Mixed Material Arts

by Robert Hemmleb, Laura Helena Wurth

If an idea is good, it’s praised and celebrated. If it’s really good, it’s put into practice in other places too, because a really good idea responds to needs that are global rather than local.

New York
The non-profit organisation Material for the Arts has been based in New York for over 40 years and focuses on reusing materials and objects from the cultural sector. Its aim is to support the independent scene and social institutions and to practice sustainability in the cultural sector by offering used materials donated by theatres, cultural institutions and fairs. Reusing objects that were previously part of different artistic productions also prompts people to reimagine them. “Dedicated To Inspiring Imagination Through Creative Reuse” is the motto of Materials for the Arts, which illustrates that this is more than just a storage facility for old theatre props. It’s about developing a sustainable approach, expressed by the history of objects and their different uses, and it’s about the inherent potential of these objects.

The most bizarre props are created for cultural productions. Often, they’re things that don’t even exist in the world; they can only be dreamt up by artists outside the bounds of everyday use. They are not born of necessity; they are products of the imagination, which is why once the production is over, it’s difficult to repurpose them. However, the non-profit collection recognises the potential of these objects to influence further creative processes and brings them together; a prop might be the last piece of the puzzle in a kindergarten’s new treehouse, allowing the institution to complete and reimagine it. Thus, it’s not only the objects that are used again; it’s also the ideas behind them. This creates a variety of subtle connections between the city’s art professionals who otherwise have very few points of contact. Material for the Arts has become an institution in New York. It also runs programmes at schools and has a strong network of public institutions.

Hamburg isn’t New York, yet countless fairs, film and TV productions and musicals also take place there every year, for which all kinds of materials and objects are produced, used and discarded. In 2013, the Hanseatische Materialverwaltung (Hanseatic Material Management Project) was founded by Petra Sommer and Jens Gottschau with the help of Hamburg’s cultural authority and other public officials of the city to put the huge amount of waste produced by the cultural sector to better use than throwing everything into a container. The Hanseatische Materialverwaltung responds to the endless cycle of producing and discarding objects by collecting, lending and selling used materials in its storage facility in Hamburg’s Oberhafen. The price depends on what the buyer plans to do with the objects; the more charitable the cause, the lower the price. In this way, the collection supports, say, self-employed artists and art projects by youth groups and students who don’t have a large budget. Commercial projects are also welcome, but will be charged a higher market price.

Reusing objects provides an alternative model to traditional commerce where supply only comes as a result of demand; here, the supply creates the demand. This not only allows public funds to be allocated in a more meaningful way, but also frees the creative sector from the dictates of the free market to some extent, creating unexpected spaces where ideas can be taken in different directions. Like its counterpart in New York, the Hamburg collection is a point of intersection where professionals in film, fair production, theatre and art institutions come into contact with colleagues from the independent scene as well as school classes and representatives of other social institutions.

Materialverwaltung on Tour
Inspired by the Hanseatische Materialverwaltung, a non-profit collection will be founded in the Ruhr using its expertise. Given the large number of local institutions and festivals in the area, such a project seems long overdue. The Network City Ruhr is surprisingly fragmented, both in terms of its public transport and its cultural institutions. A centrally located, nonprofit collection should encourage professionals in the Ruhr area’s cultural sector to come together as a whole and get to know each other better. A shared space where different paths cross, things can get done and people like to go is necessary to create a lively exchange in the local art scene, and what better way to provide this than with the collection?

The project was initiated by Urbane Künste Ruhr and the european centre for creative economy (ecce). The Materialverwaltung an der Ruhr will be managed by residents of the Ruhr and will take shape in parallel with the Hamburg project. In addition to the collection itself, a series of workshops and an art school with links to the local neighbourhood may also be part of the project according to new founders Carina Hommel, Simone Bury and Aaron Stratmann. Most importantly, the project will respect the particularities of the region and adapt the content and structure accordingly; the defining features of the existing projects will be modified and new elements developed.

Before the Materialverwaltung an der Ruhr kicks off, the Hamburg and Ruhr-based teams will be working on a common project; Materialverwaltung on Tour is a functioning display warehouse and the first port of call for visitors of Ruhr Ding: Territorien in Bochum. Located in the large square by the Colosseum in Alleestraße, the project is designed to breathe new life into the public site as a space for everyone whilst also transmitting its central idea. The temporary version will work exactly like the projects in New York, Hamburg and, in the near future, the Ruhr area.

Extractions from underground (journal excerpts)

"Dear Old Man, I have been in your homeland for a few days now. Somewhat coincidentally, the inner motivation of this research trip may never be revealed to me [...]"

Ruhr Network City: The Ruhr Area as a Rhizome

Cities change in character. As factory buildings and shopping streets disappear, a globalized economy and digitized everyday life produces different urban spaces.