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What do you actually do? - Hannah Rath

Hannah Rath’s I SAW I WAS I consists of two rectangular canvases, one white and one black, each screen-printed with the work’s title. Repeated over and over again across the rectangular surfaces, the words blur into each other in the viewer’s mind eye, bringing out previously unnoticed similarities. These often-simple observations—“was” is simply “saw” backwards and visa versa—gain currency through Rath’s inventive use of typography, printmaking, and more recently, colour. “They’re very often banal,” she says of her word choices, “but the excitement comes from finding an interesting form or a composition that allows the audience to spot the connections between them.”

We’re in Rath’s studio, a top-floor room in a two-story building that she shares with four other artists, near Berlin’s Grenzallee subway station. The artist has only been in the space since last winter, but it’s already close to bursting, with stacks of text-filled canvases leaning against all available wall space and spools of brightly coloured thread hanging from sections of the ceiling. Based for many years in Hamburg, Rath’s move to Berlin came after she did a residency in Istanbul and got a taste for living in a bigger city. “I was supposed to stay for six months, but I ended up going back and forth between the two cities for a year and a half,” she explains. “After being in Istanbul, which is so international, it was really strange to think about going back to Hamburg full time. I realized pretty quickly that if I wanted to keep moving forward in my work I had to go somewhere else."

In many ways, going to Istanbul was a leap of faith for Rath, who had to quit the steady job she’d had since graduation to be able to take part in the residency (former and current HfbK students might recognize the artist from her previous role as an assistant in the university’s bookbinding workshop.) It was a financially risky decision for the artist, but one that she saw as vital step in her career. “It’s important to always stay fluid and trust yourself,” she says, “because good things happen when you open up to change.” For now at least, it’s a decision that appears to be working out. Rath may not, in her own words, be “getting super rich,” but apart from working a few hours a week at an art handling firm she can now sustain herself through a mix of sales and scholarships.

Living in the Turkish capital also had a positive affect on Rath’s artistic practice, giving her the confidence to add more colour to her work—for many years the artist she mostly stuck to black and white—and allowing her the freedom to pursue a series of wall-based “net” works made from weaving together lengths of chain and nylon thread, started shortly before undertaking the residency. Also new are works that saw Rath print her language-based observations on loose fabric and chainmail. When shown in her latest solo exhibition, which opened at Künstlerhaus Hamburg Frise at the beginning of this year, these pieces allowed the artist to be more responsive to the exhibition space. “I like this way of working because it has no set form,” she explains. “These pieces have different dimensions depending on how they lay, which also affects if the text is readable or not. That’s something you don’t have with a canvas. In an exhibition context it always is what it is, the only difference is if it’s lit better or worse or the room size is bigger or smaller.”

Unfortunately, this might be the last exhibition that Rath has for the foreseeable future. As is the case for many artists, Rath’s show schedule has been turned upside down due to the spread of Coronavirus. “It’s kind of hard to exhibit anything at the moment,” she says. “All my appointments and dates got cancelled—even shows in fall.” Instead, the is using the time to develop her screen-printing skills and work on her first major catalogue, STRESSED DESSERTS, which will cover the last three years of her practice. This is a familiar process for Rath, who, alongside her experience as a bookbinder, has produced many artist books throughout her career.

The publication will also be the first release in the artist-run publishing house that she recently founded with fellow HFBK graduates Rebekka Seubert, Matthias Meyer, Alexander Rischer, and Almut Hilf. All working with books in some capacity, the group decided to start the imprint, which they’ve called THE BOOKS THE BOOKS, after staging multiple exhibitions together since 2016. Although Rath admits that artist-run publishing houses are “nothing new,” she hopes that the group’s combined experience in the field will give artists—both in-and outside their circle—the chance to produce more experimental publications than might be possible elsewhere. It might be a risky time to start a new venture, but as Rath’s own journey has shown her, sometimes taking risks is its own reward.

Hannah Rath studied at HFBK Hamburg from 2003 to 2010. She passed her diploma with Prof. Pia Stadtbäumer and Prof. Dr. Hanne Loreck. More information:

HFBK graduate Chloe Stead, together with the photographer and also HFBK graduate Jens Franke, regularly meets former HFBK students to talk about work, life and art.

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?