Interview with Heike Tosun, founder of the gallery Soy Capitán in Berlin
Soy Capitán. I am the captain. The name of Heike Tosun’s gallery says it all about her determined approach and her will to make autonomous statements. The idea of generating autonomous ideas while at the same time developing and implementing strategies is one of Tosun’s main issues. And not to forget to create opportunities for dialogs and lively exchanges.
But how did it all start?
I founded Soy Capitán in 2010, first as a project room to experiment. In 2011 it officially became a gallery.
What compelled you to open a gallery?
I was primarily driven by curiosity and by the need to represent artists autonomously. At the same time I wanted be open to new challenges and see what happens. Soy Capitán began with a very concentrated program – and it still is. In the past four years I have worked with seven artists. That is not much when you look at galleries in the of the same type. Also, I have always had an affinity to art. In the late 1990s I studied art history in Bonn, and the proximity to Cologne – at that time still the center for contemporary art – gave me easy access to the art scene.
What did you do before opening your gallery?
Before Soy Capitán I worked for other galleries. From the beginning it was clear to me that I liked the dynamics that occur in a gallery, and that it is dialogical work – in contrast to the academic work – especially when it comes to dealing with artists, colleagues and collectors. I liked the fact that the daily gallery routing and discussions about artistic content carry the same weight.
Besides, in this work you discover many characteristics of your personality that you didn’t recognize in yourself during theoretical study. You are yourself the actor. From the beginning I thought that this was exciting.
What did you bring from your previous experience?
It was an invaluable experience. First of all, what it means to represent your own position to the outside world and to stand up for something, but at the same time to check your point of view again. Besides, of course I learned how the art market works. Running a gallery is ultimately also a business.
Why the name Soy Capitán?
The name is very closely linked to the first gallery space in Neukölln. It was very small and manageable – which was the ideal place to begin. I knew from the beginning that I wanted to take the time to develop a program and not to start with a fixed list of artists. Working in a small space is an art in itself, as the spatial capacities are limited.
Soy Capitán sounds simple and more contemporary than “Gallery Heike Tosun“. I was not sure if I even wanted to be a protagonist in the foreground.
You opened your gallery in Neukölln. How did you choose the location?
In 2010 a lot happened in Neukölln. As I have been living in this neighborhood for years, I could observe that this part of Berlin was developing and changing very rapidly. I did not plan to rent a space, I was not consciously looking for a place. But then I saw that space and noticed that it fit very well with my way of working: compressed, focused and to the point. It had charm and related to my personal life. For me, an ideal place for my first ideas and to learn about what it is like to run your own gallery.
And then you moved to Prinzessinnenstraße in Kreuzberg…
The relocation came a year later. Neukölln was very busy, but the audience there changed because of the gentrification of the area. Finally, I liked the idea of having gallery colleagues in the immediate area without being too far from the first location, since I still liked it to work there. The idea of continuing Soy Capitán as a gallery grew, and I looked for larger premises. Meanwhile, I became acquainted with Galerie Klemm’s, and they were also looking for a new space. The quiet backyard in the Prinzessinnenstraße today is definitely more attractive now than it was then, but we recognized the potential of the site right away and moved into the premises.
What is the program of your gallery?
I am interested in works that emanate strength and intensity. When I look at the artists in my program, I see a serious confrontation with the content of their respective artistic practice – which is in every case very different.
Shahin Afrassiabi for example, deals with the materiality and complexity of objects which generates a critical examination of the medium itself. This is the same starting point of Benja Sachau, whose objects and drawings are also linked to a media-critical attitude, but his transposition is completely different. Also the story-telling is important. This is especially true for Eli Cortiñas who processes narrative structures in videos, collages, and objects. The most recent artist added to the program, Grace Weaver, quotes in her figurative paintings art historical positions and combines them in a very refreshing way with motifs from the popular culture. She is a great addition to the other painters in my program, Matthias Dornfeld and Henning Strassburger.
Is there a leitmotif?
Even in their most minimal gestures, I see in each of the artists a strong stance that goes beyond formal aspects. This certainly is the thread that connects the seven artists.
What does it mean to be a young gallery in Berlin?
An advantage is that there is an ever-growing audience and a special interest in young art and galleries. As a young gallery you can – at least for now – escape the financial pressure and focus mainly on the program and the dialog with the artists. Besides, there is not direct competition with bigger galleries, as the young art market is in another price range. In principle, you can follow your own program. So far, it has worked well.
Is there more cooperation or competitiveness among galleries?
During the first years, you are still in the learning process. I wish I could collaborate more with other galleries. This would be especially interesting with galleries of the older generation. I do not feel like I am competing. I cannot say how others see the situation, but I know for myself that I can cooperate and I like to exchange with colleagues.
How has the gallery scene in Berlin developed, and how do you see the future of Berlin as a gallery location?
There is no longer THE scene – there are now several scenes which have different tendencies. I think Berlin will be an attractive location as long as there are artists who work here and galleries that represent this location in the outside world.
What are the difficulties of a young female gallery owner in the first years of the gallery?
In the first years it was especially difficult to draw up a framework and to establish itself within the existing structures and networks. Furthermore, it was difficult to find a balance between risk and security: young gallery owners want to show young and emerging art without knowing in advance how it will be accepted. This is for me the most difficult challenge.
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