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What do you actually do? – Niclas Riepshoff

Niclas Riepshoff may have only moved from Hamburg to Berlin last summer, but it’s clear that he’s settled in just fine. Not only has he found a place to live — a spacious two-room apartment in Kreuzberg that doubles as a studio — but he also had his first solo exhibition in the city earlier this year at Stadium, a small project space on Potsdamer Straße with a reputation for presenting emerging artists. When we meet, the show is closed due to Covid-19 restrictions, so instead Riepshoff and I sit together, coffee in hand, flicking through pictures on his laptop. Taking its name from Die Zweite Hand, a defunct listings newspaper that used to be produced where Stadium is now located, the exhibition brought history to life through a series of site-specific, wall-based panels, which combined old pages of the Die Zweite Hand with blinking LEDs. “The lights were connected with a mini-computer so they would light up in different rhythms,” the artist explains. “I wanted it to look like information, coming in and coming out — that the lights were somehow embedded in or connected to something outside room.”

This interest in communication, between works, eras, people, and places, is a recurring theme in Riepshoff’s predominately sculptural output. For his BA graduate exhibition at the HFBK University of Fine Arts in Hamburg, for instance, the artist remade two Jugendstil sculptures that stand in front of the university’s grand entrance in papier-mâché (This is How we Stand, 2017). In the hands of another artist, this might seem somewhat hubristic, but there’s a lightness to Riepshoff’s intervention that comes from the straightforwardness of his approach and his tendency to work with materials more closely associated with crafts than fine arts. “I'm often starting from the point of asking myself: Where am I right now? What information is around me? What resources can I use?” he explains. “I often see something that I then try to repeat, and through this repetition it inevitably transforms into something else.”

Such an approach was also reflected in Riepshoff’s second solo exhibition of the year, which took place at the Hamburg gallery 14 a. Titled Berliner Öfen (Berliner ovens), the show featured a series of small replicas of traditional ceramic coal-burning ovens (in German Kachelofen). Before the invention of furnaces and central heating, these ovens were the only source of warmth in apartments throughout Central and Eastern Europe. Riepshoff got the idea for the sculptures, he tells me, from his own apartment search in Berlin, where 30,000 estimated apartments are still heated with Kachelöfen, as well as a prior experience in the city. “I was visiting my friend in Schöneberg when he said, ‘Wait a second I have to make it warm here,’ and started shoveling coals into his oven,” Riepshoff remembers. “It was like two parallel worlds: he has a super fancy computer and then this really old-fashioned way of staying warm.” Although it might seem strange, there is also a practical reason for not opting or asking for an upgrade: “When you have one of these ovens your rent is much cheaper,” the artist explains. “Taking them out can give your landlord an excuse to raise the rent.”

For the exhibition, Riepshoff drastically reduced the size of these “massive interior objects” to create “small, kind of cute sculptures” with built-in heating systems that made them hot to the touch. Playing with scale and adding “live” elements, like heating, are techniques Riepshoff frequently employs. Alongside the LED works at Stadium, for example, the artist also included two over two-meter high Papier-mâché replicas of E.T.’s glowing finger. Riepshoff brought in this external reference, he tells me, to avoid the exhibition becoming “too hermetic,” but it was also a way to encourage visitors to have a physical response to his sculptures — something that might be missing in their day-to-day art viewing experiences.

“We're very much limited to tiny squares—well maybe not limited, but we often agree on experiencing art in that digital way,” he says. “When I make work, I want to escape that sphere, even if just to have a different experience within my day.”

The desire to disrupt static viewing experiences is extended through the sculptures’ live elements, which, in addition to heat, have also included light and sound. “I always tend make something that is not really captured in the documentation of the artwork, to have one layer that is inaccessible through the circulation of the work online,” Riepshoff says. “For ‘Berliner Öfen,’ the tactility provides that layer. You are supposed to touch the sculptures and get a warm sensation that produces different bodily reactions and triggers emotions.”

Given this focus on tactility, it seems especially cruel that both of Riepshoff’s exhibitions had to close early due to social distancing restrictions. But after a busy year, the artist has wisely used the downtime as a chance to regroup and think about new projects. “In the beginning of lockdown, I thought I was going to get everything done,” he says with a smile, “then I decided to embrace not doing anything because when does that ever happen?”

Niclas Riepshoff is an artist based in Berlin. He studied at the HFBK from 2013-17 and 2018-19 with Andreas Slominski and 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 part of 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?