Interviewed by Sarie Nijboer, Bpigs
The name LAGE EGAL has become well known within the Berlin art scene. Over the past 8 years, artist-curator Pierre Granoux has been developing many curatorial projects, aiming to offer a space for production and wider visibility to artists. We spoke to Pierre about his program, his fascination for word play (the word LAGE is EGAL reversed) and his thoughts on the project space art scene in Berlin.
You have been organising many exhibitions over the last few years. Can you tell us more about how it all started?
LAGE EGAL started from a stressful situation 8 years ago. We lived in this beautiful apartment in Prenzlauer Berg — albeit a bit of a broken house — and I had my studio in the Hinterhof below. A new building was being erected in the gap next to our house. When it was finished, we suddenly had water between the walls of our house from top to bottom. Everything was damaged in my studio, and it took more than 6 months to renovate. In the meantime I started searching for another studio. This is how I found the space on Danziger Strasse. Many of my friends asked why I wasn’t organising exhibitions in the space, as they found it so beautiful. So, I began to organise exhibitions with two other friends. It was quite banal — like an artist run space, mostly exhibiting the work of friends. After two years, I continued on my own and slowly moved into a nonprofit space. My aim was, and still is, to do it well. That means, having a nice website, good advertising, excellent wine, beautiful glasses. It has to be nice and pleasant.
Did your practice of organizing exhibitions influence your practice as an artist?
Many people know that I’m a big fan of Marcel Duchamp. He had also invested a lot in other artists and curated exhibitions himself. His curatorial work was a very important part of his work as an artist. Knowing this confirmed my work as a curator, because the artist remained the artist. For a while I wrote ‘Pierre is an artist – curator’. I thought it was important: I’m an artist minus curator. I’ve stopped calling myself that, because now everyone is an artist – curator, and everyone wants to be a curator. I’ve now gone back to the idea of a project space. On the LAGE EGAL website I also took out the word ‘Exhibitions’ and replaced it with ‘Curatorial Projects’, because they mainly are projects. The word ‘project’ is often being used in music. For example, there is a group of musicians, and one of the group has a project with another guitarist. That means you have your band, and you are still the artist, but you also have a project on the side. When people ask me whether I would call Lage Egal a project space or an artist run space, I don’t have a concrete answer. In fact, what I prefer is the word ‘off-space’. This is a name for a space that is not in, but also not out. It doesn’t fit into one label; it can be many labels.
What are your thoughts on the role of project spaces in the art scene of Berlin?
Many active artists are constantly asking themselves why they do what they do, and how their work looks in a space. For them, exhibitions are very important. Galleries are flooded with artists, and they simply cannot finance all the artists in the world. It doesn’t only take money to organise exhibitions, but also courage and flexibility. Artists have this energy, and many who work in artist run spaces have that quality. Friends often laugh at me and say, “soon all artists from Berlin will have exhibited with you”. It’s true, I do a lot of exhibitions with a lot of artists. Over 8 years I may have exhibited more than 800 artists. For me, it’s normal; I see that as my job. Maybe a better name for it would be ‘platform’. My role is to offer a platform and to give visibility and a professional setting to the artists.
In 2017 you moved to a new location in Lichtenberg. What is the differences with the former space at Danziger Strasse with regard to audience?
In Danziger Strasse, the audience was always changing. There was a fixed amount of people who came regularly, but also new people. What was different about Danziger Strasse was that I lived next to the project space. That was a big advantage for me, because I could go back and forth quickly. With Lichtenberg, I was a bit scared at the beginning, because Danziger Strasse was the birthplace of Lage Egal. I was afraid that a new location would change it. But over the years I have also regularly organised exhibitions at other venues, and discovered that thinking about strategies is a lot of fun. How will I get the audience here? How can I communicate to them? What role does the location and area play? That was very exciting, and I learned a lot from it. It also meant that my move to Lichtenberg was already somewhat secure. Here, I like to do it a bit differently. There is this feeling of being far away from the center of Berlin. But what is the center? When I go to Charlottenburg for an opening, it seems far away to me. But that’s Berlin, too. Because that feeling for people is so strong, I have to plan accordingly — for example, scheduling a Vernissage on the weekend, so that it could perhaps be combined with a visit to the Don Xuan center. People could then tell friends and family, “I visited Lage Egal at the end of the world and was briefly in Vietnam”, for example. Once people know about it, they realise it is only 20 minutes by tram. You have to experience it first. By bike it is even a small holiday trip.
Next to both locations, I also have another space called ‘IN THE RACK ROOM’. I always rented my former atelier to other people, but that often lead to problems. Then I told a friend that I would like to organise solo exhibitions, and he said “Maybe you just need another room where you can organise that”. And then I realized that I already had a room. I renovated the atelier and turned it into an exhibition space. The artists I invite take over the Instagram account for one or two weeks in order to show their process. The concept is quite different; it is more private, but also open to all. It offers new possibilities and requires a different strategy. Curating also means discussing and making decisions. We are here to experiment and to try something, but in the end an exhibition must give you a good feeling — like going to the theatre or reading a book. I want to offer something beautiful — a pleasant environment — to be remembered.
You often work with text in your work, but also in the program of Lage Egal. Is this a common thread in your projects?
As an artist, I am very interested in editions, artist books, the question of the original in art, reproduction and copy. I am also very interested in words, wordplay and so on. If a curator or artist comes to me and asks whether I am interested in a collaboration concerned with any of these topics, I’m immediately up for it. But I also try to stay open. Sometimes artists or curators come to me with something that I find strange, but I feel their passion and see how intelligently they talk about their work. Their work can have aspects that I am not familiar with, and because I’m curious, I say yes to these projects. They often turn into something beautiful.
You mentioned before that texts are not only important for your program, but also for you as an artist. Can you tell us more about that?
I mostly work in the direction of copy and text. I have worked with the concept of Marcel Duchamp’s Bottle Rack, as well as with Albrecht Dürer story of Melancholia. Making art from great artworks was an important part of my practice. Then I also started developing artist books and became interested in the history of it. It naturally evolved into writing texts and wordplay. I started as a painter, but then went into sculpture. I was alone in this giant studio and asked myself, ‘what am I doing now?’ I started making letters from metal. What interests me about letters, is that it’s a point of access to your work. People recognise the shape. I’m very interested in people who write texts from mathematics. I found all of Duchamp’s books very interesting, as well as the books by Raymond Roussel or Brian O’Doherty. I have many of these books at home, and in different languages such as French, English and German. Every language offers something different. Even though I know the books quite well, it’s as though I have the opportunity to discover something new – I like this feeling. I always try to stay away from what I already know.
What are the next projects coming up?
The next exhibition ‘Learning from Tropical Island’ is created by artist Pauline Curnier Jardin, who is a guest professor at the art school in Kassel. She wanted to show her students’ project and asked me whether I would like to do something with it. I always find the idea of working with students very interesting. These young artists are hyper-motivated and dare to experiment. For example, they want to build a swimming pool. The exhibition is concerned with the replication of colonial structures and various ethical issues, including ecological wastefulness, the eroticisation of the exotic, and the tropical as colonial euphemism.
The second upcoming exhibition will be taking place at the end of June. The idea for this exhibition started with an artist catalog that I received as a gift. The catalog is called ‘Crap meets Gap’, in which there are only images and no text. Then there was this married couple from Berlin who had an exhibition together in Bavaria. I found the idea of a couple exhibiting together very interesting. We decided to transport the exhibition from Bavaria and bring it here. I’m also very interested in the idea of a gap, as something between places, not only because of the concept, but also because I was born in Gap, France. Lastly, it is also about my current situation here in Lichtenberg. The city planning of Berlin-Lichtenberg has threatened my neighbours from the Haubrok Foundation with a fine of 500,000 euros if they would continue organising exhibitions. The idea behind it is that it would prevent the area from becoming gentrified. I have no idea what will happen and what the consequences will be for LAGE EGAL. I have lost a month now and it has brought me a lot of stress. I’m trying to bridge this gap of not knowing. The title of the exhibition will be ‘Mind the Gap’. It is totally a banal title, but it does describe my current situation quite well.
(photo credit © Klaus Killisch)