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WE LOVE NR - Neo Rauch and the Deutsche Bank Collection
Collaboration: The Feminist Artists´ Group ff - Interview with Mathilde ter Heijne, Antje Majewski and Katrin Plavcak
The Question: Is Painting really forever?
To Be Just a Pair of Eyes - The other side of Jeanne Mammen
Friendly Monsters - Street Artist Fefe Talavera's Project for the Deutsche Bank Towers
Artists Make Tomorrow's Poland
The Artist and the Propaganda Machine: How Fernando Bryce Retells 20th-Century History
Three questions for Nicola Lees - An interview with the new curator of the Frieze Projects
Süden - The Villa Romana at the Deutsche Bank KunstHalle
Let’s talk: Angelika Stepken, Ingrid & Oswald Wiener on “Hot Feet”


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Collaboration: The Feminist Artists’ Group ff
An Interview with Mathilde ter Heijne, Antje Majewski
and Katrin Plavčak

Mathilde ter Heijne’s installation “Woman to Go” is currently on exhibit in the Deutsche Bank Lounge at the Frieze Art Fair in London. And works by the Berlin-based painters Antje Majewski and Katrin Plavčak are on view in the exhibition “To Paint Is To Love Again” in the Deutsche Bank KunstHalle. What unites the three women is their involvement in the feminist artists’ group ff, which is active in all kinds of constellations Europe wide. In a conversation with Oliver von Gustorf, they talk about why it is important for women and men to question current conditions.

Oliver Koerner von Gustorf: What does “ff” stand for?

Antje Majewski: Originally, it stood for the fact that we’re women. “f” means “female” or “feminine” -  that’s how things began. But it can mean all kinds of other things too. We said: We’re definitely more than one “f.” We were actually seven f’s at first. We wrote our name fffffff.

Mathilde ter Heijne: Yes, but it’s important not to commit ourselves to one meaning. “ff” clearly derives from the feminist movement. But it’s okay if everyone comes up with her own interpretation. And maybe that’s what feminism should be: never committing yourself! One of the biggest problems with feminism is that since this term was coined, everyone has laid claim to it. Time and time again I talk with people who say: Mathilde, have you read this or that book? And I say: No, I’m not familiar with it. Then they look at me as though I wasn’t a real feminist! It’s very hard to bear. “ff” simply says be what you want to be, whether it’s fucking, funky or feminist.  

Oliver Koerner von Gustorf:
But it’s also about community, isn’t it?

Antje Majewski: Yes. We’re not just a loose network of artists, we make decisions jointly. And when a new artist joins us, they have to think communally too. Where should we get our soup for lunch? Where can we get the money for this event? Or coming up with great ideas for things we can do together. It’s not a platform for artists who help each other to have a better career in the art world. We realized this at the very beginning. “ff” is a platform on which we try to make art together, discuss things and find out how we can act as artists. And for me personally it’s very important that we also make art together, depart from our own work in the studio and create something with others from the group. With Katrin, for example, we made crazy processions together. We jointly discussed and decided on every detail, and ultimately you can’t say who the author is.

Mathilde ter Heijne: Maybe we shouldn’t use the word “community,” but collaboration. Because that is what we’re concerned with in the end. That you don’t act alone in society or in the art world, but the emphasis is on “acting and deriving together,” acting with one another. We invented the word “collaborative” as a noun because we all agreed that collaboration is the key, whether it’s on a work, a theater piece, a lecture series, or an exhibition.  

Katrin Plavčak: And creating synergies. Though Antje just said that “ff” isn’t conceived to relate to individual careers, for some of us that is the case. Suddenly you have the opportunity to meet other artists who you only knew by name previously. And maybe this gives you a boost, enables to you to participate in more exhibitions. I don’t see this as being negative. It’s another aspect of it.

Mathilde ter Heijne:  It’s actually also an experimental form. The experiment is: Can we really create something together in a different, alternative art world? We create our own rules, our own language – that’s fine with me, if it’s possible. We create something we call free zones, a Temporary Autonomous Zone. That is the title of our last two larger projects. This is then truly an open space. Someone comes up with an idea and then we try to realize it together.

Oliver Koerner von Gustorf: In other words, it’s also an alternative to the art system?

Antje Majewski: Exactly. And I think it’s important to not be afraid of embarrassment. We come from an art world in which everything is always scrutinized, and as a result a lot of freedom is lost. Our fundamental concept is really anarchism. When I used the word “community,” Mathilde may have not liked the fact that in connection with this word you might think: In a community, there have to be rules and moral laws. We do have a few rules, for example feminism and egalitarianism. And have the rule of non-hierarchy in our work as a group.

Mathilde ter Heijne: But it’s also important to realize that feminism is not about men or women, but about society as a whole.

Antje Majewski: We could also call ourselves egalitarianists. At bottom, we are interested not only in equality between men and women, but of course also in equality between rich and poor, between people from different origins, or what have you. In the future, I’d like to see us collaborate more with artists outside of Europe. Initially, we’re going to Poland to collaborate with many artists there. There are all kinds of forms, but this anarchical attitude is always part of the structure. In principle, each of us can say: Okay, I want to make something now. And then there has to be trust: Go ahead, do it! But the basis is that there always have to be two of us.

Oliver Koerner von Gustorf: The structure is actually the message.

Mathilde ter Heijne: Yes, the real message is that it’s important to try out structures that are potentially effective.

Oliver Koerner von Gustorf: If everyone does what she wants in your group, don’t problems arise? Different people can have a different understanding of art. Also, you invite guests to all of your events who are not from the art trade. For your most recent exhibition Oracle in Berlin, for example, you asked a lot of people what they think the future will be like. There were all kinds of contributions, e-mails, drawings, videos, installations, and some things that looked as if they were thrown together. Can the cool people from the art world find that embarrassing?

Antje Majewski: But what’s good about the whole thing is that we live inside it. We don’t see it from the outside. So I don’t really give a hoot about what the art world thinks. That’s not important to me. What’s important is that I have fun and that I work with people I feel like working with.

Katrin Plavčak: I think those are two different things. On the one hand, what you like yourself. And on the other, what you have to endure, what others in the group might like but you don’t think is so hot.

Oliver Koerner von Gustorf: That’s not what I meant. Everyone has her own taste. There are allergy points, so to speak, where you sometimes think: We didn’t fight for that!

Mathilde ter Heijne:
Sometimes that happens relatively quickly. When we make something together, there is always something in the exhibitions or projects where I think: Oh my god. But I think it’s very important to go against the grain sometimes. Art in the established art trade is often like a design. Another important concern of “ff” is to make a statement in the art world. It’s not only about feminism, but also about placing art differently in society.   

Antje Majewski:
This can’t be emphasized enough. Our standpoint is inside, within; we do all of these things primarily for ourselves. And we don’t make things to sell them. That’s one big difference. When I make art for a gallery, I also make it for myself of course, because I’m convinced that I have to make it that way. But there is a certain economic form for this art that leads to my being alone in my studio and producing something; I’m like an unprotected worker in early capitalism, when there were no unions. Health insurance is my problem, how to keep my head above water financially is my problem. I’m at the very bottom of the hierarchy. I went to Morocco recently – it’s like the people there who stand at a loom and get two and half euros for their work. And behind them are all the others, the dealers and so forth, who want to make profits. Sometimes that’s the way you feel like as an artist. The art system is an early capitalist system as far as the artists are concerned, because we are in no way protected or organized together.

Mathilde ter Heijne: At loggerheads with one another.

Antje Majewski: Exactly. And due to the system, it suits everyone that things are that way. We all have to work in our own niche and hold our own against the others. And we have to formulate ourselves such that we are different from the others. Every artist always has to be different, to deliver a product that is different. This gives rise to this terrible situation where everyone is competing, because we’re all fighting for the same niche.   

Mathilde ter Heijne: Women even more so than men.

Antje Majewski: Exactly. And our concept was simply that we all love art; we’re all artists because we love art. And that we want to regain it for ourselves, that we make art for each other and with each other, as a kind of communication, as a kind of center of life, or as a kind of exchange between us, so we can divorce our artistic practice from this economic system.  

Oliver Koerner von Gustorf: So you want to develop a different economy. Could “ff” be a Marxist group?

Everyone: No way!

Mathilde ter Heijne: Marxism is a fashionable word. Combining Marxism and feminism is very problematic, in my opinion. In every kind of communist society, the ruling elite always consisted of white men. Marx came after Engels. Engels was the man who studied matriarchies, and Marx based some of his theories on his work. Our ideas have to do with the search for alternative forms of society on various levels – economic as well as sociological, political, sexual, and spiritual. We’re not only anti-capitalist. Marxism leads to an ideology and we are trying to achieve the exact opposite, to be non-ideological.

Antje Majewski: At an “ff” event I talked about Rosa Bonheur, whose father raised her in keeping with Fourier’s ideas. She became a very successful, open lesbian artist in the mid 19th century. She took the liberty to wear trousers, left everything to her girlfriend in her will, and had a female lion. Fourier was one of the first feminists, in favor of a sexual revolution, of an unconditional basic income. So I’d prefer to orient myself to Fourier with his idea of community than to Marx.

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On View
It´s About Freedom - Philip Guston´s Late Works in the Schirn / In Search of Impossible Art - The Zacheta Presents the Views Nominees for 2013 / To Paint Is To Love Again - The Deutsche Bank KunstHalle Celebrates Painting
Wolves in Brisbane - Cai Guo-Qiang's "Head On" at the Gallery of Modern Art / A Place of Art Production and Exchange - Villa Romana at the Bundeskunsthalle / Views 2013 - Lukasz Jastrubczak Wins the Most Important Prize for Young Polish Art / Regarding the Other - Lorna Simpson at the Haus der Kunst / Women Artists in London - The Highlights of Frieze Week 2013 / Jubilee in Regent’s Park - 10th Year of Deutsche Bank’s Partnership with Frieze London / Stitching Instead of Spraying - New Art for Züri West / Britain's Got Talent - Deutsche Bank Award Winners Announced in London
"Breathtaking in Part" - The Press on Frieze London and Frieze Masters / "A Great Start" The Press on the First Exhibition at the KunstHalle
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