Have You Met: Hester Oerlemans of OZEAN

Within two days of arriving in Berlin, I had my first assignment: cover the opening of WONDERHUT at OZEAN. I didn't realize Germans liked caps locks so much, I thought to myself as I biked down to Kreuzberg and into a small courtyard hidden off of a sidestreet, swirling in circles as I tried to figure out if I incorrectly copied down the address.

Anyone who has been to OZEAN knows of the gallery's balance of understated presence and innovative space. Back in 2010, Hester Oerlemans added a fourth wall to a pre-existing open-faced structure, creating a gallery from a garage. What was intended as a one-show project blossomed into one of Kreuzberg's most unique artist-run initiatives: viewers can only view the art in OZEAN through a thick gate. I sat down with Hester to discuss OZEAN's story.

How long have you been in Berlin?

Thirteen years. It started when I got the scholarship for a year to live and work in Kunstlerhaus Bethanien, so that's where I started. I had a studio in Copenhagen. After the year was finished in Berlin, I thought, "Maybe I should stay a little bit longer—I still have work to do. I haven't discovered everything…OK, I'll stay here a little bit longer."

How did OZEAN start?

I had a studio here [in Kreuzberg], and there came the question: does somebody have an idea for something to do in this area, or in this open garage? It wasn't closed like it is now. I had the idea for one exhibition, and that was to build a wooden wall, drill holes in it, and put artwork behind it so all you can see is through the holes. I wanted to do that because in Berlin, you have group exhibitions in cafés, in galleries — a lot of work you see is with so many others works that sometimes I can't decide what's the good work or the bad work. I thought it would be nice to make an exhibition — a group exhibition — where you can only see one work — you can isolate it and see it better.

For the gate, I used to have a space in Holland some time ago also like OZEAN — I did that when I quit the Academie. I knew a little bit how to do it, so I said, "OK, maybe it IS more easy to do something like that!" Having my own space, I didn't want to wait there all day, so that is why I came up with the idea for the gate. You can always go and visit, but it doesn't need somebody to sit there.

That concept of space is also there: how would it be to make an exhibition in a space that you can't go in? It's an expectation for the artist to get together and think, "OK, how can I present my work in a space like this?" Now I'm developing and researching that question with the artists. I don't think I'm a curator. For me, the goal is to work together with other artists.

How did your background as a practicing artist inform OZEAN as a space and as a practice?

I'm always interested in working together with the artists! For me, it's not about sitting in my studio and making work. I would like to have dialogues with artists about how they think and how they work in a space. "How can we work together?"
For me, OZEAN as a space is an opportunity to do something else other than how you normally work.

Are there any really memorable shows from OZEAN's past?

There were a lot of weird shows… That's too difficult. The weirdest show is, in a way, the space itself. I don't like to say, "That show - I liked him," or, "That show… I didn't like it." But I can say that I like shows where people are really struggling with the space. The space is like a canvas. I like it when OZEAN is really touched: they drill a hole in the roof and they put something through it… OZEAN is becoming a sculpture, and that's what I like the most.

So, maybe the way OZEAN looks is, for me, maybe the weirdest show. I'm always hoping that I will have a show that will be far beyond my own imagination. Sometimes it's there, and sometimes it's not. 

Berlin Independents Guide is an artist run communications platform. Listings are accepted from project spaces, galleries, art institutes and art related venues in Berlin. For more information and prices have a look here.
or contacts us at info(at)bpigs.com. We love to hear from you!