visions. When something moves me or excites me, I catch fire. I like to get out my comfort zone. Being curious, reflecting, making things happen and allowing strange and unexpected ideas to manifest themselves is my idea of fun. Rather than running after the mainstream, I prefer to walk the untrodden path.



Christoph talking to visitors, opening of the exhibition "Falkenrot Prize 2013", November 2013, with artworks by Japanese artist Maki Na Kamura. Photo: Zsu Szabó


Visitors in the exhibition spaces, opening of the exhibition "Tarantel (2)", July 2013. Photo: Zsu Szabó


Berlin street performance "Zukunft" (Future) by artist Carsten Höller with KB team participating, 1993. Photo: David Brandt


Exhibition view: Erina Matsui (Japan), "Road Sweet Road", Künstlerhaus Bethanien, March 2013. Photo: David Brandt



All Images courtesy of Künstlerhaus Bethanien


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