The key to rhythm skating — a soul-based style that combines roller skating and dance — is to master a series of shuffle skate moves with names like Crazy Legs, Shoot the Duck and the Grapevine. While the majority of participants like to skate or “battle” in public spaces, Sascha Dornhöfer, 50, and Alexandra Rothert, 48, treat the sport as an art practice. They call themselves the Infamous Skating Couple and perform in self-produced video works or in galleries, including, most recently, Berlin’s König Galerie. The pair makes a point of honoring the originators of the discipline, but they also strive to push it in new directions. “We want skating to be taken seriously, to be seen as progressive,” says Dornhöfer. “Which is why we perform alone, to experimental music, in dystopian settings, and we never smile.”
It is also why, in 2016, when they bought a two-story loft in a former 1900s tobacco factory in Kreuzberg — a fast-changing Berlin neighborhood filled with other artists and Turkish immigrants — the couple turned the almost 1,700-square-foot lower level into their own skating rink complete with a poured concrete floor and a wall-length mirror. Scattered throughout are dozens of works from the couple’s eclectic art collection, such as colored vinyl records produced by the German musician and artist Carsten Nicolai and a spray-painted stone piece by the artist Katharina Grosse. It is here that they will hone a routine or build, gesture by gesture, an entirely new trick. Among their invented moves, footage of which they like to upload to their much-followed Facebook page, are the Infamous Shizzle, a forward slide with one leg followed by a kick back, and the Heelix, a crossover done on the back wheels of their skates. “We might be able to come up with one in 20 minutes,” says Dornhöfer, “but out in the park with friends we invent nothing.” The difference, he surmises, is that their private space is like a creative laboratory that affords them the room and privacy to experiment. The upper level of the home is, by turns, more of a typical Berlin living space, with an open kitchen, white walls and worn pine floorboards. Though even there the couple has the ability to make the rooms feel bunker-like, as they’ve covered all of the windows with pleated fabric blackout blinds. “We almost never open them,” says Dornhöfer, “because we want to live in a closed world — we can’t create if we are distracted.”
The couple has long skirted convention in favor of seeking out the conditions they need in order to feel most creative or, in other words, most like themselves. After Rothert met Dornhöfer at the Dresden University of Technology in the ’90s — “I was skating along the riverside and Sascha was on his BMX bike” — she remade a pair of inline hockey skates into quad skates for Dornhöfer and began teaching him how to skate at out-of-the-way parks after class. Coincidentally, they were both studying cognitive psychology and were specifically interested in how the brain often falsely perceives visual images. That led them to work as consultants for the automotive industry, roles that allowed them to set their own hours (even today, they go to bed around 5 a.m. and wake up after noon) and devote time to their own interests, which included watching each of Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s films dozens of times and reading through hundreds of contemporary art catalogs as if they were science journals. All of these threads came together in 2003, when the pair founded Neue Massenproduktion, a video art company that has produced hundreds of short experimental art and music works. It’s of limited commercial success, but six years ago, Dornhöfer took over a family-owned ventilation technology business, which gave them the additional income to invest in some of the contemporary art they’d researched and admired for years.
Their collection, which today includes over 300 works, can be seen at every turn in the apartment. The pair chooses objects much as they would direct a film or develop a skate move, following physical and instinctual impulses more than intellectual ones. Perhaps unsurprisingly, they are partial to dark, subversive or satirical objects and images. That has led them to acquire everything from a vintage Vanguard arcade video game to a movie poster of Fassbinder’s “Katzelmacher” (1969) to a neon sign that reads “Tiffany,” which once hung in the window of a local brothel. These items are given the same consideration and pride of place as a 2015 Gerhard Richter print of a photograph of the West German militant Ulrike Meinhof, a print of the words “Ban Religion” by Gilbert & George, an original Jenny Holzer-designed baseball hat from 1980 that reads “The future is stupid” and a 2004 diorama by the brothers Jake and Dinos Chapman of Nazi soldier zombies eating a woman in a vitrine titled “My Sister Went to See Hell and All I Got Was This Lousy Souvenir.”
Seeming to float above it all in the basement is a 2016 mirror balloon sculpture by Jeppe Hein. Made with glass fiber, reinforced plastic, chrome lacquer and a magnet, the work reflects the room from a surreal, distorted fish-eye perspective. In fact, many of the pieces, if not the space as a whole, which is always in flux, seem to incite change blindness, a perceptual phenomenon that occurs when an observer fails to notice when the look of something is altered, and that the couple has studied in depth. “It means that every time you blink, or move your eye, your eye erases everything you’ve seen — you lose visual information,” explains Dornhöfer. Even the bathroom, appointed with an abstract black-and-white photograph by Alfred Ehrhardt and a kitschy mirror laid with fake lines of cocaine, forces you to do a double take. “It’s funny how almost no one comments on that,” Dornhöfer says with a laugh. (The couple themselves avoid drugs and alcohol).
They’ve curated the furniture according to the same quirky sensibility, choosing to buy a copy of a Foscarini Twiggy lamp, now standing in the living room, rather than the original simply because they found its smooth red surface more compelling. The room also features a white lacquered wood two-piece bookshelf — a Schönbuch prototype that never got mass-produced — with tilted diagonal shelves. This preference for unexpected lines extends to the configuration of the rooms themselves: Within the upper floor is a two-story tower made of stacked drywall boxes — one a bedroom, the other a lounge, and each about 6.5 by 6.5 feet — that are connected by a wooden ladder and fronted with sliding panels that the couple painted neon pink and orange.
Like Duchamp, the couple believes almost anything can be transformed into art. “We consider the whole space one giant piece of art, a Gesamtkunstwerk,” says Dornhöfer. “We call it the Infamous Assemblage.” He and Rothert have been updating the apartment for a little over four years, and it’s still a work in progress. Asked what they would do if they were to run out of space, Dornhöfer answers that he would reluctantly put some pieces in storage, but that they prefer to live with it all and keep it safe. That’s another reason they like the dark: Sunlight might damage the art.