In 2013 I moved myself and my “project space” to Berlin from London, escaping high cost and low income, lured by a seemingly interesting and active scene that combined or confused galleries and project spaces including: Societé, Kraupa-Tuskany Zeidler, Future Gallery, and Club Midnight, all which were seemingly young and adventurous, at least from the other side. Sadly the scene that brought me here soon after dissipated, disbanded and became subject to international critical discourse branded as Post Internet.
Luckily the same year the galerist Barak Bar-Am helped me find a second home for The Composing Rooms in Goethestrasse, Charlottenburg, then offered me a job working for his new gallery upstairs, Neumeister Bar-Am. It was there I met Lauryn Youden, who co-founder of the project space Ashley, and through my program I was introduced to founders of other spaces such as Oracle.
“Today its almost automatically international as people are constantly moving between countries and traveling”, said the Oracle founders. So sharing this feeling when asked to suggest interesting international project spaces in Berlin, I chose to challenge the notion, and resultantly include several spaces founded by Germans. Additionally considering dubious differentiation between spaces for art (try creating a set of reasons why a kunsthalle, museum, gallery or project space differ), I choose to challenge the notion of a project space, favouring low budget adventurous projects that do not see geographic or conceptual boundaries.
One solution is the studio-cum-gallery-cum-mini-institution and residency: Ashley. Founded by Canadians Kate Brown and Lauryn Youden, Ashley is uniquely collaborating with and supported by the Embassy of Canada, while un-uniquely grew out of a bedroom project, now residing in building in a backyard in Kreuzberg which sounds familiar to Berlin. „It has a permanently locked elevator shaft, crisp white false gallery walls ¬ we have no idea what lies behind them , a second door that is mysteriously locked without a door knob or key hole, and traces of spongy wallpaper covered in layers of paint”, say Lauryn and Kate.
Despite their supporters Ashley do not try to promote a specific Canadian identity, but rather a “plurality of Canadian identities and perspectives inclusive of ones that are not Canadian”, such as Jenna Sutela, an artist and researcher from Finland currently investigating slime mould, and the young, berlin-based poet and sound artist Hanne Lippard originating from the UK. The Berlin-based, Canadian artist AA Bronson wrote already in 1983: Canadian artists are “typically unable to picture the reality of a Canadian art scene except as a dream projected upon the national landscape as a sea-to-shining-sea connective tissue”. Ashley’s approach is fluid, also reflected in their dispersion of the Canadian diaspora exhibited in their program. Shaun Motsi, Alex Turgeon, Emma LaMorte, Emmy Skensved, Grégoire Blunt and Athena Papdopouloas, to whom they gave her first solo exhibition in Europe, are just some of these Canadian diaspora, living in Germany, Stockholm, Greece, the UK and elsewhere. “There is a huge irony in the term sea-to-shiny-sea, as it recalls our national anthem and the colonial implications of our position”, they say. „We don't want to be cultural exporters, but a continuation of Canada's artist-run centre's mandates to explore the shaky and constantly shifting sense of self, a sense of self that is known to be very open to others.”
Pushkin & Gogol, founded by Kevin Rubén Jacobs in 2017, is a continuation of a project from his hometown Dallas, Texas previously called Oliver Francis Gallery (OFG.XX), that shares this openness. OFG has existed transiently, since 2011 and since the early days we shared a enthusiasm over a few artists via email. Local media described OFG.XX as ‘scrappy, can-do, ultra-hip’ and ‘the closest thing to the in-your-face sensibility found in New York’s Lower East Side or Berlin’, suggesting the ‘provocative’ artwork perhaps not so suited to most locals. Therefore not a surprise Jacobs moved himself and his gallery to Berlin, due to open in October.
The past exhibition program of provocative work has included artists from around the world notably: Dutch artist Rachel de Joode who is based in Berlin and included in the Body Holes exhibition by New Scenario, Puppies Puppies, who recently exhibited at The Oracle, Montenegro-born, New York-based Darja Bajagic who merges “the conventions of painting and porn” and established artist Kristin Oppenheim from Hawaii.
Jacobs, who doesn’t see boundaries as to who he can work with, should certainly be missed amongst the Dallas art scene, where he also held a curatorial position with Goss Michael Foundation between 2011 and 2015. When asked if he considers an international audience he said that Pushkin & Gogol is for anyone who is interested, adding: “It’s physically in Charlottenburg (open doors during open hours), but exists mainly through its URL”. Jacobs is hyper aware of the online audience, after all he said it was hard to engage the local audience in Dallas. What will he bring to Berlin? An amazing Texan attitude, that is, humble, open, not afraid of having fun and not to serious, in his words: „Entertainment.“