The contemporary artists on how they came to call a Berlin water pumping station home.
Since their creative partnership began in 1995, contemporary artists Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset have based their collaborations on breaking down the barriers between public and private spaces. “The conventional notion of what’s considered public and private is a social construct that we’ve inherited from past generations and needs to be constantly reevaluated,” Michael says. When they saw an advertisement for a water pumping station in Berlin’s Neukölln neighborhood 10 years ago, they adopted this concept while developing their own uniquely structured space. For years, the building sat unclaimed on an unassuming residential street adjacent to a small overgrown meadow covering the former reservoir behind it. It had remained empty because no one could imagine how to appropriate such a large space in a non-industrial location—that is, until Michael and Ingar found it. “We were looking for a place that could meet many different needs, such as workshops, office space, archival space, living space and social space,” Michael says. After purchasing the sprawling warehouse-like structure, they renovated and divided the building into a number of different zones to be used for domestic life, work and socializing. “On a typical day here, there can be up to a dozen people working on different projects and eating lunch together in the kitchen,” Ingar says. “We also have a number of guest rooms and some more domestic-looking areas where we have meetings. Flexibility is key.”
Although the former couple both lived here for many years, Michael currently splits his time between London and Berlin, and the space now operates primarily as the main studio for their artistic practice under the name Elmgreen & Dragset. Their staff works from various areas in the building and seasonally shifts between the open main floor in the summer and a smaller winter office to keep warm, as a building this large is notoriously difficult to heat. Features such as the main hall’s 42-foot (13-meter) ceiling are used to create full-scale mock-ups for installation pieces, and the front doors swing open so crated artwork can be moved into and out of the studio. Michael and Ingar have filled the rooms with a lot of their furniture from past shows and art projects. These items serve as a constant reminder of the evolution of both their space and their artistic practice. “When we use furniture in our exhibitions, it’s chosen to convey a certain emotion. When it leaves the context of the exhibition space and is used in our home, the functionality usually remains, but the meaning slightly shifts,” Ingar says. “After all, there’s a good portion of ourselves in any of the characters we invent for our projects.”
This story appeared in The Kinfolk Home in 2015.