metropolis m

For Metropolis M, Jessica Gysel meets with queer & feminist collectives that exhibit alternative ways of cooperation and collaboration. For her fifth and final text in this series, she speaks with Felicia von Zweigbergk, one of the founders of Amsterdam’s brewery Butcher’s Tears. ‘To work your way out of capitalism is really hard. But at least the hard work is ours.’

[answer ] Lost Property is something we started because of despair.
And the lack of the raw and the rough.
I felt a painful gap between my ideas and my reality.
I wanted the ideas, and I was feeling both an urge to stay in the latency of things, and a need for speed.
Only I could give myself that sort of space. However, nowadays, having that very space, I find myself spending a lot of time cleaning glasses, Repeating myself, fixing the toilet, writing e-mails, walking up and down, talking to strangers.
If I made some money, I think I would hire someone to work for me.

[answer ] Felicia von Zweigbergk, quoted in Chris Kraus’ Lost Properties, Semiotext(e), 2014

The writing of this piece about Amsterdam’s brewery Butcher’s Tears and, more specifically, about the practice of one of its founding members, the artist Felicia von Zweigbergk, started six years ago. Over the course of those years, I talked to Felicia on a regular basis, mostly to check how things were going financially. It’s a miracle that I managed to finish it, just like it’s a miracle that Butcher’s Tears is still around.

This is the fifth and final chapter of my series ‘Makers of Their Own Time’, of which the first episode was published in 2021 already, following a ‘research residency’ at Metropolis M. As I am writing this piece, Butcher’s Tears iconic hang-out (or: ‘proeflokaal’) in Amsterdam Zuid is about to close its doors, as gentrification is hitting the neighbourhood harder and harder. But not all things come to an end: a new proeflokaal might pop up somewhere else in the future. For now, let’s go back to the brewery’s early beginnings…

Butcher's Tears beers

Amsterdam always had these cool hang-outs. Remember café Nagel, close to Nieuwmarkt? Or, even before that, Pallet Club in Vrieshuis Amerika in the east? Moving from Brussels to Amsterdam in 1996, I had a front-row seat to the changes in the city’s management of local cafés and squats over the years. I witnessed how these older industrial warehouse buildings were first transformed to illegal clubs, squats and ‘broedplaatsen’ (spaces for artistic experimentation), only to later become institutionalized and turned into real estate complexes.

Felicia and Jan decided to create a bar from scratch: ‘We wanted to re-think everything: furniture, design, PR, art, opening hours, food, beer’

Lost Property

Flyers Butcher's Tears

In 2011, seemingly out of nowhere, Lost Property emerged in the Kolenkit area of Amsterdam. Swedish artist Felicia von Zweigbergk launched this temporary art space the day after she graduated from the Fine Arts department at the Gerrit Rietveld Academie. Together with Jan Hopf she created the Sly Prop Otter foundation. Jan had made a deal with the Bos & Lommer city council to take over the rent of a block of apartments, which also encompassed a defunct video store. The plan was to offer relatively cheap housing to artists and their partners, and to use the earnings to turn the video store into an informal bar. Even though Jan and Felicia never planned to make a living out of this, they managed to do so by living cheaply and by putting all of the money they made straight back into the project.

Talking about those early days, Felicia reminisces about the reports she had to write for the district council: ‘I had to tell them what kind of events we had, how many people had come, and so on. But I had this feeling that no one was actually reading my reports. So at some point we thought: let’s not write those reports anymore, and see what happens. When absolutely nothing happened, we figured that we were free!’ Felicia and Jan started a bar thinking that exhibitions did not really work anymore. ‘People may come to the opening, and maybe to the finissage as well, but in-between those two moments it’s just a dead museum’, Felicia explains. Since people do spend time in a bar, they decided to create one from scratch: ‘We wanted to re-think everything: furniture, design, PR, art, opening hours, food, beer: we did not want to go to Albert Heijn and buy beer, just to sell that same beer back again.’

Lost Property’s 'screen' by night 

Therefore, Felicia and Jan decided to drive up to Sweden, where longtime friend slash brewer Eric Nordin –aka Arkan– fetched them different small batches of home brewed beer (which was later to become Butcher’s Tears beer). Arkan would also come to Amsterdam to brew limited special edition beer in Felicia’s apartment and to sell those forty bottles for quite some money. In 2011, Arkan moved to Amsterdam and brewed the legendary Lost Property Ale, which recently went back on the menu to celebrate Butcher’s Tears’ 12th anniversary.

Opposite of Lost Property there was a big wall, which Felicia and Jan decided to project videoworks on 

Programme at Lost Property

Opposite of Lost Property there was a big wall, which Felicia and Jan decided to project videoworks on through the Lost Property window. It became the backbone of the art space; the bar and the wall, open till late, every Thursday. A few years later, Felicia bought a light sign from a steakhouse. She curated a project which entailed that the sign would be passed around a handpicked group of artists, for just one year. The emails read:

Dear ******

My name is Felicia Broberg von Zweigbergk and I run Lost Property, a small art space in a suburb of Amsterdam called Kolenkit where we project video works on the house facade opposite and serve beer from our microbrewery Butcher’s Tears.

This year Lost Property is focused around a light sign which I was hoping you like to use in whatever way you like. The light sign is originally from a snack bar, about 2-meters long and will be turned on twenty-four seven. The sign is given to one artist per month. Dean Blunt, Chris Kraus, Martha Wilson, Stephan Dillemuth, Bidoun Project, Eva Kenny and Willem Oorebeek are already participating.

Let me know if you would be interested and we will find a way to go about it.

All the best.

We realized that while we could never really pay these artists anything, we were able to give them something else; the feeling of being a part of something. And that would be our capital.’ To Felicia, playing with structures and formats in such ways was the most fun part of running Lost Property. She enjoyed leaving visitors in the dark about the works on view: were they fake, or real? Was it even art? She says that when they actually did have big names on the bill, people still did not know if it was for real or not. After its light-sign-year, Lost Property showed a series of wallpaper; the first was made by Harm van den Dorpel, the second by Lucie Stahl and the last was a copy of the  red wall paper of Gino’s, a former Italian restaurant on the Upper East Side of New York.

‘We didn’t really have any exhibitions in the strict sense, or maybe we did… From my bedroom window I could see that my neighbour in the house opposite had a really weird, or let’s say “specific” collection of sculptures, with plants on them. We asked him if we could borrow them for a few days and those figurines became an important part of one of the very few exhibitions we worked on.’

Felicia holding Lost Properties by Chris Kraus

The Lost Property chapter enabled her to realise almost every single idea she had during art academy. She was able to make these ideas public and to connect with a lot of different people. She wanted to get away from the rather egocentric art world and make something real happen. So many people came to play at Lost Property ; from Bettina Köster’s band  ‘Malaria!’ to Leif Elggren and from Mike Watt to Nick Currie.

Felicia wanted to get away from the rather egocentric art world and make something real happen

Butcher's Tears beer label

Butcher’s Tears Proeflokaal. Photo: Sonia Mangiapane

In 2012, Felicia invited legendary writer and art critic Chris Kraus to give an artist talk at Lost Property. When Chris heard about Felicia and Jan renting out apartments to artists, she got curious. Being a landlord herself (she owns an apartment block in Mexicali on the US/Mexico border where she is very involved in doing projects with the local community), she manages to make good money from it, and urged Felicia to think about a business model that would allow her to make a stable income.

Felicia and Arkan opened brewery and tastingroom Butcher’s Tears sometime in 2013, which was also the moment Lost Property was demolished; literally the whole neighbourhood got knocked down. A whole range of beers came and went at Butcher’s Tears, with names such as La Condition Humaine, Ex Voto, Madame de Castro, Misery King and Animal Space. Felicia’s love for metal and DIY punk bands made it to the bottle. Because of her DIY design aesthetic, the bottles –with labels printed by the Stencil Kelder in Amsterdam– became collector’s items.

Apart from the beer, Butcher’s Tears became famous for its bread. ‘Bread is a very lovable artifice’, she says, while discussing everything that comes with it: carrying heavy bags of flour, taking care of the yeast, working the dough, letting it rise, heating the oven, baking it and finally breaking it apart and dipping it in some olive oil and salt. ‘The bread I was making for Lost Property, and later for Butcher’s Tears, is called Det Oknådade brödet (‘The Unkneaded Bread’) or Sommarbrödet (‘The Summer Bread’). In short, it’s a simple table bread that you shuffle together rather than knead. It’s a big, beautiful and wild looking bread. It would do well in any sort of gallery space, making you happy to be there.’

Of course Proeflokaal also became home to a whole range of indie bands and performers. Felicia explains that she did not start Butcher’s Tears in order to prove what art is, or to demonstrate how art should be dealt with. Even still, she figures that ‘it has become something of a work of art because of it’s persistence’. Running a business interested her because it gave her the power to make choices: ‘You can say: “No, we don’t work with this, them or that.” You have the power to change how things operate, to create a piece of your own reality.’

Lost Property’s beer brewing in Amsterdam Oud-Zuid

And reality bites: ‘Sometimes we are working almost twenty hours in a row. Before bottling, we always have to clean the whole space with acids. And when we are bottling we can’t take a break, we just can’t. It’s an incredibly stupid business to start if you want to make a living. You cannot see it as a something you do aside from your artistic practice. I mean: this is just what you do, period. Both Jan and me have basically become professional laboratory cleaners. We just stand there in silence, bottling beer… I would get red marks in my hand from the capping and they would hurt for days. We would try to count how much money we were making per hour, only to figure out that we were making like minus 89 cents per hour. To work your way out of capitalism is really hard. But at least the hard work is ours.’

‘Both Jan and me have basically become professional laboratory cleaners. We just stand there in silence, bottling beer…’

She also told me many times about the pervasive and ongoing sexism she encounters in the beer world. She is often mistaken to be someone’s ‘girlfriend’, people fail to mention her name in publications, suppliers email her asking ‘who’s her boss’, and so the list goes on. Attempting to bring feminism into Butcher’s Tears, she invited curators Maria Guggenbichler and Amal Al-Ahaag to occupy part of het Proeflokaal. Between 2014 and 2016, this ‘Side Room’ became a project space for queer and collective projects.

‘Such collaborations’, Felicia explains, ‘need to be somewhat violent in their irregularity and indeterminacy. For me, collaboration is simply the interaction you have with the work of others; be it some rock band from the eighties or paintings by Brook Hsu. I don’t think of collaboration as an amalgamation, nor as a “group show”. I see collaboration as something that gets its shape almost by coincidence, as you are moving together towards some shared inner logic. I work with many different people, usually more than three (feels funny to be specific about that, it’s true though). I think of those others as agents I cannot control. This adds endless amounts of rich and interesting layers to whatever one is working on. Working together with others makes it more real; it offers some healthy restraints. But most importantly, it makes one’s artistic practice less self-centred; it is all about the thing that is in the making.’ Felicia enjoys working in the background, a bit like the Wizard of Oz. ‘I do less and less of the organising’, she explains, ‘and more and more of the “soundtrack”.’

When I talk to Felicia in the fall of 2022, she’s been running Butcher’s Tears for almost twelve years. She was also running the brewery’s Proeflokaal and her own bar/hang-out Tears, in Amsterdam West. TEARS just closed permanently, Proeflokaal might close soon, both are part of the temporary nature of the lease.

‘I often feel like we have become delusional; running Butcher’s we go to great lengths just to keep the brewery going, even when it’s not actually feasible’

I’m curious how the money part is going, and if she managed to turn Chris Kraus’ suggestion into a reality. Felicia: ‘No one from the team is getting rich, that’s for certain. I am currently living from what I take out as a prepayment from Butcher’s and that only works because my fixed costs are low, plus-minus-zero is the name of the game. I used to have several incomes from all sorts of hustles but currently I’m studying on the side and don’t have the time. The brewery obviously needs to cover its own costs (rent, electricity, gas, hops, barley, yeast) as well as paying a little something for around five people. I often feel like we have become delusional; running Butcher’s we go to great lengths just to keep the brewery going, even when it’s not actually feasible. It’s not easy to stop trying to do something when the aim has always been to do something well. We never thought we would make any real money. In that sense I guess we’re not delusional at all…it’s all gone according to plan, haha.’

I ask her if she’s planning to open a new TEARS. ‘If I find the right spot, I will open a new TEARS! I always wish to narrow down and make things smaller, at this point I would be happy with a hole in the wall.’

Karperweg 45
1075LB Amsterdam

Wednesday: 16—22h
Thursday: 16—22h
Friday: 16—23h
Saturday: 16—23h
Sunday: 14—19h

To view and order beer from Butcher’s Tears, visit their website.

Jessica Gysel

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