...communal support. Altes Finanzamt is a queer_feminist artist collective, in fact a basement in the heart of Neukölln, Berlin. We often describe it as a a dirty and sparkling basement, self-organized from and with a diverse group of artists. A collective space is for a big part bound to an actual space, walls that feel safe to be and share in, but there is more to it. It's the first time that we meet in this constellation outside of our collective and we instantly feel that same space, it's a space of trust und exchange and from there things feel fragile and strong at the same time. A small group of 4 people (of 14 in total) met in December 2019 to talk about our experiences, our survival as artists in Berlins art vortex. And we were pondering around a very practical question: What is Altes Finanzamt for us? Why did we join? What units us? Each of us raised one question that we talked about, each question will be puplished in a seperate post. Shanti Suki Osman, Florence Freitag, Qwigo Baldwin and me, Diana Thielen, have been at this cozy meeting, sitting on a wooden floor with cats strolling around us with the hope to catch some of our finger-food.
Diana: I start with a first question! Do you remember the reason of joining "Altes"? Did you enter Altes with some specific expectation or desire? Or urge, or longing...what was your original move to join "Altes"?
Shanti: I want to answer this! I wanted to have a studio space, because I was at a time when I had a lot of work. And I really felt the need to have a space to work that wasn't my house. I wanted to dive into actual work a bit more and not get distracted from things in my house (also i could afford it for the first time). I found out about the space at Altes from a post by Henna and I thought, „ Oh I know them and i've been to that place before. That could be cool.“ I was still thinking „ it would be so nice to have a space“ but then also, that it could be interesting to work in a collective.I didn't realize until three or four months in how much I really needed the other people around me. I was so naive. I didn't just need a space to work, I needed the people as well and this was really wonderful. That told me a lot in itself, just opening myself up to other people.Because my sound art and radio practice had been quite solitary and often just me and my computer editing stuff. So joining Altes started as concentrated alone work , to realizing I needed a group.
Florence: I can... Wie sagt man* das auf Englisch, darauf eingehen? Daran anschließen. Because I think it's this need of a space where to share that also was my initial desire. I felt that I am a certain amount of time in Berlin and thought, that if I wanted to develop my own practice more, it would be nice to have a space that brings me out of my home, so that I'm not always sitting in front of the computer or doing my stuff in my room. I was wondering how to change this. And then Suki told me about Altes. And it's actually these last weeks at the studio, that I realized how wonderful the connecting thread through humans can be. If I wouldn't have known Suki, I would never have known Altes. I would never have known all of you. And even though the desire for having a space and for providing space for others was the initiation point, first of all space needed to be given to myself and this then is the kind of chain reaction that I find beautiful. And then, through being in the space, a lot of other realizations and desires come up. Once you have this base you ask yourself: What can you do with it and what does it mean to have a space? What kind of privilege does it open up or responsibilities? But it all started from one connection and then it grows.
Qwigo: My reasons at first were practical. I had been giving this dance course since 2010 with lesbians. And first we were in a Frauen*-Lesben-Mädchen*-Trans*-Sportverein and they gave us rooms. Then when we left the Verein I was offering the course on my own as a freelancer. I went bopping around from space to space and some of them were too expensive for our needs and the course was shrinking. I knew about so many different practice rooms or dance rooms or rehearsal rooms … but they had a concrete floor, or they weren't available on certain nights... it was the constant search for spaces. The urgent search for space where we could could carry on this Thursday night dance course. And Altes was really practical.
At the same time, I had a choreography job. Now, you can make up choreography in people's empty offices or in your bedroom ...and I did all those things! But at some point you need more space and you think differently in a different space. I was always borrowing friends‘ studios when they were out of town...
Finally one of the line dance course members said: „ Oh, there‘s this [arts] collective in Neukölln...“ And I said „ What? Something like that exists?“ And they said: „ Oh, I had no idea you were looking!“ (Laughing) So, you have to ask, you have to put out there to the universe what you need! That was Liaam, who was in Altes for a long time and was about to leave the collective, opening up the space to bring me in. At that point in the collective, things were very much in transition — seems that they always are — but in those days, I think some of the founding members, the very first or second wave, who had founded the collected in 2010, were leaving. The atmosphere was sort of ... folks pulling up roots, leaving boxes standing around ... or long gone! It was even harder than it is today to get your bearings [as a new member]. So I didn't have this feeling of connection and people. It felt very much like people were leaving the party and there was nothing to fill the vacuum in the end.
So I just offered my course. I think I did that for a good year and a half before people brought other people in and things started coming together around a sense of: „We are the new group“. This is very organic and it was very slow. I think there was some farewell, there was some composting for all kinds of things happening, before it could become where it is evolving today. And now, I'm amazed! I am really amazed at all the human networking and the fact that you've come in, Shanti or or that you've come, Diana. I've heard about all of you from each of you. You know this sort of overlapping networking that has grown in the space. There was even another member there, at the time I joined, who I knew well and who has also been a source of many different connections for me. But I didn't know they were in Altes at the time! All these sudden surprising [connections turning] into relationships have enriched my practice so much.
Diana: I also got to know about the collective from Henna. We spend some days together at Tunis in Tunesia 2017 for the international feminist art festival, called „Chouftounna“. Without knowing each other from before, we shared the Hotelroom. But just on the way to the airport Henna told me about the collective. As kind of a side note. „ Ah... by the way...we are this queer_feminist collective in Neukölln, and we are searching a new member.“
I was sitting in the cap on the way to the airport and it was the first time that I was even considering the idea of having my own space. As well as being part of a collective. Living and working in Berlin, meant for me so far : Booking and renting spaces all the time and all of the city, as I'm teaching also independently, to prepare classes. So often I was just lying and rolling on the floor. I need some time to arrive in my body! I need to arrive to a certain state or sensing, before I can even prepare classes. But the time was all the time tikking and I had spend two hours in Theaterhaus Mitte, lying on the floor and did not prepare classes at all! (Laughing) That was kind of my daily life like for a couple of years in Berlin: The feeling of being in spaces without being really productive. But in fact I was really longing for being not productive! I had a genuine longing for being able to lay on the floor and doing nothing: This nothingness is already giving a lot of information for the body and also later than for my classes. So I think the very first step to join Altes was the need for my own space that I could use without time pressure. Being part of a collective was scaring me at that time a lot, as I was so busy with so many different groups of people. I was hesitating how that will work out. Especially with the diverse artists that are using that space. I guess I only realized by time how much I also needed the people around me. That I really have an urge of not being this independent lonely fighting artist.
Shanti Suki Osman is an artist working with sound and song.
© Helin Bereket
Florence Freitag arbeitet als Performerin, Video- & Stimmkünstlerin, Autorin und Kuratorin und ist von kollaborationen Austauschprozessen und instabilen (Hör-)Körpern, Klängen und Bildern inspiriert. www.florencefreitag.com
© Pauline Dalifard
Qwigo Baldwin alisa Qwigo Flux is active in Berlin in theater-making, storytelling, body music and vocal improvisation.
Diana Thielen creates bodybased art in Berlin and is usually busy with the actual failure of multitasking. www.dianathielen.com