In the podcast »Artfail/Kunstfehler,« journalist Elisabeth Weydt talks about failure. About projects that never came to be or that crashed and burned miserably. About blunders and mistakes from which maybe something else developed or nothing at all. Failing better at art or failing artistically outside of art. Here, people tell us at irregular intervals about their big and small dramas.
Find more »Artfail« episodes here.
Today at Artfail/Kunstfehler:
Sebastian Däschle, designer in Berlin.
Designer Sebastian Däschle’s current project is based on misconception. He wanted to build furniture with refugees for refugees in a workshop. They told him: one who doesn’t know where they are, does not really need furniture. So he established a small carpentry workshop and builds furniture for others now. Sebastian’s latest idea: he wants to save the world.
This episode with Berlin based designer Sebastian Däschle is in German, but there is an English translation/transcript below!
English version and transcript:
Sebastian Däschle guides through the workshop of Cucula.
Sebastian Däschle: That’s not the fail.
Elisabeth Weydt: No, that’s the success.
The »error« occurred only at the very beginning, but this will be told later on. Sebastian guides through the rooms of Cucula: furniture workshop, association and educational institution for refugees. Sebastian – mid–30s, washed out pink T Shirt, keen eyes – says he’s used to errors through his work.
SD: »This is Enzo Mari. He designed this furniture during the 70s…Where is our book? Instead of producing prefabricated furniture, he produced a book that includes the drafts for the furniture with instructions for building it by yourself. It is for non-professionals. All you need is a hammer, nails, and some cheap wood, and you’re already starting to build your bed or whatever you need, somehow, just using these instructions. On the one hand, it’s easier for the guys to build it because they don’t have a background in carpentry, on the other hand it’s also easier to sell, because Enzo Mari is a quite famous name. It’s a design classic, a milestone in Do-it-Yourself.«
Meanwhile, Cucula employs around eight people who came to Germany via Lampedusa and were then, after arriving to Germany, confronted with deportation. Until now, none of them have real work permits, but Sebastian and his colleagues laid out some facts. They rummaged through the complicated asylum laws and found the solution in founding an association. Now, their chairs, desks, and benches are popular and in demand. They have already been commissioned to build furniture for the Berlin Philharmonic and the Münchner Kammerspiele.
SD: »The best selling item is the classic ›Sedia Uno‹, the chair number one — as it’s the most distinct chair. It’s actually the one we started crowdfunding with, and was then developed further by the our colleagues. Some day, we were at Lampedusa and Malik said we should bring him a piece of the boat he came with. He wanted to build a chair out of it.«
Then the group had heated discussions. Is it right to do that?
SD:»Yeah, cause people were dying on their way, and it is certainly not only a ship cemetery where we gathered the wood, but also a proper graveyard. That’s definitely a tough story, so we decided to offer the furniture as a product so that everyone can decide for themselves if they want it in his flat or not. If he decides: ›No‹, then why not exactly? This discussion of ›to buy or not to buy?‹ is what we actually want. The best case, of course, is that people buy the furniture, they put it in their flat, and are at the same time aware of the part they take in the whole history the furniture stands for.«
As Sebastian started with the workshop for Lampedusa refugees he was focussing on a precise idea.
SD: »I thought they have to have the possibility to really produce something, to build something and so on. Not only painting, but they could also build some Enzo Mari furniture for themselves, a bed, a closet to put stuff in. It was fantastic because the five guys from Lampedusa weren’t able to speak English and I couldn’t talk to them in their language. But despite this we communicated with hands and feet. We were working together for three weeks, I had no idea of their personal histories, but it didn’t matter at all. They were working, sawing, polishing like crazy, sweating and never stopping until I saw myself forced to say in the evenings ›Please stop it, take a rest.‹«
Within three weeks they became a small community, Sebastian tells. They finished seven pieces of furniture and Sebastian thought he had reached his aims.
SD: »I said, ›ey, what’s up? don’t you want to take the furniture with you?‹ And they responded, ›ey, what do you think? We are refugees, we don’t know where we are in two weeks or two months. We don’t need any furniture.‹
And then I thought, ok, well, maybe you are right!
Then people came by, saw the furniture and liked it a lot. It was shortly before christmas and we decided to sell the 11 pieces of furniture to make at least a little bit of money for the guys with it. It didn’t take long for us to recognize the guys don’t need furniture, they need a job, they have to do something. And in the end this resulted in the idea: Let’s found a company, let’s employ the guys and they can work, we sell the furniture and they can stay.«
It sounds quite simple: Let’s found a company and the guys can stay. But Sebastian and his colleagues had to struggle with the German bureaucracy. According to the law the guys weren’t allowed to stay in Germany because they actually have to stay in the country where they first entered Europe. Of course, they are even less allowed to work in Germany then. One of them even had to go to the deportation prison, but was released from prison after a few days. Cucula gains more and more supporters and the demand for Cucula furniture grows. Even now the legal situation of the guys still isn’t clear, but Cucula goes on with sawing and working. With every day the utopia becomes a little more real.
SD: »I’m certainly not the first person to say this, but it would be most beautiful if we don’t consider errors as ›errors‹ any longer. Errors should be chances. The only error I can see is when someone has a very narrow idea of their goal that is projected into the future and is outlined too precisely. I’m at the point where I have a vague idea and leave a lot of space for the development of it. But I don’t know yet how far you have to go to be relieved of all mistakes and errors and to live only in the very moment.«
With this idea in the back of his mind he will travel through West Africa for half an year. He starts in a few weeks. He wants to know more about the reasons why people leave their homes and what role we all play in this.
SD: »I went to Schloss Solitude and thought, ›ok, I’m going to save the world.‹ If saving the world is your aim you’re actually damned to fail, because there isn’t really a way to save the world. Maybe it is possible to save it in a very small way, but 99% of the plans you make are destined to fail. So, how do you work with a topic you know you will fail on? At a symposium I attended, a french director spoke about artists and that he sees the artist as ›the person who dares to address the impossible.‹ A lawyer won’t address the impossible. But artists can do that. They can really create visions, images, dreams, and hopes that initially seem to be impossible but will have an impact through simply exisiting. Ernst Bloch speaks about the ›concrete utopia‹. For him art is the pre-appearance of a theoretically possible future. Only through creating these images, through giving space for these pre-appearances reality can follow theoretically. Excitingly you find this happening in science fiction: some years ago everybody was keen on the communicator from Star Trek, nowadays everybody has a smartphone.«