Rory MacLean meets Sebastian Bagge and Julio Rölle
‘Our motto is have fun! Plus to appreciate life and not to take ourselves too seriously,’ added his partner Sebastian Bagge, aged 32. ‘Question everything. Trust in yourself and your friends…’
‘…and never give up!’ enthused Rölle.
‘44flavours is two pairs of hands, two heads and two hearts. We’re dedicated to pushing our skill, craft and conceptual knowledge beyond our own ever-widening limits,’ said Bagge with a laugh.
Rölle and Bagge met at art college in Bielefeld. Rölle had been born in Bersenbrück, grown up in Osnabrück and been drawn into the city’s vibrant graffiti scene.
‘Osnabrück was a kind of playground for me,’ he recalled. ‘I was always running, always involved in painting, never satisfied with sitting at home and playing with a Game Boy. I loved the energy, loved making connections. My mother is half-Belgium, half-Breton so in my teens I often went to France. I painted in different cities like Paris, Lyon, Bordeaux, studied for a time in both Brest and Toulouse. When I started at art school in Bielefeld I brought with me the techniques of street art, both its spontaneity and the enthusiasm for big scale. I also brought into my work the language of freedom.’
Bagge was raised in Oldenburg, not far away from Rölle’s home. His father was a typesetter, his uncle a printer, his elder sister a graphic designer. He grew up surrounded by text, sensitive to the beauty and possibilities of typography. At home he experimented with Photoshop and Quark Express rather than playing computer games. He was into the BMX scene, basketball and in-line skating - the stuff of small town youth culture in the early 1990s. At the age of 17 he was also a Yo Yo professional, sponsored by Eastpac, travelling the country. He invented the freestyle Yo Yo trick Disaster, a twisting, looping, spinning feat of manual dexterity.
Bagge and Rölle met at college and became friends. Their first major collaboration was a series of four bold, collage-like ‘magazines’ entitled 44flavours. The self-financed series – printed on newsprint or high gloss paper, bound in cardboard or to look like a school notebook, even once incorporating a 45 rpm single and music CD – drew on the talents of both themselves and friends and was reminiscent of Kurt Schwitters’ Merz.
Bagge had spotted the name 44flavours on a New York ice cream van.
‘From the start it was a name onto which we could project our ideas, which implied variety, a team, a collective,’ explained Rölle.
After his internship in the design department of Zoo York skateboards in Manhattan, Rölle moved to Berlin at the end of 2005, Bagge came in autumn 2007, after both finished their studies in Bielefeld. They brought with them 44flavours’ humour, hunger and concept. Their design studio-cum-art collective found space in the then-new Aqua Carré, a converted plumbing factory that now houses dance companies like Flying Steps and the techno club Ritter Butzke.
In their top floor studio, surrounded by big screen Macs, books, bicycles and a ubiquitous Gaggia espresso machine, Rölle and Bagge are producing some of Berlin’s most exciting contemporary design work including customized snowboards and coolers, album covers, posters, murals and installations. In an adjoining ‘atelierspace’ the partners are building a moveable, stand-alone after-party room which will be assembled at this summer’s Melt, Nacht Digital and Helene Beach festivals. The client is Red Bull yet – as an example of ‘silence marketing’ – the company’s logo will appear nowhere on the installation. Instead key music artists will be asked to hang out in the space, and festival-goers will be given free access to it, as well as free cans of Red Bull.
‘There’s no product we’re afraid of designing because – at the moment – clients want what we do. So we don’t have to change ourselves,’ said Rölle.
‘If we did have to change, we wouldn’t do the project,’ added Bagge.
44flavours occupies a creative space somewhere between New Realism and Constructivism, with a dynamic mix of Pop Art, Dadaism, Fluxus and naïve painting.
‘I may not be able to describe our work in a single phrase but I can tell you what we are not,’ said Rölle. ‘We are not tidy, light, inhuman, itinerant or crazy. We are not weird street artists, smoking joints all day. We are not trying to be different things. We are simply being ourselves.’
Since last year Bagge and Rölle have taught at the University of Applied Sciences in Salzburg, led workshops at and produced a vast airborne installation at the German Historical Museum and - later this month - are completing and opening their startling, interdisciplinary Six Pack exhibition – with fellow artist Atak - at the Kunsthaus Stade near Hamburg.
How do these dynamic, creative souls define creativity?
‘First of all for us creativity is communication, and the ability to express ideas in any manner,’ said Bagge and Rölle in one voice, yet as individuals. ‘Second, creativity is the recognition and identification of and with your environment. Finally you need creativity to create solutions.’
44flavours is very Berlin.