Sandwhich Box and BaseNorth at the New Life Berlin Festival

The Sandwich Box is a metal carry box that contains a small gazebo tent for artists to erect and use as they wish in order to generate an art outcome. It has travelled widely and been used by artists all over the world as part of a collaborative art project of the same name that was started in Denmark in 2004. At its latest outing, the Sandwich Box gazebo was put up in Berlin as part of the New Life Berlin Festival by a staunch and amiable group of three young UK artists calling themselves BaseNorth. They are Sarah Stamp, Nicola Smith and Anna Puhakka. They graduated in Fine Art in 2007 from the University of Sunderland in the North East of England and now work in collaboration whilst getting their own individual art practices up and running.

Determined not to be stopped in their creative tracks by the lack of a studio after they were evicted from their Sunniside studio by property developers, BaseNorth are seeking ways of addressing the dilemma of how and where to make art in the early years after studentship when the funded space of the academic institution has gone. Resolute in their intention to make the best of things, they are proactive in promoting their work, making contacts and at the same time trying to raise awareness to the basic need of artists, like any artisans, to have somewhere to go do their work.

This then, is a good match. BaseNorth, young artists with artistic development on their mind and Wooloo Productions, the ambitious New Life Berlin hosts, cutting their teeth on festival organization and wanting to support emerging artists. Both collaborations are burning with social and artistic issues reflecting real life cultural mobility in a participatory art context in Berlin; a city that of all in Europe right now, embodies urban regeneration.

The remodelling that is going on culturally, economically and architecturally in Berlin seems to be a positive draw for artists from all over the world to come to live, work and just be here in this nascent era. A lack of affordable studio space is not the usual experience in Berlin where large dilapidated industrial spaces are waiting to be reclaimed and used by artists everywhere. Did BaseNorth know this? In Britain certainly it is a different landscape wherein artists have to beg, borrow or steal to find affordable studio space, and BaseNorth are here to tell us that. This is the point of them being here in Berlin. Whilst deciding what shape their individual professional practice will take, they will bang the drum on behalf of those of us back home who are being squeezed out of existence by the mammoth that is urban regeneration.

BaseNorth erected their Sandwich Box gazebo, which they chose to define as a ‘free mobile studio’, in the blazing sun one morning on the grass parkland area outside the Volksbuhne theatre in the centre of Berlin. Then they sat in it and waited for people to come and visit them. If you did get down on hands and knees and crawl into the tent with them you found them pink and hot, chatty and cheerful amongst a clutter of drinks cartons and snacks, crayons and sewing kits, paper balls and other remnants of sporadic art production. They described their turn at the Sandwich Box project as BaseNorth International Open Studio and in keeping with most open studios, it involved a lot of sitting, eating and talking. This was art on the move, unrefined and unfinished and gathering moss as it rolled – just what the New Life Berlin festival wants to see going on.

BaseNorth had a lot to say and were keen to explain their reasons for wanting to take part in the Sandwich Box project and then to bring it into the context of the New Life Berlin Festival. BaseNorth International Open Studio involves more than just the Sandwhich Box and the free mobile studio- there is also a postcard that they produced at a tourist gimmick machine here in Berlin. It has their temporary studio centre stage amongst the Berlin sights. The postcard has been posted to the folks back home, including to the property developers who brought BaseNorth’s Berlin project about. So far only a small number of the postcards have been made. Despite some research funding to come here BaseNorth didn’t have the euros to produce anywhere near enough of the art object part of their Sandwhich Box outcome. Such is the way of art making for most and BaseNorth seem knowing enough to do what has to be done in order to realise their ideas. Their postcard will function as publicity and fundraising tool as well as art agitprop. BaseNorth International Open Studio is a decisive and progressive outcome, one with real functionality and an eye to the future, despite its rather fleeting presence in Berlin.

BaseNorth International Open Studio prompted those of us who did engage with it to consider the impact of life on art and its production. How the sometimes unseen forces of culture and economy shape the way artists define themselves and what they make, and what strategies they develop in order to protect and nurture their practice. BaseNorth’s outcome did meet their intention and will have an impact in terms of continuing to give visibility to this important UK issue. ‘Thanks for that’ I say, for I too am in the process of having to leave my studio because of tough economic decisions by the landlord.

It would have been good to see Sandwich Box, BaseNorth International Open Studio and this energetic collaboration at work for longer than half a day. It would have been good to see more audience connect with it, with them. I was one of the Open Dialogues writers who called by to visit them on their only open morning. There were four or five of us when I was there which meant we out-numbered the artists as well as the audience. BaseNorth were welcoming and patient with all our questions, but I sensed it would all have had a little more meaning for them that morning if they had interacted with more of a local audience. There was fun to be had though, being upstaged on the lawn by two large sculptures and a glamour model being photographed by a pack of the paparazzi just feet from their tent.

One of the least visible projects on the New Life Berlin programme, it is hard to see what real impact Sandwhich Box and BaseNorth had in Berlin either conceptually or physically. Perhaps there was no special reason why Berlin was chosen by BaseNorth to make this work as it was not going to afford a directly empathic environment for the issue of urban regeneration. Maybe Berlin itself was not a good environment for this issue to be aired in, but the New Life Berlin Festival certainly was. In exposing the tensions in the relationship between the corporate and the cultural producer, in engaging in art as action that may change perception and make things happen and by addressing their work more to an international audience than the local one, it fitted the ethos of Wooloo Productions perfectly.

BaseNorth made a heartfelt if understated contribution to the Sandwich Box project and to New Life Berlin. They used the professional springboard opportunity that both projects offered to them in showcasing a pressing local issue to the global art community. Hopefully the issues BaseNorth raise will resonate and make some difference back home in the UK once the next batch of postcards are in the mail!

THE SANDWICH BOX project is formulated and conceived by Danish artist Lars Vilhelmsen in collaboration with Charlotte Mosen Jensen / Den lille Have

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