naivsuper is an art organization, collective, platform, book publisher, film producer, distributor, and music label based in Berlin. It´s run by Claudio Pfeifer and Stephane Leonard and was created in 2003. The name comes from a Norwegian book written by Erlend Loe, which the two discovered a long time ago. naivsuper combines the collective output, ideas, and experiments of the two artists and seems to have become a lifelong journey for them to experiment with artistic possibilities. As a book and music publisher, naivsuper releases Claudio Pfeifer´s and Stephane Leonard´s work as well as work by young and talented artists, musicians, and filmmakers from around the world. The overall goal is to make art affordable and accessible without compromising its quality. Each release comes in limited editions with minimalistic design and packaging on hand-selected paper.
We visited them at their industrial loft studio in Berlin Rummelsburg to see what they’ve been working on and to sit down and chat with Stephane.
How did you find each other and how did the collaboration begin?
We started together at the University of the Arts in Bremen. I went there to study because of Paco Knöller who once was a student of the Joseph Beuys class and I guess I really wanted him to be my teacher. Claudio started out in the video art class and later continued to study photography and then camera. Our collective work began with making and printing album covers together. We basically made art for music and started to publish CDs in very small editions of our own and our friends sound experiments. At this point I was very much into working with sound and Claudio was really interested in the visual part.
We worked very well together and after some time we thought it would be nice to have a place where we could work and live and be creative all the time. Together with a really good friend we moved into an old train station and the naivsuper collective was born. Next to publishing and printing we started working on music videos, art films, short films and installations, we organised exhibitions, concerts and also parties. After a few years I moved to New York and Claudio to Berlin where we met again in 2006 or 2007. Since we didn´t have the printing facilities anymore and much smaller studio, our work and ideas changed or adapted and at some point we began to publish small books, which we still do if we find the time. A couple of years ago Claudio got pretty obsessed with publishing and that´s when he started Pogobooks. naivsuper has always been an experiment which changed directions a few times and probably will continue to do so.
How do you work together?
We’ve had a studio together for so many years now, which is probably responsible for our collective efforts. We work pretty close together and check each other’s projects out all the time. We help and support one another as much as possible or necessary or wanted. It´s fun. I guess there are a lot of things we would have never done if it wasn´t for the other person. We sort of encourage each other.
The first idea behind naivsuper was to create a platform where lots of different people can work together but everyone else has never been able to invest the same amount of time and energy into it as we did. So people would come, work with us on a project and then leave again. I don’t know if we are still a collective, but naivsuper and the studio is basically our home, it’s the platform for Claudios and my work.
You are a successful music video director and have worked with Bodi Bill amongst many others, how did you find your way from art to music videos?
When Claudio started doing Pogobooks I got kind of bored (laughing) and so I started working more and more as a director. I was also at a point where I couldn’t figure out a way to finance my video art ideas anymore and so I used music videos to get my work out there. Of course one has to adapt to the music and the pictures that come with it, but there is still enough space for my own ideas. It´s kind of like a trade of where everyone benefits.
It felt like a natural progression and I honestly don´t really see a difference between my art and my music videos. It´s not like I had to change much. In the end you create or invent something and then it´s other people who label it. So, I´m just doing what I feel like I have to do and of course want to do and most of the time the results are either videos or drawings.
What interests you about drawing?
In the beginning I saw myself more or less as a painter. That was before I started at the University. I didn’t know that a drawing artist can get the same recognition that a painter gets. Not that I care much about recognition, but it´s important that you feel someone could care for what you do. I mean back then, I had never really seen just drawing exhibitions and it always seemed to be more of a thing a painter would do on the side. Only when I discovered my Professor´s work and Cy Twombly and many other great drawing artists I became courageous enough to just draw.
Did you know that you are only able to study drawing in two schools in Germany? Well, that´s how I ended up in Bremen.
When I started studying there, I began to reduce my artworks more and more. First I got rid of colors, then the canvas and brushes, and in the end there was only a sheet of paper and a pencil. It really is the most direct way to get your ideas, thoughts and feelings out. It´s also the most direct way to somehow communicate with the outside world.
This scares me a bit…
Yes, it can be scary, but has also never failed to amaze me at the same time.
There was a time when I couldn’t draw with normal pencils because of the pressure. So I only worked with these small free Ikea pencils on found paper to free myself from all the expectations I had. Nowadays I am almost neurotic about my materials, the paper I use, the pencils and the colors, but it has been a long process finding the perfect materials and the right balance between free expression and actual content, which is something I am interested in.
It is still a complicated situation though, because with the right pencil on the right paper the line that you draw will stay forever. It carves an inevitable truth into the paper, which makes it so exciting.
What inspires you?
Architecture and photography inspire me a lot, but also philosophy and life in general to a certain extend. I love to think about communication, I like watching processes and transformations and I am interested in the aura, the twilight and the divine and other meta things. I guess in the end I just like to keep an open mind.
I print out lots of images I find online and create little mood boards. A bit like the Gerhard Richter “Atlas”. Whenever I am not feeling inspired I just need to look at these moods or take a walk along the river Spree which is right outside my studio.
How do you feel about being an artist in Berlin?
I am an observer of the situation in Berlin right now. It´s an exciting place with a lot of creative energy, but unfortunately it´s lacking a market and so I also have my eyes on London and New York. Berlin gives me the freedom to work and it gives me time to learn and understand what I am doing. This is a luxury and I am aware of it, so I try to be thankful and careful not to spoil it.
Berlin is changing so much all the time, too. At the moment living costs are going up and up which does scare me. I am neither for or against this crazy gentrification that´s been going on for a few years now. I can see how people and the city benefit from it, but it doesn´t come without problems. Locals who cannot afford to stay in their old neighbourhoods and such things. It´s not as easy as it always seems. In the end I guess it’s more about what people do in Berlin. How do they spent the extra free time? What do they do with their freedom? And how are they going to sustain that?
Last year we moved out to Berlin Rummelsburg to escape the whole discussion a bit. It’s still empty here… we’ll see for how long.
Is there any news? What are you currently working on!
At the moment I am preparing three new music videos. It´s actually going to be a trilogy for a new band called Clarence & Napoleon. Also we just got back from New York. We presented our books at the New York Art Book Fair. I have also 2 new books out which need to be send out into the world right now. And then I started to work with spray cans again which is exciting. My new drawings are mixtures of pencil, crayons and spray paint. It´s pretty wild. I have never used so many colors and I am still pretty overwhelmed by it. As a teenager I was deeply involved in Berlins Graffiti scene, but when I started to paint and draw on paper and canvases I changed the way my hand moves. I had to train myself to draw more connected with my inner self and not to be too nice or perfect. A spray can makes you move really fast and the lines are so demanding and in your face that you naturally want to become better and master the technique, which is what I am fighting now. I don´t care much about the technique, I am only interested in the results and the results cannot be too pretty, because then it really wouldn´t be authentic anymore.
How do you like the idea of Artconnect Berlin?
The idea is wonderful especially when you´ve just arrived in Berlin. I think it´s perfect for new and young artists to connect, meet people and discuss their work. Talking about your work is what makes you become better, more aware and more focussed. Connecting and communicating is also at the core of the arts in general.
Thank you for the interview Stephane!
If you want to meet Stephane and Claudio don’t miss their book releases on Thursday at Idrawalot!