HazMatLab are Frankfurt based artists Sandra Havlicek, Tina Kohlmann and Katharina Schücke. Since 2016 they operate together out of their temporary subterranean laboratory, where they work on chemical and alchemical experiments with materials from different fields like cosmetics, space technology, car tuning and TCM (traditional chinese medicine). The artists specialize in dismantling metamorphic processes and naturally, the outcome of these experiments is open. Recently their work has been shown at Qingyun International Art Center (Beijing, China), Projektraum basis (Frankfurt, Germany) and BA Art Space Shanghai (Shanghai, China).
Could you tell us a bit about your backgrounds and how did HazMatLab come together?
The three of us studied at Städelschule in Frankfurt, but at different times and different professors. Each of us really benefited from Städelschule’s emphasis on autonomy and critical reflection in dialogue with fellow students and professors, freedom and space for experimentations. We know each other for quite some years now. During a shared residency in 2014 Sandra and Katharina developed a great affinity for nail design and nail lacquer as a material. In Frankfurt we initiated late night hangouts called “OVA“ with friends, where we would spend hours and hours working on our nails. Tina showed obvious signs of obsession, too. Through nail design we got a better understanding of eachothers artistic topics. We share the same sense of humour and a deep interest in material experimentation and craftsmanship. Last year we had the opportunity to set up dates for 3 shows, so we just joint forces and got started.
What were the thoughts behind the name HazMatLab and what does it stand for?
While preparing for the exhibitions we knew we wanted to work with nail polish in a bigger scale. Therefore, we contacted some independent brands from the US and Australia. We got some really great support but they were all like: “we wanna help you, but we can’t ship it to you, because it is hazmat (hazardous material)”.
This was actually the first time we came across the term “hazmat”. We liked it so much that we decided to call our collaborative studio, which we set up only for the 2 months preparing our shows in a basement, HazMatLab. First it was for this specific project, but we really enjoyed working together because it pushes you out of your personal comfort zone which is very productive. We definitely wanted to continue working as a dynamic trio – we kept the name.
Can you tell us the ideas and concepts behind your works and where do you find inspiration for them?
Because three minds engage in the depth of decision making, the process opens up for multi-layered facets of developing an idea, approaching its concept and producing its body. The way we work comes rather naturally, even though it might seem fluidly or unstable. We love the idea that everything is open and you basically start with nothing. Every experimentation system is specific, improvised and grounded in an elementary manner in its time.
What are the advantages and challenges being an artist trio? Can you describe your working/collaborating process?
The great thing is when you yourself get to a limit or stuck in your own routine, someone else´s mind comes in, sees something different and pushes the work to a level you yourself would have never thought of. It is a very organic process which needs some time as well as trust. HazMatLab somehow works like a rotating swirl. There is a starting point with a basis of materials and a certain structure in the lab. Site specific material is absorbed into this cycle. The lab grows. Every material goes through all of our hands and almost nothing is kicked out of this swirl. We work with a scientific as well as an alchemical approach and each object is developed in a dynamic process. The outcome of the experiment is open.
As we don´t share a studio, we work in our lab which changes location often, it is always structured differently. Even the working circumstances are in a steady flux, this is an important part of our artistic production.
How do you go about selecting materials?
We just came back from a two-month residency in China. Our latest exhibition “Hwiz“ included mainly site-specific material: grass jelly, sesame paste, chicken feet, monk fruit, local stuff we found, to be honest mostly the stuff we ate. Intrigued by their slimy texture and viscosity we started to use it in our sculptures. So far we have worked with various mineral salts and crystallization processes, but there is also metal that can grow crystals, like bismuth, which is mainly mined in China.
In general while experimenting we develop this alchemical drive. We are very much interested in creating our own sculptural material, for example slime. It moves autonomously. Because slime has its own orientation in space, it defines space depending on gravity, temperature and architecture.
Are you working on any new projects these days?
Always! Right now we are working on a long term study about coating bigger objects with crystals. The first tests are almost done
Do you have any bad habits, do they affect your work?
We turned into lab rats. No daylight, please!
Are there anything else you would like to share?
For more of HazMatLab: https://www.hazmatlab.org