April Gertler Interviewed by Anne Kathrin Greiner
Photographer Anne Kathrin Greiner met Artist and Curator April Gertler for an interview in Spring 2016, on the suggestion of BOSmagazine.
Anne Kathrin Greiner: Could you briefly explain what brought you to Berlin and how you came up with the idea of PICTURE BERLIN, the residency programme/art academy that is now going into its seventh year?
April Gertler: I first came to Berlin through a residency back in 2005 and I felt that the opportunities to do a variety of things and to be involved in the art world were much more feasible than in New York, which would’ve been the obvious place to move after finishing my graduate program. I was very attracted to alternative modes of art practice and Berlin has been home to these for a very long time, of course. I arrived during what is arguably the worst month in Berlin, February, and my aim was to find a gallery and to live off my work, so when this didn’t go as planned, I started to feel very frustrated and depressed. Living in a small apartment and having to teach English to support myself, I finally hit rock bottom in 2009.
At this point, I had made connections with an interesting network of artists, however, and so I started thinking about establishing a residency program for American artists in Berlin. My plan was to rent a bigger apartment and to unite my American world with my life in Germany, by inviting one artist friend at a time to stay with me and to organize an exhibition for them. When I discussed the idea with a friend, she inspired me to “think bigger,” though. Through this, I developed the idea of working with an actual group of resident artists from abroad, to introduce them to, as well as to engage with and experience, the local art scene. After an intensive year of planning and thinking about the project, PICTURE BERLIN started with 11 artists coming to Berlin in 2010.
A.K.G.: I first encountered your work a few years ago when I saw some of your collages in an exhibition, so it was really interesting (and also quite surprising) to me to learn that you also undertake collaborative and performance projects.
A.G.: What I realized was that I riff off of personal engagement with other people and that’s where my work can thrive. Having studied photography and working with collage since the 1990s, I’d been very focused on 2D work. Through PICTURE BERLIN, however, I began to ask myself how I could move into the performative or the social practices world. SONNTAG, which I started with Adrian Schiesser, takes place once per month in a private home: we invite one artist to show their work and we bake the artist’s favorite cake, which is served with coffee.
This obviously relates directly to the memory and history of the artist and I also see food as relaxing and a way to socially engage. Thus, the artist and the audience are brought together through cake, which has led to some fantastic conversations. Of course, food is also a trigger for personal memory and we all have our very own relationship with it.
A.K.G.: It’s really interesting how, through this approach, you’ve managed to marry the public with the private and to provide an entirely different, more welcoming and familiar setting for the artist’s work. Gallery exhibitions can feel rather anonymous and exclusive, so the domestic environment surely allows the audience to feel less than an observer but rather like an active part of the artistic process…interestingly, you’ve also taken this idea and turned it around, by creating a performance piece which transforms the gallery into a more “homely” space for TAKE THE CAKE.
A.G.: I had the idea that I could perform in front of a gallery audience, simultaneously baking a cake and talking about it both in terms of feminist issues, as well as the history and politics of the ingredients. It’s an extremely nerve-wracking and challenging experience, which involves months of research, writing and memorizing the text and the challenge of saying it out loud while baking a cake. I’m rehearsing all the time since I want to be accurate, of course, but also because friends told me that the performance becomes more successful when it becomes part of me. For example, I have prepared a flourless chocolate cake for a recent performance, during which I talked about the corruption of the chocolate industry. I might also start a YouTube channel or do a month of weekly live performances with a guest, talking to them while baking, riffing off television shows but doing it live. At the same time, I’m still doing collage, though.
A.K.G.: Let’s talk a bit more about your collage works in connection to your trilogy of books, Damp Patches (2011), Cakehole (2013) and Pussy Bow (2015).
A.G.: The title of the first book, Damp Patches, was inspired by an ad for antiperspirant that I came across when I was on a residency in Paris. I used a lot of French fashion magazines for my work at the time, as I’m very interested in body portrayal and imagery. I can’t make work just sitting in the studio—I’m very inspired by what surrounds us because it’s all connected. My archive is huge, but I’m always in the collection phase, for example picking up flyers.
My books consist of a combination of photographs, collages and drawings and they are printed on a risograph machine. It’s a Japanese digital printing process which uses soy-based inks and which is a bit like screen-printing, in that every color is printed individually. The technique also leads to a sense of movement and transparency, as well as a grainy feel. Since I want to preserve the tangible and tactile layering quality of the work, I don’t use Photoshop. Original materials are much more interesting to me, and I like ripping up books, the feel of a fiber-based photographic print, using thread, etc. By turning the orientation around, I also want to throw the viewer off balance and to make you think about things in a completely different way.
At the end of the day, I feel that it’s very important to have a good time doing your practice. I need to enjoy myself making work because, otherwise, it’d be just another boring job. And what would be the point of that?
A.K.G.: That’s very true! Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and work with me.
April Gertler was born in Wiesbaden, Germany and grew up in Southern California. She received her art education from the California College of the Arts and Bard College, New York. After studying at the Städelschule in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, she moved to Berlin. She has been based there since 2005. Her work encompasses a range of disciplines and techniques, from drawing, photography and collage to performance art and social interventions.
In 2012, April co-founded Sonntag, a project that enables the audience to experience art in an unusually personal and more inclusive manner. On a Sunday afternoon, a Berlin-based artist’s work is exhibited in a private home and, whilst enjoying coffee and cake (the latter always being the selected artist’s favorite and baked by April and her Sonntag co-creator Adrian Schiesser), visitors have the chance to view and discuss the work on display in a much more relaxed space than the classic “white cube.”
April’s personal projects also include HEAT, which saw her organize a demonstration in order to protest against the (often long, harsh and) grueling Berlin winter, as well as the performance show TAKE THE CAKE. The latter marries the concept of a baking show with that of the lecture. Equipped with a custom-built, mobile baking unit which she sets up in a public gallery or art space, Gertler aims to marry the domestic with the political by baking a cake for the audience whilst simultaneously speaking about its relationship to feminist, colonialist and capitalist issues. http://aprilgertler.com/