Each installment features a writer, artist, or curator discussing an underrated artist, artwork, movement, or museum.
Today we're with Katharina Arndt, an artist living in Berlin, in discussion of the Berlin-based bookstore Re:Surgo!. You say it's not just a bookstore—what makes it more? When did you first come into contact with it?
Re:Surgo! is an extraordinary mix of a bookstore and gallery and silk screen printing house—producing zines, limited editions of artist they love, as well as their own stuff (it's also an artist studio run by Christian Gfeller and Anna Hellsgard).
When you walk around the area of Rosenthaler Platz / Torstrasse / Mitte in general, there are a lot of cool design-y places, chic stores, white cube galleries or trendy book/magazine stores, but nothing like Re:Surgo! You cannot so easily categorize it. I found them in 2012, when I searched for art book stores in Berlin. The first impression when you look through the window into the small shop space is of a very arty mix of books, really colorful and handmade. You want to enter this space, touch, thumb through the books and explore the hidden, weird worlds in it. Or have a look at the color-loving minimalistic prints of Gfeller and Hellsgard, or have a look at the printing studio in the back, or just have a nice conversation with one of them.
Besides all the cool stuff you can see, you recognize that they really love what they are doing—and that impresses me a lot, because it's not easy to fulfill your dreams and make a living from it.
How would you describe their taste and aesthetic?
They describe their concept as building bridges between contemporary art and graphic design, and creating a public platform for dialogue between artists. They are influenced by graphic art, underground cinema-posters, comics, and illustrations, and their love for the medium of silk screen printing. I think they have a really good nose for talented drawings, showing us the human / spiritual abyss, and suppressed desires with all of our fears of death.
One great example of a recent book they published is David Sandlin's Pure-Ton-o-Fun Co Scatalog. The style of drawing is comic-based, the weird content is shown in the uneasy drawn line of the artist transferred into the colorful silk screen media. It is delightful to have a look at our sins. Another example of this is Night Train by Stu Mead. The style of drawing here is watercolor-based, really dark and classic, reminds you of something traditional, like etchings from Goya, but what you really see is this sweet little girl's darkest dreams.
The work of Gfeller and Hellsgard itself is focused on colors following minimalistic, informal ideas. As master silk screeners, they are constantly searching for innovations, and the boundaries of the medium in every new print. Have a look here—I love these prints.
Gfeller started experimenting with silk screen printing in 1995 and called his project Bongout, doing zines as well as music-covers. The collaboration of Gfeller and Hellsgard began in 2001 with several projects, and in 2008 they opened the space at Torstraße. In the beginning, the focus on retailing art books of other publishers was stronger, but decreased for the benefit of their own projects. That was why, in 2012, they renamed it Re:Surgo!, to concentrate on their combined energies.
Re:Surgo!'s editions have been exhibited worldwide, and are in numerous permanent collections such as the British Library, MoMA NY, MoMA SF, Stanford Art Library, Harvard University's Fine Art Library, the State Museum of Berlin's Art Library, the Yale University Art Collection, and many more. The Collection of the University of Minnesota recently bought the complete silk screened artists' book archive of Bongout (1995-2012).
Why do you think bookstores like Re:Surgo! are so important to the artist community?
Re:Surgo! is such an inspiring project, because it tries to combine the love for underground art and music with graphic design and contemporary art—without disclaiming one of them. It leaves the well-known common categories, and is brave enough to create something new. On one hand, it's a model of working hard and believing in what they are doing. On the other hand, Re:Surgo! opens a door for dialogue with other artists, and the broad public, giving them the opportunity to showcase and spread their artworks.
Do you think the 'community' aspect of the art world has become more or less relevant recently?
I see it, in a way, as antipole to the big, never sleeping city. Many art-focused people come to Berlin from the art schools across the country, excited young foreigners too. It's a wave that flows in and brings fresh energy! But community is a fixed point, a kind of a base you need. Maybe you can compare it with family and friend base for your personal life; you need for your business a good network, and partners you trust and you know for a long time.
How does the artistic community in Berlin differ from those of other places you've been? New York?
I imagine New York as even bigger, tougher and faster than Berlin! Here you don’t have just one big artistic community. There is one for every taste, i.e. one just for females, one just for female painters. Communities are based on where you are coming from or where you have studied. There are communities of particular galleries, there must be thousands.
All images courtesy of Re:Surgo!