Wednesday, February 2, 2011

K:ITA – Friedrichshain – a haven for handfuls of Berlin-based artists?

In June of this year, 2007, Julian Ronnefeldt, a German photographer, living and working in Berlin, discovered a former Nursery school. Three floors high and over 2000 square metres of panelled workspaces, the K:ITA is buried away in 4000 square metres of woodland in the heart of one of Berlin’s developing centres, Friedrichshain. Situated between an old people’s home and a governmental administrative building, the K:ITA tempts you to discover it. Previously, in January, Julian had collaborated and helped organise The Coldstore Project. It was during this time that he came across a desolate building owned by a group of Berlin architects, whose initiative it was to revamp several of their buildings by preserving the ‘old’ style of post-war Berlin architecture while transforming them into something ‘new’. Julian grabbed this great opportunity and, from a bleak uninhabited warehouse, he created a platform for artists to work and exhibit in. Less than 6 months later, one of the owners offered him to operate the K:ITA space under the condition that the building is, once again, converted into an art centre or project.

The K:ITA (Kunstprojekt International Temporary Art) first started off with 10-12 people interested; now it is formed by, at least, 32 people. From fashion designers to photographers, visual artists to VJs, mezzo singers to computer experts, several of its members have adopted the K:ITA as both, a place to live communally and a space in which to create. Since Berlin’s critical transformation after unification in the early 1990s, it has come to be known as the European city in which an alternative art scene has been thriving. Individual quarters have been converted into artists’ residencies; off beat hair salons offer second-hand vintage clothing; chapels become exhibition spaces. But what makes the K:ITA project unique is first and foremost, the diversity of cultural background. Artists from Australia, Cyprus, France, Germany, Italy, The Netherlands, Spain, UK, and the US meet in Berlin’s Friedrichshain. A second interesting feature of the K:ITA is that it inhabits people with different artistic backgrounds, individuals whose impressions regarding collective space are materializing in this one-year project space. Wandering into K:ITA is a bit like cruising online, crossing cyber borders and instantaneously finding yourself in different cubicles where polyglossic encounters merge. Not unlike a university campus, here, too, you never know when you’ll bump into someone taking a stroll on the first floor. A sense of community is apparent at the K:ITA. The first thing you will see if you enter through the backside is, what looks like, an outdoor living room with vibrant couches and floral armchairs before acres of woods, where caravans secure a place for days. This is a meeting place for everyone who lives and/or works at the K:ITA, as well as for visitors. In many ways K:ITA functions as an open-house project space whose target it is to bring people together, and have fun.


For the 5 weeks that I stayed in Berlin, I visited the K:ITA at least once a week, on some occasions twice. At times we would give a hand to sand down, fill in holes and paint the walls white of the gallery space, located on the west wing of the building. Still work in progress, the gallery space is already housing small exhibitions, from video projections to fashion shows. The collaborators of the gallery space have by now contacted several curators from the Berlin Biennale to come view the project space.
Events vary from flower to flee markets, which take place on summer weekends in the outdoor surroundings where vendors can pay a small fee to come and set up their plant life and other belongings for sale. The artistic agenda has included a Columbian party, in which documentaries that had been filmed in Columbia were projected on a screen suspended between two tree trunks in the K:ITA forest. In early October, a festival will be running for a week. Co-organized with Luigi Totaro, the festival will include video installations, short movies and documentaries, a book launch and conference to do with art and networking, theatre work, and performances.
While spending time at K:ITA, I came to speak with several members. I was interested in hearing how some imagined K:ITA, and what they would like to see happen there within the year. These two questions were the basis for our short talks.

Athina Antoniadou:
I came to know of K:ITA when I first met Athina Antoniadou in late May at the Art-Athina fair in Athens, where her work was being represented in the booth of Argo gallery. At the time K:ITA was still in the process of forming itself; even so, hearing about it in its early stages appealed to me as a space to be observed and a story to be covered.
Two and a half months later, Athina Antoniadou is both pleased and relieved that the gallery space now looks polished and ready to exhibit work. She underlined ‘how important it is to establish a code of communication when working in a large group where each individual might have her/his own personal viewpoint in the project space, but must also respect a larger consensus which helps a space to progress harmoniously’. Asking Athina how she sees the K:ITA space, she murmured. ‘It’s a comfortable space where different artists can meet to talk and hang out in a pleasant atmosphere. In the evenings it’s a resting place to relax outdoors or to meet at the bar.

Half Phillipine and half Austrian, Iris Ramoser is a cinephile who came to Berlin four years ago with a vision to project movies, after having worked for a silent movie producer in Austria. She is currently involved in several housing projects, as they are often called in Berlin. On her way to discovering where she could realize her dream, she got connected with K:ITA, by helping with the organization and running of the space. When I asked her what she thought characterized these project spaces, she confessed enthusiastically, ‘they are about developing skills to survive differently in today’s industrialist societies. Finding other possible ways of dealing with, and circulating, money in a highly consumerist world’. Finally, with a wide smile and a tone of optimism, she added, ‘K:ITA is about making something out of nothing’.

Over breakfast one Sunday morning, just before we made our way up to K:ITA in a truck that would transport gallons of white paint and steel rods to build a counter in the bar area of K:ITA, I spoke to Julian Ronnefeldt. I asked him how he saw K:ITA developing and what he expected the group to make out of K:ITA for the year ahead of them?
This is what he said. ‘After the constructive outcome of the Coldstore project, I believed that the K:ITA project could be, in different ways, another interesting space for an art project. A place where there is equal representation and distribution of space, etc, without strict leadership. It is a space that can have multi-purposes, from experimenting with different media to diverse events and parties, to, perhaps, workshops developing in the various workspaces available.
I also asked him to what extent he thought the K:ITA project was socially or politically engaging? ‘It makes a statement by not making an assertion’, he replied in a serene smile.

K:ITA engages socially by promoting itself as a space for events and various exhibitions. It is now housing fashion parties with British-Berliners spinning house music until the morning hours. On this particular occasion, the queue had stretched its coiling tail around the nearest public phone booth in which ravenous individuals lay, legs crossed and beer in hand, lingering as the tailback shrivelled.
So, a lot is happening for those who are in Berlin looking for art venues to visit casually, to knock back a beer or two, and to hang around until Berlinesque things crop up. Visit K:ITA on Weidenweg 44-46, Friedrichshain, or cyberly at

March 2008
appeared in ΥΓ of Phileleftheros newspaper

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