Stephan and Eduardo, a german architect and a spanish artist, met randomly a couple of years ago. Now they are living and working together in Berlin-Kreuzberg, producing art objects out of cardboard. They are good friends and working partners. On first sight, their cosy maisonette flat seems to be a typical Berlin-flat share. But once I walked up the stairs to their studio and office room, their professional artistic collaboration became apparent. Both of them told me vividly about their past, present and future projects and their lifes in Berlin.
Where do you two come from?
Stephan: I am from Berlin – one of the few – from the west.
Eduardo: I was born in 1971 in Murcia in Spain – a bizarre time – and grew up with my 3 brothers and 3 sisters, my grandmothers and uncles – all in one huge house. We also had a bakery in the house, so I grew up watching people cooking and baking.
Which profession did you learn, or what kind of educational background do you have?
Stephan: Well, architecture is my education. I work in a small office doing retro-classical villas for people who wish to live in a house that looks like it was a hundred years old – the opposite from what I expected during my studies. This architecture is like a falsification of reality. But I did learn a lot about details, because my boss has a really good sense for that – he is doing the wrong architecture, but at least he’s doing it right. However, Berlin’s entire urban strategy is somehow a falsification of the continuity of history – like a Disney version of a European town.
I am also applying for architectural competitions, because I love to work in groups – this fast progress of an idea. For me, art and architecture are merged – I see everything through architecture.
Eduardo: Photography is my profession. I started a photographic career, studying in Murcia and Cuba. I worked in the film business in Havana around 1992/3, shooting documentaries. Then I went back to Spain, travelled to- and worked in Malaysia, went back to Spain – for love, which ended in a catastrophe and so on. And then, due to a grant in 1999, I visited the School of Visual Arts New York and then again, came back to Spain. I started to work with the gallery T20. Around that time I became more professional, working and living in Murcia, Madrid and Barcelona. I also worked as a stage- and assistant director for Film, Commercials and Theatre.
How did you two meet?
Stephan: After my post-diploma-depression, a friend called me and asked me to work with him for a big architectural project in Murcia, Spain. By that time I didn’t even know where it was located – I just went there and worked for a half year. Through our mutual friend Carolina Eduardo and I saw each other once in a while on parties and openings.
Eduardo: I used to work as a photographer at an agency for advertises and there was this campaign for the art festival, where I wanted to use exotic faces from different ethnics.
Stephan: And then he chose me. And – as usual – I said yes. My face was all over town! Even on the VIP passes and billboards.
Eduardo: Yes, he became really famous in Murcia. (laughs) And when I came to Berlin in 2008 we started collaborating on the cardboard projects. We started with the radios, the Panasonic 503 L.
When did you start working with cardboard?
Eduardo: When I was in Malaysia, I saw that people would burn things out of paper as a ceremony for the dead. They create cars, mobile phones, money, or for example medicine out of paper and then they burn it, in order to give presents to the dead. I was also, due to my experience from Film and Theatre productions, quite interested in props. And then, meeting Stephan, I wanted to learn about the architectural and mathematic world. Stephan and I had some lunches and I told him that I would like to work with cardboard, so we started discussing about that idea. And then he made a cardboard-mobile phone.
Stephan: I remember that you said: ‘Lets start something’ and then I went to my boss telling him I could only work 4 days a week, in order to get the Fridays free. I always passed by to your old studio at Glogauer Strasse and we were already working on the first radio – without measuring, or any anything. Actually, we still work like that, right?
Why are you working with cardboard? Why is this your chosen medium?
Stephan: Because it is so easy to handle – you don’t need tools, only a cutter, and it’s so cheap!
Eduardo: The material represents something fake, or false. All my life I’ve been working with paper – I hate working with canvas, even though I don’t know why – and cardboard is like the younger brother of the paper, or the last one in the chain. Everything comes from the trees. I don’t know why humans love to kill trees and forests, but we do it all the time. Paper is always surrounding us, we use it and then we destroy it again. That’s also why we usually, performatively destroy our works after a while – it is a metaphor. Well, that’s basically the reason why it started.
Stephan: Yes, but that’s somehow the theoretical reason. I believe we have more practical reasons for using cardboard. The visual satisfaction, to see your thoughts in 3D is so fast. Instead of 2D architectural drawings, that I was brutally forced to make (laughs), I was always more interested to work with models – to build models. As an architect, you are lucky to see the product of your thoughts once in a lifetime. Wood, or concrete takes so much longer.
Why did you choose the Panasonic radio as your first cardboard object and what did you continue building afterwards?
Eduardo: Well, I believe that I wanted to choose a simple object. The Panasonic Radio was standing in my studio and it was more or less easy to rebuild.
Stephan: And then you made 4 different scales of that model. I love that idea, that by reproducing reality you can make yourself bigger and smaller.
Eduardo: I also started with copying and inventing sneakers out of cardboard at the same time, calling the project “Remixes”. And then I showed them at an exhibition called “Archaeology of the dance floor.” Initially I wanted to make a video with people dancing in the shoes, in order to destroy them.
Stephan: It is so amazing how much you worship your own work and the material, once it is destroyed. We put so much work in those objects and then it’s suddenly a piece of trash. When we produced the real size tank and took it on Berlin’s streets nobody asked why we did a tank – everybody asked us: How did you do that? Did you really do it with your own hands?
Well, then maybe I should raise that question now: Why did you rebuild a real-size tank out of cardboard?
Stephan: My reason is retrospective, because it was Eduardo’s idea. (laughs) For me it is a symbol of power. It has the same effect as when I was kid, picking up a stick and saying: PENG! It makes you already feel more powerful. So does the tank, once you are inside, looking out, turning the canon. It is an instant creation of a symbol of power. Out of a very weak material – and that’s the funny irony about it.
Eduardo: The Russian tank became the most famous tank in World War II. I like the idea of being armoured with cardboard – helmets out of cardboard. There was also another connection to a situation in Beijing in 1989 at Tiananmen Square, where the “tank-man” – nobody knows his name – was standing in front of some T55 tanks with plastic bags in his hands. He stopped the tanks and was then taken by men in uniforms. Nobody knows what happened to him, but I was really impressed how brave he was.
But you did create another performance with the tank, right?
Eduardo: Yes, in Madrid and in Berlin.
Stephan: First we moved it all around Berlin in front of big monuments and took pictures of it. Those photos are really full of connotations. And the performance in Madrid was called “The mute war.” We were wearing military uniforms, constructing the tank fast forward in eight hours. It was a falsification of the construction itself, because we put up the plans of the construction meanwhile drawing the plans and building the tank. We were basically mixing the steps of the construction. The real construction took us actually half a year.
Eduardo: It is easy to make a tank – I mean to glue it, but we had to make many pieces and layers. And we made it three times, because we had to dismantle it for each transport. It is actually very fragile – another contradicting metaphor in connection to the tank. Obviously it suggests violence – something is bombed – you use tanks to kill and to control people. Once you put a real one on the street, no one will move.
Stephan: We also applied with another idea for a performance. It was supposed to be inside a church in Toledo, in Spain. We wanted to lock ourselves inside the church for 7 days, live there and build a tank. I loved the title that we wanted to give it: “Man made war in 7 days.” They rejected us, but we loved the project.
How do work together?
Eduardo: It depends. I always try to develop ideas.
Stephan: The energy comes from you. You had the idea for the tank, for example. But we don’t have meetings or something like that.
But you don’t need meetings since you live together.
Stephan: Somehow it works really well, but I haven’t analyzed our way of working.
Eduardo: Approaching a project, we usually have a beer, or a coffee, or we watch a movie and then we just decide to do it. We look at pictures. But we don’t discuss how to make it.
Stephan: We don’t draw plans. I want to flee from that obligation of always preparing everything perfectly. That’s why I love the way we work – we just start. And if it doesn’t look right we take the scissor and cut pieces off.
Who has the dominant part, deciding how the pieces are supposed to look in the end? Or is that process very equal?
Stephan: Officially, I am the assistant. We are not a team of artists on the paper. He is product – Eduardo Balanza is product. But behind the scenes we are equal as workers. The only times that we get into fights, which is maybe every six months, is always about structure. I feel like it’s unnecessary to constantly reinforce and Eduardo wants to put concrete inside the cardboard, to make it totally stable.
Eduardo: We already know each other so long. I am always very nervous and he is always very calm that’s a good mix. I also really love to work in teams.
Stephan: Me too, I hate working alone!
How do you feel about living and working in Berlin?
Eduardo: Berlin is at an interesting point now. I find that there are so many artists living here, that the city has a lack of ideas. People are copying each other.
Stephan: People are copying each other? But that’s how it works!
Eduardo: Yes, but I figured in comparison to Madrid, Paris or New York – life in Berlin easier. But for artists there is no mirror, no critical point. Everybody says: “Wow, you did it right” – everything is right! But sometimes nothing is right. Performances, or concerts can be really boring. Though, it is an art city and I love it – and everything is very democratic and free.
Stephan: Exactly, there is not so much pressure here in Berlin, that’s why you can work easily. Many creative people come here for this atmosphere of relaxed low pressure. You don’t need to have a second job, to justify something.
Eduardo: Berlin is great, but I believe the artists here are getting lazy.
Stephan: Do you think it’s too comfortable and you would need some kind of hate, or aggression? Art sometimes has to be a rebellion, but here is nothing to rebel against.
Eduardo: I went to Beirut, in Lebanon in 2008 for a workshop and I was really amazed how the artists there work. But of course, their works are all about war.
Stephan: Politically Berlin is boring, but architecturally it provides a lot of inspiration.
Which one is your favourite, or most inspiring place in Berlin?
Eduardo: I love being on my bike – it’s beautiful and I feel save. Coming from the south of Spain, where it’s dry, I love that Kreuzberg and Treptow are so green. And the Canals in Kreuzberg are great. They provide a lot of positive happiness.
Stephan: I am always looking for a mountain here in Berlin. I love the Teufelsberg, though it’s too far away and the top is too big. Within the city, the ‘Neue Nationalgallerie’ has for me the function of a mountain. When I am sitting there – only six steps up – I have the view on Potsdamer Platz and everything seems to be a little distanced.
What is your next project in the near future?
Eduardo: For the upcoming MANIFESTA in Murcia, I am doing a project about the perception through media of costal immigration, between north morocco and Spain. It’s called “S.O.S,” which originally means “Save our souls.” We only see those images of the illegal ships from the perspective of a helicopter and from radars. So I will build a helicopter – I already made a miniature – a boat and a radar in 1:1 scale; and position them around the city and the beach in Murcia and in Cartagena. Additionally, I got an offer to work with children in Guatemala. I would do music with them – maybe build cardboard objects. But I don’t know yet. I will perhaps also apply for some residences in Brazil and Finland.
Stephan: I have had an idea a long time ago – inspired by watching the destruction of DDR’s status symbol ‘Palast der Republik.’ The obvious, but hidden symbolic character of this building – the hidden hatred, the love and the aggressions – there were so many emotions connected to architecture. So I chose 7 different, destroyed architectures and created small-scale versions including a little description of the symbolism, why it was destroyed and a picture of the destruction. Those pieces were then exhibited in a World War II bunker in Breslau in Poland at the art festival ‘Survival Art.’ It had the theme ‘Architecture as a Crime Scene.’ I still want to make a book out of my destruction-miniature-objects. And I am also drawing this comic, where a creature or a robot, made out of big construction machines, runs throughout Berlin, destroying all socialistic buildings. That could also be an animation movie.
Are you planning to continue working together in the future?
Eduardo: Yes, why not? Stephan will be a father and then we have a baby in the house. That can change a lot.
Stephan: Yes, then we’ll make babies out of cardboard!