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Labkultur's White card : Pimp my neighbourhood - ARTgenossen

The artist collective around the corner.

Art leaves its cradle, the studios, and roams the streets. In  Dortmund, the Südstadt district is the habitat and creative breeding place of the ARTgenossen, a collective of ten female and male artists from the surrounding neighbourhoods of the Kreuz-, Klinik-, and Saarlandstrasse quarters. Until May 13, these artists exhibit their art in selected local shops.

“When I carried my art from the protective studio to the noisy street outside, it was a moving moment.”  Artist Sabine Held

The idea sounds simple, but includes a certain complexity - and rises some questions. The idea: local artists present their art – paintings, objects, sculptures, graphics – in the retail shops of the neighbourhood for a limited time. It may be a hairdresser, a shoemaker, or baker, a supermarket, or a snack bar. The southern part of downtown Dortmund, the so-called Saarlandstrassenviertel, is especially suited for that kind of action: it is a lively urban quarter, extensively frequented by walk-in customers, brimming with stores and shops still managed by their owners – on offer: daily consuming goods, but also more sophisticated matters, such as espresso machines, interior decoration, printed products, or real estate. Saarlandstraße is a popular shopping street, with modern, eco-aware, stroller-pushing moms from the Kreuzviertel neighbourhood sipping their lattes in the cosy cafés belonging to the usual scenery.

Shop owners become patrons of art

The ARTgenossen collective has been working together for two years now – within this time, they have initiated several common open studio days for visits and walks. As opposed to the Neue Kolonie West in the urban development area Rheinische Strasse, these artists are renowned, established ones with their own studios, and not pop-up galleries, young, aspiring artists, or absolute newcomers. Their open studios were meant to lower the inhibition threshold of a vaguely art-interested clientele; but with their latest 10-day initiative “ARTgenossen local”, they connect art with mundane places, thus reaching the people of their neighbourhood during their everyday routines.

That has consequences. The first two objectives of the basic concept have been achieved very fast: the “upgrading of the neighborhood”, and the “communicative aspect” which, according to artist Rosa Fehr-von Ilten would prevail, attracting attention to the area by means of the arts. The hairdresser: “I was hardly able to keep my appointments because my clients wanted to talk about art.” The shoemaker: “Within a short time, the awareness for our neighborhood, a sense of community, developed.” The snack bar owner: “My guests are starting conversations due to, and about the exhibited object.” Using terms like “pride” and “honor”, some of the exhibiting shop owners have even become patrons of “their” piece of art.

Can you recognize art when you don’t know anything about art?

Apart from the question whether exhibiting in mundane shops may display some criticism of the allegedly only meaningful locations for art like galleries and museums – how do normal people just running their daily errands experience this art? Some customers don’t even recognise the objects as such, or they consider them, according to tested and proven classic Ruhr diplomacy, “a matter of taste”. The ARTgenossen talk about “surprise” and “irritation” (artist Claudia Karweick) and point out that “art has to hold its ground, even in a strange sourrounding” (sculptor Sebastian Wien).

The exhibited works were partially created in a dialogue with their places of presentation: a big collage made from plastic bag shreds (Silvia Liebig) is titled “Pimp My Head” and mounted at a wall in a hairdresser’s salon; paintings and graphics in reduced black-and-white aesthetics (Claudia Karweick and Petra Eick) were inspired by their current location, a print shop; a mobile object made of plastic spoons (Sabine Held) graces the window of a cult snack bar. Other art works irritate by the fact that they seem to come from another world and just have taken their actual positions by chance: for example a female torso made of yew (Pia Bohr) at an optician’s, or a steel sculpture (Sebastian Wien) in the lobby of an organic supermarket.

Is it art just because it hangs in a museum?

It is a weird, alienating effect – suddenly, everything on Saarlandstrasse is art. You feel like at a scavenger hunt, like searching for truffles. The weird plant thingy in the window which certainly has been created by an artist is art - isn’t it? No – it was there before already. Just a plant, no art. Well, it’s a bit disturbing sometimes...

How does everyday life affect art? Does it possibly suffer, or will its position as art even be damaged? Do we still recognize it when it is exhibited in the optical overload of a store or the olfactory overkill of a snack bar? Laconic comment by the seasoned gastronomic


Peter Erik Hillenbach



LABKULTUR is a European webmagazine for culture and creativity. Over 20 authors from the Ruhr area, London, Rotterdam, Istanbul, Nantes and Košice report on cities within the world of digital and social change. They study the influence that culture has on city development and analyse the production and life situations of artists and creatives. LABKULTUR understands creativity as the engine of urban future. It is a project of ecce.

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