de en

What do you actually do? – Katja Aufleger


Katja Aufleger’s studio-cum-apartment is in a former furniture shop on Urbanstraße, a busy high street that runs through the Berlin districts of Neukölln and Kreuzberg. She found and renovated the 300 square meter space herself, creating a shared live-work situation that closely mirrors the one she left behind in Hamburg, where she was based for almost a decade before moving to the German capital four years ago. “It would be weird for me to rent a normal flat now,” the 37-year-old sculptor jokes. “I find it difficult to wrap my head around the concept of having separate sections for living and working!”

Adjacent to a large kitchen where she often throws dinner parties with her two artist roommates, Aufleger’s section of the warehouse mirrors this sentiment: Most of the single room is given over to art storage and desk space with her bed unceremoniously pushed into one corner, where it’s partly covered by a curtain. “It works best for me if the working area is the main part,” she explains from a grey sofa piled high with art books. “I can put everything else, like a place to sleep, around that.”

The situation is made easier, Aufleger tells me, by the fact that she primarily uses her room for emails and organisation, with the bulk of her work coming to life in specialized workshops around the country. For her 2019 installation, Sirens (Al Wakra Vol.I-III), for instance, Aufleger worked with glass blowers in a small town near Hannover, as well as with organ builders in Berlin to create a series of functional glass instruments. Made out of sand that she collected in Qatar, Aufleger had the idea for the installation when she was researching the country for a residency application. “I was looking into the area and I stumbled over the fact that there is a so-called ‘singing sand dune,’ in Al Wakrah,” Aufleger says of this natural phenomenon, which occurs in a number of deserts around the world. “I had it in my head for ages that I wanted to do something about singing sand dunes, but I didn’t know what. Then one day I suddenly knew I wanted to make an instrument.” As with many of Aufleger’s projects, once she had decided what she wanted to do, it took a large amount of persuasion to get other people on board. “I didn’t even know if it was going to work at first,” she explains. “And it’s such a small amount of money for these kinds of workshops so you have to find someone who is open-minded.” The key to this situation, according to Aufleger, is persistence. “I don’t phone. I don’t email. I just go and annoy them. It’s the only way you can do it!” she says with a laugh.

This wasn’t the first time that Aufleger worked with glass. For her diploma exhibition at HFBK Hamburg, she created a series of interlocking handblown glass sculptures, collectively titled Bang! (2013/14), which she filled with potentially explosive chemicals. Although created over seven years ago, the works are still an important touchstone in Aufleger’s practice. “For me, it’s about this frozen moment before the bang,” she explains. “The artwork becomes a vehicle for this fleeting moment of time.” In Newton’s Cradle (2013), Aufleger took this concept one step further, filling three glass balls hanging from the ceiling with rope with sulfuric acid, nitric acid, and glycerin, which combined create nitroglycerin, one of the most powerful known explosives.

What links these works—beyond their inherent dangerousness and somewhat caustic humor—is that they involve the imagination of their audience, who, according to Aufleger, must “put the parts together themselves.” The same can be said for the artist’s most recent work, Remaining Pieces (2020), which is currently on view at STUDIO BERLIN, an exhibition developed by the Boros Collection in cooperation with Berghain. The piece comprises a vinyl record of sounds defined by the geology of the moon, with the different heights of the moon’s surface translated into differing frequencies. Listening to the sound, amplified by a vinyl player installed on the club’s balcony, viewers are invited to imagine the moon’s many craters through the record’s strange cacophony of tones.

Aufleger isn’t a Berghain regular—she’s only been “four or five times”—but she was delighted to be included, especially with a work that fits so well with the location.“ You could say a lot about the moon, the night, vinyl and nightclubs,” says Aufleger, “but I usually prefer to let the work do the talking!”

Looking forward, visitors will soon be able to experience Newston’s Cradle and a selection of her Bang! sculptures at the Museum Tinguely in Basel. These works will be on view alongside a number of installations and videos as part of her forthcoming solo exhibition at the prestigious institution in December 2020. Also opening at the same time will be her third show at Basel-based gallery STAMPA, where she’ll show new photographs of Molotov cocktails made from perfume bottles. Chosen for their ridiculous titles—the invitation includes a flaming bottle of Giorgio Armani Emporio’s “Because It’s You”—the pieces combine threat and humor in a way that has become characteristic of Aufleger’s work. Before leaving, I ask if showing such volatile work is going to earn her a reputation. “Well,” she replies with a smile, “many of the shows I have done seem to be accompanied by a call from the local fire station.”

Katja Aufleger is an artist living in Berlin. She studied at the HFBK from 2009-2013 with Andreas Slominski and Matt Mullican.

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.

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.

photo: Tim Albrecht

Art defies Corona: Graduate Show 2020

With a two-month delay, the Graduate Show took place this year on the 19 and 20 September. More than 140 students showed their artistic graduation projects, from painting to sound installation.

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?