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We visited cultural producer Hilka Dirks in her Berlin-Neukölln home and talked to her about dwelling with images and her perception of documentary photography in social media. And: how to live with a double-Din-A0 poster print?

Hilka, you chose the motif "Relief" by Johanna-Maria Fritz in our webshop. Now we're sitting here in your living room looking at the poster print. How come you chose this particular spot for the double DIN A0 poster?

The placement is not really that "particular" but rather quite ordinary. But it made the most sense to me. The sofa — and I think this applies to a lot of people — is like a ship. Or a home within a home. It's your very own center of life and cosmos in which you exist. The place where you do it all: dreaming, reading, working, suffering, eating, loving and, of course, just hanging around. While keeping an eye on everything. The rest of my apartment, the room, the balcony, the world outside, and beyond. And now there's also this stone relief from Raqqua. What a beautiful new view.

Look! For example, this little creature in the stone (pointing to a dead little silverfish, which can be seen on the relief in the print).

Do you feel like making your space look bigger?

I don't think it's so much about size. My space would appear larger if it were more empty, but I don't like this minimalist vastness that much. I've always loved the effect when you can't create visual and physical distance to a motif, the conservatively conceived way of viewing. In other words, when the eye won't have the opportunity to keep an overview in purely spatial terms. Instead, your brains right inside the image. That's why I thought of hanging the poster in my super narrow bathroom.

What do you think makes rooms look more vast?

For me, living with pictures is about expanding inspiration and perspective rather than space. The format almost adds a whole dimension. In purely formal terms due to the sheer size, but of course also in terms of the story.

However, the nice thing is that the presence of the context diminishes all by itself when you live with something. Be it an object, art, images. Or when the motif is complemented, overwritten and reassociated with your own life.

Your apartment is filled with artifacts, objets trouvés and artistic works by various authors. Tell us about this special selection.

(Laughs.) Yes, well, filled. I try not to stuff it completely. Most of the stuff is actually things I've found. But not in the sense of a ready-made, but quite literally. Scrappy stores, flea markets and stairwells halfway around the world. I find it difficult to describe exactly what it is that has to happen for an object to move in with me. Sometimes I almost feel like a caretaker of objects. Benjamin talks about the aura in relation to art. I can also relate to that with everyday objects, too.



For example, this onion basket made of knitted wire hanging in my kitchen. Someone made it with their own hands. They thought it up, designed it and invested time in it. And I pulled it out of a box in an attic. And now it hangs here and I love it a lot. And I can't even imagine where it's been hanging and who might have made it. The irregularities within the mesh is something that can make me feel incredibly touched and affectionate. Or the leather on the “Fledermausstuhl”. How many people have sat on it. What did they talk about? What did they laugh about? Just like books that get thicker every time you read them, as if the reader's thoughts get stuck in them, I feel the same way about objects. And certainly with pictures too. Art. History sticks to them invisibly. But you can feel it.

Is the onion basket your favorite piece in your home?

That would be the paravant in my bedroom. It stands against the wall and doesn't really have any function other than to give me great joy every morning. It's also an object that's actually far too big for my living space. I found it in a dark corner of an antique store in Kreuzberg. And something about this turn-of-the-century kitsch, the skeptical squirrel on the leash, the brushstroke of the thick peaches, the riveted leather edge resonates with me.



Susan Sontag warned us back in the 70s against passively consuming images and thus becoming numb. She may not even have had the slightest idea of how many visual media now have a permanent effect on us. How do you feel about that?

Personally, I don't feel numb to painful and violent images. In fact, I try to protect myself from them and at the same time not close my eyes because I would be privileged enough to be able to. 

Certainly, this is a complex issue, moving between the big questions of ethics, trauma, respect and voyeurism, authenticity and propaganda as well as information, document and evidencey.

However, in her essay "Regarding the Pain of Others", which is well worth reading and remains relevant to this day, Sontag responds to her own thesis and revises it in large parts, among other things against the backdrop of the Bosnian war in the 1990s.



It is difficult getting an objective view of what is happening in Gaza, for example, from the media. Is it possible to understand this war (or others) without seeing the images of the many Instagram users’ eyes, as authentic and immediate as the view through a camera can be?

But how do we know that this is happening authentically and immediately? I don't consider myself well-versed enough in media to judge something like "authenticity" - i.e. truthfulness - in social media. I also feel great ambivalence towards the exhibition of victims, and thus the repetition, of pain and misery. There are certainly places for the publication of horrific images and there are certainly political and moral imperatives to show such images if they have been researched and verified. Intuitively, social media does not seem suitable here, as suffering is commodified in order to increase traffic and click numbers.


"Relief" by Johanna-Maria Fritz tells the story of a sculptor in Raqqa. He buried his artistic work to protect it and himself from the jihadists. The motifs show the artifacts after he brought them back to light. A hopeful story. What does this story do to you?

Just that. Reminding me that there is always hope. No matter how dark. For me, however, the story of the print has long since been completed. With the biographical story of the photographer. With the memory of the day I bought the poster and the afternoon when I saw it on display for the first time at Another-June-Vintage in Kreuzberg. With the evenings I spent lying on this couch looking at it, with your story about the founding of FROM. And of course through this afternoon together and our conversation. Everything is already attached to it. Invisible and yet very clear. And that's why it's no longer just a picture that tells of hope, but also of being at home, friendship and simply life itself.

Happy new year, Hilka! Thanks for having us.

January 2024