hybrid arts: hives of industry

sophie travers talks with berlin producer lisa stepf

Radialsystem V, Berlin

Radialsystem V, Berlin

Radialsystem V, Berlin

THERE ARE SOME UNCANNY SIMILARITIES BETWEEN SYDNEY’S CARRIAGEWORKS COMPLEX AND BERLIN’S NEW RADIALSYSTEM V. BOTH BUILDINGS ARE FORMER INDUSTRIAL SITES CONVERTED RECENTLY TO CULTURAL USE. BOTH SEEK TO PROGRAM A RANGE OF ARTS AND COMMERCIAL PROJECTS TO MAINTAIN A SUSTAINABLE ECONOMY ACROSS THEIR LARGE PREMISES. BOTH ARE SEEKING TO BRING SOMETHING NEW TO A CROWDED CULTURAL SCENE AND BOTH ARE STRUGGLING TO MATCH THEIR POTENTIAL WITH PUBLIC FUNDING.

In a conversation with Solon Ulbrich, producer of Tanja Liedtke’s choreography, at a Goethe Institut seminar in Berlin in 2007, these coincidences and many more struck German freelance producer and project curator Lisa Stepf. Her work with Radialsystem V encouraged her to research a project to bring CarriageWorks and Brisbane’s Powerhouse into a nascent network for post-industrial sites being investigated by Radialsystem’s producers.

kampnagel

In Germany, Kampnagel in Hamburg is the high-profile forerunner to Berlin’s Radialsystem. Its new director, Amelie Deuflhard shares Stepf’s enthusiasm for the proposed network. Kampnagel was a former ironworks, armament factory and iconic industrial site for Hamburg from 1865 to 1981. It subsequently became the locus of an exhilarating range of radical artistic experiments under a series of visionary producers and artist-entrepreneurs, and now operates as a production house and festival and events venue for contemporary arts from Germany and the world.

104 paris

Radialsystem V is also in dialogue with 104 Paris, the huge new arts space which opened in late 2007 in central Paris. It’s a 26,000 square metre, glass ceilinged, arcade style interior which operated from 1874 to 1997 as a centre for the municipal funeral service. Curated by Robert Cantarella and Frédéric Fisbach, it is dedicated to all types of contemporary art. The complex includes 19 workshops, screening rooms, living quarters, theatre and studio spaces, event rooms, restaurants and boutiques. There are artists in residence and a busy calendar of performance and presentation projects.

zone attive, rome; matadero, madrid

In Rome, in 2008, Zone Attive will open a 10,000 square metre complex dedicated to innovation in the arts in the city’s former abattoir. In Madrid, the Matadero is also housed in a former abattoir that covers an area of 148,000 square metres. The warehouses in the complex are currently being renovated to house a training and education space, production and exhibition venues, with an emphasis on international exchange and experimental arts. Radialsystem V’s producers have also come across a forthcoming venue in Brooklyn, cast from the same mould.

network forum

In the context of the possible network project, Stepf proposed a project called New Spaces for the Arts—FestivalForum for 2009, with the hope of including some Australian work in the program. She knew that no funding was available for the research she needed to undertake: Radialsystem V is as yet only project funded, with no ongoing support for organisational development or running costs. Like many freelance producers, Stepf is used to juggling multiple roles and projects at various stages of funding. She was interested in returning to Australia where she’d spent some time as teenage exchange student. Stepf is confident that her project will ultimately attract funding because of the high quality of performances she saw in Australia and the credibility of Radialsystem V and its producers.

radialsystem v

Stepf’s faith in the venue seems justified. Radialsystem V was completed in September 2006, combining state of the art contemporary spaces within the shell of the city’s former sewage pumping station directly located on the banks of the river Spree at the confluence of three buzzy Berlin districts. Comprising one 578 square metre main hall seating 300 and an adaptable 394 square metre second venue as well as three large studios, offices and event spaces and two terraces overlooking the river, the venue, which is named with an ambition to connect outwards, is a new cultural hub for Berlin.

Purchased by a private investor cognisant of the city’s insistence that such historical monuments operate a public cultural program, Radialsystem V was always going to have to fight for subsidy in a city which professes itself bankrupt whilst maintaining an inspiring range of public cultural institutions. Radialsystem V’s new owner quickly appointed producers and they launched a program of ticketed art events and high income generating commercial activity to get the initiative off the ground and onto the cultural map of Berlin.

Not just any old producers, Jochen Sandig of Sasha Waltz & Guests and Folkert Uhde of the Akademie fur Alte Musik Berlin, are bright stars in Berlin’s cultural galaxy. They met whilst collaborating on Waltz’s Dido and Aeneas in 2005 and were keen to extend the collaboration between their high profile music and dance organisations. Rehearsing and presenting site specific work at Radialsystem V as well as starting to conceptualise in-house productions will reap obvious rewards for the organisations they continue to run. They are also clear that their home is open to a diversity of forms and thus Stepf’s project fits their bill perfectly as one of the first projects for which they will seek project funding and a profile for Radialsystem V as a producer.

the australian connection

In Australia for close to two months, Stepf visited the Sydney Festival’s Movers and Shakers dance program and was assisted by the Australia Council’s Community Partnerships and Market Development division and Dance Board as well as Sydney’s Goethe Institut. She visited the Australian Performing Arts Market in Adelaide and met with artists and presenters from Brisbane and Melbourne in between time. Aside from planning to involve the producers at CarriageWorks and Powerhouse in the 2009 forum, examining programming and producing policy and exchange, Stepf is looking for productions to present in a festival format. Radialsystem V seeks to present hybrid work, in line with the aesthetic of its producer partners, but also as a pragmatic choice for a city with an abundance of art-form specialist presenters.

Sated by the dance in Sydney, Stepf saw as many music, cabaret and visual art productions as she could attend at APAM, the Adelaide Festival and Fringe. Without confirmation of funding, she cannot yet commit to companies and is therefore understandably cagey about her presenting ideas. She hopes to be able to create further presentation opportunities outside the festival forum, with partners such as Kampnagel or Haus der Kulturen der Welt which is running its Asia Pacific Week during her September 2009 forum.

Halfway through her trip, I met Lisa Stepf in Melbourne, following her Sydney Festival experience and enjoyment of a night of free symphonic music at the Sidney Myer Concert Bowl. “Now that’s what I call audience development!” she exclaimed, impressed by the mass turnout and relaxed attitude of the Melbourne concert-goers. Her impressions of Sydney audiences were similar. Stepf was moved by their enthusiasm and open appreciation of the performances she saw in the dance program and at presentations by Meow Meow and Coda. “People appreciate the arts here in a different way,” she commented, “they are not hyper-critical, as they are in Germany.” Stepf went on to marvel at the unpretentious way in which many artists deliver their work, its virtuosity and attention to production details, and the self-deprecating Australian humour.

Should Stepf’s enthusiasm remain undaunted, her project could give rise to new opportunities for Australian and German contemporary arts exchanges as well as a network of hybrid arts presenting venues beyond. Stepf is convinced that the dialogue between the performing arts cultures in Australia and Germany has a profound and far-reaching trajectory to take.


www.104.fr
www.zoneattive.it
www.mataderomadrid.com

RealTime issue #84 April-May 2008 pg. 16

1 April 2008