To show off our novelties 2018 to advantage we wanted rooms with character. We found just that in the former cotton mill in Leipzig, a city within a city that overflows with industrial history, art and creativity.
Artist studios exude a charm all of their own. It is not simply that work is done there, you can also sense the spirit of art. Materials lie here and there, stacks of sketches, paintings and sculptures are strewn around; and this is where the everyday dramas of artistic production play out. People live, suffer, love and celebrate in studios. There are many historical examples, such as the famous Bateau-Lavoir, a run-down room on the Montmartre in Paris, where Picasso lived from 1904 to 1909 with his dog Frika, met his first partner Fernande Olivier, and invented Cubism into the bargain. Or the studio of sculptor Constantin Brancusi filled up to its skylight with sculptures, a studio that can be visited today in front of the Centre Pompidou in Paris. Or take the home of Donald Judd, 101 Spring Street in New York’s Soho district, a special place where art and life continue to mingle quite naturally today, even though it has long since become a museum. The champion of Minimalist art lived there for almost ten years with his family, in tall, sparsely furnished rooms, as simple as elongated shoe boxes.
Art needs rooms with character
Where do artists find such spaces today, where do they find studio rooms with a certain atmosphere? Where are they to think, paint, draw, plan, cast plaster, build models and prepare exhibitions? Since living space has become such a scarcity in German cities, with artisans and manufacturers moving into the areas outside the cities and disappearing into purely functional industrial buildings, in cities like Munich or Frankfurt artists or other creative professionals can only hope they can garner temporary use of rooms in dilapidated houses or old factories.
However, it is by no means only a matter of suitable premises for artists, musicians, actors, dancers, designers or the frequently young startups of the creative industry. If rooms no longer have any individual character, we are left with the fundamental question regarding the kind of downtown districts we actually want: Are they to be left to investors, who make a clean sweep, generally to put up what are largely expensive, and uniform residential or office buildings? Or can a patchwork, lively social network develop from a wide variety of trades, apartments and studios, stores and cafés?
“The hottest place on Earth”
The Guardian, 2007
Furniture needs a home, too
And as strange as it sounds: Furniture also needs somewhere to live in order to develop its own character. It does not possess it from the start, or when it does, then only to a limited degree. It only acquires it over the years in which we use it and it accompanies us. Anyone who meets it for the first time – be it in photographs, in a furniture store, a showroom or in the middle of a busy furniture exhibition – can hardly intuit how items of furniture can over time become such loyal companions in such an intense manner. For furniture to belong entirely to us it needs an established personal environment in which it can unfold and find a sounding board, which responds to its charisma. The boom in vintage furniture shows the extent to which in our present day which is so self-centered and colored by an increasingly uncertain future we seek reassurance and an echo in the patina of what looks lived in – so as to recognize ourselves again. The future is not possible without a sense of where you have come from.
ZEITRAUM furniture seeks to and is capable of becoming such a companion. Sustainably produced, individually and enduringly designed its fits excellently into totally different types of homes settings. Subtly and sensitively it responds to the needs of occupants, lifts people’s moods with its charisma and raises their sense of wellbeing. Such qualities are shown to particular advantage in occupied rooms in which life has left its traces. Which is why the bright minds at ZEITRAUM set out to find a suitable location for effectively presenting the new items in our collection. After nothing suitable was found in Munich and surroundings, Leipzig turned up trumps with a onetime cotton mill.
A factory with an eventful history
Today, this cotton mill in Leipzig is many things simultaneously: a lively culture lab, a city within a city and a culture factory with an eventful past.
Registered as a joint stock corporation on 21 June, 1884, the first mill was built that same year, and work started with five looms. The following March production began at full speed with 30,000 mule spindles and the associated lines. Things developed at an incredible speed: In 1888, the second mill with 50,000 spindles was created, one year later a third one with 76,000 spindles and combing machines, which now meant high-quality, fine yarns could be produced. In the mid-1890s a fourth production building was built, in 1907 a fifth. In the space of just 25 years the Leipzig cotton mill became one of the largest on the continent with 240,000 spindles, 20,000 yarn spindles and 208 combing machines. In every respect the factory town that emerged in the west of Leipzig is a child of Modernism that not only includes workers’ homes, a works canteen, a nursery and public baths and a mill school, but also its own power station and a park with a gym for parents and children, an allotment garden colony, bands, dance groups and male voice choirs.
Times change, however. Managed as a state-owned enterprise after World War II, after Reunification production was gradually wound down. However, the spinning mill has been infused with new life, and remains subject to constant change. “Klotho, the goddess of fate,” wrote the present owners, “had spun another thread of life for what was once the largest continental mill complex, whose story seems by no means to be over after 125 years.”
From Cotton to Culture
In the early 1990s craftsmen, freelancers and above all artists discovered the enormous complex, and moved in happy to find affordable working space with such a tremendous atmosphere. The pioneers to settle here included artists like Kaeseberg and painter Neo Rauch, one of the main representatives of the internationally successful “New Leipzig School”. “From Cotton to Culture” is the slogan of the new owners who took over the complex in 2001: and the industrial flair plays just an important a role for the building’s new function(s) as does its solid construction and enduring architecture. For the yarn to run smoothly it was necessary to keep the temperature in the production halls at a constant 23 degrees, which was achieved by opting for solid masonry that was over one-meter-thick, large cast iron box windows, and cork insulation together with overgrown roofs.
Today, the factory town which is still largely in its original state is home to a veritable hive of industry: Over 100 artists have their studios here. There are also a dozen galleries, for example, Galerie Kleindienst, which largely exhibits young artists from Leipzig, via Uwe-Karsten Günther’s “Laden für Nichts” through to “The Grass is Greener” owned by Esther Niebel, which opened 2015 and provides a programmatic link to the artists. Nor must we forget Judy Lypke’s legendary gallery Eigen + Art, created in 1993, which moved its Leipzig gallery to the mill in 2004 and represents such important artists as Martin Eder, Jörg Herold, the brothers Carsten and Olaf Nicolai, Ricarda Roggan, David Schnell and, last but not least, Neo Rauch. Every Gallery Weekend in the Baumwollspinnerei attracts upwards of 10,000 visitors.
That said, the location is not shaped by artists and galleries alone. It is also home to the International Choreographic Center (Internationales Choreografisches Zentrum), while Schauspiel Leipzig promotes experimental drama that goes beyond classic spoken theater. The extensive complex not only has a singing studio, but also a soundproof recording studio. You encounter restoration workshops, architecture and interior design offices, jewelry and fashion studios, ceramic, porcelain and furniture workshops, guitar makers and trade fair constructors. Behind the solid brick walls think tanks develop data-driven business models, start-up and innovation concepts. What’s more the Baumwollspinnerei offers a store for professional artists’ materials, a store selling high-quality wines, and a specialized retailer for ecological construction, the home and design. It is possible to learn karate and archery here, children can attend kindergarten, and lawyers can be consulted. Commercial artists and book designers, editorial offices and copywriting offices offer their services, as do a printer’s, a publishing company, a lithographic studio, and a film production firm. The Baumwollspinnerei even boasts an arts cinema. In 2007 the Guardian newspaper named the Leipzig art factory “The hottest place on Earth.”
Living in the Meisterzimmer apartments
In the midst of the site is a set of rooms called the “Meisterzimmer”. Guests can stay here, and it is here that the photographs were created for ZEITRAUM – in rooms that exude the charm of a solid industrial architecture and were transformed using a great deal of effort and imagination. Previously the “Meisterzimmer” were the glass-fronted workshops of the master spinners. In 1994 “Meisterzimmer 1” was initially used by several Baumwollspinnerei pioneers as a studio; young artists who after studying at some or other art school had set out to transport their names and art into the world. A bike is the best means of getting around the sprawling site. Not far away the last rolls of yarn were spinning and the heating was off at the weekend. Then the remaining hot water took 15 minutes to reach the shower. The situation altered over the years. Some people moved away, others moved in. So as not to have to give up the space someone came up with the idea of renting the apartments to tourists visiting Leipzig.
Initially, the fittings were rather Spartan; much of it including the furniture was homemade, the toilet still along the corridor, the bedding from relatives. “Gradually,” explains Manfred Mülhaupt, one of the hostel operators, “we expanded, and improved the furnishings. We took on the second apartment in 2011, the third in 2013, and the fourth in 2014. Now we have struck the right balance, and I hope guests can still detect something of the feeling of liberty the space and mill still have for us, and which we want to pass on.” What was once the women’s laundry room has long since become a kitchen. Beds made of former drays can be pushed around; for those wanting more exercise a table tennis is available, while those with a greater need for action can make use of a small workbench. The Meisterzimmer are really something special, unique even, and while hotels tend to be boring and uniform, nobody is likely to attach either label to these rooms.
Living and photographing
A vibrant city within a city where art and culture can develop freely in a setting steeped in history, plus the additional spice provided by the unique “Meisterzimmer” – it would be hard to find a better location for photographing the new ZEITRAUM furniture. And precisely here where a piece of industrial architecture can be found in every corner, where there is a pervasive mell of machines, laborers’ sweat and a Bohemian world, where modernism, the GDR and the creative culture of the 21st century come together, the ZEITRAUM moved in for a few days. The furniture was carried along winding corridors and up staircases and arranged in the Meisterzimmer – in front of the typical large box windows, and the red brick walls, on painted gray floors between original fittings and works of art.
And indeed: On the shots taken in daylight in rooms 2, 3 and 4 the atmosphere remains vibrant. The American walnut, fabrics and furniture blend quite naturally into the Meisterzimmer. The furniture makes the rooms resonate on the same wavelength and vice versa. Put differently: the rooms are not simply sets, the furniture more than just props. Once the shots are taken, everyone eats together at the big table, and afterwards they fight over points in a table tennis match. When night falls over Leipzig, they spend the night on the ZEITRAUM bed they brought along.
Looking at the images it is immediately apparent that they were not taken in a studio. In the Meisterzimmer of the Leipzig cotton mill everything is real, and matured over a longer period of time. Nothing comes over as abstract. Every corner in this ambience is colored by spontaneity and creatively tells a story. You realize that not only have artists lived, loved, suffered and celebrated, but that furniture also begins to come alive here. The only question that remains: What is going wrong in architecture, and in urban planning when there are less and less spaces which we appreciate for their atmosphere and in which we begin to come alive?
Text by Thomas Wagner