We walk into the court yard of an old factory. The giant buildings arise on both our sides and the rough industrial atmosphere, that seems to have popped out of nowhere, intensifies and encourages a story about unspotted potential. By now we are unaware of what we will find in the buildings, and the curiosity for finding out only rises as we come closer. All we know is that we are about to meet artist Clemens Behr.
If you don’t know Clemens Behr, make sure to check out his amazing work before you continue reading. His installations won’t be included in this post, since they’re always build on location. Below you can see a video that includes his works from 2012, executed in New Delhi, Berlin, Milano, São Paulo, Barcelona, Sidney, Oslo, Rio de Janeiro, Paris, London and more.
We find ourself on the corner of Lobeckstraße and Ritterstraßer in Kreuzberg, Berlin, and from the other side of the court yard a guy in black t-shirt and pants waves at us. We walk up a staircase, through some dark hallways, pass a door with the sign “Kantine,” – a forceful smell of vietnamese cusine fills the space, and after a couple more steps we arrive to Clemens‘ workspace. The space have high ceilings, there’s stuff everywhere and the industrial feel of the former water tab factory is still intact. Like with Clemens’ work the mish-mash of different objects, art supplies, tools and plants in the room almost forms a physical collage and it seems like the ideal environment for his creations. “I moved in here in January. I had a studio at the university, but there were too many people around all the time, and it was hard to get space and time to work.”
A calm but hardworking artist
Clemens just got home from a longer travel that took him to Sweden, Russia and France, where he was asked by different art festivals to do several installations, and now he is in the middle of planning his second solo show this year, which will be up and running only about a week from now (“Splitter” at the Gestalten Space, from June 13th – August the 4th 2013). In an interposed phrase, he mentions another solo show in Cypres this September and one in São Paulo in January 2014.
Clemens is a modest and very friendly guy and even though he seems to have many projects in the air, he’s really calm and focussed.
Two guys enter the room with a wheelbarrow filled with wood. We find out that Clemens is sharing the studio with 44Flavours; a small art/design studio, that we have already planned to visit as well, we just didn’t know that they worked from the same space. The two guys are Sebastian from 44Flavours and Alex; a good friend who helps out on different projects.
After a small chat, Sebastian leaves for the upstair office, Alex starts working and we get back to our talk with Clemens.
Nothing to put on a postcard
“You mean, when I escaped from Dortmund?” Clemens replies, with a smile on his face, when we ask how long he’s been living in Berlin. Originally Clemens is born in 1985 in a small town called Koblenz but he moved to Dortmund to study graphic design around 2007.
Clemens’ describtion of Dortmund isn’t too flattering and besides from the graffiti playgrounds of old abandoned factories, there is not much to highlight; “There’s nothing at all to put on a post card.”
Already before he started studying, Clemens did graffiti. An idea about abstracting the normal form of spray painted wall pieces, that had already been in his mind for some time, started to evolve. “When you paint in abandoned factories, you can use different elements and depths to complete your piece. You can start a letter on one wall and continue on another many meters away.” The three-dimensional aspect inspired Clemens in his work and the materials, together with the stories and associations that they contributed with, became an intergrated part of his art. This free and intuition-based way of working wasn’t so accepted at the school though – it had no direct purpose, so it couldn’t be viewed upon as graphic design.
Clemens moved to Barcelona for a year where he suddenly felt a connection to the public space, and it was here he began to use the streets as settings for his works. “Because I didn’t understand the language, I didn’t know what people were talking about and that, in a sense, made the city anonymous to me. This made it much easier for me to perform my works.”
After he came back to Dortmund, with new inspiration to finish his bachelor, he decided to take his interest for the third dimension into his graduation project. He borrowed an old wedding shop full of romantic and pink interior and during 7 weeks he managed to transform the kitch apperance into a full installation (Avalanche) that wrapped the space around itself and ensured him his bachelor in graphic design.
My cousin owns some apartments in Berlin, and luckily they where just about to do some renovations, when I finished school, so I was able to move in there, almost without any rent, for a couple of months.” Clemens took the change of escaping Dortmund, moved to Berlin and is now studying a master in fine arts on UDK (Universität der Künste Berlin).
Rearranging the pieces
In many of his works, Clemens balances on the fine line between slick and trash, and the process of using materials that are found on site, almost makes his installations camouflage into their surroundings. “It’s a bit like cutting up a postcard and then rearranging the pieces,” Clemens explains, and tells us about how the location and “background” always plays a major role in the compositions and the finished works. “It’s like half the rent – as we say in german.” Clemens looks over at Alex, who is working hard on finishing a wooden house with 44Flavours, and they both laugh.
“My process is pretty much the same every time I do installations. I work very randomly, put things together and try to use all of the wood. I almost never do sketches as it’s close to impossible to nail the exact same expression. I keep on composing and balancing out till I can’t think of more to add; I’m just randomly aware.” When Clemens finishes his pieces they appear as abstract paintings or collages that together with the environment both fall in, stick out and twist our expectations to the urban room.
Working with perishable materials in the constant spirit of change, that public spaces involves, photography have become a big part of his work. Like any streetart- or graffiti artist, Clemens understand the importance of documenting with both photo and video, and by doing so he makes sure that his works live on. Besides that, he is able to control how the works are percieved by people who are not lucky enough to see the real thing. “It’s important for me to control which angels the work is seen from. Often there’s some specific angels from which the installations looks best – for instance if there are a line on an element in the foreground, that continues in the background. But the physical experience is of course still important.”
Fulfilling the potential
Clemens is an artist with a fine sense for composition and his straightforward approach to installations surely makes him stick out. His background in graffiti and graphic design has merged into a unique, and very recognizable visual language, that continues to amaze us, and that we one day hope to experience in real life. Hours have passed so quickly and the smell for the “Kantine” downstairs, has just begun to leak through the floor. We leave the room together with Clemens and Alex, as stories of future projects comes to life. After having lunch together, we walk back out to the coner of Lobeckstraße and Ritterstraßer in Kreuzberg and look back on the old factory building in a whole new light. Here the potetial of the abandoned and devalued is, without a doubt, fully being utilized.
Rikke Luna (f. 1988) og Matias Albæk-Falk (f. 1988) er stiftere af idoart.dk, og driver derudover formidlingsbureauet I DO ART Agency samt I DO ART Books.