PALA LAB: Cultivating a “Meta-Collective” in Berlin

Cairo Bats_Performance_PALA LAB at SomoS Art Space_photo by Lara Salmon

PALA LAB: Cultivating a “Meta-Collective” in Berlin

by Lara Salmon

Amidst a record-breaking heat wave for Germany, in a second-story gallery on a busy Berlin street, a group of artist collectives gather. They will convene for a week to exchange knowledge about collaboration. The title for this workshop is “PALA LAB-Collective Affairs” in reference to Aldous Huxley’s Utopian Island “Pala.” By providing a space for artist groups to co-exist, the hope is to explore working together as an alternative to the competitive systems around us.

PALA LAB took place from July 29th to August 4th in the gallery of SomoS Art Space. It was organized by Eliza Goldox and Vincent Chomaz of ZONA DYNAMIC, a group which facilitates temporary spaces for artists to create and exchange. There are five participating artist collectives, some of which have traveled long distances to participate: Tita Salina and Irwan Ahmett, The Disrupter X Project (Thenjiwe Niki Nkosi and Pamela Sunstrum Phatsimo), Jeanno Gaussi, Cairo Bats, and Utopian Union. Every evening the workshop space opens to the public for an artist talk by the various groups. On the final day there is a gallery exhibition of their work.

The one-night exhibition is a flurry of excitement, with artists eager to engage visitors in the projects they developed over the week. In a corner of the gallery Jeanno Gaussi sets up a table of brown bags with the words “RICE FOR ADVICE” stamped on them. She is the only solo artist at PALA LAB. She was invited to participate because many of her projects, like this one, involve collaboration. Tonight she stands nearby, asking visitors if they will trade a bag of her rice for a piece of their advice. Tired of people insinuating that she act nicely and subdue herself, Jeanno looks to fill her “Advice” notebook with new words of wisdom.

Halfway through the evening the women of Cairo Bats gather themselves and head downstairs to do a performance on the street. The six members of this female collective are both Egyptian and German. Three of them (Omneia Naguib, Magdalena Kallenberger, and Yvonne Buchheim) have come to Berlin to participate in PALA LAB. In this performance Omneia carries a bouquet of individually wrapped cotton candy balls through Neukölln. The idea is to bring a taste of Cairo’s streets, where people selling cotton candy on a stick is common, to this multi-ethnic bustling Berlin neighborhood. The Bats are sensitive to the politics of their mixed identities, and interested in how this changes with location.

Tita Salina and Irwan Ahmett, an artist couple who came from Indonesia for PALA LAB, spent their week initiating a project that intends to bring the groups together in the future. Their inspiration is form of Indonesian Microfinance—the “Arisan.” Traditionally an Arisan is based around social gatherings in which the members take turns financially supporting each other. Tita and Irwan’s proposal for PALA LAB is to use this format of rotating hospitality for the collectives to provide long term, durable support for one another. The participating groups will take turns hosting each other, in their home cities, on a rotating basis over the next four years. In this way, the community initiated through PALA LAB may grow and evolve. Presented at the exhibition are colorful maps Tita made outlining the resources that each group is capable of giving.

Tita and Irwan’s project stands out as having the potential to bring the groups at PALA LAB together in the future. It advances one of the key ideological investigations of the week: the formation of a meta-collective. The idea of a meta-collective is that previously formed collectives could coalesce to form another, larger collaborative force. On the second day of the workshop the participating artists elected to have Vincent and Eliza, PALA LAB organizers, join the workshop as the sixth collective. This broke its hierarchy, and mapped the groups’ potential for a Utopian future. The next years will be a challenging test to see how the members of the group provide spaces of co-creation for each other.

“PALA LAB-Collective Affairs” was initiated by ZONA DYNAMIC/Vincent Chomaz and Eliza Goldox, with the assistance of Sandy Becker. It took place in the gallery of SomoS Art Space in Berlin, Germany.

PALA LAB ran the following programming:
July 30—The Disrupter X Project Artist Talk
July 31—Cairo Bats Artist Talk
August 1—Utopian Union Artist Talk
Aug 2—Tita Salina and Irwan Ahmett Artist Talk
Aug 3—Jeanno Gaussi Artist Talk
Aug 4—PALA LAB Group Exhibition

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