A conversation with Alex from The Fact Finder
February 2018, on a wide street in Berlin (Kurfürstenstraße 21-22), art gallery: The Fact Finder
The German word for art gallery is “Kunstraum”, which in a playful way could be read as “a room for art” and as well as “a dream of art”. This was my initial thought as I was ready to knock on the white door of the gallery.
If we have two things in common, Alex and I, is the love for art and curiosity, both of which turned our questions and ideas into a flowing conversation. My initial approach was to get to know her art, her relationship with the city (Berlin), and her view on flâneurism. Needless to say, our conversation evolved into a puzzle of different ideas and feelings.
Why did you open the art gallery?
A: I have opened this gallery to create a context for my practice and for other artists working with „fact finding”. The profession of „fact-finding“ is mostly encountered in companies where people are sent to investigate, to look into details in some matters regarding the activity of the company. From an artistic point of view, fact finding is about working with first-hand experiences, not with references. The important thing to keep in mind is that the truth is not the ultimate goal in this process. The interpretation of the data (the facts) can be scientifically rigorous or can be as free as possible and can include exaggeration of details, figments of imagination, and even lies, as long as it is not purposely presented as the truth (it should be visibly playful). This is a good exercise in the era of „fake news“.
P: It is an artistic process, where the ultimate goal is not the collection of data, but data in itself.
A: Yes, many artists use this process of collecting data, to make out of it something of their own.
P: It is a process very dear to me, because I used to gather information in many notebooks, about different details such as the name of the streets I walk on, persons I meet on the street, or even feelings that are felt at a given time during the day.
A: And do you go through them, do you reread them, do you use them?
P: Yes, in short stories, and now I want to use them also in photography, collages, The Flaneuse Project. I would love to make photographs of street names and to stock them in a private archive.
A: So, basically, you are undergoing a fact finding process.
P: Yes, we can define it also like that. Let’s move on to the next question, one of the reasons I came across your website is because of the word “flâneurism” in the description of your gallery:
The Fact Finder is an artist-run space dedicated to works that rely on unmediated, first-hand experiences the artists go through while aiming to better understand a specific topic, fact or everyday life aspect. Field research / immersive journalism / flâneur-ism / archiving / voyaging/ empathising are examples of the processes we regard as fact-finding missions, among others. Our focus is on works involving a long-term commitment and preferably having an archiving/serial character.
What is your own definition of the flâneur/ the flâneuse?
A: Flâneuring is a way of fact-finding. Most of the data I collect is by walking down the streets. You can compare my method with street photography, but the difference lies in the instruments / I use drawings and visualisations in order to capture a certain moment in time.
P: Did you collect data also by filming? I came across a video of yours, filmed in the S-Bahn.
A: I never collect data through video. That was a documentary I made about “investigating” the streets, collecting facts for my drawings, which I call visual notes. I was a flâneuse back then, and I think I still am. In my view, the flâneur is a person that enjoys walking and spends a lot of his/her time on the streets and by definition he knows a lot about the city. In my case it is a little different, I do not enjoy it so much to be out and about in the city, but I love collecting data, details, and making connections.
P: What about the flâneuse? As a woman, my flâneur-experience is free, unobstructed by my gender. However, in my MA thesis I write about “gendered spaces”, and how women did not have access to different spaces and areas of the city in the 19th and even 20th century.
A: As a female flâneur I do not feel restricted in any way these days. I never had problems on the street because of my gender, at least not here in Berlin or back home in Cluj- Napoca. But … (a pause of some seconds) probably we as women are already quite careful not to walk on a poorly lighted street, or we take another route if we see at night a silhouette in the distance. In this cases, the initial plan of flâneurism is changed.
Personal note: My favorite street is Augustrasse near Rosenthaler Platz.
P: Berlin is a walkable city also from a flâneur point of view. I feel safe – of course there are certain areas where I would not go alone in the middle of the night (Neukölln, Kreuzberg), but during the day I enjoy these areas because of their unique atmosphere and diverse architecture.
A: I agree. But if we look at New York, I feel that we could not be as free as in Berlin. In some spaces yes -during the day-, in other spaces not so much, and some streets and areas in New York are definitely out of question (high rate of criminality).
P: What about Cluj-Napoca flâneurism?
A: I was born and lived in Cluj until I moved to Berlin, and I think it’s safe.
P: Yes, it feels safe, but there are also spaces/streets where women are harrassed on the street. For example, I experienced sexual harrasment more than once while I was walking on Horea street.
Personal note: we talked also about Istanbul flâneurism and about a female artist from Afghanistan who used an armour that resembled a naked body in order to see how men react to a woman walking “naked” down the street
How would you define your art?
A: Key words that summarize my art…The force behind it is curiosity, and sometimes also the drive to be someone else. I also want to relive some experiences, to collect data which is turned into a drawing in the intimacy of my house. I never begin drawing on the spot.
P: Do you use text in your art?
A: Yes. It’s very important. All my drawings have a text, the two cannot be taken apart.
The city: Berlin. Do you have a favorite street/area/café? Why Berlin?
A: First of all, Berlin is a “liveable” city, especially from a financial point of view. On another note, I wanted to change the medium/ the environment. I love streets which have a downhill trajectory (rare in Berlin, like Methfesselstraße). My favourite park is Görlitzer Park because it’s flat.
P: You would love Lisbon, in this case. I went on a solotravel last spring and I can say that it was a challenging city to walk on – all the streets require a lot of going up and going down.
Morning routine, favorite words, languages, cities.
A: It takes me a while to leave the apartment. I have a walking stick which I use when I have less energy and it also gives me a sense of balance sometimes, it’s a “third sense”.
P: Favorite language?
A: Portuguese and Norvegian.
P: Favourite city: Venice. I loved it the first time, however the second time was not as enjoyable as the first.
The conversation evolved into a list of favourite books by Thomas Mann and ended with a very refreshing view on flaneurism and the flaneuse.
Thank you, Alex, for your time and for your thoughts.
Please check her website and the future exhibitions here: http://www.thefactfinder.de.