Kunsthaus KuLe

May-July, 2018

For more than 25 years, Kunsthaus KuLe embodies the utopian long-term experiment to interconnect art and life (Kunst & Leben) by practising collective ways of living together. Founded as a community of creative practitioners, it is still situated in the five-story building in Auguststrasse 10, Berlin-Mitte, that was initially squatted.

2015_25 Jahre KuLe_BROT_Grotest Manu © Barbara Gstaltmayr

Next to the co-living space, the KuLe building also has an exhibition and performance space and an infrastructure that allows using its facade as gallery space. The living area consists of small private bedrooms and a communal kitchen and living area that support exchange without forcing collaboration. The exhibition and performance space as well as the facade gallery are run by members of KuLe on a voluntary basis. They use the space for rehearsing and presenting their own pieces of work, and they also use the space for hosting external events and artists. Since 1990 KuLe has been self-organised through monthly plenary meetings. It has cultivated many diverse artistic practices in various fields, including visual art, contemporary dance, art history, philosophy, theatre and experimental and electronic music, and it has hosted more than 500 people from all over the world.

communal kitchen

Formerly a rather stable community, KuLe now faces not only an inter-generational transition but is also operating within changing conditions of an urban environment that is increasingly structured by gentrification and overcrowding and changes made to cater to tourists. As a consequence, the balance between openness and rules, between inside and outside, between obligations and freedom, between public funding and self-exploitation is continually re-negotiated in daily life of KuLe.
In 2016 KuLe initiated a transformation process. Starting this process, Ursula Maria Berzborn and Steffi Weismann – founding members of KuLe – edited a book that documents its different pasts.

Interview with Ursula Maria Berzborn


Translated transcript of this interview:
What are arts and life like at the KuLe today?
Interestingly enough, in terms of space, the structure of the KuLe has not changed to this day. There’s still only one kitchen, which is central, and everyone has their own little room. Then there’s the event space, which is still used for many different purposes, and that’s it in terms of concept. The ways in which artistic work and life interlock were always conceived very freely in the KuLe, since from the beginning we had no requirements and no one told us to work out a profile, because there are this and that funding pools and therefore you must do this and that.
We just did it the way we wanted it to be and according to how our circle of friends occupying the house was formed, including all the people who came to visit.

It was all very personal and without a jury, without any institutionalised procedures about how the people came together. And because of the personal interests and the empathy you had for the others, life and art mixed naturally, so to speak. In the beginning, there was a desire to create things together. The group set out to find a place where we could live and work together. At the time, however, we were all relatively young and still stuck in our studies and it was always about joint experiments and trial and error.
After renovating the house, we didn’t have the energy for forming a group, but maybe it wasn’t just the renovation of the house but also the artistic biographies of the people themselves. How do you develop when you’ve finished your studies and think about your future career as an artist? Of course, there were some–and that’s still going on today at KuLe—who work individually on their own as visual artists but also as performance artists, such as Jule (Flierl) or Lulu (Obermayer). And then there have been groups at the KuLe again and again. Steffi (Weismann) had a group at the KuLe, and I founded a group at the KuLe that still exists today: Grotest Maru.
But working together was no longer a dogma, because it was clear that everyone should have their own freedom inspired by their original ideas. And that’s why everyone at KuLe makes their own art now. Sometimes, of course, there are people living in the house who don’t make art but rather work scientifically or do something completely different, so this openness is also still there. But, of course, there are touch points and inspiration because life is so cramped.
The KuLe is like a node in a network where you meet at the kitchen table and suddenly encounter people you didn’t know. The kitchen is a kind of public space. You get there and don’t know who brought whom. Many initial contacts, also from Grotest Maru, were made at the KuLe and through projects that we did there. The people are already somehow working together but perhaps not directly on a project. For me, now with a little distance, KuLe is like a room or a forum that simply offers a place for things that are unpredictable to happen. I never did castings with Grotest Maru for example, never.
If you live at KuLe, you automatically know a lot of people. You somehow have a network where you get to know the friends of all the others [laughs]. Sometimes, this means you no longer have friends who have nothing to do with the KuLe. I noticed that when I moved out. Until today, I have massive difficulties to socialise, because I didn’t have to do that in the KuLe. They were just there somehow, or they came by or you did something together.
I think that living together somehow touches upon a very ancient need. It’s almost like being in a village community. Work and life interweave, but artistic work always involves withdrawing, too. There’s always this moment when you must be all alone with an idea before you share it, and that’s an art at KuLe to be able to retreat. This interplay—to develop oneself as part of the common but also maintain the ability to concentrate, go to one’s room and switch off—that’s very exciting at the KuLe. For some, that’s a problem—what to expect from a community and what not.
We at the KuLe have always said that there must be respect and acceptance for others who are in some creative process and don’t want to be disturbed or need peace and are maybe a bit strange towards the outside. And we said that the KuLe, in contrast to K77 (community-based art and dance space; Berlin) for example, never wanted to develop firm rules. There is no food plan, there is no cooking plan, there is no cleaning plan. We tried it but it didn’t work because people were very individualistic from the beginning and said “if I’m away for three weeks now and then don’t fulfil my cooking plan, how does that work? Do I transfer it to someone else or then just cook for three weeks in a row?”
It didn’t work in everyday life and at some point, we agreed that we were really living the idea of anarchy—bottom-up so to speak. Each one of us is responsible for what we do, and then you don’t really need a plan. This works okay at the KuLe. There are no mouldy mountains of dishes around. Sometimes you get angry, of course, but that [living without a plan] was actually the only chance to still live [in] freedom.
Currently, the question sometimes comes up “actually what is the community now”? If everyone has their boxes in their closet anyway, comes and goes when they want and sometimes for months doesn’t even attend the monthly plenum—the only real agreement at the KuLe—how does it still work in everyday life? I see this as a problem at the moment, which raises the question of whether the rules need to be institutionalised or whether they need to become stricter again.
Today, the community is also much more heterogeneous than when Steffi and I founded this house. Back then, we were all one generation, students with more or less of an educated-class background and then there were the others who joined—but we all had a similar way of talking, certain ideas about morale and similar social background, and now the house is very international and certain things are simply not clear to certain people. I think it’s always like a laboratory. Meanwhile a Chinese, a New Zealander, an Australian, an American, a Brazilian, a Polish person live at the KuLe. It’s just super international and diverse and it’s just great.
A&C: How do you decide who can be at the KuLe?
U: This decision takes place at the plenum. In the beginning, the plenum was held every week and now it is once a month. The plenum is the body where things are really decided—not by vote but by consensus. When a room becomes vacant, then usually someone says,
“I have an idea, I have a friend” and then they are invited to the plenum and interviewed. Like in a flat-sharing-conversation, questions are asked like “What do you do?” and “Why do you want to live at KuLe?”—that’s an important question—and “Do you have experience in larger shared flats?” or “Is it also important to you to organise things? Would you help to animate and organize the (multifunctional event) space downstairs?”
But then it’s often a question of empathy since, at the KuLe, everyone’s everyday life is very intertwined. When you come to the breakfast table, you have to somehow like to sit there with the others or with their friends. We once had a person at KuLe who was really nice, but he brought his rock band with him all the time and these friends of his always sat around and that was just too much. After some time of trying to live together, people just didn’t want him to move in for a longer period, although he was totally nice himself.
So it is decided according to sympathy, but also often considering the structure of the people who are there and what feels good for them. The social chemistry has always been taken into consideration, rather than just thinking about what people are doing artistically. We also had people who behaved as if in a job interview and suddenly started with their artistic work and “I have my portfolio here” and then everyone was so, “Hmmm, okay” and that didn’t work.

How do you communicate to the new generation how the KuLe came into being and the value it has?
The book is one thing, but we also tell the story of how the KuLe came into being and what the basic philosophy is—that you are responsible, and so on. The funny thing, however, is that people have to experience it for themselves again. You can’t just tell someone else about certain experiences. They have to experience it themselves. In recent years, we have really tried to pass on the responsibility and to build structures that the next generation can carry on. But it is very difficult to pass that on. I talked to someone the other day who said, “Yes, in the “90s, this time and this extreme historical break suddenly created such a free space” and that there were simply people who had a kind of pioneering spirit, who were curious. And he said that these people are still doing exactly the same things, maybe in other areas as well. And sometimes I think that young people with such a pioneering spirit don’t come to the KuLe today, but perhaps are now in Dresden at the Zentralwerk or in Leipzig. There are also large communities that are much, much younger than the KuLe. How do you attract people to a house like this that has been around for so long? People who are likely to get used to something that is already established? That’s a big question. And we always wish for people to mess things up again. The young generation sometimes complains “Everything is already clearly set out and there are so many rules” and we are like, “Huh? Why? Wait a minute! Do rebel against it, then, somehow!” But, we don’t mean to rebel for the sake of it but to also show real alternatives. And that doesn’t really happen—in my opinion.

But do you see yourself as an institution?
I think KuLe never saw itself as an institution. But in the process of producing the KuLe book and in the debate with Annette Maechtel, who wrote an article on institutionalisation, I suddenly saw institutions in a different light, with a free spirit: “I can also create my own institution. I then form it as I wish and perhaps can still develop it further.” At the moment, the question is whether KuLe, in order to continue to exist in Berlin and also at this location where the pressure is increasing—the capitalist pressure—, has to position itself more as an institution to protect itself. To have a framework which is also stable as an organisational structure. I would never have seen it that way before, but now I would actually wish to find a good organisational structure for the KuLe that also leaves room for manoeuvre, which you use as a kind of vessel, so that there’s still a lot of freedom for things to happen inside. That’s what I’m currently working on. I believe that if this remains too loose now, with only one plenary session a month, this will not be enough to withstand the pressure.
There has to be more structure in order to be able to continue to exist financially in this place, and I believe that this is the giant step that is about to be taken. Life in this house is still going on as it was 20 years ago because Steffi and I are still very much involved and both of us still have so much freedom in our lives that we can take care of it all. Many of the original founders are no longer in Berlin, or they have permanent jobs. They have no time at all. It’s kind of absurd, now we both sit here again and do this association’s accounting and ask ourselves: “Why is that so?”
But even if we don’t live there anymore or even if we try to pull out more and more and don’t want to run the venue anymore, because we ourselves have artistically completely different ideas what we want to do, it is a total concern to us to somehow get it right from the structure, so that again for the people who live there a freedom can arise, and somehow not everyone has to put 600 euros a month on the table. Of course, we discuss this with the people there, but it is often the case that we have some experience in negotiating with our owners/landlords.
With time, you have some knowledge of human nature, and with some people who moved in, you think “alright, in two years at the latest they will be gone”.
And then such a hell of a spirit kicks in that you think “I want this house to get a really awesome lease and continue to exist as a cultural place in Mitte”. And these five people who are now sitting in the plenum and have just somehow moved in from New York and Brazil cannot conduct these negotiations. They don’t even know what is going on in Berlin or what is currently debated and negotiated in cultural politics. For example, that Lederer (current senator for culture of Berlin) has now made an effort to buy the Radialsystem—such things—you have to know all of this in order to be able to negotiate and to put forward arguments, so unfortunately all of that ends up with Steffi and me.
I don’t blame the people who have been living there for only a short time. In the end, I’m not doing this for any certain individuals there, but simply to preserve a cultural place. And I don’t care who uses the space in the end—to be brutally frank. Just as Ballhaus Ost should be preserved or the HAU (Hebbel-am-Ufer) should be preserved or the RAW Tempel, it’s first of all a political position: which people will then move in there and what exactly they will do there with which artistic profile, doesn’t really matter to me. The main thing is that it won’t become commercial or belong to the next commercial gallery.

Does this mean institutionalisation is not only a move against the capitalist pressure, but also a move to preserve a fixed space in the face of internationalisation movements, which lead to people no longer being in one place for long?
Yes, I mean the KuLe has already been called “the flow heater”, and I think that the “flow” there might not be aware of it when the gutter is suddenly broken and you have to do something about it. So, it’s more about preserving the substance than about the artistic contents. I think the latter must remain totally free. And I think it’s important to integrate the house into a certain network of other cultural institutions in Berlin, some of which are still self-organised.
I think Berlin is also all about solidarity. The PAF (Performing Arts Festival) is also a good example. There’s a hot debate about whether it’s good to have a festival that is not curated and how much quality there really is now. But that comes from a spirit of solidarity, of wanting to show [the artworks of] everyone who is there without judging the artistic work. Others can do that. I like that approach and that’s how I see it for the KuLe as well.

And what’s the role of your event space?

Well the place is extremely important for me as a non-commercial space in this area (Berlin Mitte) and to make it available for artistic projects of others. And that makes it something like the mouthpiece to the outside or the opening into the house,

Something like your interface with the environment?
Exactly. Of course, it’s still such a luxury that we don’t have to operate it commercially because we can finance it through our rents. Some people just don’t understand that at such a location (Berlin Mitte) 80 % of the time, there is simply nothing happening, or it looks like that to the outside because someone is rehearsing there and of course this is not public. As a place of communication, the event space is important for the people in the house, but also as an exchange with the outside world.
At some point, we said—because nobody really earns money with the space—that everyone only organises events that they enjoy. Sometimes there were situations in which you suddenly felt like a service provider for someone who demanded something from you, but you didn’t get any money. In situations like this, your motivation quickly decreases, and we noticed that it doesn’t work that way because everything is too small for that. There are a lot of inquiries from external people who want to use the space and then all these inquiries are processed in the plenum and we ask, “Who wants to take care of this external event?” And even if a great performer would like to do a performance there, but none of us has the time or desire to take care of them, then that will not happen. So, the programme that takes place there us generated quite pragmatically.

And how do you deal with people who don’t understand that this is not a service from your side, but that it is a cooperation or a joint creation of these events?
We have a paper with the conditions which states: “We are self-organised and we ask you to respect that, and we expect you to also help to clean afterwards”. We always try to make this clear to people through personal contact. If there really was an event where it didn’t work out, then you talk about it and then it will work. Then you have to go through that somehow.
The artistic profile of KuLe is characterised by diversity. There is a special profile and I think that’s important because the people who live there should have the freedom to develop artistically in the way they want to develop without anyone predefining what they are supposed to do.
It’s all pretty pragmatic: Whoever has time to do the event and who also cares and likes to work for it on a voluntary basis will do it. Of course, you only do that if you’re interested in it somehow or if it also inspires you artistically and helps you move forward.
Artistic work doesn’t always have anything to do with capitalist usability. Of course, you always have to look at how to deal with this fragility of artistic ideas, even if others say, “Are you stupid to waste your time with that? What’s in it for you?” You always move on the edge, you always put yourself at a risk, financially, but also in terms of ideas. But that’s the exciting thing about our work.
But with such a property in Mitte, you can’t take the risk. It must be super safe in the long run, so that within it, you can have the freedom of art to do risky things. Maybe that’s my personal realisation, that artists who think “yes, let’s do it even though it’s risky” lose their places or can no longer pay their rent. That’s brutal. I don’t want [the negotiations on the future lease between KuLe and its owners] to be paired with such naivety. That’s what you often think, especially with artists, who are completely naive and really haven’t noticed what’s going on in the meantime. In 1990, the real estate sharks came in and certain quarters were bought up. Back then we took to the streets and demonstrated. But it’s simply another power at whose mercy we are here, and this political insight is now driving us to really secure this house in the long term.

One last question. What do you hope for the KuLe?
I already have visions of me walking through Auguststrasse as an old woman in 30, 40 years and the KuLe still exists as a place for another way of life—17 people living together and one kitchen. That it still is there as a place for experimentation without any conditions. And still with a certain form of self-organisation and for people who just want to live like that—whether for a few years or for 20 years. Maybe it will be more like an institutionalised residency, I don’t know for sure. Somehow, I think that would be okay, too.
But I would find it horrible if I passed by and everything was plastered and divided into 5 apartments and downstairs there is some shop in it. I’d really hate that. I also think it would be great if the façade would remain so fragile, i.e., optically fragile.
It has to be renovated, that’s clear. But I also think it would be important if this monument of a certain historical time would remain in this street without getting stuck. I think it would be great if we could develop the KuLe in such a way that it can still evolve inside and remain contemporary. There are also many formerly occupied houses in Kreuzberg where you have the feeling that time has stood still. That would generate conflicts within the house [KuLe].
I think the big question is whether the house can remain a home for some people who have been living there for a long time. So, how do you create the balance between people who really live there for a long time and are dependent on it, and people who keep coming up with new ideas and perhaps also bring this contemporary development forward? Can you only do this through events on the ground floor or through the everyday life within the community? But yes, I would like it to be preserved as a place for artistic experiments and a different way of life.

Interview with Steffi Weismann

Translated transcript of this interview:
Could you describe the community of the KuLe?
It’s really international. Actually, it has never been as international as it is now. The fact that people from all continents live there is actually crazy: they are from Brazil, Australia, Africa—from the US but not as much now as in the past—Poland, England, China … And the fact that everyone works artistically in some way—that was somehow the wish or the idea of KuLe. There are many touch points and common interests, even if you don’t work together.  

It’s also possible that the people who don’t work in the arts left as they felt that the social aspect is simply not the main focus in the house. You can still see it [the social aspect], but there is not much cooking together anymore, there aren’t a lot of children around, people don’t have healing professions, things like that, which is common in such houses.
It’s more that the people really try to work with their art. Some do have part-time jobs, of course. And some go more towards performance and dance, others more towards visual arts or music or theatre in public space. Or they work theoretically. Or they haven’t been in Berlin for long and simply don’t have a proper grounding yet, but they’re still searching a bit. There’s a lot of that, too.
We have this generational change. It’s very obvious. We only have people who have been here for a very long time or for only two, three, or four years. There is nothing in between.
When I started to get intensively involved again at the KuLe two or three years ago, I was particularly interested in the extent to which we manage to hand over the KuLe to the new generation and how they get involved. It’s not easy to get it right.
We are actually trying to renew it without a cut, without a crisis. That’s difficult but natural. Relics or customary rights or things that simply are because they’ve always been like that, although they might not be too good for the project if it is to develop further. How do you get rid of them? How do you get the energy and the enthusiasm back? Well, it does work out from time to time; we’ve had nice experiences already, but it’s also tough and tedious. And in everyday life, it’s sometimes the case that those who’ve been around for a longer time complain a lot. That’s no fun and the newcomers all the more don’t feel like it [energised or enthusiastic].
We are a “doer” generation. You discuss things in the group but, in the end, you decide for yourself exactly how you want to do it and there’s always some buffer. So, by having this personal responsibility and a kind of basic trust that people know that they need to think about the whole thing [KuLe as a whole], it’s ultimately you who decide. You do it the way you like, but it’s always a mix. Some people can handle it quite well but for others it’s also very unusual or they can’t cope with it. Either, they don’t take responsibility, or they wait until somebody tells them what to do. Or they do things without thinking about the whole thing, they just do things without communicating and thereby block something else because they didn’t realise they weren’t the only ones.
The question is, how much is transmitted automatically and how much does one have to address in a proper way? We maybe sometimes underestimate to what extent one must enforce the rules again and again. It’s totally tedious to constantly decide which of them are important right now and which are not so important. After all, we don’t want to pull a bureaucratic thing, so we have to constantly distinguish between what is important and what is not. What can you just let pass and think, “They might do it a little differently this time, but does it matter?” That’s exactly what is so hard for those who’ve been doing it for a long time.
I simply had a strong mediating position because I’ve known the project for a long time and also because I enjoy working with the new people.
But in the end, we’re not that tight in the KuLe either. It’s somehow a crazy constellation, I think. There are some people here who don’t work together directly, rather indirectly, and they also don’t really live together because it’s not like you’re totally close friends. But there’s always contact, and when push comes to shove, of course, you feel you belong together again; this solidarity arises, probably because you feel that we have to stick together, otherwise it all goes down the drain, otherwise we just can’t make it and nobody gets anything out of it. This creates a sense of solidarity, the fact that you identify with the project and check who can contribute what to it.
I do believe that some people who have been with us for two or three years have already grown into the project. And I think that they’ve already made the KuLe their own thing to some extent and won’t just walk away.
The owners of the KuLe naturally gear very strongly towards the people they already know. There’s simply a basis of trust there, and it’s also the case that the older generation has understood that if it wants to stay it has to join in. And for me and Urs (Ursula Maria Berzborn), who both do not live there, it’s also clear that we only do this to a limited extent. It’s not 100% our project because we don’t live there. We support it and have a central role maybe because we’ve taken the KuLe more to the outside world and reflected on it. For example, I often go to the meetings of the Project Space Network. Urs and I have thus become a bit of spokespersons for the House. There are already other people present who are getting more involved again, but it just doesn’t go so fast, it takes time to become established in such a role. On the other hand, I don’t know if I can get rid of the role again at some point. Once you have it, it’s hard to get rid of it because people know you and talk to you. But we also split up—depending on the circumstances.

What is the direct environment of KuLe like?
I have to say that it actually still feels like Kiez [a neighbourhood or community], despite all the tourism and the high rent, and the condominiums—it’s all madness. But contact to the few places that are still there—Sophiensaele, Ackerstadtpalast or Villa Elisabeth—has become stronger. And so, there is a desire for these cooperative projects, I think. KuLe now is much better networked in the city and better known than three, four, five years ago, because of the events we’re doing right now, because of the Projektraum-Preis [Project Space Award], because of the book. So, we have a lot of cooperation with others, with different groups, places and institutions that appeal to us. I think all these things have influenced each other.
I feel that we are moving closer together. And then I think a lot has been triggered, for example, by this whole Independent Art Coalition. It really did change a lot. And it all came into being about four years ago, and it was really fruitful and brought people closer together.

How is the work for the KuLe connected with your artistic work?
Specialism has never really interested me much. It was more a question of how to combine my abilities into something, and I believe that in a place like the KuLe I was able to totally live this versatility. But I could also simply learn, for example, to work practically with video or sound. It was very much DIY [do it yourself], you learn things from others, and try them out. It’s a form, an attempt … and I still like to be in places that are more like laboratories, where new things are developed, and not in a big institution.
In the noughties [2000s], I have been focused on my artistic development and my own work for about 10 years. At the time, I also moved out, because in such a context it is difficult to focus. When you work artistically, you sometimes have to set yourself apart, withdraw and concentrate. And the social factor is simply not as important then. I think a lot of people in the house also understand that it may be like that or sometimes even has to be like that. Our job alone is so intense already. You have to constantly organise yourself, and if you’re artistically active and relatively good at organising things, you’ll probably automatically get into such a role, because there are artists who can’t do it at all. But if you’re able to think logistically, write texts, surround yourself with people and create something together, then you automatically play such a role and a lot runs through you. And then you just have to think about it: Do I make it more of my profession, is it then a third- or half-day job? Is it possible if it were paid for? That’s why I drew a line in 2003 and became very aware that the working conditions, the places and spaces, the political topics are actually the basis of everything and without them, it doesn’t work. So, I decided that I would consciously put a part of my time into it and that was three years ago.

What does the future of work in the KuLe look like?
That is now also a part of the question of how to continue it. If the rooms were used even more intensively, then there would be rentals, then you would make everything a bit more professional. But who wants that? And who wants to do that?
You can quickly get someone to help you with the bar, but someone who writes a newsletter every month or does all these negotiations with the external projects and just keeps track of them, you just don’t find a person to do that easily. And you can’t switch, because someone has to do it a little longer. And maybe we can get it done, [hire people for] two paid jobs, 300 Euro or something. It’s not much, but I wonder if the others will then feel like, “They do it now since they get paid for it,” and withdraw even more. Of course, it also has its charm that it all works somehow without having a really solid structure. There is a bit of structure, though. We have the monthly meeting for the events.
But also, every time someone makes it his thing and builds something that might work economically, there are a lot of people there looking at it very closely [laughs] and either want to have a say, want to have a part of the cake or somehow do their thing or whatever. I think it immediately produces an attitude of, “Hey, what’s he doing, what’s she doing now? She’s making it her own thing, but that’s actually a community thing,” and then it has a braking effect. That’s why nobody makes it their own thing. Of course, everything remains totally improvised and somehow also durable.
I think it is also somehow madness, the house has been around for so long and it’s still always reinventing how to do things. Certain things could have been done much more professionally long ago. But either it’s contagious that everything is a bit sloppy and coincidental or the people who like to be there in the KuLe somehow feel that this kind of permanent temporary solution also produces a feeling of freedom and appreciate that. And that’s why the question is a little bit … If we now make it all more efficient, how far do we go without destroying it? Because when people realise that everything is somehow not so 100% styled and under control, then they also see details. And that’s what people appreciate, especially in this day and age.

2018 KuLe Fassade Black Biennale Berlin © Steffi Weismann

2015 Steffi Weismann und Ursula Maria Berzborn in der KuLe-Buch Werksatt

KuLe community space

2003 KuLe Fassadeninstallation Gregor Hildebrandt
© P. Baumgärtner

The next generation of KuLe inhabitants is confronted with working and living conditions that are constitutively different to the founding generation. This also has an impact on how they perceive, negotiate and imagine KuLe’s future and their role within it.

Interview with Lulu Obermayer


Translated transcript of this interview:
What kind of place is KuLe?
Well KuLe, you probably know all that, the KuLe stands for art and life and it’s been around for 28 years now, I think. It’s a house where artists live and on the ground floor we have an event space or event spaces, the so-called gallery space and the theatre. So, it’s about all of us living here but at the same time doing volunteer work and curating or hosting events or making them possible for others. And then, of course, it’s about collective life and living, working from time to time. So, I think we always work together in this way in these cultural events, and sometimes there are smaller alliances among some of us, but there is no such thing as group work in the sense that we all make art together now. It’s a very heterogeneous group, some overlap in practice but some are pretty parallel.

And how did you get to KuLe?
I was here at the 25th anniversary celebration, on the last day, and I knew two people who lived here. They knew about me—that I was looking for a room—and they asked me if I was interested in moving in here. Then I walked through the house and looked at it, and then a month later, in September three years ago, I came to the plenum and introduced myself here. And then I got an email that I could move in at the end of the month.

And why did you want to move in here?
On the one hand, I always had this idea of living in a place with theatre, with access to a theatre room. And when I lived in Leipzig, I also managed and organised a project space together with a friend. And I also wanted to live together with people, with several people. And I still think that’s a good challenge. Because, I do solo performances and so it’s only me… It turned out that way, it wasn’t my goal when I started making theatre, but I think all those who come to the theatre like that or somehow romp around the stage, actually have the need for a community. And so, I wanted that [to live with other people], because I have a solo performance practice, I wanted that at least in my everyday life. You always have ideologies when it comes to your own practice, about what you negotiate on stage or how you imagine work processes, and here it’s tested starkly to learn whether it really corresponds to reality.

Would you say that this mutually depends on each other?
So, I find it totally exciting to take a closer look at the artistic practices here in the house and ask myself to what extent they are influenced by the house. Well, I can see that. There are certain parallels.
There’s a lot of negotiation going on and I think it’s always about putting yourself in relation to something. That’s the way it is on stage. You enter into a relationship with different coordinates, the space, the light, the sound, the audience, your own body in relation to everything else. That’s what we have here. We exist alone, not alone but there are already… we already live very parallel, next to each other, and then there are entanglements from time to time. But we also have other processes, but it’s like this… I think everyone has a different experience in the KuLe. I think I find that totally exciting when people talk about the KuLe, and then to hear what the KuLe is for them and simply gain the knowledge that maybe it is something completely different for me. That my experience does not coincide with the experience of others and that it is ultimately a network experience.

Would you say there is such a thing as a spirit of KuLe for you?
There is the idea of KuLe. Or maybe the myth of KuLe. Because we always hear about what it was like in the 90s, so that people who have lived here for some time indulge in memories. And it’s very clear that probably our realities, our experiences are just completely different. Of course, it’s a generation difference, I was about 1 year old when this house was occupied and I can’t relate to that time. I don’t know what the 90s were like and so I have heard the stories about it… and there has been an incredible amount of change.
My generation, our generation has different themes than in the 90s. So, then it was just another concept of time and possibilities.
So, there is already a spirit, so there are also relics here. That’s incredibly complicated to communicate, what is from the old order, what is from the new order, to what extent will this new energy cooperate into what always exists? What prevails? Will the wall now be painted white or not? Or things like this door, it has a bit of a museum character here… everything… But the question is what period do you want to conserve? At some point, it will become such a living history that one could dig and dig up [that history], but somehow in the end one destroys other things.

The question is what do you want to keep?
Yes, but it’s also about different aesthetics that come together here. Probably many of us who moved in here later wouldn’t organise the house the way it is organised, and that makes it hard to think about it because you just found it like that and you also… but it is not my approach to go somewhere and wanting to change everything first. And that’s the crazy thing. I mean that … maybe this table means less to me than to someone else. So, people have these two incredibly different experiences about the environment and the objects and the processes that take place here. That is already exciting.

How do you deal with each other? So, you have to deal with each other somehow—new, old, people who say, “we’ve always done it this way” or people who say, “you can do something different here”—how do you do it?
So, we meet once a month for the house plenary and then there’s another meeting once a month for the rooms downstairs. But that’s more for cultural activities, not for internal activities. And that’s quite different. I believe that these meetings once a month are totally important, because that’s the time when we actually meet and sit down with each other and that’s very different. It also depends on what’s going on at the moment.
There’s a clear line from the older generation and then you have to somehow look at how you’re categorising yourself or what position you’re taking. But there are such exciting group dynamic processes. Whenever I have to pay attention to what role I play here, I am instrumentalised, I am able to represent my opinion about how the powers are distributed here. It’s just such a continuous trying out and because you have different alliances in the house; you already know how the positions are divided, especially if you have been here for longer—so I think I have been here for three years, that’s not so long, but still long enough. I think Jule (Jule Flierl) moved in a month after me, so we have lived here for about the same length of time, and because I have been on the board for a year and a half now, I simply have a deeper insight into the structures of the house. That is totally complicated because the hierarchies are actually flat, but the distribution of work has to take place here anyway, and you can’t do it all the time, that this information is made transparent, so there is already the approach and the attempt to always inform everyone what is going on, but then there is just too much information. And too much happens.
I’m very interested in how this is going to develop in the house. It’s always said that a generation change is taking place, but I think it’s very slow. And then, of course, there’s the question of how much of a generational change is possible. So, as I said before, in the 90s you lived differently here, you had other possibilities and other windows that you could open. Whereas our reality now is also shaped by something completely different. For me, it is incredibly exhausting to work as a volunteer, because I can’t really afford it. So, I can’t really afford my rent and I can’t really afford to be active and take on this responsibility. And that has simply changed. I think there were times when you could live quite cheaply here. First you didn’t pay anything at all or maybe something for the electricity or something similar, and then every year and also with this average rent index, this neighbourhood totally changed. And, of course, you can still say that for the area it’s cheap, but we have to do a lot in the house, and you don’t have the luxury of a one-room-apartment or two-room-apartment or a smaller flat. Instead you have to make agreements again and again and be constantly in negotiation with your environment. But it still makes sense for me to live like this. I think I have also learned a lot here and now there is just no other option. So, for me it is also clear that it gives me context to live like this

What value does the KuLe generate?
I think a pretty big one. So, the KuLe aren’t just the people who live here, they’re also all people who visited here. There are emotional ties to the house here, and we have a lot of guests. It’s really very international, so I met a lot of people here, and for a lot of international artists it’s also a place where they first arrive and then move on to Berlin. I always meet people who knew someone here or maybe just visited 10 or 15 years ago. So, it’s a place that fascinates a lot of people and maybe you can’t explain it so easily. Clearly one can ask what is this place, but then actually somehow what happens is that I experience beautiful moments here again and again.

Do you and the other people who have a connection to KuLe speak about community, or do you have another name for it?
Yes, we’ve been calling it a community.

You call it community? And who belongs to the community?
Everyone who lives here and also the so-called associates.

Well, there is such a thing as a staked out … you could say “this is the community”, yes?
Yes. So, the community are the ones who are present.

And how do you deal with fluctuation? Is there a lot of fluctuation here?
There’s always so much moving in and out. And then we also have guests who are here longer. For me it’s totally important, so of course you’ll just get… it is exhausting to live like this, and it is also exhausting to meet new people again and again, who are temporary here. But for me it is nevertheless important to struggle my way through, again and again, and to know that this kind of change is one of the conditions, that you live with changes here, that you have to overcome exactly that, and I don’t want anyone to come here and feel uncomfortable. That [feeling uncomfortable] can also happen, everyone just deals with it. I have a friend who doesn’t dare to go into the kitchen when he’s there [at KuLe], because it’s like a stage for him. And there are so many people coming through and he has to introduce himself or explain who he is or to whom he belongs or something. That’s a big stress for him. And not for me actually, so it [the stress] wasn’t clear, but I can understand. With PAF (Performing Arts Forum/ St Erme)I also had that. I was invited there by a festival for a weekend and we got to know each other—the artists who performed there at the festival—and then I stayed longer and then suddenly my context was gone, so my peers and then I thought to myself “Krass, okay, now I have to go to the kitchen and somehow have to meet 20 new people”. That’s exhausting even though I like living here.

Do you think there is such a critical point where … So, I’m thinking about presence and absence all the time, probably because I’m on the road a lot. How does it work to come back here all the time, to arrive and to meet the other people or not meet them at all? I mean it’s all shifting and drifting. I think that’s a bit different than the “90s KuLe where a lot of people lived here for a long time.
Yes, yes, that is already so. We are not there too much. And for me it is also important not to be there. With it I come back, then it is also better and better again somehow. I like to be on the road. I notice how I get restless when I am here too long or in any place too long. This is of course also a challenge for the KuLe, because several of us are constantly away and this constantly being away complicates certain processes, but it has always been like this. So, I think a lot of people who live here in the house are artistically active, and artistic practice means that you are always on the move, and that is something that the house has to deal with structurally and that it has to endure. That’s what I think you can demand of the house. Then there are somehow such different opinions about subletting. I think the older generation would like it best that, when we are away, we would simply leave our rooms empty. But we can’t afford it and so we sublet and then there are more and more discussions. A new person must be integrated in some way, must somehow receive such a flow of information, where things are, what the procedures are. That sometimes works better and sometimes worse, and it is then also dependent on the person. Some people can just get involved somehow and are super present and arrive well and others are more introverted and withdrawn, but in the end, you can… as I said, it’s always the same guest theme. I think you have to be open to that. Because every person who walks through the door has something to offer, and maybe you don’t know in advance what it is.

What holds the KuLe together?
Everyone actually wants to be here; everyone who lives here wants to be here and can’t imagine… and the idea—I still find it a very noble approach to say that you bring art and life together—is that you live together, that you live collectively and argue, even if it’s unpleasant in part or more complicated. So that you have to negotiate like that… Yes, so if you have to get into it like that, it’s actually positive, but I think there’s a tendency to try to stay out of it and not get into friction with others as much as possible. And there are, you talk about utopias, but I think it’s just a friction between utopias; in reality, it’s totally exciting. And, of course, my relationship to the house changes, depending on whether I’m actually here or on the road, whether I think about it or talk to other people about it, but it’s actually a good platform for all of us.

What does the KuLe need to exist?
Good ideas, commitment…

Commitment from whom?
From all those involved.

From everyone who lives here in the house.
Or everyone who is downstairs or … actually those who are in the association.

Is everyone livinge here an associate?
Yes. And then there are other members, but they don’t live here, but they used to live here.

And do you have the feeling that you can help shape the future of KuLe?
Yes. I am asked to do so, yes. But, of course, I have to navigate how to define my own future. Because you always have to find the balance between yourself and the house.
So, we all do something different again, that’s actually our own work and KuLe is actually already in second place. Or it changes, maybe KuLe is first but then you miss out on your own work, and I think that’s just the way it is… There is nobody for whom the KuLe is first, I would say. Maybe now someone feels totally offended. The interesting thing about the KuLe is that the past is weighted similarly to the future, and so from both… and then perhaps somehow, the present is a compromise of both, so these visions of the future—what this House could be in relation to the past—and the rules or agreements that have been made there, these relations too. So that the here and now totally influences, so invisible forces. And there you can first, then you have to deal with it and then you really have to go into dialogue and ask, “How have you done this so far?” or “How have your relationships developed over time, so how were you together then and how are you together now?” and then you also understand certain structures. I think a big difference is simply that 28 years ago, there were people of the same age there, they were all equally socialised more or less, and the initiative came from such a friendship in the broadest sense, and that is no longer the case today. So, you can make friendly relationships with people in the house here, but we are also totally colourful together. And it happens that you make friends with people, but you’re also here with people, you live with people you’re not friends with. And that changes a dynamic already because it has something village-like that and it’s just that we are neighbours who live in the same house and use the same infrastructure. But that was apparently different in the past. So, the selection process was a completely different one, so to speak. That also has to do with the time component. Formerly…

How do you decide who is allowed to live here and who is not?
It used to be that you always came here and participated for months, and then at some point you were accepted or not. Now one goes to the plenary and introduces oneself, and then it is decided whether yes or no.

Who actually feels responsible for the KuLe?
Who feels responsible for the KuLe –
All of them at best. [laughs]

This is utopia, yes? [laughs] And reality?
So, of course, I think the two people who occupied the house at first feel more responsible than everyone else for obvious reasons.

Do they still live here?
No, but they are very present. But you can understand that; there is a reason for that. And the two are also totally important for the house. But because they feel responsible and because they have been here for so long, they also have a certain claim and can refer to and claim certain things for themselves. But I also believe that the younger generation feels responsible. So, I also feel responsible. And I know it from others too. I think there is a certain expectation of responsibility, or what responsibility has to look like. and I think there are sometimes quite different approaches and possibilities. So, maybe that can give the impression from the outside, or in such a way, that someone takes no responsibility, but by the fact that also so many things are done nevertheless by those… As I said, it is one of those…. there are always moments there… Things are done that I don’t even know are done in the process, in everyday life. And then it is always difficult to accuse someone of doing nothing without actually knowing. But of course, we don’t distribute roles so concretely. All right, I have my tasks for downstairs (in the house) and also by my board activity, I know quite clearly what I have to do. But if you live here normally, I think you take on responsibilities that are perhaps less obvious. Those, who are not so hung up on the big bell.
Every time someone wants to take on responsibility, it is felt as a disturbance… it is a disturbance of the status quo. The moment someone else becomes a spokeswoman or indicates a direction, one would actually have to re-evaluate one’s own position, one would have to change, and this change… People are generally reluctant to change. So, you just have your patterns, and to break this habit and replace it with new ones is also … you have to discipline yourself quite a bit. That’s why it’s totally dependent on the people who come together here. And so, this presence is totally important, because I know exactly when certain people are present in a plenum, then I simply know that there is such a different mood than when they are not there or when I am not there. And you have your alliances like this.

How much fixed presence does it need—and how much flow does it need?
So, that it somehow has such a stability? I always think that’s how the house is, it’s a thing of its own. A part of the house is also that developments happen that you may not foresee or that the house moves in a direction you may not like and you really have to be honest with yourself and ask, “Does that still agree with me or not” and then also to have the courage… I think that’s totally important. To really question oneself “my presence is positive for the house and my presence here in the house is good for me … yes/no” and then to really realise the consequences if this is no longer the case. Because this also, makes room for something new, for a new impulse and for someone else – which would be really great for the house.

What do you think of the KuLe book and what does it contain for this house or this story?
I had a lot to do with the book even though I just moved in, because I translated some titles and they are in the book. There are even photos of me in it [laughs]. I found this a very touching moment when the finished book arrived, so I can still remember exactly when it was and I was there with Urs (Ursula Maria Berzborn) and we … we didn’t celebrate, but there was such a celebratory moment, and then I somehow asked what it felt like and she hadn’t really checked the book out yet, so she didn’t quite understand what was in front of her and that made me very emotional, because it’s just this little bit of black on white, the stories everyone tells, and I just like the photos. And then the exciting thing is how people continuously change their space through their presence. This room, for example—there are a few photos—it just looked completely different; the very first computer stood here. And the only phone in the house was here on the wall. And that is somehow great that this book exists as this contemporary document, and I think it is also an important reference for many people in this story. Yes, and it just shows how big the network is. It’s just great to have the opportunity to browse and see who has lived here for a month or two.

During the production of the book I have the feeling that KuLe was number one with both of them (Steffi Weismann and Urs Berzborn). If you somehow did just one thing for such a long time and didn’t do anything else—
Absolutely yes. Of course, that also has consequences. But in the same train you can also… I find that totally exciting because I’m so empathetic there, I’m also very close to Steffi (Weismann) and Urs, so they are very important reference people to me, so my existence here in the house and also …. so for me, they’ve become real friends. And at the same time, it is also … that’s exactly this thing in the KuLe… You can’t blame anyone either, so you can’t blame the KuLe for making this book. The KuLe didn’t instruct the two (Steffi and Urs) to make this book either. And the KuLe supported them with it, and they sacrificed themselves for it, but they only did that because they wanted to do it, and then it’s totally important that somehow there’s some recognition for it, and I think there is. And it doesn’t mean, for example, that I have to make a book now.
I think this book somehow also meant losses for both of them. And that’s tough. The KuLe would really need a bigger support, an external one, because here it is already… we need… So, that’s about infrastructure funding. And that is also our long-term goal. It would totally change something if people didn’t have to carve things out of their own meat like that.

Although it would probably change something for you if you were institutionally supported now, a program like this is supported by, well, I don’t know who, some pot from the public sector or so. So, that changes what you can do and what you can’t do, what things should look like… So… not even meant to be judgmental, but that looks different then.
So, what could this support be? Would it help and how could the support be provided?
Well I mean I’ve heard stuff about this project space award that is being announced and that’s kind of… in the first year it was 30.000, now it’s 35.000. Some space got that and suddenly they had so much money and then they went apart. But I find these are horror examples that you can’t use for something like that. So, I mean then it’s totally unproductive, because on the one hand you demand that the subsidies are increased, and then you get such examples and then you think “Oh, every time such a volunteer project is supported or promoted in any way, then it breaks apart or it just somehow needs this precarious “martyrdom” more than we are doing right now, so that the thing then really happens passionately and passionately. And I think that would simply be something different if certain actors here in the house knew “Okay, I have to somehow… Getting the rent together is just such a thing” and that’s always a topic, and if just a few people knew “I do my job here and in return I can live here at a reduced rate or get a small monthly fee”, that makes many activities more interesting or more attractive.

What would you like KuLe to have in the future?
I wish for the KuLe that it would exist for as long as possible… whereby it has to be formulated differently, not as long as possible, but simply forever. That this place will be maintained. It would be important to me that it is for me a place to which I can refer, and where I can come… and that the place can remain courageous and unconventional.
It would be totally great if KuLe would define itself again right now and assess the intention again: why does it make sense today to live and work like this and what does it mean in a cosmopolitan city like Berlin, or what does it mean in Germany, what does it mean in Europe, what does it mean on Planet Earth? to live and live like this. And does that make any sense? [laughs] So, you can really pull something out or filter something out and say “okay, that’s some kind of artistic research into the collective now”, I don’t know, you get out of here with some quintessence or something or other … it’s about designing a model of being together or has nothing as a goal, that’s just anything goes, you just do it and I think that would be totally exciting to go deeper again somehow and that we would ask ourselves that again what kind of mission we actually have here by living in this house and we want to accept it or not. But yes, it’s just not that you live somewhere, some people identify with the place, some more, some less, and people know that you live there and then there are other conversations.
KuLe still has a life of its own. [laughs] And I think that’s actually quite good. I like that very much. That’s just one of those… that it is simply a force in itself, which then also transcends itself away through each individual. [laughs]

I just remembered the sentence when you said we might all have to think about it again. I recently read a sentence that goes like this: To re-imagine what others have imagined before. So, you don’t reinvent the wheel, but you re-acquire it, so to speak.
Great closing word [laughs]


Interview with Jule Flierl

Translated transcript of this interview:

What kind of house is KuLe, can you describe it?
Well, it’s one of those house projects from the “90s. I know a lot of people who live in other house projects, like in Lychi (Lychener Strasse) or in K77 (community-based art and dance space; Berlin ) and they have a lot of rules, especially in Lychi. The people who live there are getting older and older, and they get more and more conservative and that, for example, doesn’t happen here.

Everything at the KuLe is really very much based on tolerance. People always do as much as they can, depending on what they think is important at a certain moment in time. That’s why it’s also very punk and in a way dysfunctional, one might think. But that’s not the case either, it’s just … The house very much accepts whoever is there and whatever is important and can happen. There are also a lot of coincidences. There is no pretending to be able to solve problems by rules. In this sense, the way of thinking about the structure here is very contemporary.
The kitchen is a meeting place for random conversations, which are really important. It’s a space where people meet who might not meet otherwise. I like the fact that I have this room available where I don’t have to make appointments with people, but by chance get to sit next to someone with unbelievable knowledge and can absorb that. I’m not doing this on purpose … the opportunity to talk to people about interesting things is simply there.
There’s a similar take on who can move in and who cannot. There are mainly, or actually only, artists and you have to get along with them somehow and the living together has to work somehow. It’s totally exciting, but these kinds of relationships are also much more non-binding, as if I were meeting someone for coffee. There’s such a lightness.
For me, the KuLe is more like a village. You don’t have to like everyone, that’s part of it. It’s totally pleasant that I don’t have everything under control either, I think. For people who are neurotic cleaners this house would be really bad. It wouldn’t work at all with people who try to keep things under control. That’s just not possible here; it’s an impossible task.
It works well when all of us together decide what is important at the moment and then everyone goes along with it for one day and tidies or cleans up, empties something, like the roof truss or whatever. These are the moments when a lot of stuff gets done in one fell swoop.
Of course, you’ve heard a lot about the new lease now and that’s really tiring. Sometimes I only spend two days in Berlin and these two days are full of plenary sessions. That’s really tough. But it is important, and I learn a lot about politics and about the fact that my voice is totally important in a group, that it is important to speak up. If I don’t agree or think that a position is underrepresented, then I really say it and I learn what that means for the group dynamic—my role in it and my responsibility. That’s really exciting. And it’s totally exhausting. Every time after a plenary assembly, I am totally depressed and totally exhausted. But I notice that it teaches me a lot. In this sense, it’s also like studying here and living here and I’m totally in favour of intergenerational living.
I think that currently, within society, we organize ourselves extremely strongly along filter bubbles and in the KuLe that’s naturally totally exhausting—but okay, we are a group of artists, but we are nevertheless quite heterogeneous I must say. We also have two activists in the house whose artistic practice is activism and of course that’s totally different from someone who paints. And then there’s one person who is a curator of a music festival in Poland and works at the Max Planck Institute. So, it’s all very flexible. But interest in art is perhaps a unifying characteristic of all those who live here. It’s just important that we can live together constructively. It’s not that easy to move in here. It’s just cool to have interesting people but they can be completely different, I imagine. Maybe I’m just under an illusion, I don’t know.

Does living in the KuLe have an influence on your artistic practice? Or the other way around? Is there an exchange between what you are so-to-say studying at the KuLe and what you are doing in your artistic practice? Or the other way around: Does your artistic practice influence how you deal with the KuLe?
I believe that it totally influences my understanding of group processes and how I function as an individual in a group. You can work yourself up over whether it’s good or bad not to have rules. And of course, sometimes I have moments when I think “Oh God, now we really do need a tough law or something …” and I notice again and again that this exposing yourself to chaos theory and to the always-something-new-principle produces very interesting situations and thoughts.
In my artistic work, I mostly do solos but I always try to do them in a landscape of people.
So you (Christina) were there to see my solo – and you experienced it —and somehow, I always try to do it in the middle of the whole audience and it kind of takes the edge off the solo on stage. I think that this somehow affects something else, that we are all together and one person does something all the time, but we are all present in one space. I think it’s a kind of solo format of its own what I’m developing—definitely not the single body on a stage that is isolated from the auditorium. And this dynamic between audience and performance in my work is in any case completely different from stage dance formats, because we are always together with others and solos are actually impossible, except when I’m alone in a rehearsal studio. Maybe not even there. I wouldn’t ever stage myself as an isolated individual. And in that sense even the term “solo” is probably difficult, but it’s also okay. So, why not? I learn a lot about working together and about processes, and that influences everything I do in any case quite blatantly.

And how did you get into the KuLe?
I did a Master course in France, and before I lived in such a big flat with four people, which was very open, very anarchistic and very much a party flat with Thomas Proksch and Hermann Heisig, no idea if you know them? I knew it had to get better somehow, even better. That was really so great, and I couldn’t imagine moving into a one-room apartment.
I first lived with my grandmother, who is 80, and that was of course also a bit difficult but also a good phase and I then… So, in the KuLe they had somehow looked for someone for a free room, and then I introduced myself to the plenum. There was a funny competition with other people who applied for the same room and the house had to decide who was allowed to move in. Then I did a trial living, three months, and after that I was admitted.
It’s a tough process when you’re competing for a room like this – at the same time, while I live here, I experience that the process of choosing who gets to move in is totally important.
It’s like a chemical reaction between people. Everything depends on who lives here, what is possible here and how it works or doesn’t work and how pleasant it is or unpleasant it is. So, it can also be totally weird. We already had several people with whom it was really difficult to live together and we then had to say no to them.

So, you had to say no in this trial period ? or is there even a trial period left?
Yes, exactly, there are situations where people suddenly live in this space by chance, because somebody let them move in and it wasn’t discussed. It’s extremely important to be able to say no because some people are also totally crazy and can’t live with people or can’t stop talking and you get all the time babbled over or feel dominated or they suddenly make strange hierarchical relationships. That can be really extremely unpleasant. It’s also difficult. If this house is to go on, we have to choose constructively what the house needs. We have not done that in recent years since I have been here, and it probably has to start now so that this house can continue to be really constructive. Steffi (Weismann) and Urs (Ursula Maria Berzborn) carry quite a lot of weight, but also because of their experience. They both have so much knowledge. That’s not easy to pass [the knowledge and responsibility] on to Lulu and me. Because we are the German-speaking newcomers we are then given more responsibility somehow and that is also a bit shitty for us. Sure, all the infrastructural bureaucratic things take place in German and it simply annoys us that we are responsible for more.
And always this negotiation of—how much you can do and how much you can’t—is a very important way to take care of yourself. We are also artists and we want to do our projects and of course the KuLe helps us with it, so that’s awesome to be able to rehearse spontaneously sometimes downstairs (in the house/studio/multifunctional event-space), I don’t use it as often as I thought that I would use it, but it’s great—just to have a studio or a room to give things visibility, to make things possible that wouldn’t otherwise be possible, and I think that the alternative scene in Berlin really has a different status than in other cities, because it’s just cool too. Which is not the case in France, for example. You have to be an institutional artist and here I would rather say that institutional artists get ideas from the alternative spaces. And the people down here in the house are really accomplished… well, that’s awesome, with “From Breath to Matter” (Performance Series around vocal dances/ Kunsthaus KuLe) we really have such an awesome audience, I’m totally fascinated by it…

What is the valuable thing about the KuLe?
Well, for once we are the bulwark against gentrification, although of course there is a certain gentrification inside the house, you could say. But nevertheless…

To what extent?

It’s just that some people can’t afford to live here, so to speak … There is one who had to move out of the KuLe because it became too expensive for him. There is also that. And that makes me of course totally sad. One could perhaps also organize the rent differently. Or I don’t know, this total equality doesn’t make sense.

[laughs] Equality doesn’t mean any kind of egalitarianism, equality doesn’t always mean the same thing for everyone… yes that’s true.
Yes, well… that’s really sad and it will become even more expensive. There is an extreme housing shortage and there is an interest in the KuLe, we are now a no-reception camp—and we are also a reception camp—but not only, because if we are only that is also shit. We must somehow find a good way to talk about it. I like the random principle of who lives here, but we have to have some interest in it because it’s really hard to live here or work to live here.
So, I don’t come home and then I’m free, there’s also another kind of work. What’s the valuable thing? Yes, well we are the bulwark here in Auguststrasse, that something happens here that is not totally commercialised or about profit and also right in the middle of Berlin. It is an enabling space and also an open space for guests. But sometimes we had so many guests under the roof that we had to do something … That was simply the right thing to do… So, at the moment when you have ten people living there, that’s kind of stupid.
Now we have made a new rule that from the second night on everyone must pay 10 euros for running costs, operating costs. Because we are clearing the bathroom anyway all the time after the guests and then the bathroom is occupied all the time, then it is also dirty and then the temporary guests also do not know exactly how they should participate. We always have money problems and therefore it is important that people participate with money and money is also important for that, although it would actually be much better if the KuLe were a house that worked without money or not with this money logic. But at the moment it gets so crowded, and we have so many friends who are looking for a place to stay all the time. It’s a real state of emergency—well, we’ve reached such a limit. That was really unpleasant. And in that moment, it makes a difference, and then they (the guests of the KuLe) help through their presence, so that maybe we have a certain buffer, because there are always some things broken. We need this buffer and we don’t have it through the rental payments.
Well, in any case we can … the cultural life … or what is our role as cultural actors in Berlin, if that becomes a tourist factor, but our friends in the performance scene are all totally international, and I am also totally international and that’s just nice that there are meeting places that work outside of a certain system, but not without money—but just with less money. And also with such a curation method, if it interests me and I have time, then I host something and I work for it for free and I give something back to the performance scene by organising things that I think are important and that are outside of a certain product logic or success logic, too… maybe those things exist outside of a success logic and then it’s still packed. And if everyone donates something then we can pass the donations on to the artists and then there’s even some kind of merit. So, somehow, I think we need both. I need both for my artistic practice. I don’t feel like only working in institutions. I don’t enjoy it, I find it boring, and for me it’s a very big part of my artistic practice to organize these events as well and to leave in [include] alternative events is for me a very big part of what feeds into my work then. I don’t want to present only these results. I like to do that too; I totally like to perform and so on, but it is totally important for me to also just show up in a club and then do something really weird for 10 minutes. [laughs]

I was just thinking about curation, you used that word. But it sounds like it’s a different kind of curation than the one you find in an institution.
We have a set of rules and we don’t have to prove anything, so we had an evening where we had invited three artists to do something and two of them were really sick and then just one of them, Justin Kennedy, he could really rock for an hour and we didn’t have to prove anything to anyone. The one who was sick had a really bad conscience that she couldn’t be there and I said to her “no, you don`t have to”. Sure, a lot of people came because of her, but we can just take really big risks, the artists don’t have to force themselves to do anything if they have fever or something. But we can say “if you have a fever, stay at home, don’t perform”. In an institution, she would have been totally forced to do it and I think that’s wrong. There are a lot of things that are completely wrong in our profession, and we don’t have to do them, and the audience can’t come up with such a consumer expectation either, but instead they have to participate somehow. We don’t guarantee anything and we… Sure, I’m already trying that “From Breath to Matter” is now the series I initiated with Alessio, it’s just to see which artists deal with voice, with voice-dances and what it means to bring together visual artists, musicians of new music and dancers in one evening who are all trying to find out something about voice. And what we find out is always totally different, and we can never know for sure. But this mixture and visibility and to initiate a discourse about it is totally important for me and it is also part of my way of working on history or on Valeska Gert. I worked on the sound dances of Valeska Gert, but at the same time I am totally interested in contemporary sound-dance, and we invited a lot of people and I also learn from them. That’s a kind of study for me, too … and this thing of bringing people together with a similar interest but with completely different ways of working because they come from different fields and when they look at each others work then maybe they can think further about their work and this is an incredibly specialised field…. Well but it wasn’t that internal then, there were really a lot of people and also a mixture of visual arts, new music and dance, which is very important for me that people don’t always stay in their field as well.

Who feels responsible for the KuLe?
Of course, this is a very difficult question. The responsibility issue is really big here. In the beginning, I tried to take on a lot of responsibility, and I quickly felt overwhelmed by the amount and I realised “No, we are a group, so we have to do it together and everyone has to take on some responsibility” and my way of dealing with it is that I take on the things I can take on and I take on a lot, but I don’t take on everything and that is an important lesson, especially for solo artists.
And you have to say that there are people who have a bigger overview and that’s the older generation and we don’t have to find that bad somehow but if I think that’s a village and that’s the village elders; they just have more knowledge and that’s just in the nature of the thing that the founding members—that they have to be there at this landlord meeting. They remember conversations from 15 years ago, so small details in the contract and I think it’s totally okay that the younger generation is the younger generation and doesn’t act as if we can replace the older generation. But we have to work together, and the older generation also has to give us space, which is also a big issue at KuLe and this negotiation between giving space and taking responsibility and what responsibility … this is really a feat and there are different aspects of responsibility. For example, I’m good at taking care of renting the theatre space and getting people in or something because I’m just connected with other people and we can reopen this space for other people who don’t know the KuLe or something. And I can also say that in this everyday stuff I take responsibility in the kitchen and in the bathroom or something. All these controversial topics, which are somehow topical in every shared flat. But who feels responsible… Hopefully everyone, but you also notice that there are different ways of feeling responsible and different standards and I think that these house projects in the globalised art world in which we are, open up a very interesting topic, namely the globalised working world and the local infrastructural concern for a house which is always here. And there’s a huge conflict that I don’t know how to solve at all, between the local infrastructure, the linguistic bureaucracy in German, of course, and the beauty and necessity of all these journeys. And the great thing is that it is an international house. Who can take what kind of responsibility for what kinds of things? And what does the local mean in relation to the global? It’s a huge topic and it’s not discussed enough, and I think it’s also a frightening topic in the [politically] left scene a bit, but we just have to say that it’s one thing where we have to deal with just…

What is the fluctuation rate here in the house?
Well, there was a bigger change now I think when I moved in, in time. The fluctuation destabilises totally and because the structure is still very strongly dictated by the old generation… There was always an attempt, now a year ago, that the younger generation would meet without the older generation and try to think “How can the KuLe completely renew itself again?” That was totally good, but I was traveling all the time while that was happening. For example, I didn’t go along with it because I wasn’t there… again something like that. And the fluctuation is not very high at the moment, but either we are in a phase of finally stabilising ourselves a little, or it will go on with the fluctuation. That is not yet so clear. There is a roommate who is simply not there three quarters of the year either. And then we live together with really cool subtenants and I don’t even want to criticize that, because I’m away a lot, but that means something for the infrastructure, if… that’s our working reality. I don’t know exactly how to… and that is also important for the KuLe, that it has open borders and that it is porous. But when you talk about responsibility now, it is of course difficult. One subtenant has taken on a lot of responsibility, but that’s not always the case. The things in the KuLe, they organize themselves in such a way that you leave them alone and you know the problems and somebody does it then already. And there are also many nice surprises – and I think that Steffi and Urs make such a dramaturgical change, so it all has a very theatrical logic, how they try to pull themselves out and always say that they do it, but then they don’t and so on. Yes, that’s good, so it’s totally interesting how they navigate their responsibility. I’m totally in favour that they can somehow earn money with it, because they help the KuLe so much. Sometimes when there is too much monopolisation on one or two people then, I don’t want to take any more responsibility because then I also feel a little bit… paternalised or something. That’s a totally difficult thing, that you still have the feeling that… it’s not our house. I don’t see it as our house either, but it’s my business. And I think that’s a tough balancing act that the two of them are doing. I respect that very much, how cleverly they deal with these things, but there is really the problem: how can the new generation get involved?

Well, it takes a lot of trust in the next generation to make it easy. I mean they also have something…
I believe that with the trust… I mean trust, we also have to decide to do it, and we sacrifice ourselves totally in the kitchen every day. Even the kitchen is already too much and then this whole house… you can also say, well, Steffi and Urs have just—because they don’t live here anymore—have the time for it because they don’t have to clean up the whole shit every day somehow. so that’s totally exaggerated and not true but this—being overwhelmed by how much has to be done—is a daily aspect of living here, in any case, and that with the trust… Well, you also have to learn to give, right? This is also an exercise for both of us.
We all have to take care of ourselves [and know] how much we can do, and I am relatively clear with what I can do and what I can’t do, and I really like to help, but in this house, I have another perspective on what it means, especially because there are mostly women who help a lot. It’s quite the opposite; you can get really depressed in this house when it comes to gender issues. Women help, men don’t help, gays help a little more. And it’s just so clichéd… stupid. You can really throw yourself off the roof just how stupid it is and… This is really stupid, and it is unfortunately an empirical truth. I’m not looking for it, I’m not looking to confirm stereotypes, but I don’t feel like being that bitterly exploited woman who sacrificed herself for someone. I have also still… my father is dying, my grandmother is very old, my mother needs a lot of help. I also want to help them, so it is not the case that…

…that you have nothing to do.

Yes, I am an aunt of two small children. I really like to help this house, but if you see this, you can get really angry with such daily things. And that’s why it’s so important for me….
I do not do little, but I know in any case that this question of responsibility, that is of course the core question of this house, at which this house can also go down of course, in any case. And there … I observe a great deal and I will not become one of those bitter people. Absolutely not. [laughs]

I think that’s a good closing, I don’t know.
Yes [laughs]
Thank you.