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What do you actually do? – Tanja Nis-Hansen

“This isn’t a normal situation,” says Tanja Nis-Hansen between sips of herbal tea. She’s talking about her studio setup—when I visited, the Berlin-based painter was temporarily working in her apartment while in between studios—but she could just as easily be referring to the dramatic changes that the coronavirus has had on our daily lives. Indeed, the scenes depicted in the oil paintings adorning her bedroom walls speak to the fear and isolation that has characterized much of the past year and a half. “I wanted to capture the feeling of being in a room and the walls creeping in on you,” Nis-Hansen explains. “I’m trying to depict the sensation of being immersed in a world that you don’t fully understand”.

In one striking canvas from the 2020 series, which was shown last year as part of Liste Art Fair’s Online Viewing Room, an anthropomorphic clock is depicted giving birth to the 32-year-old artist, her distinctive red hair mimicked in the swirling red patterns of the surrounding walls. “It’s partly an allegory about being a painter ‘birthing’ a new idea,” says Nis-Hansen. “At the same time, I also was thinking about the expectation that going through a crisis will give us the chance to be reborn as new, better people who see the world more clearly.” This expectation, however, is rejected by the characters who populate the artist’s canvases; often shown laying down or frozen within the scene, they’ve chosen to wait out the pandemic rather than use it as yet another opportunity for self-improvement.

While created in lockdown, Nis-Hansen sees these works as a continuation of her 2019 exhibition The Benign Tumour—at Paris-based gallery Sans Titre 2016—which similarly thematized the “resting”, “anxious” or “noneffective” body. Born out of the artist’s personal and familial experiences of illness, the show centered around a painting of a sleeping figure, the dramatically titled Cat and fox deliberating on possible escape roots (or every night we practice how to die). “The painting is related to rest and the feeling of being overwhelmed,” she explains. “It also refers to the many, many images of reclining women in art history.” Set behind three wooden panels in the shape of crashing waves that threaten the character’s peaceful slumber, Nis-Hansen says that her intention was to create a stage for this “spectacle,” building up the rest of the exhibition so that the other paintings act as “a kind of audience” to the danger-laden scene.

The spectacle is also a recurring motif in the artist’s performance work, especially her collaborations with fellow HFBK graduate Niclas Riepshoff. First meeting in the class of Jutta Koether in 2015, the two artists began to work together as CONNY in 2017 when they performed Doubt on the 5th Floor at the Galerie der HFBK. Inspired by amateur theater, the piece comprised self-penned music and spoken word and told the delightfully absurd story of a city-dwelling mandrake visiting a countryside-bound chimney. A year later, on occasion of Koether’s exhibition at Museum Brandhorst, they collaborated again in the performance Changing Batteries at the Münchner Kammerspiele. For the event, Nis-Hansen created a three-meter-high painting of a face, complete with eye holes, which she and Riepshoff performed through. “The performances are a lot of fun,” she says. “I love how crazy it can get when you have two brains instead of one.”

Last year, the duo was awarded the Neue Kunst in Hamburg travel grant, which they planned to use to visit the Amargosa Opera House and Hotel in Death Valley Junction, California. “It was opened by a ballet dancer called Marta Beckett who moved to Death Valley from New York,” the artist explains. “And since there are hardly any people living in the area, she painted an audience instead. We were drawn to this story because we really wanted to think about the difference between performing for a crowd or in solitude.” Covid-19 may have put a stop to the trip, at least for now, but Nis-Hansen and Riepshoff are hard at work on a new idea, which they will show at an exhibition for grant recipients at the end of October. Despite the change of plan, Nis-Hansen isn’t too disappointed. “In a weird way, we got the solitude that we wanted in the desert through Covid-19,” she says. “We’re not going to have this great travel story, but there's also something challenging about staying put and then having to dig into what you have around you.”

Tanja Nis-Hansen is an artist living in Berlin. She studied at the HFBK from 2014-2018 with Jutta Koether.
HFBK graduate
Chloe Stead, together with the photographer and also HFBK graduate Jens Franke, met former HFBK students to talk about work, life and art. It is the prelude to a series of interviews for the website of HFBK Hamburg.

Annette Wehrmann, photography from the series Blumensprengungen, 1991-95; photo: Ort des Gegen e.V.

Conference: Counter-Monuments and Para-Monuments.

The international conference at HFBK Hamburg on December 2-4, 2021 – jointly conceived by Nora Sternfeld and Michaela Melián –, is dedicated to the history of artistic counter-monuments and forms of protest, discusses aesthetics of memory and historical manifestations in public space, and asks about para-monuments for the present.

23 Fragen des Institutional Questionaire, grafisch umgesetzt von Ran Altamirano auf den Türgläsern der HFBK Hamburg zur Jahresausstellung 2021; photo: Charlotte Spiegelfeld


Who speaks? Who paints which motif? Who is shown, who is not? Questions of identity politics play an important role in art and thus also at the HFBK Hamburg. In the current issue, the university's own Lerchenfeld magazine highlights university structures as well as student initiatives that deal with diversity and identity.

Grafik: Tim Ballaschke

Start of semester

After three semesters of hybrid teaching under pandemic conditions, we are finally about to start another semester of presence. We welcome all new students and teachers at the HFBK Hamburg and cordially invite you to the opening of the academic year 2020/21, which this year will be accompanied by a guest lecture by ruangrupa.

Graphic design: Sam Kim, picture in the background: Sofia Mascate, photo: Marie-Theres Böhmker

Graduate Show 2021: All Good Things Come to an End

From September 24 to 26, the more than 150 Bachelor's and Master's graduates of the class of 2020/21 will present their final projects as part of the Graduate Show at the HFBK Hamburg. We would like to thank all visitors and participants.

photo: Klaus Frahm

Summer Break

The HFBK Hamburg is in the lecture-free period, many students and teachers are on summer vacation, art institutions have summer break. This is a good opportunity to read and see a variety of things:

ASA Open Studio 2019, Karolinenstraße 2a, Haus 5; photo: Matthew Muir

Live und in Farbe: die ASA Open Studios im Juni 2021

Since 2010, the HFBK has organised the international exchange programme Art School Alliance. It enables HFBK students to spend a semester abroad at renowned partner universities and, vice versa, invites international art students to the HFBK. At the end of their stay in Hamburg, the students exhibit their work in the Open Studios in Karolinenstraße, which are now open again to the art-interested public.

Studiengruppe Prof. Dr. Anja Steidinger, Was animiert uns?, 2021, Mediathek der HFBK Hamburg, Filmstill

Unlearning: Wartenau Assemblies

The art education professors Nora Sternfeld and Anja Steidinger initiated the format "Wartenau Assemblies". It oscillates between art, education, research and activism. Complementing this open space for action, there is now a dedicated website that accompanies the discourses, conversations and events.

Ausstellungsansicht "Schule der Folgenlosigkeit. Übungen für ein anderes Leben" im Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg; photo: Maximilian Schwarzmann

School of No Consequences

Everyone is talking about consequences: The consequences of climate change, the Corona pandemic or digitalization. Friedrich von Borries (professor of design theory), on the other hand, is dedicated to consequence-free design. In “School of No Consequences. Exercises for a New Life” at the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg, he links collection objects with a "self-learning room" set up especially for the exhibition in such a way that a new perspective on "sustainability" emerges and supposedly universally valid ideas of a "proper life" are questioned.

Annual Exhibition 2021 at the HFBK

Annual exhibition a bit different: From February 12- 14, 2021 students at the Hamburg University of Fine Arts, together with their professors, had developed a variety of presentations on different communication channels. The formats ranged from streamed live performances to video programs, radio broadcasts, a telephone hotline, online conferences, and a web store for editions. In addition, isolated interventions could be discovered in the outdoor space of the HFBK and in the city.

Public Information Day 2021

How do I become an art student? How does the application process work? Can I also study to become a teacher at the HFBK? These and other questions about studying art were answered by professors, students and staff at the HFBK during the Public Information Day on February 13, 2021. In addition, there will be an appointment specifically for English-speaking prospective students on February 23 at 2 pm.

Katja Pilipenko

Semestereröffnung und Hiscox-Preisverleihung 2020

On the evening of November 4, the HFBK celebrated the opening of the academic year 2020/21 as well as the awarding of the Hiscox Art Prize in a livestream - offline with enough distance and yet together online.

Exhibition Transparencies with works by Elena Crijnen, Annika Faescke, Svenja Frank, Francis Kussatz, Anne Meerpohl, Elisa Nessler, Julia Nordholz, Florentine Pahl, Cristina Rüesch, Janka Schubert, Wiebke Schwarzhans, Rosa Thiemer, Lea van Hall. Organized by Prof. Verena Issel and Fabian Hesse; photo: Screenshot

Teaching Art Online at the HFBK

How the university brings together its artistic interdisciplinary study structure with digital formats and their possibilities.

Alltagsrealität oder Klischee?; photo: Tim Albrecht

HFBK Graduate Survey

Studying art - and what comes next? The clichéd images stand their ground: Those who have studied art either become taxi drivers, work in a bar or marry rich. But only very few people could really live from art – especially in times of global crises. The HFBK Hamburg wanted to know more about this and commissioned the Faculty of Economics and Social Sciences at the University of Hamburg to conduct a broad-based survey of its graduates from the last 15 years.

Ausstellung Social Design, Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg, Teilansicht; photo: MKG Hamburg

How political is Social Design?

Social Design, as its own claim is often formulated, wants to address social grievances and ideally change them. Therefore, it sees itself as critical of society – and at the same time optimizes the existing. So what is the political dimension of Social Design – is it a motor for change or does it contribute to stabilizing and normalizing existing injustices?