<< With or Without Me

Tammo Rist

German artist, member of the collective project Transnational Republic. Lives and works in Berlin.



How the original idea did come that you would be working in collaboration, what was the motivation?

I don’t know, it seemed to me the best thing to do. It was accidental in a way. When I went to the art school here in Berlin, there was an announcement that there were free shops in the neighborhood, in Moabit, that you could rent for free. You could have a shop for free for a half a year. We had only to pay the bills for heating and electricity but of course I couldn’t do it alone, and I was always a person positive towards collaboration, I think. I had a colleague who had started studying with me and then (we rented the shop together) – but we always kept the space open, to invite other people…

In that time was it about proper collaboration or you just shared the place…

No, it was collaboration. I mean, the thing was that we signed a contract and handed in a concept which was that every second week there was an open night, an opening night with exhibitions, concerts, events and so on, and we just agreed that we would ask other people during these six months to join us for collaborations – and this way it went. The first opening was just my friend and me, on the second week there was already a Spanish girl that joined to us, then an Austrian girl, and then with people outside Berlin, from Hamburg, Düsseldorf and so on. It was only about collaborations with artists, so in that time we didn’t collaborate with people outside the art world – we wanted to make something for the people (and not with them).

Did you perceive anything, an intention from the part of the institution, of the academy, that was pushing you towards collaborative art?

Not really. In the art school, when you talk to teachers, they always insist on pushing your self, all is very egomaniac, they say you have to cultivate your own name, you have to become famous, that’s the way art works etc., but art school for me was basically a place where you could meet people that shared the same ideas, not more. I didn’t learn that much of technique even though there were workshops and stuff, as for me it was about people who shared your ideas, that you could start collaborating eventually.

Then did you apply the same conception onto art in general?

Yes, I did. Because I’m still working a lot in collaboration, more than half of my work is collaboration. But I also work on my own; I want my privacy, my very personal things being realised. But then, again and again, I come back (to collaborate). You know, for four and a half years I worked in the Transnational Republic, and one and a half year ago there was a point where I said I wanted to quit it, I want to give up on it…

I remember you had this point already three years go…

Yeah, but then it went on and on and it was a good time definitely, in the end of the day, but then since I finished art school and my studies, it was also a matter of time, as I had to work, earn money to sustain myself, doing bar-work and things like that, and also the fact that Transnational Republic after a time didn’t really proceed, I just decided it to stop, and I talked about it with Jacob, and he said why not only to suspend it for a time, and I did that. I’m still working together with Jacob but the priority is already my personal work.

What can be in your character that makes you suitable for collaboration…

Because I’m diplomatic…

…and what is the opposite, that is counter to collaboration?

Well, I think I’m a quite schizophrenic personality. So, on the one hand I’m very diplomatic – I’m not that kind of guy who is always pushing through his idea, I’m always trying to negotiate and to find the best way and to discuss solutions; and this is also something that attracts me. Because I think collaboration extends the possibilities for yourself, while if you keep on working alone, you just lose yourself sometimes in thoughts that are not so… I don’t know, you just get lost at some point… or I get lost. And when I’m only talking to another person, it just gives me another idea, or s/he sees the thing from another angle and that’s always interesting and I think it pushes me forward.

That was one side of your schizophrenic self…

Then there is a certain fear that you get beaten in your head when you’re in the art school, as that’s what they teach you, that you have to do it yourself; that in the end you are always alone, let’s say. That it’s a lonely field of work where you have to make yourself, your own thoughts prosperous. So there is this (conditioned) fear that I have to do it, for my own sakes.

As a kind of duty?

I wouldn’t say so because sometimes, especially in wintertime, I have amazing times being at home alone, working on my things without collaboration with anyone, not leaving the house just having a good time with myself… it’s just like for others watching TV might be. (It feels) that’s what I want to do, to follow my thoughts. I don’t know how to explain it properly… In the same time, I don’t have the imagination of working totally on my own, but I noticed there are such people and sometime I’m even jealous of them, that they do what they have to do and they don’t doubt about it. I think it’s a cool thing but my concept was never really like that. Even though my first experience as an artist was similar, like you are a painter and you never go out anymore… and even if what I’m doing now is again something similar.

Are you finishing things? Is it also a productive process, in that sense?

Yes, I’m finishing things. I didn’t do it so much in the past, I often just started something and then another thing popped up and I said, well, let’s do that then, but as I get some experience with work, it’s getting better. It is also something about Pisces, my horoscope sign. Pisces are basically schizophrenic. I’ve also heard that Pisces are very impulsive, you know, they find something and they go for it in a minute, but they don’t really finish it. And I can trace back this in my character somehow. But it got better in the meantime.

Have you ever felt exploited in a group?

No. Never.

And to turn back to your diplomatic character: did that ever mean that you would have been measuring which idea to share with the group and which one not to?

I think as long as the idea is good for the project, I would always share it. You mean keeping the idea for yourself? I never had that situation because ideas are so specific, if they are elaborated in a project, you cannot use them for yourself because you are not the project, the project is also some sort of a prominence like an organism that is thinking or is thought by people and if you tried to extract the idea from it, it doesn’t work.

Do you remember what was the most difficult to adapt to at the beginning, or maybe it still is, in collaborative art?

Well, when your ideas get unnoticed, you know. When you take care of something and draw sketches, throw in ideas and then someone would say ‘bullshit’, or just ‘not interesting’ – so this kind of rejection. I need to keep my brain going. When I start with a group, I can keep myself, but I’m dependent on my own thinking. In a group of course you have to kind of follow a line, all have to be in agreement, and when I feel like okay, this is not my idea any longer, than I have to move out.

Do you think you changed or developed in the time spent in collaborative situations?

I don’t know. I always want to collaborate with friends. So when I have an idea for a collaboration, I just call a friend and say let’s do it – and then whether he is willing or not, we do it or we don’t. So I always want to work together with people I know, that’s how Transnational Republic started, that’s how all other things started.

A hypothetical question: if there’s a young artist that comes to you to ask for your advice about what to be careful about if dedicating her/himself to collaborative art, what would you tell her/him?

I would totally recommend to go for collaboration. Nothing else, that’s the most interesting thing to do, I would say. Even though I’ve been also frustrated by it but I would never change.

You’ll be going on doing collaborative art?

Yes. In all the rest of my life. I will never work for myself as a painter sitting in his studio.

But you would always combine it with individual work, won’t you?

Sure. That’s what I have been doing.

So, just to help that young artist that is asking for your advice, you would tell that ‘you’ll be better mixing it with individual art’.

Yeah, but not for that reason. This (to be/work alone) is nice to do. It’s like reading a book for yourself. It’s not meant that you would become a start, it’s just… both are good, both are useful and valuable, and you just need both. I need both. So, this is what I would recommend to any other artist to do: do as much as you can, do anything that you feel related to. And with people is even better. You can learn from them and they can learn from you and then you are already more integrated, even things that you wouldn’t share.
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