Wednesday | 13. March 2024

"Do your thing, something special"

Interview with student Joshua Dantz about applying to study digital media
Joshua Dantz at his workstation in the digital media studio
Joshua Dantz at his workstation in the digital media studio © HfK Bremen

Name: Joshua Dantz

Date of birth: 2000

Place of birth: Bremen

Favourite spot: Sitting at the Osterdeich during summer with a Haake Beck beer in hand

Favourite music: Somehow everything, but techno first of all

Favourite drink: Club Mate

Favourite sport: Floor ball

Semester: 8. Semester, currently starting on the bachelor project


You are studying Digital Media. Are you an IT-developer, designer, programmer, artist?




Did you start out with that idea when you considered that line of studies?


No, I kind of stumbled into it. I took a year off after graduating from high school, then an acquaintance from an agency in Bremen asked me for a project. I have now been a media designer there for over four years. We do science communications for museums and science centres, meaning everything from exhibitions and infographics to posters, explanatory films and exhibition space simulations in 3D. 


So the company trained you? 


Nope. I did it all by myself. During my school years a teacher had stirred my interest in the field, so I started designing when I was a teenager. 


For you privately? 


Back then, I had bought my first vector programme, Logoist, for 16 euros and initially designed stuff for social media and print materials for my sports club, but also clothes, T-shirts, whatever you needed. Then I acquired the Affinity Designer programme as an alternative to the expensive Adobe products and at some point I also bought Photoshop – then things really started. 


How did the University come into play? 


My boss at the agency said: hey, how about studying? Where and what, I didn't really have a plan at first. But I already knew that studying would be good. I then looked around online at universities, googled “German Art University”, looked more closely at the Visual Communication course in Kassel and Media Art in Leipzig and also looked at Digital Media at the HfK. It quickly became evident to me that the kind of education offered there was exactly what I had been doing so far and I really wanted to continue doing it. Nevertheless, I still spoke to former HfK students, and they all praised the HfK. So I wanted to go there too.


So word of mouth seems to be working just fine. 




What kind of aspects and reasons did speak in favour of the HfK in particular? 


That great old Speicher building somehow goes perfectly with Bremen and is not such a sterile thing... 


…such as these universities all housed in concrete buildings...


... exactly. The Speicher is exactly the opposite of the Bremen University, for example. And I immediately thought the possibilities in all the workshops in Speicher XI were cool. Also the challenge that comes form the fact that studying in Digital Media is wide open and not defined and predestined from the get-go. So basically I hardly get taught anything in the sense that every week someone at the front of a hall tells me something and I fall asleep. Rather, teachers support me in my own learning process. I am conducting my studies by myself. So that I can continue to do my stuff and keep learning more and more. 


In which direction? 


Digital Media Design pursues an artistic approach here, so you do not just design a website, for example, but go beyond that in terms of content and aesthetics and create something more profound that can also be exhibited. Everything is possible there. 


Does it make it easier or more difficult to have seemingly endless possibilities to design more than everyday objects here, but rather to use the means of symbolisation to make certain aspects of reality and statements about them visible, thus evoke an echo, emotions or questions or new perspectives in the viewer? Meaning: to create art? 


This is both a blessing and a curse. I think it's great to start every semester anew, really from scratch, without knowing what will happen and what will come out of it at the end. But it is also very challenging to come up with and realise your own ideas. 


How did you get going with the application? Step 1 being to create a portfolio of your work. Did you know how to do that? 


Not at all. I had no idea what to put in there. CV, sure. 


What should be in there? 


The experiences you have gained so far and definitely the skills you have acquired. So, for example, I would not take up every internship, but only what fits well with the University of the Arts and what best suits your own identity. 


And what else was required for the portfolio? 


I had to submit 20 works, that was the requirement. I did not feel like taking a portfolio course or watching videos about portfolio making for that. So I just talked to people who had already applied to the HfK. They advised me: do not just show this or the other things that you have already done, or that you know this or that. And do not pay attention to what others are doing, shit, do your thing, something special, think of something new. Try to stand out. Be diverse in the tools you use. Be creative. Dare to do something controversial.


And how did you go about creating a portfolio then?


I wanted to develop my own project and fill the portfolio with work that I had already done at the agency or at the sports club. I had also played around with photography for a few years, but realised I did not really have any talent for that medium. Nevertheless, because of the variety, I also put some of that work into the portfolio. And then designed it from front to back with my own concepts. 


Something like a CI for yourself? 


On a small scale, exactly. 


Did you design your newly developed project for the portfolio in the digital space? 


No not at all. I designed and created a physical board game called “The Great Pandemic” and it asks the question of whether it is better to act as a collective or individually in the battle against the coronavirus. I wanted to show that we should stick together as a society and not fight each other. 


Do you fit in with this political approach at the HfK, which as an institution tends to stay out of current discourses and controversies? 


Here among students, almost nothing is apolitical; almost every work is based on a political or social component. When I look at the work of my fellow students, you can always discern their values and attitudes and how they represent them. 


Is there a reason why politically active people are drawn to the HfK? 


I would say that Bremen is considered a rather liberal city, and the image certainly attracts politically interested students in a certain way... 


... Bremen as a left-wing metropolis ... 


... somehow, and the HfK is not considered an elitist community, but rather has the image of being a more inclusive art school, everything is a bit rougher here than at universities that are cleaner in many ways.


How long were you allowed to work on your portfolio? 


In theory I had a lot of time, but I thought it was excellent to wait until the last moment. Ultimately I worked on the portfolio for four months, but then every day. It would have been better to start four months earlier. 


After the portfolio got submitted, what happens then? 


I was waiting for the review. That turned out to be positive. You get a score and you have to get above a minimum score; you need 60 out of a possible 100 points to qualify for the second round of applications. Luckily I got 82 points. When the email came with the message, I was really quite happy. I got a little ego boost. Hey great, my work is getting across. Then came the invitations to the entrance exam, about a month after handing in the portfolio, and to the professional interview.


What does entrance exam imply? 


It was an artistic and design homework assignment. You had three full days to complete it. 


What was it about? 


They send me the topic “Coincidence”. 


And you were free again, everything was possible? 


Exactly. And I decided to play with the idea of genetically perfected human beings, that you can order children according to your own wishes, and play God. In contrast, I wanted to show how every step in creating the perfect person is a random step. So I took a dart board to cut out and hung 15 supposedly ideal celebrity heads on the board. Whoever the arrow pierced was the head of the perfect person to be created. In the second step, you could decide on clothes by rolling a dice, then determine properties by using the hopscotch game and finally look at the person you created in a 3D animation. 


The perfect person is an accidental creation, is that what you wanted to express? 


Yes, and also that the desire for such a person is somewhat nonsensical. 


Was there any way you could prepare for the home work assignment? 


You did not know beforehand what it was going to be about. At first I was completely overwhelmed. Then I started talking to friends. That is where the idea was born and then I did not have time to think about it any further. Then I immediately set to work and the concept matured while I went ahead. 


You could have done it the other way around: First hatch some great concept and then brake it down into the actual task you get sent. 


Sure, but I just went into the assignment without much preparatory work. 


With the attitude: I am the way I am and whatever comes to mind quickly will suffice? 


It was clear to me from the outset that if I do something that 30 other people are doing, no matter how good it is, I would definitely have no chance of getting a place to study here because they want to have students with a wide range of interests and skills here, so that they can support each other. In every semester there is as diverse a mix as possible with people who like to get out of the box.


You were lucky to know Bremen and HfK graduates. Are there opportunities for people from outside to make such contacts? 


Difficult. But it is worth asking the Asta (student´s parliament) or stopping by the alumni network and on university days. 


Is it necessary to gain an inside knowledge before applying? 


No. If you have the desire to study and have the skills to do it, if you really want to get in and if you then take a look at the Digital Media website to get a sense of what kind of projects are going on there, then that is sufficient for the application process from my perspective. 


Do applicants have to be self-confident – like you? 


I think so! And maybe just give it a try and go ahead with an application. 


After the homework there is part 3 of the application process. 


Yes, two weeks later there was a conversation with three professors that was scheduled to last 20 minutes. 


Did you prepared for this? 


Not at all. I did not know what to expect. I was totally nervous, soaked in sweat. 


Did you dress particularly smartly? 


Nope, I wore the regular hoodie. 


What did they ask you? 


Since I had submitted two games, they wanted to know whether we played a lot of games in our household. That was the beginning. Then I was asked what I wanted to do. 




Since I had no idea about programming, I said I would like to learn it. 


Was that a serious conversation? 


Oh, rather relaxed, friendly. That took the tension off me. I also tried to be funny, which comes out of me occasionally in moments of stress, and it worked quite well. 


Were you told immediately after the interview whether you had been accepted? 


Not at all. I only found out about this in a letter three weeks later in a letter. I opened it, said “shit” very loudly and then called my girlfriend. That was just great. Also because I did not have a plan B, only the HfK as a plan A. 


How did the studies start? 


I was totally euphoric, which was quickly brought to a halt by Corona back in 2020. It was not until the third semester that things really started for me. I tried out a lot, video installations, web design, programming, building exhibition objects with wood, designing posters, working with electronics and even developing and designing a product on an assignment by a company. 


What did you learn about yourself during your studies?


For me, the starting point is always my curiosity about new tools and possibilities. But when I get to the actual work I am my own boss and responsible for what I do. I realised that this is my main thing. 


What will you do when you leave the HfK and have to survive in the evil capitalist world? 


I think accompanying and directing the process of projects, project management, is probably what I will enjoy in the long term. I would like to move to Leipzig after my studies. 

Dear Joshua, thank you for the conversation.

Interview: Jens Fischer



Impressions from the digital media studio