Zentrum für Kunst und Urbanistik (ZK/U) Berlin

Thursday Dinner at ZK/U - Kat, Penny and William present 'Deliverance', 2012

A new, innovative venue offering artistic and research residencies of 2–8 months duration for art production at the interface of urban research has opened its doors  in the district of Moabit in Berlin-Mitte, on the edges of Berlin‘s largest inland port, Westhafen, in August 2012.

Located in a former railway depot surrounded by a freshly landscaped park, the ZK/U – Center for Art and Urbanistics - is the outcome of a concept developed by the Berlin-based artists' collective KUNSTrePUBLIK.
Analogous to the nineteenth-century transport of goods by rail, this unique new venue is set to become a lively hub for the transport of ideas and ideals in the postindustrial era.

Transdisciplinary Exchange and Residencies

The ZK/U sees itself as a laboratory for inter- and trans-disciplinary, activities centered on the phenomenon of “the city”.
ZK/U promotes international exchange on global issues, in the light of what is happening in one’s own backyard. Working with local and international partners, ZK/U residencies brings together critical minds at the cutting-edge of artistic production and urban research.

Contemporary artistic positions, ranging from contextual and interventionist to conceptual and street art, address selected themes.
Work at ZK/U is informed by theoretical and practice-based critiques developed in the disciplines of geography, anthropology, urban planning, architecture and the humanities.

Facilities and Activities

ZK/U, with the support of its partners, provides ''living & work'' spaces for international and local applicants. ZK/U also maintains a Common Room, conceived as an adjacent public space for use on a project basis by residency program participants, as well as by local or visiting groups and initiatives for production, exhibitions, lectures, workshops, performance and presentations. See also Space.
In addition to this physical framework, ZK/U maintains a theoretical superstructure —consisting of regular conferences, publicly accessible (online and print) publications and archives, etc.— emerging from, and feeding into, the expertise of participants and associates. These combined activities underpin ZK/U's commitment to an interdisciplinary approach to art production, urban discourse, and creative, inclusionary and publicly-engaged practices. Artists and fellows are selected on merit and according to how their proposals further develop ZK/U thematic focuses.


ZK/U seeks to develop projects, co-produce knowledge and share values created through exchanges. ZK/U does not offer a fixed set of ideas and principles for its fellows. Rather, individual projects and needs shape what could be described as a continuous formation. Instead of letting the ‘final product’ constrain the possible routes that a practice might take, ZK/U focuses on the processes that come from, and feed into, the particular contexts of the fellows’ practice, whether they be locally-defined situations or international discourses.

Open Call Conceptual Frame

General themes

"Is not it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day 
with no mistakes in it yet?" (L.M. Montgomery)

In the frame of this Open Call, ZK/U wants to encourage thinking and acting that is unencumbered by ecological, economic and social crisis, foster questions about citizen participation in the urban and artistic field. We argue, like Chantal Mouffe, in the favor of a society of agonism, that foster debates and dissensus.

Research ranging from looking at Kibbutzim to the myth of the 'benevolent dictator', from anarchy to the commune, from Freemasons to the colonization of Mars, from community gardens to gated communities, how can 'living together' be looked at in a radical and unobstructed way, while taking into account the need for individual distinction.

We would like to explore the idea of community without referring to or attempting to finding solutions for current disasters or crisis. We want to discuss past and present, structured and informal, radically democratic and non-hierarchical models of community and society. ZK/U places itself in the interim space between utopias and today’s reality, confronting and challenging them. What does it  mean to demand participatory industries, decentralised energy production, co-owning systems and time banks? What do we demand, when opposing gentrification, still wanting to improve living conditions for all? Is that possible?

In fact, ZK/U welcomes research projects and artistic practices that examine, question and present forms of community beyond the boundaries of crisis management. We aim to foster the resident’s initiatives to use ZK/U as an experimental platform for conversational formats and research projects. Like Augusto Boal, with his “invisible theater” or Stephen Wright’s affection for “stealth” art, we’re interested in engagement with random sectors of the population rather than with a trusted group of fellow artists and people used to the art language. “The artist is a secret agent in the real world, with an artistic agenda”. (Stephen Wright quoted by Pablo Helguera, Education for Socially Engaged Art, JPB 2011).

Our conceptual position naturally implies the breach of traditional medium-discipline frames. Is there a common ground in the merging of arts and sciences that is inclusive of, while not being restricted by, the complex dogmas of conventional disciplinary thinking? Through theory and practice we aim to locate a third space for such thinking, while at the same time asking ourselves if this conversation between disciplines can be accessed and gain new autonomy.

Over the past decade, a discussion has emerged on how academic and artistic forms of knowledge production can mutually engage each other. These discourses first became visible in interdisciplinary research and practice fields and have recently arrived in academic and artistic institutions. These debates usually refer to such collaborative work as 'artistic research' and depending on the perspective, lament what is thought to be lost in the process: freedoms (art) or the lack of a systematic basis (science). Seldom is the concept of a third space uniting those seemingly incongruous poles in an unknown mode of knowledge production taken into consideration.

Instead of looking at was is lost, ZK/U invites speculation on a third space of knowledge production by focusing on the benefits and synergies that materialize through disciplinary encounters.

The incipient third space is not concerned with effects and results (in art: 'work of art', in the sciences: publication / report), but rather with the processes coming from each field. We aim to create an environment in which it is not the outcome but the inherent processes of trial and error which are made visible to the public and laid bare for critique.

"Whenever Art altered its status as commodity and means of social distinction, it has been able to intervene in social reality…hardly being recognizable as art. If this were possible in artistic research, then strangely we'd have a true avant-garde." (Quote Möllmann Dirck, Book Review: "A Portrait of the Artist as a Researcher," Other Sinema / AS Mediatijdschrift, edited by Dieter Lesage and Kathrin Busch, No. 179 (2007), Antwerp (English-speaking).)

Investigation leads for the Open Call

Next to its general themes, the ZK/U has developed more tangible projects and research topics that it wants to follow with the coming generations of residents. We encourage future residents to look for overlaps in interest and planned activities during your time at ZK/U and outline possible involvement. This is an offer: it doesn’t mean you have to get involved, because you might want to work on something even more interesting.

Cross Contextual Conversations

CCC is an ongoing program starting in 2015, which aspires to examine and rethink the formats of conversations between different social, educational and spatially divided groups.

Starting from the assumption that every discipline, every social and geographical context has its own language, it’s own terminologies and its own modes of behavior, the ZK/U wants to examine, archive and encourage the exploration of new ways of communication between different contexts.

These new formats are tools of translation and moderation, of questioning and rethinking, they open the gates for new relations and help overcome static social formations. How can academic knowledge production become more accessible to differently educated? How can everyday wisdom be linked to acknowledged research? How can administrations talk to citizens and viceversa? How can visionaries talk to conservative powers? How can newbies talk to established? How can young talk to old?

The ZK/U aspires to challenge all those frontal panel talks, intimidating learning environments, representative policy meetings,…even your rigid family dinner conversations could become subject to change. Swapping roles, spatial reconfigurations, using technology…could trigger a change in power structures and allow unusual encounters and surprising revelations.

Over the course of 3 years the ZK/U invites future residents to propose, develop and apply their prototypes of cross-contextual-conversations during a stay in Berlin.

Urban Space Invaders: Hacking Street Furniture

Street lights, benches, bus stops…did you notice that they increasingly look alike? ZK/U wants to critically review street furniture and the economic exploitation of public space (through advertising rights) with a series of case-studies, workshops, conferences and develop an open source pool of practices and production-manuals, that allow citizens to become public space co-producers.

Together with experts artists, urban-planners, economists, designers, policy-makers and citizens, we want to propose new, cooperative ways of planning, producing and sustaining street furniture.

We aspire to tackle the increasing monopoly of production, because we believe that citizens should be able to co-produce their public environment. We want to make the  enormous diversity of designs and practices existing visible, accessible and exchangeable: Imagine a community-built danish playground adapted in Bratislava by a local initiative. We want to propose models and prototypes, that can be shared and applied by others and in the long run offer alternatives to existing routines in the production of public space.

Are you interested in this debate and what kind of active role could you play in case-studies, workshops and conferences?

Public Space Extended to the Digital Realm

For many years the loss of public space is a key element on discussions on the city not only in Germany. With the world wide web an euphoria erose to create a new form of public space which allows everyone with an internet-connected device to navigate in theses spaces and participate in debates. Like when one is safe in his car, insulting the other drivers, Internet offered the security of the distance and facilitated the emergence of alternative discourses, expanded the influences of conspiracy theories, and fostered all type of non-curated opinion and ideas. In today’s world, having an internet connection is enough to legitimize one’s discourse. More than a positive or negative fact, it’s a new data we contemplate. The most prominent voice on Youtube is today a young video-game player-commentator with 35 millions subscribers.  As for the digital private realm, we now all assume, after discovering the names of Assange or Snowden, that our family/party/sex pictures are part of the public big data. But, do we use this information consequently?

With the increase of digital data flow, we can see the webs segregation in peer related subnets, like social networks and the shift to private conversations.

Mobile internet-connected devices enabling us to keep connected to our peers wherever we are and thus tunneling the public space, obstructing the awareness of the other/stranger’s physicality. But it also facilitates new types of relationships, digitally based, exemplified by Tinder or (artistic, for example) trans-national projects between actors who never met. How do these relationship enrich or complexify our way of relating to each other?

The Practice of Subsistence

In the past years the idea of self-subsistence through urban farming has stimulated movements opposing the centralisation and industrialisation of food production and distribution. Various initiatives, like Transition Towns, have developed prototypes and practices, that outline new perspectives for urban inhabitants, when it comes to the production and consumption of food in more sustainable, ecologically reasonable and healthy ways. Urban farming is just a little element, in the creation of a major paradigm shift, necessary to tackle the conflicts and problems of an epoch, for which the terminology ‘anthropocene’

has increasingly been accepted. The scale of human impact on the earth’s appearance, reflected in this term, is enormous. But are urban community gardens and high-tech aquaponik projects really helpful in supplying billions of urban inhabitants with food, or are they tools of social distinction for a saturated middle-class?  Are they upscalable prototypes, or individualistic leisure-time ‘extras’?

We realize, these questions might provoke. But we don’t just want to discuss these issues polemically, but want to act and develop prototypical and tangible projects, that allow critical reflection and improvement of existing practices. If you want to get involved, look at our current activities:

- Moabees:  An intercultural bee project in the district of Moabit and at the ZK/U lead by artists Bärbel Rothhaar, Elisa Dierson and Katja Marie Vogt. (http://www.kuenste-oeffnen-welten.de/praxisbeispiele/moabees/)

- 12sqm: A plot of land in a local community garden initiative right next to ZK/U. Plant your own vegetable, fruits and herbs and see how far you get with 12sqm. The project is coordinated by Jan Körbes, resident of ZK/U.

- ZK/ook: a new cooking laboratory investigating traditional and progressive kitchen based on local knowledge and resources. Curated by Susanne Schröder and Simone Häckel.

Imaginative economies

Non-monetary exchange

ZK/U looks at and experiment with non-monetary economical alternatives for exchange of goods, time and knowledges in the city. Through projects such as the Gütermarkt, ZK/U and its partners associate the principles of flea markets to time banks and traditional exchange systems, and investigates new strategies to hijack the trash circuit.

Decentralised design development - Private Space Invaders

Ironically, our media-centered and mass production society pushes us to reconnects with decentered way of design and production. Thank to simple video channels, and centralised mass production and its corollary, cheap power tools, everyone has access to sustainable (or not) design. There is not a day without a new fablab opening, or new neighbour workshop. But is it possible to imagine and create systems of development that seriously challenge the monotonous-Ikea way of life, and put culture back in the center of design? Echoing our Urban Space Invaders program, we’re investigating ways of private space production, on a sustainable economic and design level.

In its time, Ikea’s ambition was to offer design to everyone, but they offered the same designs everywhere, thus participated in the global uniformisation of the private sphere and the loss of local identities expressed through craftwork. Decentralized globalisation offers us the possibility to produce locally, and adapt and share designs from everywhere. Now, is participative design economically sustainable?

Landreform Karussel, KUNSTrePUBLIK, 2008