Karolin Schwab is a full-time artist, working in different kinds of media. “I started out as a painter but have also worked in all different kinds of directions for the last couple of years – from more sculptural approaches to painting, installations, analogue photography and even video.
“I still don’t quite know what made me come to London. Back in 2011 I was studying Fine Art and English in order to become a teacher. As part of that course one had to do some sort of semester abroad. So, this one morning I woke up and I knew I had to go to London. I had never been there before, and I didn’t know why I suddenly wanted to go so badly or how to make this happen, but I knew it to be done. A couple of months later I found myself at the University of East London, right in the middle of a first introductory day for fine art students. As we were walking through the bright studios, I had this strange feeling in my stomach again – I knew I was not only going to stay for one semester. I knew I was an artist and I have to stay.
“After two exciting, stressful, wonderfully crazy years in London I graduated from UEL. Even though I would have loved to stay after that, London turned out to be a testing place for a young artist. That and a growing feeling of homesickness made me decide that Berlin could be a good compromise between my tiny hometown and London. And well, that’s what it is up until today. I’ve lived here for the past four years and never regretted my decision. Of course, it’s not paradise (like many people want to believe) and there’s times when I heavily miss London, but the two are only a good hour flight apart, so I’m never really that far way.”
“When I was five my mom asked what I wanted to be and I would say: ‘I want to be an artist.’ – ‘Oh okay… and how do want to make that work?’ she replied and I said, ‘Well, first I will paint a picture. Then I will sell it. Then I will paint another picture.’ Later, it turned out to be a bit more difficult than that, but I never had a better idea of what to do with my life.”
“After graduating from UEL in London in 2013 I moved to Berlin and started working in a commercial gallery. Even though I often struggled with the fact that you have to sit in front of a computer for eight hours and answer a gazillion of emails, I also learned a lot at there about how marketing and networks function. It also reassured me though, that this is not what I want to do for the rest of my life.
“I was fortunate to get into an MA for Fine Art at the Universität der Künste (University of Arts, Berlin), where I studied under Prof. Ai Weiwei, who gave me a really hard time, but I have to admit that I grew so much as both a person and an artist back then. I’m only realizing now how big his impact on my work was.
“In 2016 I graduated as a master student of Ai Weiwei and then decided to fully commit to the lifestyle of an artist and to put my everything into fulfilling this dream of mine. I’ve set up my studio here in Berlin, where I spent most of my time. But then numerous projects, exhibitions and residencies have made me travel throughout Germany, back to London, all around the Baltic Sea and as far as China.
“I have great respect and a lot of gratitude for all my teachers and tutors during my academic career, that is Alexis Harding, Gina Burdass and Ai Weiwei. Many of the lessons they gave me stick with me up until today – the most important of all: “Never avoid going to the studio.” (Gina said that). But then there’s also a number of people – Lawrence Carroll, Melanie Balsam-Parasole, Fee Hollmig, Samuel Zealey – which I truly admire, because of how passionate they are within their own practice and beliefs and because every time I speak to them it fuels me a lot of good energy and inspiration.”
“Right now, I’m getting ready for a duo show in Cologne in May. I’ll be showing new works together with Melanie Balsam-Parasole. We’ve had our first show together in at Museum Katharinenhof a few years ago and even though we never met before, our works worked just so well together. Ever since my practice has developed quite a lot, so it’ll be interesting to see how’s thing will work out this time. Also, after I made the first experiments with wind in a series called Temporary Winds Sculptures last year I am sketching /planning/organising a lot now to continue this idea and make more installations outside.
“In my studio you can find all different kinds stuff – quite a few saws and drills for making new works out of wood or MDF, lots of paint (mainly black, white and yellow), and a really a lot of random things, that don’t seem to have a use at the moment, but eventually they might turn into something one day. For me the studio is a place to experiment, to play around, to let go. I think the combination of that kind of playful mindset and a room full of material makes potentially the best environment to create something unexpected and new, to make art.
“This is a video (below), which I made last year. The idea of putting a mirror into the sea is a bit older than this video. I had made numerous sketches of a piece that would look like this before. Then, when I was on a trip around the Baltic Sea I stayed in this Hotel somewhere in Latvia close to the beach. In the bathroom I found this circle shaped mirror and immediately knew I wanted to use it to translate my drawing into reality and make a first small version of what one day shall became a huge sculpture in the sea. And then it unexpectedly turned into this video, that ended up being an essential part of my last solo show here in Berlin.
“I like this piece for many reasons – it happened so quick and easy, without much thinking. Still it relates to some very old ideas of mine as well as it functions as a visual draft for the future and where I want my work to go.”
“When I look back I find it really difficult to decide which of the many highlights is standing out for me. Being able to go to the studio every day and letting my inner child go wild is an invaluable highlight for me. Also, spending a month-long residency in London at Trinity Buoy Wharf has been a true highlight. I arrived there with no material and managed to set up a whole show, only out of material that I found within a one mile radius around the gallery.
“Then, of course, a major project last year was a trip, where I went all around the Baltic Sea to take a shot of the horizon from each and every country that ‘touches’ that bit of water. Later those photos were exhibited as part of Your Horizon Is My Horizon – a big solo show that I had here in Berlin. The show was a great experience, no doubt, but also the journey as such has been an invaluable.
“Traveling by yourself really does give you the time and space to get a bit closer to who you are, and it’s made me understand where I want my work to go in the future. I want to expand my practice outside of the white cube gallery into the landscape. Landscape, material, light and wind have been part of my artistic practice for some time, but now it’s time to take it to the next level.
“The relationship of humans to nature is an important expression of culture and in many ways synonymous with the relationship to the ‘sacred/universal’. In the future I really want to explore more about the relationship of the individual/society to the environment and I believe art can be an important contribution for a better awareness of what’s happening around us.”
See more of Schwab’s work at karolinschwab.com and follow on social media for updates. Links below.
Karolin Schwab’s Top 5 Berlin
To Eat: Trattoria Libau – This place looks anything but spectacular from the outside. The tablecloths are made of plastic, the interior kept rustic. It’s been an insider tip for some time, but meanwhile the word has spread – if you’re looking for truly great Italian pizza – this is the place.
To Drink: Das Schwarze Cafe – open 24 hrs and with a very diverse mix of people ranging from students, artists, tourists to everyone else. The menu is just as mixed – you’ll find everything from fancy drink to lovingly homemade dishes, all served in a very cosy atmosphere.
To Party: Berghain – You haven’t been to Berlin, if you haven’t been there.
To Walk: Tretpower Park – There are many things in the world, but among one of the nicest things is walk along the river Spree in spring and summer and autumn and winter.
To Shop: Weinmeister Straße – Even though this area feels a bit like it’s reserved for the cool kids, there is no doubt that you find a lot of very cool things in all the carefully designed shop windows.