Artist-run spaces, non-commercial art projects, little galleries, and new art associations – free art space is more popular than ever. In Berlin, the commercial and the non-commercial have already merged. Discussions concerning how independent the non-commercial scene should be or still is, how important subculture is for a city, or what the commercial art scene can learn from self-organized ideas are still very much current issues.
In a series for Schlosspost, Paula Kohlmann, co-founder of the artist-run space LOTTE in Stuttgart and a current Solitude fellow for art coordination, takes a look at various non-commercial projects and presents their ideas, attitudes, and strategies.
In this first part of the series, we take a look at her own artist-run space, which she runs together with a team of six people: Projektraum LOTTE in Stuttgart.
LOTTE – Land of the Temporary Eternity is a small room located in the city center next to the busiest street of the city, the park, and the central station, one of the largest construction sites in Europe – the new central station project Stuttgart 21. The opening day, June 1 2012, was unforgettable for me. About 400 people stood on the street. The room at LOTTE can only hold 70 people. So everyone was outside the whole night. We had to call a friend who runs a music club to bring more beer, and the police arrived after just one hour – not because it was too loud, but because the buses and cars could not pass by on the street anymore.
But there was a moment of surprise, of possibilities, a moment of change in public space that showed you that conflicts can only be solved together. A touch of how it could be.
Elke aus dem Moore, head of the arts department of ifa (Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen) at that time, wrote the following about the evening: »The last real surprise in Stuttgart was the opening of LOTTE, a tiny ex-electrical store that is managed by students from different universities with an interdisciplinary program. At the opening, a few hundred people were standing on the street and blocking the route for Bus 42 – wholly unintentionally, full of summer cheer … It was an unintended intervention into public space that created new connections. The spontaneous disorder of a routinized situation that had to be debated and shaped with each new bus in another way … nobody had had this intention, neither the organizers nor the visitors. But there was a moment of surprise, of possibilities, a moment of change in public space that showed you that conflicts can only be solved together. A touch of how it could be. A moment of utopia. «
In other cities, this might not sound exciting, but this was apparently not the case in Stuttgart. The city, one of the biggest industry cities in Germany, is known for its strong economy. Stuttgart’s high culture scene is also flourishing, especially opera and ballet. There are well-established universities for art, film, humanities as well as architecture and graphic design. However, most students leave Stuttgart after their studies because they do not identify with the city. The possibility of identifying with the city lies in the subculture. For the population of a city, this feeling stems from a certain lack of quality of life, but for an artist, it is not only a question of quality but also and above all of being in an economically precarious situation. Because supporting the non-commercial scene does not pay off for the city economically, the city does not realize the possibilities of this scene. I think the potential of a subculture that might seem brief and temporary at the beginning is in the end continually beneficial for the creative atmosphere and energy of an urban space and its population.
After studying literature at the University of Stuttgart, I developed the idea together with two friends, Erik Sturm and Maria Zamel, of an open space where students and young artist from Stuttgart and other cities could present their ideas, their works in progress, and their research to a wider public audience. Our aim was to open up the artistic process for discussions beyond academia, to connect the local art scene with international artists who are doing fellowships in Stuttgart, and to bring together people from various backgrounds. This process started with the team itself. After a few months, as a group of seven people from different fields (architecture, fine arts, literature, philosophy, culture management, art history) we founded an association and applied for support from the universities and the cultural office of the city. We acquired a small space in the city center with a contract for five years.
Since we opened, we have been getting a lot of proposals for the space. We are trying to invite all of these students and artists to an open discussion once a year to talk about their ideas. What is important for us is that the projects presented have a certain point of research but without following standard academic constraints. The research could be artistic, musical, practical … Instead of a curatorial concept, we want to work with different people and see what comes out of this process. There is no curatorial line, but rather permanent, flexible antennas that are trying to pick up on what is happening in the city at the moment. Of course, there is limited space and time for all project proposals, but we are trying not to be influenced by the market, and instead be driven by our interest in social interaction.
That is why we work with the artists together as a team, and thus are currently hosting around two events a month. That means an ever-changing program from bigger exhibitions to film screenings, small concerts, performances, ballet, theater, releases, and workshops. We were astonished by how quickly people became aware of us. Not only people from Stuttgart, but also from other cities, students as well as more established artists and non-academics. The surprising thing is that the audience changes a lot with each event, which is very enriching for us and for them because we do not see art as a private party, but as a social and critical energy that grows with each participant.
As LOTTE is a non-commercial project, we work mostly for free with great commitment and effort. In so doing, we put ourselves in a precarious situation. However, we know that we are gaining cultural capital: experience with ideas, artists, people, and structures. And less money also means fewer rules: We do not have any restrictions in terms of the content. Aside from this, we are trying to connect with the institutions of the city as they define quite a large cultural scene, which is important for us to get to know. Right from the very beginning, we started to cooperate with established institutions in Stuttgart. This cooperation has the potential for us to gain a certain standing and extend our sphere of influence, and allows a more direct connection to the city.
It is tricky to approach the institutions, the administration, or the apparatus of a city and still keep a peer-to-peer mentality and independence. Our role is sometimes a hybrid of subculture and municipal institutions, an in-between. I still ask myself how institutionalized you have to become to create a structure that works whilst staying self-regulated, critical, and spontaneous, to work in a frame but with content you are really interested in. We realized quickly that things in this city do not work as impulsively as we had imagined and had to professionalize ourselves quickly. However, naivety has been and still is one of the most important things to work with.
We did not know how much this space – for experiments, for honest interest, for time, for exchange, for independence – was and still is needed.
It took us a while to realize that what we are doing is quite political as our space is a statement to and for the city which creates room for processes, for creative input. In Stuttgart in particular – where private investors are increasing and city planning is shaped by the economy – I see our work as deeply political. With a change of atmosphere in the way we approach our city, together with the spaces in Stuttgart such as the former artist-run space Expeditionsraum or Hermes und der Pfau and projects such as the former Azenbergareal or Waggons (now contain’t), we are accompanying an important group of people in an important time. A community is growing that is very important for young Stuttgarters. We did not know how much this space – for experiments, for honest interest, for time, for exchange, for independence – was and still is needed. This proves to me that such a process – and by that I mean becoming a participant in your own city – needs to be employed as a method by the inhabitants of a city. We have to appropriate urban space ourselves, structure it, use it, form it. Public space is something we have to take care of by ourselves.
LOTTE – Land of the Temporary Eternity is located next to the U-Bahn station Staatsgalerie in central Stuttgart. The room is run by Erik Sturm, Paula Kohlmann, Louis Kohlmann, Lukas Oberem, Hien Mai, Christina Wüseke, and Regina Fasshauer. For further information, events, and opening times, please visit the website: