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Ordering takeout and pulling an all-nighter to nail that tricky client request might be an old cliché in the art agency world, but it's true that constant face-to-face communication remains important as ever.
Lockdown presents unique challenges for every industry, some more challenging than others. For someone tasked with dreaming up ideas for a living, being isolated from the colleagues you're used to bouncing ideas off of is hardly ideal. Likewise, working within the same four walls all day, every day is hardly fertile ground for the imagination. Or so one would assume.
acte tm, one of Berlin's brightest new artist studios and regular Highsnobiety collaborator, has suddenly found itself dealing with such issues amid the ongoing pandemic. Having finished off the last of its pre-Covid-19 projects, they now find themselves exploring new ways to stay productive. They've already worked with the likes of Virgil Abloh and 032c, but they never would have envisaged they'd wind up in the business of crafting face masks. Proof that adversity breeds opportunity.
Keen to get an insight into how the operation is holding up, I caught up with studio co-founders Philipp Groth and Sascha Huth over Zoom.
Can you introduce acte tm and the service the studio provides?
acte tm is an artist and creative studio made in Berlin. We have strong backgrounds in both film and design and draw major influences from skateboarding. It’s all about collaboration. We create images, spaces, films, objects, garments, and installations.
What are some of your big projects going on right now?
Every current project began in pre-corona times but was fully realized during the lockdown. The idea for the acte tm x 032c editorial popped up earlier this year when we had an exhibition at König Gallery in Tokyo and were introduced to the Japanese rap star Tohji by his manager. We immediately fell in love with his energy and realized the shoot just hours before the international lockdown.
We've also teamed up with Dazed to premiere "Solidarity Is the Only Enemy of Misery“ - an eight-minute film artwork on three canvas. It was shot late last year in New York and was originally designed as a large scale film installation. It took us quite some time to transform the piece into a film you can experience online.
How has your studio routine changed since lockdown?
The studio counts seven people now. All of us have been working remotely from home. It's sad because it literally is our second home. When people go, we provide masks when working there.
You mentioned to me the other day that you’ve experienced a new kind of creativity following the lockdown. Can you expand on that?
This whole phenomenon is interesting for us. At first, we found the fact there were no personal meetings, no direct conversations, or face to face contact to be extremely painful. How can you remain creative when closed off from the outside world and all its impulses? Fast forward a month or so and now we’re experiencing quite the opposite. After getting over the initial shock, we now feel a sense of serenity. We are no longer calibrating our thoughts in terms of social reality and how we would square them into the requirements of the outside world. It's like we've rediscovered "pure" ideas, where we think outside the context of the internet and social media.
That said, there is definitely a strong need for us, as a creative studio, to be physically together. We actually struggled with online meetings a bit, which is funny because you would think — as digital natives — we were born to communicate via Facetime.
What are the main challenges you’ve encountered so far and what tips would you give people in the same business as yourself?
Having the right ideas is not the main challenge. It’s really about knowing how to execute them. With all that’s going on, it came to us quite naturally to think about expanding into CGI and digital art. It’s a question of the message, you know. Can we plant the message when it's entirely built digitally? Are we able to shift our identity towards that field? Do we want to?
There was a certain point when we realized that if we were going to take on this new episode, we need to commit to make it work. acte tm has always existed at the intersection between visual and haptic — shot on film, built by our hands, while physically on set. Now, we are experimenting more and more with digital components, but that isn't to say we're losing our identity. It’s just another chapter. Stay true to yourself, but don’t be afraid of switching things up to bring your idea to life.
Who would you describe major influences on your work?
I think, as is the case with most artists, we didn’t arrive fully formed or ready. A number of people have labeled us "minimalists,“ "purists," or "conceptualists," but these were just episodes we were going through. I mean, we love minimalism, but labels like that don't fully define us. We're always changing. That's why we like to catch people off guard by describing acte tm as a cultural communicator. Nobody knows what that should be, what it encompasses.
However, when we talk about certain "fixed points“ of generations above us, There is Werner Herzog and the insanity he puts into his work. The same goes for Van der Rohe, Le Corbusier, and the stringency of the Bauhaus era. You could mention a lot of visionaries here - but honestly, we are extremely happy to be a diverse family at acte.
One of the films you directed stars Virgil Abloh, how was it working with him?
It was super straight forward and fun. We had a phone call with him — actually, I remember my colleague holding the phone so I was able to write everything down, because we knew it was such an important moment for us. The phone connection was super fucked up, so he instead invited us over to Milan to the Off-White™ atelier. We really appreciated that shoot and our time with him.
Finally, what music has been playing at the studio lately
We enjoy a lot of Pavarotti during working hours. This record here covers pretty much all of our favorites. His fashion style during the '80s and '90s is sick as well. Burna Boy is another huge inspiration for sure - we would love to get our hands on a project with him — and finally, Tohji. He’s an absolute sensation, a hell of a friend, and he’s getting more and more recognition in Europe after taking over Japan.