Portraits of self-sufficiency: SDW Neukölln

This is the first interview for the series “Portraits of self-sufficiency“, which we are very happy to be launching today. I am also very happy that this is going to be a collaborative project, with great photographer Gabriele di Stefano, who will be brining his own personal input on the issue of self-sufficiency.

The project

This project is meant to be an investigation into the concept of self-sufficiency in a time when many of us struggle to make ends meet, in a time when knowledges and skills are not the prerogative of the few, but are more easily accessible for everyone.
Sharing knowledge and skills can mean many different things: it can be a way out of a system based on products that are designed and made under precarious economic and social conditions, it can mean having the chance to contribute to a project where all the participants accept that things can be done together and that, together, it’s possible to enjoy the result. In this case it can be like open-source software, where software is not intended in its most used meaning, rather as a project, that is built and changed by people. The actors, through their participation, give the “software” greater complexity.
What if this software, this project, was the way we work, or work (“Arbeit”) in general? Work is always changing, and the idea that skills and working spaces are to be shared and passed on is at center of our investigation.

The key is the absence of criteria of entry, the openness of the activities. These are not mere courses or classes, these are open spaces for learning and doing, spaces that do not restrict access. They all, in a way or another, have to do with sharing knowledge, skills or spaces with others and contribute to the creation of a new idea of work, one that is not so much based on selection, restriction and scarcity, but one where independence can be achieved and where competence is not sold to the highest bidder.

Zur deutschen Version des Interviews.

The very first portrait is dedicated to SDW Neukölln, (Siebdruck Werkstatt), an open screen-printing studio where artists or small labels can use a very professional infrastructure. But SDW Neukölln is much much more.
Elisabetta went to visit the studio and sat down with one of the project’s initiators, Tom Hansing, for an interview.


Elisabetta: How did you come up with the idea to found SDW?

Tom: The idea came in 2006. I live close to the Rütli school, which in that year was brought to the center of attention through a letter by the teachers to the responsible Senate commission. The school was used as an example of everything that is wrong with the German school system, with a special focus on the migrant kids, depicting them as having no respect, almost “the terrorists of the future”, who don’t speak any German, they are not “our kids”, but the others’. So a couple of friends and I decided to create a garment label, “RÜTLI-WEAR wear”, with the idea to have an attached screen-printing studio. In the end, however, the project of the screen-printing studio came to a halt shortly before its “launch”. Then, two local artists, Agnieszka Jeziorski and Julien Ludwig-Legardez, two very active people, crossed my path during that time. They had the same idea but a different vision, so we decided to open SDW together and each brought her/his personal perspective to the project.

“We want to share our knowledge and our infrastructure”.

SDW Neukölln is now an open collective of eight to twelve people. Everyday, someone is the studio host, answering questions about all things screen-printing. We have an employee, Joaquin, who takes care of bookkeeping, writes bills, etc.. The others come here and, as compensation, are able to use the studio free of charge. That is why these are people who have a special affinity to screen-printing, such as Louise, an artist and a professional screen-printer, who brings a very specific know-how. Through the studio we don’t make any money, it’s a zero-sum process. We use the money to pay the costs and operating the atelier is done on a voluntary basis. We also do take some external jobs but this is independent from the studio per se.


Elisabetta: What can be done here and who comes here? Why create an open studio?

Tom: Well, we are not service providers. We approach Work in a different manner. We want to share our knowledge and our infrastructure, which we have in large part received as a gift by a master screen-printer who liked our project. It’s also more fun to meet other people and be exposed to different ideas.
Everything that has to do with screen-printing can be achieved here: printing on paper, foil, wood, glass, T-shirts, wallpaper, etc. If you already know how to print by yourself, you can come here and for a small renting price, realize your projects. It doesn’t matter whether it’s art or whether you’re doing something commercial, as long as it’s not racist or sexist, you’re welcome!
Some of the people who come here to print are artists, some have their own label. Sometimes we see some very special projects, like printing street games, foam dice, special varnish refinished magazines..
Also, SDW is a venue for events..

Elisabetta:..precisely. What types of events take place here?

Tom: SDW wishes to also give a space to Arts and Culture. For example, the artists collective “Nothing but printing” come here. They do mainly one-day-projects, Pop-Up Art, very temporary projects that do not last for a long time. Contemporary art events happen here. It doesn’t cost anything to use the space and it can be rented by anyone. It’s not like we accept just about anything but it’s not curated in the classical sense. If you have an idea and have enough strength to see it come alive, you can come here.

Elisabetta: And also learn..

“(…) A reciprocal self-sufficiency with inspiration and social warmth”

Tom: Yes. That has to do specifically with screen-printing. If you don’t know how things are done and are interested in the medium, every saturday there are introductory courses where you will learn the different steps involved in screen-printing and how to use the studio, in order to, eventually, be able to work by yourself. We also offer different courses and project formats for schools, students, educational institutions or private people.

Elisabetta: What does “self-sufficiency” mean to you and how important is it as basis for your work?
Tom: It is a very broad term. originally one might say, self-sufficiency for us means being able to get low-priced garments, since we are able to get these clothes for reasonable prices and thus to pass them on at reasonable prices. Here you can decorate, “modify” clothing for not too much money. However, I think self-sufficiency here means more the creative self-sufficiency: with our studio, we want to create and maintain a place that puts the infrastructures at other people’s disposal, so that people who can’t afford their own studio, or simply don’t want to set up one because they prefer to work with other people, can come here and profit from a professional structure. A self-sufficiency with infrastructures, a sort of self-sufficiency for a community that creates spaces for the community. It is also about the neighborhood, about creating a social space where new ideas circulate, with a lot of exchange also with the neighbors themselves. We do a lot of things together, such as the big street fest here. A reciprocal self-sufficiency with inspiration and social warmth.

SDW Neukölln is located on the Pflügerstr. 11, 12047 Berlin (Underground stop: U8 Schönleinstr.). Opening times: Tuesday to Friday 10 am to 7 pm. You can find out when the next Saturday courses will be on the website, where you can also find lots of useful information on all things screen-printing.


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  2. Nachmittags in Neukölln…

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