Creativity and collaborations: a road trip.
What is the nature of creativity today and what is the value of working alone compared to working in a team? How does individual action combine with collective work? When the web has infinitely expanded the possibilities of collaborating, where does that leave the idea of the solo genius?
One morning in early May, we decided to hop into a shiny white Mercedes-Benz CLS 500 and drive across Northern Germany all the way to Denmark, making several pit stops along the way to visit six sets of creatives working individually or in constellations – or both – and ask them the above questions.
Join us for the ride and watch this space for Part II of the road trip, coming soon.
First stop: Dirk Bonn’s Kreuzberg studio.
“I think pure democratic concepts don’t really work. I have a relatively clear concept of the projects I want to execute, and it’s better for me to lead the way. It’s not about absolutism – I’m not the king – but I want the team to work in the same direction and that requires some leadership.” So says Berlin-based polymath Dirk Bonn when we meet him at his studio in Kreuzberg. Hanging out of the first floor studio window with a cigarette in his mouth and a cell phone to his ear, he is every inch the Twenty-First Century creative, with a studio to match: spacious and airy and filled with the ephemera of a life spent in the side stream of culture-making.
As a carpenter, video artist, art director and former skate shop owner, Bonn has worked in the creative industry for the over two decades.
His professional trajectory hints at his talent for collaborations: in 2010 he redesigned the Berlin Nike Stadium, the brand’s multi-purpose event space, presented a film at the Athens Biennale with fashion designer Bernhard Willhelm in 2007, designed in-store installations for Mitte’s No. 74 store with architect Efe Erenler and created installations for Boss Black, Wolfgang Joop and Michalsky. How, exactly, does all of this happen? Dirk Bonn’s big studio makes for big dreams, those he generates and reifies: “You need a playground to play and generate ideas.” There’s an office for solitude and woodwork shop, and the walls are lined with shelves stacked with light installations, art books and magazines.
And in the middle there’s a red picnic table, covered in stickers. “The skate table is a perfect example of how I work,” Bonn says. “I connect to emotions: every skate video of the Nineties featured this very classic American picnic table, which skaters would do tricks on. It’s embedded in people’s memories and those who skated in the Nineties will react to it emotionally when they see it. This is the basis I work on.” Bonn’s projects always start with a reflection on his own experiences and memories. Once he’s established his concept he shares his assignment with others who then help him develop a new language to express the project with. “The best-case scenario is to have a strong vision as an artist, which is then carried out in collaboration with others.” Bonn reckons he has told the same story using different mediums over the extent of his career, which is how his giant network of artists, musicians, skaters and designers has formed. “Having been immersed in subcultures for over 25 years has meant that a group of interests and similarities have formed and I can easily recall images, which make others feel spoken to.”
On to Hamburg: an afternoon at Uwe Jens Bermeitinger's apartment.
A couple of hours up the Autobahn 24 in the sporty CLS 500, we join Uwe Jens Bermeitinger, the founder and editor-in-chief of TISSUE magazine in his Hamburg apartment that doubles as the publication’s office. It’s in the nature of magazines to be collaborative projects (consider how many writers, photographers and editors it takes to make one), but TISSUE takes another approach. “I’m the one with the vision for the magazine and I don’t share that with others,” Bermeitinger says. “Of course I get help – but if I don’t do anything the others won’t either.”
Though he jokes that his project is a one-man-show, the art director stresses the fact that he receives plenty of help: TISSUE lives precisely from its collaborations.
“I hit up artists and photographers I really want to work with. I have a think of what I could get each collaborator to do so that it fits the magazine, but I basically let them run wild – it’s how the best results are achieved.” It takes around half a year to make an issue, and when the content is all there, Bermeitinger begins to design the magazine. “That’s why I make TISSUE in the first place – so I can create whatever I feel like creating.” The irony, of course, is that his vision might be his own, but the buzz around TISSUE suggests that it is a vision shared by many.
At the heart of Hamburg: Hui-Hui to the power of three.
Not everyone likes the idea of such dedicated isolation, but sometimes a little of it can go a long way. We meet with the fashion collective Hui-Hui in their studio located on the edge of central Hamburg, whose signature style is their wearable and colourful blurring of lines between art and fashion. Sculptural draping, knitwear, digital prints of paintings and installations and vibrant colours are the trademarks of the garments which Anne Schwätzler and sisters Katharina and Johanna Trudzinski make. The three members of the collective live in different cities: Antwerp (Johanna), Hamburg (Anne) and Berlin (Katharina).
Anne and Johanna are in charge of fashion design while Katharina does textiles, and all three have worked together creatively (though often apart geographically) since 2002.
In fact, they thrive on autonomy. “We get together for a longer period of time to prepare the Winter and Summer collections and that is very intense, which is great,” explains Anne. “We choose fabrics, colour schemes and themes, and then we start to sketch the pieces. Once the main concept of the collection is clear, we part ways again and work separately. Always alternating between Hamburg, Berlin and Antwerp helps us avoid having a repetitive routine.” Collaboration-by-Skype, intense interaction and this international hot-desking approach evidently works: Hui-Hui haven’t just endured for eleven years (a feat in itself for an indie label), but are a favourite among stockists and stores who put a premium on the amalgamation of art, fashion and avant-garde. Hui-Hui’s success extends beyond Germany, with stockists in the US, China, Japan and Korea.
On the other hand, it’s a stone-cold fact that creatives need “me time”, whether they’re roped together as a collective or dreaming up fantasies on their own. “Each one of us has her own life,” Anne tells us.
In the spirit of this journey, this feature was created in collaboration with SLEEK Magazine.
Part two will follow soon.