A couple of weeks ago, on a freezing evening the debut opening of du weißt, ich liebe das Leben (You Know, I Love Life) by Superuschi from Berlin took place in NYC. Even though people were turning to ice in the unheated space, nobody wanted to leave. It must have been because of the the warmth that Jonny Star, artist and curator who organized the event exudes. Jonny, who lives and works in Berlin, comes from the urban subculture of the 80s in Berlin (West) via a study of psychology at TU Berlin, extended stays abroad, operating a cult bar, fashion and farming to finally arrive in the Fine Arts. S2S immediately felt that we had met a kindred spirit. We asked Jonny about her past and plans for the future.
S2S: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and Jonny Star?
Jonny Star: I made art under my given name Gabriele-Maria Schedafor for 20 years. For 4 years now, I’ve been working under my artist name, Jonny Star. Four years ago the timing worked out well – I was participating with my art project “sweet home – private art space” at the art fair SCOPE Miami. I added “Star” as an amused finger pointing at the art market, as they often seek stars and “enfant terrible” instead of good art or interesting concepts. And of course the name is a critique of the patriarchal structures of the art market and the discrimination of female artists that results from it.
For a long time, I did not understand or could accept that I am an artist. I was wondering why there are such people like me. These were painful processes, yet fortunately, art has a high power of transformation. My biographical experiences and everyday observations often serve as a starting point for new work or a new direction in my art. My investigations delved into the relationship between art and everyday life, and the status of our society’s consciousness for the necessity of art. I understood that this awareness can be relatively obscured. I myself went with this concern in the small cell of domesticity and privacy. Around 2010, I started to sew and to develop alongside my bronze works, collages, photographs, and soft objects. For these objects, I use things from everyday domestic life, which I put into in an artistic context or I developed art works that resemble everyday objects.
S2S: You moved to West Berlin in the 80s and were part of an urban subculture. What was it like to live in Berlin at that time? What kind of projects were you involved in?
Jonny Star: I went 1983 to West Berlin. I was very young. I had been kicked out of home and my friends were in West Berlin. It was a great time, I was very much only living in the subculture. I was a member of a collective at a bar called Café Anfall. I went to a self-organized College to do my A-levels. My friends and I made art without calling it art. We were just doing it. We used our bar as our platform, so we redecorated or remodeled the entire bar every second month, unfortunately I never thought about documenting it. I was too busy sewing clothes, cutting hair, and going out. I remember we were never talking about money, we just had some money and it was in circulation within the subculture.
S2S: In 2013, you started a project called Superuschi. What does “Superuschi” mean and what is the intent of this project?
Jonny Star: In my current art project, which I just named SUPERUSCHI, I develop and organize art events where I perform with other artists. However, I am doing this as an artistic act, in terms of a social sculpture, which expands by guests. All this takes place in specific venues (either within private or staged private living spaces). I extended my themes within my art by doing these events. Participating artists and performers are given a theme to reflect upon, and with the given theme, individually or collaboratively, create material for the SUPERUSCHI event. The result is a temporary “show” that psychologically alters the physical location according to possibility and chance, combining the intended or unintended interactions of the space, the objects, and the artists and guests. Most of the participating artists usually come together at a SUPERUSCHI event for the first time, so a SUPERUSCHI event creates a social gathering which generates new friendships and activities.
Uschi is a (now obsolete) short form of URSULA. I’m from Düsseldorf and this girl’s name was very common in the 60s in the Rhineland. I played with the name SUPERUSCHI in recent decades often humorously and now it has found its destiny. This name comes from the Latin Urs = Bear and means the little mother bear. SUPERUSCHI is an exaggeration of the name Uschi, and to me means a small super mother bear. It’s just the perfect name for an art project with a big vision.
S2S: A couple of weeks ago, Superuschi held the first exhibition du weißt, ich liebe das Leben (You Know, I Love Life) in New York City. What brought you to New York, whom did you select for the show and what does the title mean to you personally?
Jonny Star: I am in NYC twice a year and it´s very inspiring. I was looking for a way to bring mostly Berlin and New York based artist together into a SUPERUSCHI show . I was looking for an unconventional setting so I applied for a space at chashama NY and was accepted. I chose a tiny store front space in Midtown. A very interesting place. I already worked before with Honey McMoney and Macklin Kowal form NYC in Berlin and both helped me to organize it. 18 international artists joined the show mostly with one visual art work. During the 3 days of the show we had 6 live performances. You should watch this video to get an impression!
The title du weißt, ich liebe das Leben (You Know, I Love Life) is taken from a song of Vicky Leandros, a Greek and German singer. She was very popular in my childhood and the song became like a mantra to me. For me personally the title deals more with the struggle of liking life, of getting the feed on the ground, of really being in your life.
S2S: On the Superuschi website, you state that in the future you “will establish new much-needed concepts of monetary backflow (return) for visual and performative working artists and thereby expand society’s awareness about their current working reality.” We in New York are highly aware that funding for the arts is extremely competitive. What is the situation currently in Berlin? What are some of the ideas that you have come up with so far?
Jonny Star: I personally believe we need to change the working conditions of visual artists. There is an extreme self- yield among the visual artists and performative artists – one group might be underpaid while for the other the rule is to be unpaid. I don´t want to say that it is easy for performing artists. But at least there is awareness and a kind of normality for people to spend money for dance, theater or concerts. There is in our Western societies no consciousness and no form for direct monetary return to the artists after the anticipation of their visual art. If I, for example, enjoy a bronze sculpture there is no jar, where I can put money that goes directly as a thank you to the artist. By the supposedly possible sale, a situation arises where most artists work without payment or any compensation for providing their art. Historically we are used to and also immediately have the impulse to give to performing artists (the former traveling people) we like to put something in the hat. But for the visual arts, no, it should be free, we think it´s paid by the church or the patrons. But it’s not. We must work on this “hat” for the visual artists. We need to work on a form that people can give something into the pot directly when attending a show and the money must be for the artists and not for the rent, for the curator or anyone else. And we have to work on the consciousness that this is important if we want to live with art. This is a big step, but it is necessary. We have to understand that a painting, a sculpture, an installation, a video is doing a performance just in this moment like an artist who sings.
S2S: Your next exhibition will be in Berlin. Can you already tell us some of the details?
Jonny Star: The next SUPERUSHI show I am curating will be in a private home in Berlin during Gallery Weekend Berlin on May 3rd 2015. The show is called *move forward. Artists like Iris Schieferstein, Kerstin Schröder and Elke Graalfs, among others, will join the show. And in June I will participate as an artist in a two artist show with Elke Graalfs at Montagehalle in Berlin. It’s a really great and interesting space. I am very much looking forward to this projects.
S2S: And you are coming back to New York City next March. What are your plans?
Jonny Star: I will curate the second SUPERUSCHI show in New York City. It will be a group show with artists from Berlin and NYC at Rush Arts Gallery in Chelsea during Armory week 2015! I am very excited. It will be fabulous. The title is kitchen girls and toy boys. We will have all kinds of disciplines like paintings, sculptures, drawings, videos and live performances. A celebration of art as usual!