Karen Stuke stayathome
28 April 2021

#stayathome: The Karl-Marx-Allee turned upside down

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The photographer Karen Stuke has been living on the Karl-Marx-Allee for 20 years now and with her camera obscura, has been keeping a photographic record of the avenue between the television tower and Frankfurter Tor since the beginning of the first lockdown: experimental and as a reverse image.

When Karen Stuke looks out of her window on the sixth floor, she is able to see the flag flying over the “Rotes Rathaus” (Town Hall) and a tree that is getting denser year by year. Her apartment is in Block C Süd (South) on the Karl-Marx-Allee, which Gewobag assumed ownership of in 2019. This had been preceded by residents’ protests with the aim of preventing a takeover by Deutsche Wohnen.When the pandemic started, Karen Stuke, out of necessity, converted her home into a creative haven and photographic set.

Karen Stuke wohnt in der Karl-Marx-Allee.
Karen Stuke in her neighbourhood, the Karl-Marx-Allee. Photo © Jörg Dedering

Karen Stuke, can you explain the camera obscura in a lay person’s language?

Karen Stuke: It works like an enormous eye. You black out a room and punch a small hole in the cardboard in front of the window, for example. That then functions as the lens, the pupil. From this, one can work out how large the hole must be in relation to the room, in order for the projected image to be sharp.

How long did it take you to come up with the idea for the series of photographs “#stayathome”?

Karen Stuke: After everything had closed during the first lockdown, I pretty soon began to concern myself artistically with the topic “stay at home”. And, thanks to my work with the camera obscura, the creation of spaces in which the outside world is reversed and turned upside down was not a new idea for me either.

Die Wohnung von Karen Stuke an der Karl-Marx-Allee.
From the series “#stayathome”: In Karen Stuke’s flat, the outside world is turned upside down

What is the significance of the projected images of the Karl-Marx-Allee in the interior world of your flat?

Karen Stuke: For me, it was about exploring the questions of where I am living and why I am living here. I became even more intensely aware of this during the protests against the possible takeover by Deutsche Wohnen two years ago – and, since the pandemic, all the more so. As I was recently making my way to my car, I looked to the right and saw the Frankfurter Tor and to the left and saw the television tower – and that was when the thought that clinched it came to me: you are right there where you want to be.

What are your plans for a return to a “normal life”?

Karen Stuke: I hope that many cancelled orders will be won back and that exhibitions that have been cancelled can take place. My photos often travelled to exhibitions in other countries during the past year. They have done more travelling than I have myself.

Where and when will we be able to see “#stayathome”?

Karen Stuke: At the moment in the Museum of Art in Bochum, in June they will be presented at the “f2 Fotofestival” in Dortmund and after that in an exhibition in Rumania.

What do you wish for the summer of 2021?

Karen Stuke: It seems a bit profane to say that everything should return to normal. I am completely worldly in that respect and hope my parents stay well.

Thank you very much for this interview!

Photos © Karen Stuke, Felix Seyfert

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