nineties berlin at the alte münze
art, Berlin, events, Germany, history, Life in Berlin, Museum, music, things to do

Nineties Berlin at the Alte Münze

“Berlin ist vorbei,” says Andreas Jeromin, a former Berlin squatter. It’s a phrase we hear often. Berlin is over. The coolest, most creative time the city had ever experienced, just after the fall of the wall in the 1990s, is long gone. But the current exhibition at the Alte Münze attempts to revisit the era with Nineties Berlin.

nineties berlin at the alte münze

The Alte Münze seems like a good choice for such an undertaking. The former mint factory now serves as a blank canvas that is regularly repurposed for different events and exhibitions, much like the morphing and the repurposing of old and abandoned spaces that took place in 1990s Berlin. The space lends itself to immersive audio-visual experiences, whether its being used for a Boiler Room event or the wonderful Monet to Kandinsky art show that was on earlier in the year, and the first room of Nineties Berlin is no different.

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A moving collage of old photos and video footage of pianists playing on heaps of rubble, love parade ravers and artists occupying old buildings float by, giving us a feel of the political energy, creative freedom and hedonism of nineties Berlin. A jagged passageway in the centre of the room is lined with old black and white stills of the city.  But to find out more about them, you have to log in to the website and use the ‘interactive bot’, which takes you out of the experience by making you look at your phone and seems like a case of using technology for technology’s sake. Why not just put some text beneath every photo?

The next room consists of videos of contemporary witnesses talking about Berlin in the nineties, including the former squatter mentioned above. I found this room a little disappointing: Of the 14 people featured, only two were women, and the majority were involved in the music scene. What about the rest of the people living in Berlin in the 90s? Surely there was more to the era than the Love Parade?

Nineties Berlin at the Alte Münze

The creators of the exhibition might have had the same thought, because the forth room was a breath of fresh air. No, cold air. Literally. It was a freezing room, which consisted of a brutal and effective memorial to the people who had been shot down before the wall came crashing down at the end of the 80s. However, you couldn’t spend much time contemplating these lingering political and human effects of the wall because the cold temperature moved you swiftly on to the last room, which, again, focussed on club culture before spitting you out into the gift shop.

The gift shop felt like an extension of the exhibition. Poppy and expensive, it commercialised the image of 1990s Berlin without really moving beyond the surface. Everything felt like a simulation of simulacra, making me wonder if, indeed, Berlin really is over.

Nineties Berlin is currently on at the Alte Münze, Molkenmarkt 2, 10179 Berlin.

Anna Holmström performs performs Debris
art, Berlin, dance, events, Life in Berlin, theatre, things to do

Pi – Petricore Movement & Zentire Music at Pfefferberg Theater

Last night, I had the pleasure of seeing Pi, a modern dance performance at Pfefferberg Theatre. There is something about bodies moving through space in exceptional ways that is both delightful, energising and emotional — and this performance was no different.

Anna Holmström performs performs Debris
Anna Holmström performs performs Debris

As a writer, it always takes me a few minutes to let go of questions of narrative and story and enter the flow of the piece. But choreographer Anna Holmström does an artful job in creating a structured and engaging performance that expresses different characters, theme and conflict through movement.

The first composition, Dim 4, is about time, presenting different views of the same moment. It snakes through various moods and music — from the resonant and conflictual to jazzy and playful. The five dancers convey complex feelings and relationships without the use of flashy extras — a cardboard object and a net are the only props used.

In Debris, performed solely by Holmström, a piece of plastic takes on a sublime, airy quality as she dances with it. The piece is about the beauty of the ocean, which is becoming suffocated by plastics, and indeed we genuinely become worried for the dancer as she becomes more and more entangled in it. But the emotion that lingers is  the one of sadness that we see in the long, still moments on the dancers face.

Pi is on at Pfefferberg Theatre for only one more night, so grab your tickets for tonight!

art, Berlin, Life in Berlin, things to do

Guest post by Sophie Poulter-Patel: Daimler Art Collection

The Daimler Art Collection is hard to find. We walked past it twice before spotting the little door that led to it. You have to ring the bell and then the door opens by itself. We went up in the small lift not knowing what to expect and quite confused before reaching the gallery, which was completely silent. There was nobody else there which is probably the result of its hidden location.

The current exhibition is ‘Visions of Exchange’ which focuses on different perspectives of Berlin and Tokyo and includes paintings, videos, sculptures and photos.

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One of the first things you notice is a 3D pentagonal sculpture that at first glance looks like painted plastic. After having a closer look I realised it was polystyrene that had been covered with a very glossy blue paint. This paint seemed to be so shiny that you could see your reflection in it. Around the corner there was different piece by the same artist, Jan Scharrelmann. This time the polystyrene was coated with bright orange glossy paint, which reminded me of mirror glazed cake.

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Just as this polystyrene sculpture creates a weird perspective in the middle of the gallery, these Japanese and German artists present us with different points of view from both Tokyo and Berlin.

Rita Hensen is a German photographer who went to Tokyo and created little booklets of different series of photographs, all contained in a small box. The one that stood out for me was about transport. The first thing I saw when I opened it was truck with picture of radishes all over it. When I think of Tokyo I think of tall buildings and crowded streets, and not small details like how the trucks are decorated differently.

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From the other side, Japanese artist Taro Izumi, came to Berlin and has two pieces of his experience in the gallery. The first is a map of Berlin that had been turned on its side which is quite disorientating and changes your point of view. Different parts of the map link to videos showing parts of Berlin that are not stereotypical, like trees. The cameras were streaked or splattered with paint, adding to the strange perspective. His other piece was a video of him in Berlin using his body to trace lines of graffiti on a wooden fence. It was quite absurd and funny but also made you look at the different and unusual way he moved through the city.

Another perspective-focused piece was a video that had a double-sided screen suspended in the middle of a separate room. Each side of the screen showed different images, although the dialogue was the same. One of the clips was a close up of a man’s mouth as he was eating. The point of view was unusual and made me feel like I was invading his personal space. The dialogue kept on repeating with different images each time, making you reevaluate what was going on each time. You eventually realise that the man and the woman, who are discussing World War Two, are blind, and that this has to do with historical blindness, patriotism and being blind to what the future holds for you.

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The exhibition as a whole focuses heavily on different perspectives which really interests me because I went in with certain ideas and images of Berlin and Tokyo and came out with a different point of view. It’s a very quiet place that I personally really liked despite the complexity of trying to find it. The only problem I had was getting out at the end. To get in you press the bell and the door opens, but, at the end you press a button and the door didn’t open so we ended up in a funny fight with the door. Luckily there was a woman on the other side who opened the door, or else I think we’d still be there.

The exhibition Visions of Exchange is on at Daimler Contemporary Berlin (Haus Huth, Alte Potsdamer Straße 5, 10785 Berlin) until November 4th 2018.

The Whole World in a Clover Leaf by Heinrich Bünting, Magdeburg, 1600, Woodcut © Jewish Museum Berlin Jens Ziehe
art, Berlin, history, Life in Berlin, Museum, politics, things to do

Welcome to Jerusalem at the Jewish Museum Berlin

The Jewish Museum Berlin is a disorientating place. It is made up of various buildings from different periods, most recently The Libeskind building.

Architect Daniel Libeskind created his design around a series of intersecting voids and straight and zigzagging lines. Corridors veer off at angles, and lights, mirrors and installations constantly make you aware of the strangeness of the space.

Shalekhet (Fallen Leaves) by Menashe Kadishman at the Jewish Museum Berlin
Shalekhet (Fallen Leaves) by Menashe Kadishman, Jewish Museum Berlin

One of my favourite installations in this are is Shalekhet (Fallen Leaves) by Menashe Kadishman. You hear it before you see it, a distinct clinking reminiscent of chains or shackles. The work consists of over 10,000 screaming faces cut from iron plates, which you walk over as you approach a dark void. It is a disturbing refection of victims of war.

Adding another layer to the confusion of space is the newly opened “Welcome to Jerusalem” exhibition in the old building. The exhibition transports you through the history, sights and sounds of the city in over 15 rooms. One room, dedicated to maps, displays The Whole World in a Clover Leaf by Heinrich Bünting, showing Jerusalem as the centre of the world. Disorientating again, from a geographical point of view, but accurate from a historical, religious and political point of view.

The Whole World in a Clover Leaf by Heinrich Bünting, Magdeburg, 1600, Woodcut © Jewish Museum Berlin Jens Ziehe
The Whole World in a Clover Leaf by Heinrich Bünting, Magdeburg, 1600, Woodcut © Jewish Museum Berlin, purchased with funds provided by Stiftung DKLB, photo: Jens Ziehe

 

The exhibition successfully shows the changing landscape of Jerusalem, from 5000 years ago to the present day, where old and new constantly overlap and collide. The exhibition is full of interesting insights and facts, for example, that the keys to one of the holiest sites in Christianity, The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, are held by two Muslim families, or that Muslims once faced towards Jerusalem to pray, before this was changed to Mecca, or that when the Jewish temple was destroyed, Judaism fundamentally changed to focus on the study of holy texts. In addition to all this, the exhibition provides you with a good understanding of the current conflicts that occupy the city today.

So, if you’re getting tired of the grey Berlin winter, take a trip to the Jewish Museum to be transported through time and space.

Welcome to Jerusalem is on at the Jewish Museum Berlin (Lindenstraße 9-14, 10969 Berlin) until 30 April 2019.

art, Berlin, Life in Berlin, things to do

Jeanne Mammen at the Berlinische Gallerie

Jeanne Mammen, Berlin
Jeanne Mammen (1890-1976) was a Berlin-based artist, most famous for chronicling life in the city during the 1920s.

Born in Berlin, she studied art in Paris and Rome and lived in France until the outbreak of World War One forced her to move. While her family relocated to Amsterdam, she chose to return to Berlin.

At first, Mammen struggled to support herself as an artist, and she took any work she could, creating artwork for movie posters, satirical magazines, books, and fashion plates.

Particularly striking are her sketches and watercolours that depict people from all walks of life with a sympathetic yet unsentimental eye. Much of her focus was on women. Some her works, which capture swinging, glittering 1920s Berlin could be mistaken for contemporary party scenes.

Jeanne Mammen 3But in addition to these more well-known works, the retrospective at the Berlinische Gallerie also shows how the artist’s work developed over decades, with 170 pieces from a career lasting over 60 years.

The artist lived in the metropolis during some of the most monumental shifts in modern history, and this is reflected in the range of her output. For example, during Nazi rule, she sketched the image of a menacing wolf on the markets page of a newspaper (right), linking war and terror to capitalism. Later on, she made theatrical collages, and moved towards abstract art, using different materials such as sweet wrappers, pipes and wire.

Jeanne Mammen, art, Berlin

 

An illuminating retrospective of a multifaceted working artist who continually changed yet maintained her unique style, refusing to be pinned down to one particular movement.

Jeanne Mammen, The Observer: Retrospective 1910-1971 is on at the Berlinische Gallerie (Alte Jakobstraße 124–128, 10969 Berlin) until 15th January 2017.

 

Photo of OSMO, a musical performance at Ufer Studio's in Berlin
art, Berlin, events, Life in Berlin, music, people, things to do

OSMO: A musical performance by Sebastian Blasius and the Sonar Quartett at Ufer Studios Berlin

You walk into room at Berlin’s Ufer Studios. Swirls of salt are scattered across the black floor, orange curtains hang from the ceiling, reminding you of segments of an orange, a silver ball, musicians, music stands and chairs are spread across the studio. As you crunch, crunch, crunch your way across the floor, you stop at one of these stands and pick up an envelope. Inside, is a picture and the words: Perform a dance that hardly anyone can recognise as a dance.

Photo of OSMO, a musical performance at Ufer Studio's in Berlin
Photo courtesy of Ralf Ziervogel

With OSMO, where Beethoven’s last string quartet meets an installation meets an audience, Sebastian Blasius has directed a musical performance with Berlin’s Sonar Quartett that hardly anyone can  recognise as a musical performance. Grating sounds, such as a bow across the hollow wood of a violin, are woven into familiar bursts of classical music. Recordings of children reciting the capitals of countries become a metronome. The musicians keep moving around, and so do the audience.

What results is a space where the line between performer and spectator is blurred. There is also a blurring of the lines separating the arts, so one is constantly stimulated in surprising ways. The ever changing constellations of people, lights, sounds and visuals creates something completely fresh and original. An engaging experience.

OSMO was on at Ufer Studios in Berlin on the 22nd and 23rd September 2107.

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Tess Motherway, Berlin
art, Berlin, Life in Berlin, people, theatre, things to do

Creative In Berlin: Tess Motherway

Tess Motherway is an Irish filmmaker, visual artist & film curator, based in Berlin. She will be demonstrating her first performance piece ‘Things Men Have Said To Me This Year’ on Saturday, 16th September at 6pm at Alexanderplatz.

Tess Motherway, Berlin

You’re used to being behind the camera, so you’re really putting yourself out there – in Alexanderplatz on a Saturday evening no less! How do you feel about the upcoming performance?

I’m really nervous about it. I’d definitely describe myself as an introverted extrovert, so this piece is really taking me out of my comfort zone and is definitely a personal challenge. But that’s part of why I’m doing it too. I like pushing myself and embracing things that feel scary. I think doing things that we’re afraid of is really empowering.

What made you do it?

In Ireland, I grew up under a social pressure to laugh off sexist jokes, for fear of being deemed anything from ‘no craic’, to a bitch. For a long time I followed suit, or buried my head in the sand, not having the confidence to oppose it or wanting to have to have ‘those conversations’. But, I realised that by ignoring the problem, wouldn’t make it go away & that by calling out sexist behaviour and engaging and challenging people about the topic simply felt right.

This last year I’ve been reflecting particularly on the culture whereby comments and judgements about women’s bodies pervade not just social & professional spaces, but more intimate situations for women. There still seems to be a pretty prevalent entitlement and freedom to openly judge women’s bodies. I think this behaviour, even today with all our awareness, is still very normalised for women, which is really sad. I devised this piece because I wanted to do something with that feeling – the feeling of disempowerment that comes from being judged or slighted or commented on inappropriately. By handing these comments back – just some that I have personally received this passed year – I’m taking control and hopefully opening up a conversation.

Why Alexanderplatz?

When I came up with the piece, I knew it had to be in a really central, public place. Alexanderplatz is a pretty iconic centre of Berlin and I thought it would be the best spot to reach a mixed demographic – it wouldn’t feel right performing it in a smaller Kiez or a gallery space.

What is your favourite place in Berlin?

I love all the kinos of Berlin. I’m primarily a filmmaker so I’m in kino heaven here: Sputnik Kino, Babylon Kino, b-ware Ladenkino, Colloseum Kino – the list really is endless and I keep discovering new ones. I live in Neukolln which I love too because you’ve got the canal and so many great parks like Hasenheide park and Templehofer Feld – I love how much sky you can take in in Templehof. I feel like I can breathe there. Maybe that’s my favourite place.

You’ve been here since 2016. Is this your first Berlin piece? How have you found being an artist in Berlin? 

This is my first Berlin piece. I moved last summer and had a piece in an exhibition last June, but it was realised back home, so this piece is particularly special to me because it’s kind of my Berlin premiere. Being an artist in Berlin is great – you can’t throw a stone without hitting another creative and there’s such a culture of collaboration and experimentation here it kind of feels like anything is possible. I love the DIY, can-do vibe – there’s so many amazing spaces it can feel like the city is just handing you the keys and saying ‘off you go’.

I moved here to be around a larger group of international creative people – I’m from Dublin which is also crawling with loads of amazing creative types, but it’s a small place and after years of living there I wanted to change things up. I have also been looking for a place to learn analogue film development and when I was researching places to go, I found a collective called Labor Berlin based in Wedding which I’m now a part of. Other more practical reasons such as being a much cheaper city to live in with a high standard of living.

What else are you working on?

This year has been pretty productive for me – I completed my first ever artist residency in Switzerland where I realised an experimental short film called ‘8’ in response to the Repeal the Eighth campaign which is fighting for a referendum to legalise abortion in Ireland. I also just finished a new short documentary called ‘Company B’ about Ireland’s only all boy contemporary dance group and I’m currently programming for the next Dublin Doc Fest short documentary film festival which I founded in 2013 back in Dublin. The next few months will see me learning analogue film development and gathering archive and photos for a series of personal, experimental short films.

Does this relate to the rest of your work in any way, or is it completely different?

I haven’t had a clear trajectory with my practice. In fact, when I finished art college, I took a creative hiatus and it’s taken me time to explore, experiment and find my way back to a focused practice again. I never used to put myself in my work before – both literally and in terms of drawing from my own experiences in a deep way. I was always looking outward – which is great – but I guess really putting yourself in your work comes with confidence. For the last two years I’ve really thrown myself – literally – into my work. So in terms of the use of my body, and the performative element, this piece really is a new thing for me. Regarding the content, though, my work has always been anchored in feminism and equality.

Tess Motherway will be beside the fountain, outside Primark, at Alexanderplatz at 6pm on Saturday, 16th September. The performance will be one hour long — check it out! 

Máret Ánne Sara, Pile o’ Sápmi (2017) Curtain made from reindeer skulls and metal wire
art, Germany, Life in Berlin, people, politics

Weekend Trips from Berlin: documenta14 in Kassel

Kassel is a 3-4 hour train ride from Berlin. It is a strange mix of regal buildings and monuments from its time as a princely residence, and bland concrete.

In the town’s main square, fountains arch hopefully into the sky only to land directly into to drains a couple of metres away. However, the small town is most notable for documenta, a contemporary art exhibition which takes over its galleries, museums and public spaces for a period of 100 days every five years.

Máret Ánne Sara, Pile o’ Sápmi (2017) Curtain made from reindeer skulls and metal wire
Máret Ánne Sara, Pile o’ Sápmi (2017) Curtain made from reindeer skulls and metal wire

After I had exhausted my two-day exhibition ticket, I visited the marble bath, where the tour guide asked me if I had enjoyed documenta 14. I said I had, very much.

“Gut,” she said, surprised. “Alle meckern.” (Everyone’s complaining.)

And she’s right. Everyone is complaining. The well-known writer Moritz von Uslar went so far as to tweet that he found the Zeit’s weekly journalists meeting more inspiring than anything he experienced at this year’s documenta. Here’s the thing: He is wrong.

different perspectives: documenta14This year’s documenta was surprising, wonderfully curated and impactful. For this first time this year, the art exhibition was split between two locations: Athens and Kassel, acknowledging the two different sides of Europe, one destitute, one rich, one central, and one at its southern edge that deals with a stream of migrants from the Middle East and Northern Africa.

And it was this alternative, disorientating, multi-sided view of Europe that dominated the exhibition. For example, Janine Antoni’s wonderful Slumber posits the idea that the fabled adventures of Ulysses had perhaps all taken place in  Penelope’s dreams. The Sámi artist Máret Ánne Sara presented us with an alternative perspective of Norwegian history, and Gordon Hookey hit us with a big, bold, political statement about Aboriginal people and Australia.

Altogether, the exhibition was political, unapologetic, anti-neo-libralist, and anti-capitalist. Probably, exactly, the kind of thing a white, German man like von Uslar, who is primarily interested in other white, German men didn’t get it, or didn’t want to, or whatever.

I found that looking at art for a couple of days was nourishing. The fresh and interesting ideas, the visual and cerebral excitement, the new perspectives and experiences you engage in, if you are open to it, makes you look at everything in a new way. At one point, me, and the entire group of people I was with, all stopped to look at this lamp fixture on the side of a building. Wasn’t it weird?

fascinating lamp fixture kassel
Fascinating lamp fixture

Artists and their works only do half the job, you have to meet them half way. Obviously, not everything is for everyone, but to call an entire, massive exhibition uninspiring and to rubbish the work and ideas of some of the most exciting contemporary artists in the world in one tweet reveals more about the tweeter than about his subject.

Documenta14 is on until 17th September 2017 in Kassel.

 

TOA, Berlin, Tech Open Air, 2017
art, Berlin, events, Life in Berlin, News, people, tech

Berlin’s Tech Open Air Festival 2017

Last week, Berlin’s Tech Open Air (TOA) festival took over the city. Now in its sixth year, TOA is an interdisciplinary festival that brings together technology, music, art and science.

The festival consisted of a two-day conference at Funkhaus Berlin, a sprawling complex along the banks of the River Spree that used to house East Germany’s central radio station, and over 200 satellite events that happened all over the city over four days. This year’s festival was the biggest yet, with over 200 speakers and 20.000 participants.

TOA, Berlin, Tech Open Air, 2017

The festival, a bit like technology itself, was pervasive, and, with conference talks lasting an average of 15 minutes each, mimicked the hectic effect of switching between multiple tabs in a browser. It also came with some of the frustrations of modern tech – the conference app did not work, and men dressed in black talked about how important and life-changing their work was without a hint of irony. For example, Magnus Olsson, founder of Careem, which is basically Uber for the Middle East, talked about the principles he lived by, why Careem was life-defining for him, and its social impact, when really, all the dude had to say was, “It’s Uber for the Middle East.”

It was all a bit like this:

 

But there were also tons of interesting talks, and key trends this year seemed to be A.I, VR and Fintech.

My personal highlights included Edda Hamar, Founder and CEO of Undress, talking ethics and sustainability in fashion, Prince Fahd Al Saud, who gave an enlightening perspective on the Millennial Middle East – one that challenged the West’s prejudices and perceptions – and spoke about his aims to support and promote women and feminism, and BBC R&D’s Senior Firestarter (yes, that’s his job title) Ian Forrester, who raised some interesting questions about the future of storytelling while demonstrating the prospects of object-based media. Last but not least, Imagining Coordinator Rebecca Roth, who works at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Centre, presented some mind-blowing and beautiful images of space. All these talks will be available to view on TOA’s YouTube Channel within the following week.

In addition, I got the chance to try out some VR porn, have a drink at the Amano Grand Central’s Rooftop Bar, hosted by Invest Hong Kong, attend a Mobile Industry party at coworking space Rent 24 in Mitte, as well as an Afterwork Jam at start-up community hub The Factory. All in all, a fun, enlightening and diverse festival.

For more information, visit the TOA Berlin website.

 

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art, Berlin, events, Film, Life in Berlin, politics, science

STATE Festival Berlin: The Sentimental Machine

Berlin’s second STATE Festival, which brings together leading scientists, innovators, social-scientists, artists and members of the public to explore one topic took place recently at Kühlhaus in Gleisdreieck. The topic in question was emotions.

Emoji balloons at the State Festival Berlin, 2016

Emotions are a fundamental part of being human, and our understanding of them not only illuminates our experiences and interactions but also raises important questions about our growing reliance on machines and the nature of Artificial Intelligence (AI).

We often think of emotions as immaterial and internal, but the festival demonstrated how physically palpable and measurable they are. Adam Anderson from Cornell University’s Department of Human Development and Human Neuroscience Institute talked about how our sight and emotions are linked. Emotions, like colour, are created by the visual regions of the brain and everything we see is affected by emotion.

The Festival’s screening of Stefan Sagmeister’s The Happy Film, in which the prominent designer embarks on a navel-gazing journey in the search of happiness confirmed the strong link between the body and emotion. Sagameister pursued happiness using three methods; meditation, therapy and drugs – and drugs was the most effective. The chemical changes they affected in his body made him deliriously happy to the point of falling in love and almost getting married within a matter of weeks.

The link between the emotion of love and physicality was put to the test at the festival’s interactive Sniff and Date session, in which participants did an aerobics session, captured their sweaty scent on a small patch of material, then sniffed out a potential partner. Although smelling numbered patches of sweat felt dubious, it worked! I matched with a lovely Romanian artist with whom I had a lot in common. Yes, it was a woman, who was there with her boyfriend, but it was nice to have a drink with her.

In such social situations, the hormone oxytocin plays a big role. It helps in social bonding, sexual reproduction, birth and nurturing as well as increasing the recognition and mimicry of facial emotions. Neuroscientist Sebastian Korb explained how he used electromyography (EMG) to detect facial mimicry which is so fast and subtle that it is difficult to inhibit. Facial mimicry is important to social interaction as it is key to feeling empathy (therefore procedures such as Botox, which restrict people’s facial movements, impact their ability to empathise).

As we become more dependent on technology, the ability of machines to understand and respond to our emotions will become more important. The Android game Emotion Hero demonstrated what computer recognition of facial emotion could look like. Naturally, this led to questions about whether machines would eventually be able to experience emotions themselves and what the implications of this would be.

If machines could feel, would they be granted the same rights as people? As it stands, scientists use the human brain as a model to make intelligent, self-learning robots. Of course, companies like Nvidia, Google and Intel are nowhere near creating something as powerful as the brain with its 100 billion neurones and 250 billion synapses, but the possibility is on the distant horizon. Toby Walsh, one of the world’s leading experts on AI, said he did not think the Singularity – the point where robots overtake humans – was coming any time soon.

Still, the warnings of prominent people such as Stephen Hawking, who said AI “could spell the end of the human race” and Elon Musk, who compared developing AI to “summoning the demon” were at the forefront of many discussions. Clearly, AI and its implications must be thought about. In fact, people are already thinking about it, but they belong to an elite with commercial interests. For example, those developing the self-driving car are already making ethical decisions such as who the car should kill or injure in certain crash situations.

One of the most interesting interactive sessions was the critical thinking workshop AI Ethics and Prosthetics run by Marco Donnarumma, an artist who explores human-machine corporeality. The conversation took interesting turns, exploring questions from “Would you live with an autonomous prosthesis?” to “Where does the fault lie if a machine is responsible for killing a human?” The conversation raised more questions than answers, highlighting the complex nature of this crucial time in human history.

What was unique and fulfilling about this festival was how it hit all senses – with music, sound, visual art, films, talks, discussions and physical activities. It stimulated anxiety about a machine-filled future, passionate debate, and joy at the meeting fascinating minds – an important, emotional experience.

This year’s STATE Festival took place between 3-6 November.

art, Berlin, Life in Berlin, people

Creative in Berlin: Bernhard Vierling

dsc_3582Bernhard Vierling has been a working artist in Berlin since 1986. His studio in Schöneberg is an orderly space filled with books and sketches. Big silk screen prints dominate one wall, while smaller sketches crowd the other. A few sculptures stand on surfaces.

Vierling has been sketching since he was a child – it is a medium that comes naturally to him – although he started out as a performance artist. Like this studio, his vibe is calm, thoughtful, focussed.

His first studio was in Neukölln, which in the 80s was considered a remote outpost – hardly the destination for young partygoers it is now. At the time, he was doing a lot of meditation, and the sound of the engines from Templehof airport reminded him of the hum of Tibetan monks.

The anecdote is revealing of a particular artistic tendency – imaginative, and perceptive of things beyond the obvious material sense. This quality is reflected in Vierling’s energetic tangles of sketches. For example, one of his series focussed on breath – he sketched lots of models, but his lines focussed not on their bodies but the way in which their breath moved in and out of their bodies.

Another interesting series of sketches focussed on the initial bodily reactions we have when we meet or see people. Vierling started paying attention to his initial, physical reaction to a person, which happens before the cerebral, and started representing these in his sketches of their bodies.

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As a working artist, he is involved in multiple projects – as well as sketches and sculptures, he also does workshops. His current projects include his fascinating portray-society performance art and a series of sketches based on the traditional representations of sexual positions that were given to newly married couples in China (image above). Because of the scope of his work, his studio in Schoenberg is not his only working space.

He is of a generation of artists who create for the sake of inquiry and creativity rather than for commercial success unlike, he says, some artists who start conceiving based on what is in currently in vogue. For him, this leads to a healthier relationship to money and art. He does some things for money, while enjoying the freedom to create as he likes without the pressure to sell. A useful perspective for those of us who are trying to build a career in the arts.

You can visit Vierling’s studio by signing up for his lecture performance on Essence as part of the upcoming open studios in Schoeneberg this November.

 

art, Berlin, Life in Berlin, theatre

Guest Blogger Pat O’Day Sleeps Over at Ballhaus Ost’s Hotel Berlin

Museum overnights have become well-established, but I had never heard of a sleepover at a theatre venue before. So I was curious when I read about theatre Ballhaus Ost’s temporary project Hotel Berlin.

Ballhaus Ost, Berlin

It was not booked out, so I just turned up and chose between three categories; mattresses on the floor in a dorm sold for 13€, while bunk beds and private rooms came for just a few extra euros. Most of the rooms, however, did not come with doors.

I got my hand-stamped at the door, night-club style, and then tried to find my bed among the 75 scattered all over the listed ramshackle six-storey building. Less than half of the almost forty guests finally decided on staying overnight, so everybody could pretty much have their pick regardless of which category they had booked. If you felt like it, you could sleep on stage or next to the bar.

Artistic director Tina Pfurr welcomed the guests. She introduced the people actually living at Ballhaus Ost: designer and performer Lisa, Brazilian architect turned mixed media artist Fernanda, and octogenarian former circus acrobat Herr Diano, who can no longer afford the rent in Prenzlauer Berg.

The members conducted entertaining tours of the building, full of anecdotes about the theatre company’s ten year history, the history of the building and adjoining enclosed park – a cemetery that is now also used for wedding receptions. Recently, the space has seen conflicts over apparently incompatible uses. For example, when a co-working space was separated from experimental theatre rehearsals by only a plywood panel.

At first, the founders of the theatre company had rented only the theatre hall, but then they made a hole in the wall to take over the empty spaces as offices and living quarters on the sly. Some rooms are filled to the brink with props, trash, or kitschy memorabilia. There are surprises all over the place, like a game room with a miniature bubble bath in the basement.

The diverse art work is even more interesting. Fernanda presented a bedsit installation where every item apart from a suitcase was covered in white paint. She said she wanted to demonstrate what it feels like to keep moving from one furnished flat to the next where nothing really belongs to you and you have no personal connection to the objects you chance upon. She also reflected that she was a victim as well as a perpetrator of gentrification.

In between tours, there were staged live links between Tina and the company’s off ground rehearsal, which quickly descended into chaos.

At midnight, we gathered at a long table where an architect explained how the partially dilapidated building structure could be preserved and generate more income for the company. Ideas included adding a new floor on top of the building, tree house offices and camping in the park, and a regular hotel service. Afterwards there was a vegetarian or vegan pasta dinner (for a small donation) that Lisa and her crew had prepared.

Shortly afterwards, I retired to my bed. Time passed quickly. The atmosphere made it easy to start conversations with other visitors, artists, and performers. The night felt like a weird mix of sleepover, museum tour, school trip, gallery walk, TED talk, late night dinner, and of course unconventional theatre.There was also a complimentary breakfast. The night porter even got up before 5 am to serve it to one guest who needed to leave early. All of that for a very competitive price that probably no nearby hostel can beat.

Hotel Berlin was on at Ballhaus Ost from 7 – 18 September 2016.

art, Berlin, Life in Berlin, people

Tobo at Teufelsberg

Street Artist Tobo is a Berliner who has been tagging the city since he was eight years old. His easily recognisable character is a sassy dog called Erik Rotheim, named after inventor of the aerosol spray can Erik Andreas Rotheim.

I’ve always liked the idea of having a dog – especially as almost everyone in Berlin is accompanied by one – but their loyalty and sincerity are a little overwhelming. This dog, though, could be my best friend.

Here are some recent images of Tobo’s Erik Rotheim from Teufelsberg.

Tobo at Teufelsberg

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art, Berlin, Life in Berlin, things to do

Glass Making in Berlin Schönholz

Jesse Günther plies a molten blob on the end of a red-hot pipe, turning it this way and that as he tugs out a shape. Within minutes, he has created a glass figurine of a graceful, long-tailed horse, which he taps off the end of the pipe with a clink.

Jesse Günther at Berlin Glas e.V.

We are at the Berlin Glas e.V., a non-profit association that offers glass making courses and opportunities for students, refugees and artists. Their studio is located in the complex of an old brandy factory in north Berlin. Jesse adds his figurine to a crowded shelf of glass objects and mythical-looking creatures. He likes working with glass because it’s collaborative and challenging.

Berlin Glas e.V.

I had never really thought much about glass or how it was made before going to the 3-hour introductory workshop, so I’m not sure what I was expecting, but one thing is right: It is challenging. And hot. At the centre of the studio is a furnace that runs at over 1000 degrees celsius, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It is only turned off for one month during the year, when everyone goes on holiday.

Powdery pellets of raw glass are thrown into the furnace, where it then sits in liquid form, waiting to be ‘gathered’, or spun onto the end of a hot pipe. Then, there is the ‘glory hole’, another furnace used to reheat pieces while you’re working on them, and finally the ‘lehr’, where the finished glass pieces slowly cool at around 500 degrees. Altogether, it’s hot work. I was on the course with a couple of blacksmiths, who seemed more used to working with such high temperatures.

Together, we attempted to make one paperweight and one glass each – a task that kept us all intensely occupied for the afternoon. There is a lot of be mindful of in the workshop: making sure you don’t burn someone with the 900 degree pipe you are wielding, making sure you don’t burn yourself, constantly spinning the pipe so the molten glass does not just drop off it (I lost a paperweight in the glory hole because I stopped spinning the pipe for a couple of seconds), getting a feel for how malleable the glass is – a quality that is constantly changing as the glass cools – while twisting, shaping, blowing, plying and re-heating…

The workshop certainly gives you a new appreciation for glass, ensuring you’ll never look at it the same way. They say the strongest steel as forged in the hottest fire, but glass is forged at the same temperatures and can turn out to be brittle or strong, with certain qualities, like air bubbles and colours, not fully visible until the glass has cooled, giving it a certain unpredictability and nuance. So, after a week of cooling, how did my pieces turn out?

Pieces made at glass making workshop

As you can see, the glass didn’t really turn out to be a glass – not even a vase, which was my next aim. Maybe I can claim it’s simply a piece of art – after all, as well as being collaborative and challenging, glass-making is also creative and beautiful.

Berlin Glas e.V. offers a number of courses as well as opportunities for students, refugees and artists.

art, Berlin, Life in Berlin, theatre

Lippy at the Schaubühne Berlin

Lippy, a theatre piece based on a true incident that occurred in Leixlip, Ireland, where four women committed suicide by starving themselves to death, starts with a postshow discussion.

LIPPY by Dead Centre, Direction: Ben Kidd/Bush Moukarzel Photo: Jeremy Abrahams
LIPPY by Dead Centre, Direction: Ben Kidd/Bush Moukarzel, Photo: Jeremy Abrahams

I was so hungover, I wasn’t sure if this was part of the show (it is) or whether I was late and had somehow missed the play. It was possible: I had already turned up to review it without something to write on, or with.

So while the reviewer next to me furiously scribbled notes in his little book, I decided to rely solely on my wits and the power of my pounding head. The theatre, at least, was nice and dark Besides, how hard could it be? I’ve reviewed loads of plays…

The problem was, like its subject matter, Lippy is a confounding. Why did Frances Mulrooney and her three nieces, whom she raised, choose to end their lives this way? Why did they shred all their personal documents? A play that tried to answer these questions would be putting words into their mouths, and Lippy is intelligently aware of this conundrum.

So in the play’s sinister and expressionist imagining of the women’s last days, starving to death in the same house, much emphasis is put on the impossibility of ever achieving clarity. Words overlap, get lost, become distorted. People speak without moving their lips, or move their lips only to have different people speak for them. The play constantly disorientates and disturbs, thwarting any attempt to grasp a coherent meaning. Yet, I continued my attempt to grasp, leaning forward in my seat – like that would help. The whole thing was enough to make my head hurt – more than it already did.

The play ends with a mega Beckettian soliloquy delivered from the lips of the last living woman in the house. It is dark, and impactful – especially after almost an hour of not receiving a clear sentence – leaving the theatre in stunned silence.

An affecting play, not to be watched when hungover.

Lippy was on at Berlin’s Schaubühne as part of the Festival International New Drama (FIND) 7-17 April 2016.

art, Berlin, things to do

No Compromises! The Art of Boris Lurie at the Jewish Museum Berlin

It is rumoured that Boris Lurie’s No!art movement got its name when a woman entered an exhibition on 10th street in New York, looked his Railroad to America collage (below), and ran out screaming “No! No! No!”

Boris Lurie, Railroad to America, 1963
Boris Lurie, Railroad to America, 1963, © Boris Lurie Art Foundation, New York

Whether or not that story is apocryphal, the art of Boris Lurie is indeed provocative. Interestingly, he was very much against Warhol and the pop art movement, which also sought to be political and provocative. Perhaps this is because pop art lacks the harrowing depth of Lurie’s work.

This fresh, visceral quality is probably due to the fact that Boris Lurie, who grew up in Riga, was interned by the Nazis at Buchenwald and other concentration camps. His art is particularly Jewish – a visual and textual attempt to express a European Jewish experience. It seems apt, therefore, that the largest exhibition of his work – including pieces that have never been shown before – is now on at the Jewish Museum Berlin.

The retrospective presents an over-arching view of Lurie’s œuvre, consisting of over 200 collages, drawings, paintings, texts and sculptures, as well as documentary videos about the artist.  His vast body of work grapples with a number of subjects, from modern American society and politics, to concentration camps and depictions of women. Most impactful are his collages, combining photos of the Holocaust with pin-up photos from American magazines.

Perhaps the best sum up of the exhibition is the welcoming text at its entrance, by Lurie himself: If your eyes and mind serve you well, you will see something new. You will find no secret languages here, no fancy escapes, no hushed, muted silences, no messages beamed at exclusive audiences. Art is a tool of influence and urging. We want to talk, to shout, so that everybody can understand. Our only master is truth.

No Compromises! The Art of Boris Lurie is on at the Jewish Museum Berlin (Lindenstr. 9-14, 10969 Berlin) until 31st July 2016.

 

art, Berlin, events, Life in Berlin, people, theatre

Palast-Talk: British Evening

Friedrichstadt-Palast – the glitzy show palace in Mitte – recently hosted an illuminating discussion about German and British theatre.

Berndt Schmidt and Alistair Spalding, Friedrichstadt-Palast
Photo: Sascha Radke, Eventpress, courtesy of Friedrichstadt-Palast

The talk focused on the differences between British and German theatre. Alistair Spalding, Artistic Director of Sadler’s Wells in London, observed that the British prefer to be entertained, while the Germans think theatre has to be difficult and painful. Also, British theatre is commercial, whereas German theatres are mostly subsidised.

This inevitably led to a discussion about the difference between art and entertainment. Does art have to be political? Dr Berndt Schmidt, General Director of Friedrichstadt-Palast, joked that although many people do not count what the Palast does as art, it must be – because they get funding for it.

He also stated that although the shows at Friedrichstadt-Palast were not political, the theatre’s attitude was open and tolerant. This is a fallacy: Everything is political. Even the choice not to engage in politics and just entertain people is political. It is a choice that says, the status quo is fine and we do not feel a responsibility or need to question it. That entertainment is more important than politics. It is conservatism of the highest degree.

The Palast’s current home on Friedrichstrasse was the last historic landmark building constructed in German Democratic Republic, in 1984. Under communist rule, the Palast’s shows were also used to entertain and placate. In Setting the Scene: Perspectives on Twentieth-Century Theatre Architecture, historian Florian Urban writes that the Palast hosted a selection of the regime’s most popular television variety shows, including Ein Kessel Buntes (A Cauldron of Potpurri); “the Saturday-night entertainment show with which East German rulers had, since 1972, attempted to win the acceptance of their subjects.”

The Palast’s shows supported the ruling order then, just as it supported the ruling order during the Nazi era, and it is – by choosing not to question contemporary society and politics – doing the same today. Luckily, we live in an open, democratic society, which is, apparently, the ‘general attitude’ of the Palast.

But how does the Palast’s ‘open and tolerant’ attitude manifest itself? When the director of Berlin’s largest theatre was asked whether he actively sought to bring diverse voices from the city into his production-process, Berndt replied that he was not thinking about how many women or coloured faces there were in his theatre; he was just hiring people he thought were cool.

If you are not consciously thinking about tolerance, openness, and diversity, you cannot have an open, tolerant and diverse attitude. People naturally choose to work and socialise with people who are similar to them (see Scientific American’s article on how people socialise, or Business Insider’s article on the fact that managers hire people who remind them of themselves). Berndt is a white, middle-class man. If he is just picking people he thinks are cool, he is most certainly picking people who share his background or attitudes, which is not promoting diversity or tolerance but perpetuating a system of privilege and bias.

This system is the reason that no black actors were nominated for the Oscars this year. It is the reason that female hires in orchestras have risen by half since the introduction of ‘blind’ auditions for orchestras, where musicians must play behind screens that conceal their identities.

It is the reason the director of Ireland’s National Theatre came under fire at the end of last year when he announced a line up of 18 men and just two women writers and directors. In response to the criticism, he tweeted: “I don’t and haven’t programmed plays on a gender basis. I took decisions based on who I admired and wanted to work with.”

To deny gender-bias with such a line-up is ludicrous. The people he admired and wanted to work with were people like him – men. The work he connected to was the work that related to his experience – as a white, privileged male. It was only when he was made to think about it – by a counter movement supported by Meryl Streep and Wim Wenders – that he recanted his words. But his comment is one the Director of Friedrichstadt-Palast echoed: I’m just choosing people I think are cool. As a woman in the toilets said afterwards; “Well whoopee for him.”

art, Berlin, Life in Berlin

Berlin Street Art 3

One of my favorite walks in Berlin is along the S-bahn bridge from Alexanderplatz to Hackescher Markt.

You could be thinking about where you’re going and what you’re doing one minute, and the next, the plethora of street art in the middle of the city will snake around your mind and grab you.

It will make you smile or think or put a bounce in your step, like the dancing girl, who swirls along beside you for metres in a mist of glitter accompanied by the words, “It’s time to dance.”

Here are some photos taken from a recent walk along that path with a friend:

art, Berlin, Literature

Exhibition: There’s no place like time

There’s no place like time is an art exhibition with a twist. It’s a retrospective of the work of video artist Alana Olsen, curated by her daughter Aila, who lives in Berlin. So far, so good. It’s only when you look at the exhibition brochure, dated December 2018, that you realise something is awry.

3 s jetty colorPrinting error? No. The video artist Alana Olsen and her daughter Alia are actually characters out of Lance Olsen’s novel Theories of Forgetting. We are looking at the work of a fictive artist, curated by her fictive daughter. Olsen’s book has spiraled out of its binding and into our reality, or perhaps we have circled into its fictionality, becoming characters ourselves.

The exhibition is, in reality, a collaboration between author Lance Olsen and video artist Andi Olsen. Between them, they have brought the spirit of the fictive artist alive as well as her daughter’s attempt to put the pieces of her mother’s life together to try to grasp her and stop her spiraling away into oblivion.

The themes of time, place, deterioration and winding down run through the exhibition – themes which are also important to the novel. Lance Olsen’s creation can be seen as a spiral itself – first inspired by Robert Smithson’s famous earthwork The Spiral Jetty (above), the novel has unconventional page-layouts and two back covers so you can start from either end, it has now spun back out into a physical space and collaboration with a visual artist once more.

An immersive, multi-dimensional and unique approach to art, which people can delve into in many different ways.

There’s no place like time is on until Sunday 15th November at the Greenhouse Berlin (8th floor, Gottlieb-Dunkel Str. 43/44, 12099 Berlin).

art, Berlin, Film, Life in Berlin

Short Film: Rhino Full Throttle, A Berlin Love Story

This beautiful, award-winning short film Nashorn im Galopp (Rhino Full Throttle) directed by Erik Schmitt plays with a bunch of crazy filming techniques and perspectives all over Berlin.

Check it out:

art, Berlin, Film

Elixir at the 5th Down Under Berlin Film Festival

If the 1920s surrealists were alive today, where would they be situated? Berlin, naturally.

This is the premise of Australian director Brodie Higgs’s Elixir, which opened the 5th Down Under Berlin Film Festival last night.

Elixir filmOf course, he’s right. Berlin is a city of pallid men with thin mustaches who take themselves very seriously, artists dressed in black, and cavernous buildings where people from around the world come to be creative without worrying about paying the rent.

The film focuses on one building in particular – the Glass House, based loosely on the Parisian house of the same name and the group surrounding Andre Breton that gathered there. It starts just after the death of one their members, Jacques Vache, and the arrival of Lexia, a troubled artist. Lexia stirs up tensions between Andre, the writer who runs the house, and Tristan, who plans to violently disrupt a pop artist’s upcoming show.

Between these two plots is the art; late night photo sessions, poetry readings, games to access the subconscious, a man wearing a pig’s head saying ‘I am bored.’ These scenes are both ridiculous and magical, stylistically shot by cinematographer Michal Englert, and wonderfully scored by Daniel Wohl. But while the artists are frolicking, the bills are piling up. They risk losing their space, which provides an apt comment on gentrification in Berlin but also pulls the film in yet another direction.

The number competing story-lines and characters leads to a lack of focus. Who, exactly, is Lexia, and what does she represent? What are the relationships between these people? What is the role of art in our world? These questions are touched upon but never fully explored. Similarly, the film seems caught between its own surrealist elements and its traditional narrative drive, never fully embracing either.

Elixir looks fabulous and has some funny moments, but, like the surrealist movement of the 1920s, ends up feeling fractured.

The Down Under Berlin Film Festival is showcasing features and shorts from Australia and New Zealand at Movimento Kino in Kreuzberg from 16th – 20th September 2015.

art, Berlin, Life in Berlin, theatre

NippleJesus at the English Theatre Berlin

Last night, NippleJesus, a one-man play based on a short story by Nick Hornby, premiered at the English Theatre Berlin.

The setting was intimate, with chairs arranged in a horseshoe shape around the space where Dave (Jesse Inman) talks about his job as a bouncer, or, as his wife calls him, a security consultant.

NippleJesus
Photo: Casey-Tower, courtesy of the English Theatre Berlin

Dave is a family man. Working class, cockney, no pretensions. Until recently, he worked at a club called Casablanca but after someone jabbed a rusty weapon at him, he quit. His job was just to allow “people to have a good time without fear of arseholes” – nothing worth getting stabbed over.

His new gig is at an art gallery. Dave isn’t sure if he’s ever been inside an art gallery before, and he isn’t sure why they would need a bulky guy like him in one. All becomes clear when he sees the painting he’s supposed to be guarding. It’s a picture of Jesus – beautiful, suffering, realistic – which, upon closer inspection, is revealed to be entirely made of pornographic images of nipples. This is NippleJesus. Dave is shocked, then outraged.

But after studying the picture some more, standing in the same room as it, meeting the artist, and defending it against religious nut jobs, Dave’s interaction with the painting evolves. As his perspective switches, so does our perspective of the art world. How does art affect people? How manipulative is the contemporary art world? What is modern art? Moreover, as Dave’s interaction with the painting deepens, so too does our insight into his character.

Jesse Inman, with his shaved head and stocky build has the right physicality for Dave, and like Hornby’ text, he has the ability to play with the clichés of the character yet hint at something more. He relies on subtle gestures, like the fidgeting of his forefinger and thumb while his hands are clasped behind his back as he talks. Like a bouncer, he only uses his physicality when he needs to.

At times. it was apparent that the piece was adapted from a short story rather than written for the stage, as it lacked a sense of build and dramatic explosion. As always with Hornby, there are laughs to be had – perhaps the biggest is the pay-off for the only two stage props – a tent and an onion – at the end.

A good evening out without fear of arseholes.

NippleJesus is on at the English Theatre Berlin until Saturday 25th July 2015.

art, Berlin, Life in Berlin, theatre

Impro Embassy featuring Joe Bill and Lee White

Ratibor Theater ended their season of monthly English improv last Thursday with an amusing show featuring Joe Bill and Lee White, with accompanying music by Harry Hawaii.

Impro Embassy with Joe Bill and Lee White at Ratibor Theater
Photo by Sappho Wohlgemuth, courtesy of Ratibor Theater

Special guests Joe Bill (USA) and Lee White (Canada) have been touring Europe with their improv show Paradigm, which varies each time they perform it. The novelty is guaranteed by the audience, who provide prompts. The Berlin audience input included short skirts, a potter, Jurassic Park and mettbrötchen (raw minced pork, seasoned with salt, pepper and chopped onion, on bread)…

Interesting set-ups emerged – an artist with a starving family, a dinosaur in need of a therapist, a love story involving the daughter of a mafioso – although the sketches sometimes felt a bit tired, with the actors repeating lines. Perhaps this was an effect of having just two people, who were familiar with each other, carrying the show. Harry Hawaii’s musical accompaniment helped to provide accents and pace.

In the second half, however, the actors picked up the original sketches and ran with them. The humor escalated – a Scottish dinosaur-hunter picked up a boomerang to kill the depressed dinosaur, the mafioso murdered everyone in a Finnish McDonald’s because of their so-called ‘New York’ burger, and the starving artist used his skillful hands to make mettbrötchen. Bill and White had found their flow, and the audience were in stitches.

Even the actors’ familiarity with each other paid off. They got personal, and goaded one another (at one point White challenged Bill to bring in each member of a big mafia family to see their dying father, and Bill, feeling the strain after the sixth one, revealed that the rest of the family had been murdered).

As a writer, it was an interesting process to see; ideas start slowly, then characters and stories take on a life of their own. On the other hand, it might just have been the consumption of beer and wine that made things looser.

Apart from a few slip ups (the Scotsman spoke with an Irish accent), the actors demonstrated a good level of craft and creativity and, as always with improv, provided refreshing moments of surprise. Moreover, there was real pleasure in seeing characters recur, stories develop and a pattern – or paradigm – emerge from randomness.

Impro Embassy will continue their monthly high-quality, entertaining improv evenings in English after a summer break, in October.

art, Berlin, Life in Berlin, music

Soundpainting in Neukoelln

“Where are we going?” asks The Bavarian for the hundredth time.

He does that sometimes. Repeats things. Last week, he came home perplexed because two people, independently of each other, said he had autistic traits.

“Soundpainting,” I say.

“Aha,” he says, eyebrows creased, nodding gravely.

I know what the next question is going to be.

Soundpainting is a live-composing sign language. The soundpainter (composer / conductor) uses gestures to direct a musicians, actors, dancers and artists in an improvised performance. It’s a thing.

soundpainting in berlinLast night, the Berlin Soundpainting Orchestra teamed up with the Swedish Soundpainting Orchestra for a performance at NK in Neukölln. The performance was supposed to start at 8.30. At 8.30 a couple of old-timers from Afro-American jazz collective The Pyramids were talking about how 1968 was an interesting year; Martin Luther King, Kennedy, the Vietnam War. That’s what you get when you go out in Neukölln.

Thankfully, you’re also never far from a beer in Neukölln. Another couple of beers got us to 1972, Besançon,1974, San Francisco – the moderator was not doing his job. I had never heard of The Pyramids, but now I’m an expert. If you ever see them, don’t give them a microphone.

Finally, it was time for soundpainting. The performance began in the courtyard. At least, I think it began. It was hard to tell whether the musicians were just warming up. A guy made sounds crushing a plastic water bottle; another shook a colander.

The performance moved upstairs, where two soundpainters directed two different groups in different areas of the hall. Each one seemed to make sense on its own, but clashed with the other. You could walk between them, and grab a beer on the way.

Finally, we moved into a space where the orchestra arranged itself in front of the audience. There were seats. One sound-painter took charge, and something happened. It started working. The soundpainter made gestures, the orchestra followed, performers moved, stories formed from sounds.

It became clear that the musicians could play and the singers could sing. They knew what they were doing, but they were doing it with abandon – playing, plucking, banging their instruments in unusual ways, using their voices to sing, shout, whisper, murmur and make animal sounds. Everyday noises and props were brought into the composition.

Out of cacophony, emerged music. It was like walking down a busy street, and hearing a symphony drift down to you from an open window, or like listening to a radio being tuned. What was happening? And what surprising thing were we going to hear or see next?

It was engaging, funny, weird, and weirdly satisfying.

Also, it was educational. I picked up the soundpainting gesture for ‘be quiet’ – maybe I’ll start using it on The Bavarian.

The Berlin Soundpainting Orchestra will be performing with The Swedish Soundpainting Orchestra in what promises to be a special performance tonight at 18.30, at Urban Spree.

art, Berlin, Life in Berlin

Exhibition: Obedience at the Jewish Museum Berlin

God said, ‘Take your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains.’

Caravaggio, The Sacrifice of Isaac
Caravaggio, The Sacrifice of Isaac, ca. 1603. Videomapping auf Repro © bpk | Scala

The story of Abraham is one of the oldest and most intriguing in the Bible: God commands Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac, and Abraham obeys, although ultimately a ram is killed in Isaac’s place.

The text, handed down in Judaism as the “Binding of Isaac”, is also significant in Christianity and Islam. All three religions interpret the episode, and the questions it raises, differently. In Islamic texts for example, Abraham’s son Ismail, not Isaac, is sacrificed, and there is no binding at the altar.

Multimedia artist Saskia Boddeke and British film director Peter Greenaway have revived this old text into an immersive installation. Their new exhibition Obedience, at the Jewish Museum, takes you on a journey through 15 rooms, focusing on the different episodes and characters of the story.

It is heavy subject matter, and the rooms are loaded – with video installations, music, objects, modern images and old manuscripts. Every room has different floors, lighting, smells, sounds and visual stimuli, resulting in a heightened sensual experience.

However, subtle aspects carry through, binding the narrative together. For example, the pebbles on the floor of The Devil’s Room, that glow like hot coals in the dark, red light, take on new significance when we read about Hajj pilgrims stoning the devil, like Abraham, in The Islam Room. The sacrificed ram of Judaism becomes the Lamb of God in Christianity; the firewood that Isaac gathers becomes the wood of the cross.

What becomes a constant, ever louder echo reverberating through all the rooms is a focus on Isaac / Ismail, the child Abraham was willing to sacrifice. Boddeke and Greenaway have interpreted the story as a human drama, in a modern context. Images of children and their parents make us question Abraham’s obedience, for which he was praised and rewarded.

A video of children from all over the world repeating the lines “I am Isaac” or “I am Ismail”, allusions to child refugees, and contemporary images of suffering children make us question whether we, like Abraham, are sacrificing children in obedience to wealth. Provocative.

Obedience: An installation in 15 rooms by Saskia Boddeke and Peter Greenaway opens at the Jewish Museum today and runs till 13 September 2015.

art, Berlin, Germany, history, Life in Berlin, News, politics

The Bode Museum marks the 70th Anniversary of End of World War Two

This year marks the 70th anniversary of the end of World War Two. To celebrate, Russia staged its biggest military parade, involving thousands of troops marching across the Red Square in Moscow, displays of ballistic missiles and over 100 war planes.

Here’s a clip of what it looked like:

While such scenes of nationalistic machismo, mirroring those that led up to the second world war in the first place, are clichéd and shallow, here, in a quiet corner of Berlin’s Bode Museum, a much smaller display makes for a deeper impact.

The Lost Museum Exhibition is about the hundreds of art works from the Berlin collections that went missing, were stolen or destroyed, due to the second world war. It consists of partly destroyed works, reconstructed pieces, photographic reproductions and information about the lost works.

The partly charred or smashed statues are devastating to see, but worse are the black and white photographic reproductions of paintings, like this Rubens:

photographic reproduction of lost Rubens at Bode Museum, BerlinA masterwork like this, drained of the colour and brushstrokes that bring Rubens’ paintings to life with fleshy sensuality, makes one feel the absence of the original even more.

IMG_20150510_140410Other stand out pieces, like this plaster cast of Donatello’s John the Baptist – the original has disappeared – demonstrate the value of such a restitution project as it reintroduces the piece to the narrative of art history.

The exhibition also raises interesting questions about itself. For example, should the few remaining fragments of works that survived the Friedrichshain Bunker fire be reconstructed, taking the artists’ original visions and intentions into mind? Or should, according to the standards of historic preservation, any change in the state of a work of art be respected? In short, is it more important to show the original idea of a work of art, or its history?

The exhibition is insightful and questioning and, on a positive note, is possible due to the ongoing and ever-strengthening collaboration between German and Russian museum professionals.

What remains though is the feeling of loss for all those hundreds of works that have vanished. It is a loss to civilisation. A fissure in art history. The visions and spirits of the people that lived in those works, forever lost.

The Lost Museum: The Berlin Sculpture and Paintings Collections 70 Years After World War II is on at the Bode-Museum until 27th September 2015.

art, Berlin, Life in Berlin

Creative in Berlin: Jenny Brockmann

Berlin artist Jenny Brockmann, whose exhibition Chronicle of a Place is on at Die alte feuerwache in Friedrichshain, talks about her work and relationship to the city.

photo courtesy of Jenny Brockmann
photos courtesy of Jenny Brockmann

You were born in Berlin. How do you think the city has influenced your work as an artist?

Although I spent 16 years of my life abroad, I feel at home in Berlin. I am convinced that architecture and urban landscape shapes us as individuals as in the idea of Leib (connection between body/senses and mind) described by phenomenologist Merleau-Ponty and I am sure it subsequently affects our interaction with others. My work is deeply influenced by Berlin in particular in how I deal with space and built structures and the resulting social and societal references.

What’s your favorite place in Berlin?

I like those places which give us a different, unusual view of Berlin. The small port in Treptower Park for example, the Tempelhofer Feld or Teufelsberg, with its derelict radar station, telling us about former times. 13

Tell us about your current exhibition.

The exhibition ‘Chronicle of a Place’ shows part of a huge archive of drawings, texts, material samples, photos and film recordings I collected over the past one and a half years in three different places: Istanbul, Tel Aviv and New York. I followed paths in these cities which are connected to the migration of German people in the last 150 years. However, the work is not primarily  about looking back in history; it is more about approaching the city in a situationist kind of way, exploring the structure of the city in present time.

What themes are you concerned with in your work?

The main idea behind this work is dialogue. Starting with the interactions that occur when working in public spaces, affecting people’s perception of their daily routes, then bringing the collected materials into the exhibition space in a distant city and last not least creating space for dialogue through workshops, talks and events. Taking a different perspective and experiencing new ways of thinking is one major point. The aim for dialogue is also the reason I invited the curators Kristina Kramer and Ece Pazarbasi to talk about their perspective on my project, which will take place tonight in the exhibition.

Where do you work?

I work throughout the city, in scientific laboratories, in the middle of nature, in the workshop, in the exhibition space, in my studio, at home or in a cafe. It depends on how the actual project needs to be conceived.

Describe your process.

Working on a project involves considering it from many different angles. In terms of output, this includes many different media such as drawing, sculpture, photo, film, collected materials and measurements, texts, installation, performance.

What are you working on now?

I am working on 07a participatory project I began last year, in which I ask Berliners for a photo of their horizons. I want to share what people see. These photos give us the opportunity to look at the horizon from a proximity; I think the horizon that is close to us is predestined to be looked at in an abstracted and thus interpretative way. It reveals something about the people who photograph it. I believe the horizon of people in Berlin is different to that of people in Tokyo or New York.

Curators Kristina Kramer and Ece Pazarbaşı will talk about their responses to Chronicle of a Place tonight at 7 pm, followed by music by Jeff Özdemir and friends at 9 pm at die alte feuerwache / Projektraum – Galerie, Marchlewskistraße 6, 10243.

If you are being creative in Berlin and would like to chat about it, contact me.

art, Berlin, Life in Berlin, theatre

Impro Embassy at Ratibor Theatre

Impro Embassy is a fresh and funny English-language show at Ratibor Theatre that takes place the first Thursday of every month.

Impro Embassy, Ratibor TheatreI went to last Thursday’s performance entitled City Beats. The show featured professional improv actors from different countries – Helena Lindegen (Improvisationsteater, Stockholm), Luisa Schnittert (Die Gorillas, Berlin), David Arcuri (Teatribu, Milan), along with music by Rudy Redl (Die Gorillas, Berlin) and Mike Russell (Black Heritage, Washington D.C) – working together in a unique constellation.

Each player took turns in providing a prompt, either from the audience, a video, song, or a personal tidbit inspired by their city to get the action going. What resulted was a series of entertaining, sometimes surreal, always surprising sketches that took us on a whirlwind journey from a rap performance on the streets of Washington D.C. to breakfast with a suicidal Swedish family.

Mother:     I’ll wake the boys. Larsen! Andersen! Nielsen!
Daughter:  Why did you name us all with surnames? It’s so difficult…

Other sketches included a noirish love story featuring a cat called Snowball, a woman addicted to dressing up as a lizard and scaring Berlin clubbers on their way home in the early hours, and a contemporary movement performance illustrating the life and death of a snowman.

Detective:  I’m looking for this cat.
Woman:     Yes, he is here.
Detective:  That was easier than I thought. This is the first place I have visited.
Woman:     Well, this is the only cat hotel in Poland…It was a good idea.

The actors worked hard to find a tone and sense of narrative in each sketch, aided by the musicians who intuitively provided a score. The creative process was fascinating to watch – affirming the importance of play and rolling with an idea until it turns into a gem – and the evening sparkled.

The most telling piece was one in which each actor spoke only in their native language (Swedish, German and Italian). Through the confusion, they eventually managed to connect with each other and create an engaging, comprehensive story. For me, this is typical Berlin; that on a rainy night in Kreuzberg, people from different places can come together and collaborate despite their differences, to create a special, one-off experience.

The next Impro Embassy entitled Click will be at 20.30, Thursday 5th February 2015 at Ratibor Theater (Cuvrystr. 20a, 10997 Berlin, nearest U-Bahn Schlesisches Tor).

art, Berlin, Life in Berlin

Creative in Berlin: Laura Fong Prosper

Visual artist Laura Fong Prosper has been living in Berlin since 2007. Her solo video exhibition Gēn opens tonight at the Vesselroom Project.

Here’s your chance to meet her and find out about her work and relationship to the city.

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

My name is Laura Fong Prosper. I am an artist and film editor from Panama. I love yoga, cats, nature, music and good food. I am a melting pot with legs. I am Chinese, Native American, black and white.

screen-shot-2013-04-03-at-6-30-35-pmWhy did you, like so many artists, choose to live in Berlin?

Since I came in 2004, I knew I wanted to live here. Freedom and creativity breathe in Berlin’s air. Since then, of course I’ve seen some dramatic changes; everything is more organized, controlled and less anarchic than it used to be, but I think change also brings other possibilities. More opportunities for artists, more spaces, more global exchanges and local community work. Let’s hope Berlin grows for the better.

What’s your favorite place in Berlin?

I can’t have one favorite place in this city. That’s why I love it so much. Some places are, Treptower Park, Richardplatz, Tempelhof Airport, Prinzessinnengarten, the Thai Park, Teufelsberg and anything in the outskirts of the city all the way to beautiful Brandenburg. I usually spend my weekends outside the city in the countryside of Brandenburg.

Tell us about your work.

I mix VJ (video jockey) techniques and film editing techniques into my work. I also like to use analog formats, and mix it in with newer media. I love color saturations, over impositions and glitch. I am into experimental film making, video installations and visual essays. My VJ work is more about video painting on a canvas and live video art projections than syncing video bits to music beats.

What themes are you conscreen-shot-2013-04-09-at-1-10-56-amcerned with?

Identity, the expat life, being a foreigner since 2001 in different places all over the world gave me a constant nostalgia or homesickness of missing family on a daily basis. But also, being a walking melting pot, I can’t relate only to one culture. And that’s how I feel every time I go back home. I feel I don’t belong there anymore. So I like to deal with that space in between. That identity limbo and its consequences.

Describe your process.

Trial and error and free play. There’s no other way for me. I came from film school where everything is very strict, pre-planned and hierarchic (especially fiction filmmaking). With my art I like to break from all those conventions and just play. I like unexpected – accidental – results the most.

Editing is on one hand intuitive/dreamlike and on the other about story-telling and construction – your video art seems to rely more on the former than the latter – or do story-telling principles still apply?

screen-shot-2013-04-03-at-5-57-42-pmYou’re completely right. When I work as a film editor, even though I bring my intuitive abstractions once in a while I have to rely on telling a story, thinking about the spectator… is it clear enough? Is it boring? How can we make it shorter? My art work is the complete opposite. Its more about feelings than rationality. Sometimes, I like to leave the interpretation open to the spectator. It’s more about telling fragmented stories than a linear one. I pay a lot of attention to trying to show moments of my life, seen through my eyes. It’s about creating an ephemeral experience.

What are you working on now?

An experimental film about Berlin. After all these years here, I haven’t done any project on the city yet. It’s about time. You might be interested. I’ll keep you posted…

Laura Fong Prosper’s solo video exhibition Gēn opens at 7 p.m tonight at the Vesselroom Project, near Kottbusser Tor and runs until 12th December 2014.

If you are being creative in Berlin and would like to chat about it, contact me.

art, Germany, history, Life in Berlin, Literature

Weekend Trips from Berlin: Weimar

One of the nice things about living in Berlin is its easy connections to other towns and cities. This weekend, The Bavarian and I went to Weimar, which is a two-hour train ride away.

Weimar

Berlin may be the heart of Germany’s cultural scene today, but Weimar was once one of Europe’s most important cultural centres. It’s the home of German Classicism, Bauhaus, and renowned figures, from Goethe and Schiller, to Liszt, Liebermann, Kandinsky, Klee, Feininger and Gropius.

In fact, so many famous people have ties to Weimar that it’s littered with signs like this:

Bach, Weimar

And this:

Hans-Christian Andersen, Weimar

And you get the feeling that the Weimarians are simply showing off.

The most famous resident of Weimar was Goethe. There are so many references to him in the city that The Bavarian and I started playing the ‘Goethe-Game’, where you gained a point for screaming ‘Goethe’ every time you saw his face or name. (I would record the winner, but really, it’s the taking part that counts…)

Goethe’s Residence and the adjoining Goethe National Museum provide a fascinating insight into his life, work and ideas. He had many interests and collections – from Italian majolica to rocks – so there’s plenty to see. (Below, Goethe’s study)

Goethe's study, Weimar

As we continued to tour Weimar screaming ‘Goethe’, we saw Schiller’s residence, Goethe’s garden house, ate a traditional Thüringer Rostbratwurst at the market square (Markt) and enjoyed coffee and cake at Cafe Frauentor.

Restaurant Elephantenkeller, WeimarWe sampled more traditional Thuringian fare for dinner at the Restaurant Elephantenkeller, which is part of The Elephant Hotel (as is the Michelin starred Anna Amalia).

The Elephant Hotel is the place to stay in Weimar. It was established in 1696 and has a reputation for being a social and cultural meeting point for poets, artists and intellectuals. Thomas Mann immortalised the hotel in Lotte in Weimar and was a guest, as was Wagner, Feininger, Ahner and others.

Of course, that was why I wanted to stay at The Elephant. The Bavarian wanted to stay there because of the eggs – specifically the eggs in a glass. He had stayed at the Hotel Fuerstenhof in Leipzig once, which belongs to the same hotel group, and has been going on about eggs in a glass ever since. I had no idea what he was talking about, but when you’re married to a nutter, you learn to nod and not ask too many questions.

Hitler at The Elephant

After dinner, we prowled the hotel floors examining the Baselitz and Liebermann prints on the walls, and the exhibition about the hotel’s history – where this photo of Hitler at The Elephant was displayed – on the first floor.

We stumbled across the suites (all named after esteemed guests) and discovered that a couple with a dog were staying in the Thomas Mann suite, sending The Bavarian into a tirade about how a dog had a better room than him, although it was kind of fitting because Thomas Mann was fond of dogs.

I had to admit though, while sitting in front of my shrimp omelette topped with caviar and watching the Bavarian delicately spoon a soft-boiled egg covered with truffle foam from a little glass, that he was right about the breakfast.

– Satisfied? Will you stop going about eggs in a glass now? I asked.

– Yes. This is better than the other place – it’s a Wagenfeld glass. From now on, I will only talk of one egg, in a Wagenfeld glass.

Rococo Hall, Anna Amalia Library, WeimarDue to our early start, we were able to get a ticket to visit the Anna Amalia Library (there’s a limit to how many are sold per day, so be there early if you’d like a slot).

The library houses an impressive collection focusing on German literature around 1800, and its Rococo Hall (right) is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. As well as old books, there are items from the library’s cabinet of curiosities, paintings and sculptures.

The last thing we had time for before catching our train back was a visit to the Bauhaus Museum, which has a great collection of art and design works from the school, as well as information about its history and development.

If we had a little longer in Weimar, I would have liked to visit Buchenwald – a place that marks the barbarism that followed the high culture of Weimar – as well as the Nietzsche Archive, Liszt House, City Castle and the Bee Museum  – all that calls for at least one more weekend trip to Weimar.

The Bavarian’s verdict: The egg was the best.

art, Berlin, Film, music

AV Postcard Berlin

Filmmaker Ismar Badzic and musician Sam Hanlan have recently come up with a way to reboot the postcard, from a physical card with a limited choice of landmarks on the front and limited word-space on the back that takes ages to arrive, to a digital, audio-visual experience.

And the first AV postcard is from Berlin!

What do you think? Does it capture Berlin better than a traditional postcard?

To explore the individual sounds, images and interviews that make up this postcard, and for more information, check out the Audio Visual Postcard website.

art, Berlin, Life in Berlin

Erich Kissing at Galerie Schwind

Last night was the opening of an Erich Kissing exhibition at Galerie Schwind on Auguststrasse in Berlin Mitte. The artist, as well as gallery owner Herr Schwind, attended.

Erich Kissing exhibition, Galerie Schwind, 2014

Erich Kissing, painter of the Leipzig school and former student of Werner Tübke paints fantastical tableaux in a precise, realist style. He is known for his high-precision glazing technique which consists of several layers and takes months to complete. This fine technique in combination with images of flying, centaurs and dream-like landscapes creates a stunning effect. You can see his work on his website.

The Erich Kissing Exhibition is on at Galerie Schwind, Auguststrasse 19, 10117 Berlin until 8 November 2014.

art, Berlin, Life in Berlin

Studio Visit Berlin

Berlin has long been known as a city of artists, but it’s often difficult to find them; galleries are hidden away and have strange opening times, and many Berlin artists exhibit elsewhere.

Studio Visit Berlin is a door to the city’s vibrant art scene. They provide personal tours (no more than six people per group) that take you into the homes and studios of artists and designers. Tours vary according to the interests of the tour group, take between 2-4 hours, and cost €40 per person, which includes a Prosecco sack lunch and a valuable goodie bag of prints and books from participating artists.

Here’s a summary of the tour I took this weekend:

Meike Legler

home studio of designer Meike LeglerWe started in the home of artist and host Kottie Paloma and his wife designer Meike Legler, whose workspace is a nook in their apartment. She designs colourful pillows with geometric designs, and fun bed set sheets and shower curtains.

Diego Rodriguez-Warner

Diego Rodriguez-Warner's studio, BerlinDiego Rodriguez-Warner was born in Managua, Nicaragua. He studied under Cuban Minister for Fine Arts Lesbia Vent Dumois, in Havana, and completed his Bachelor of Arts in COIN Theory and Fine Arts from Hampshire College. He received his Masters of Fine Arts from the Printmaking Department of Rhode Island School of Design.

Diego’s solo show will open at Das Gift, Donaustrasse 119, 12043 Berlin at 8 pm, 2nd August 2014.

Sophia Domagla

DSC_2834German artist Sophia Domagla processes the naive, ugly and the beautiful moments of life, with a view to humor. After a two-month scholarship in September last year in Kiel, she is now back in Berlin until the end of 2014 on a Goldrausch program scholarship. She was recently nominated for the Berlin Art Prize 2014 and won the Prize for “Best Script.” She lives and works in the same space, and yes, that’s a doll house next to the bed…

Sophia currently has a solo show at Agora Collective, Mittelweg 50, 12053 Berlin.

Yorgos Stamkopoulos

DSC_2839Yorgos Stamkopoulos‘s abstract paintings are composed of multi-layered minimalistic colour fields. His process is super-interesting (in fact, the process itself seems to be one of his main concerns). He refers to his current series ‘blind paintings’ because his method of masking the canvas ensures that the final result is random and unexpected.

Jadranko Barisic

DSC_2864Bosnian artist Jadranko Barisic works in icons, replicating paintings from the 1200s to the 1500s. His works can be found in private collectors’ homes all over Europe as well as in churches that wanted to replace lost paintings and restore their collections. He mixes paints the old way, using substances like egg whites and gold leaf. Barisic is a master forger!

Johannes Rodenacker

DSC_2857A graduate of the University of the Arts, Berlin, Johannes Rodenacke deals with abstraction, figures, and comics. He is in charge of an artist’s project space called Poseidon Projekt and recently launched his book and Risograph print publishing house called Nebenb’ Art.

Franziska Jordan

DSC_2861In 1984, Franziska Jordan‘s family escaped from the Communist block of East Germany into West Germany in the middle of the night with Franziska smuggled in the trunk of the car. In 2000, she enrolled at UdK, Berlin where she was a student of H.J. Diehl and Daniel Richter.

Kottie Paloma

DSC_2870The last stop was host Kottie Paloma‘s studio. His paintings, drawings and sculptures reflect the darker sides of society in a humorous yet poignant and gritty manner. Many collectors consider his art the darker side of pop. His art is in private and public collections throughout the United States and Europe. Some of the public collections include MOMA in NYC, Harvard and Stanford University and the Bavarian State Library in Munich.

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DSC_2859For me, it’s always a pleasure to visit artists’ studios. Often, it’s more interesting to see the space where art is made – the creative mess, the half-formed paintings and sculptures, the paint spattered surfaces – rather than looking at finished works in a sterile exhibition space. It was also fun to meet the artists themselves, talk to them about their work and processes, and have the opportunity to buy from them directly – who needs galleries?

For more information about the tours and how to book, go to Studio Visit Berlin or check out the SVB Facebook Page.

art, Berlin, Life in Berlin, News

TEDxBerlin: City 2.0

In 2008, the number of people living in cities surpassed those living in rural areas, and that number is set to rise. So what does this mean for cities? What will the city of the future look like? What will Berlin be like? These questions brought designers, architects, engineers and artists together for this year’s TedxBerlin Conference.

tedx berlin posterThe conference took place at the ICC, one of the world’s largest conference centres, in West Berlin, coinciding with consumer electronics trade fair IFA, where products like 3-D pens and Samsung’s new smartwatch were being showcased. The centre was built as a modern vision of the future, but as with most 70s constructions, it’s ugly – and due to be torn down next year, providing an apt caveat for attempts to predict the future…

David Owen, author of Green Metropolis and staff writer at The New Yorker, nodded to this lesson by saying that the best urban planning ideas (and ideas in general) came about by accident. New York, for example, due to geography and chance, grew upwards, instead of sprawling outwards, resulting in the greenest city in the U.S.

New York boasts the lowest per capita energy consumption, lowest per capita waste production,  lowest rate of automobile ownership and the only significant transit users in the country. This is due to density, which results in smaller living spaces, less consumption, and walking or public transport becoming the main way of getting around.

trabiOwen proffers that congestion is great for the environment and that he finally ended his quest to find the world’s greenest vehicle in Berlin upon seeing the Trabi. The old DDR car was uncomfortable, didn’t work very well and frequently had to be pushed. What better way to deter people from driving cars than making it difficult? Cities, according to Owen, are the environmental future, not the environmental problem.

This idea was reiterated by Zhang Yue, Champions of the Earth Winner and one of the main people behind this incredible project:

There has been much talk about the cost, speed of construction and height of this building, which will become the tallest in the world when it is completed next year. Most significantly though, this building will contain an entire city; schools, shops, offices – everything a society needs, apart from a crematorium. A ramp will enable cyclists and drivers to travel right up to the 202nd floor, although of course, Yue has envisioned a city in which everything is accessible by foot.

Clearly, cities in China cannot keep sprawling, and the old model of having living quarters in one area and commercial or industrial districts in another, is unsustainable. If China continues at its current pace, it will soon have as many cars per capita as the U.S – that’s one billion cars – and the planet will be ruined. In addition to reducing air pollution, this building will be well-insulated, have quadruple-glazed windows, and be six times more energy-efficient than the average building.

Pollution seemed to be a pervading concern. An oft-quoted statistic was from the World Health Organisation, stating that air pollution kills more people per year than AIDS and malaria combined.

One brilliant solution referred to by several speakers was titanium dioxide. It’s used to make Skittles and M&Ms hard but more to the point, it absorbs air pollution. Unfortunately, it’s not as easy as covering everything in M&Ms as Berlin-based architect Allison Dring highlighted during her presentation about her work producing 3D modules from the material for the facade of hospital Torre de Especialidades in Mexico City:

It seems that architects will have an increasingly scientific dimension to their work in the future.

In general, there appears to be a blurring of boundaries between the work of architects, engineers, artists and designers. Take the brilliant installation art of Tomás Saraceno:

TS_11K21_50457

It is a combination of architecture, science and art. In his series creating 3D spider webs, he even found himself being quoted in scientific papers, although he is not a scientist.

Similarly, the awesome robotic scKolja Kuglerulptures of Berlin-based artist Kolja Kugler, created from junk and scraps, are a combination of art and engineering, although he is no engineer.

In the early 90s, Kugler collaborated with The Mutoid Waste Company, creating guerilla art out of leftover military equipment – including a Mig 21 fighter plane – in the wasteland that was Potsdamer Platz.

Kugler, who once wanted to be a zoologist, demonstrated how he sees natural shapes in man-made objects, and how chance plays a role in his work. He emphasised the importance of making good machines that reflect nature.

Indeed, art is an important part of the city. Cultural advisor Michael Schindheim recently worked on plans for Hong Kong’s West Kowloon Cultural District, made to address the fact that, for such a major city, it lacks a strong cultural identity. Berlin seems to have the opposite dynamic; we are rich with art, but not industry.

So what is it about Berlin that fosters creativity? James Patten, involved in projects such as the Gravity Harp for Bjork, Chicago Museum of Science and Industry’s interactive periodic table, and my favorite, the Barista Bot, which draws your portrait on your caffè latte, provided illumination. While working at The Metropolitan Exchange in New York, he pinpointed several optimal conditions for creativity; having a half-finished space – or a space that feels like it’s in progress – to work in, having a mix of random objects at hand to play with, and having a range of people from all disciplines who share a vision and are willing to muck in. Berlin ticks all of these boxes (as Kugler’s work demonstrates).

Overall, Berlin came out pretty well as a city. Due to Kiez culture, everything we need accessible by foot, resulting in a relatively green city (we could do better with energy efficiency, for example, by insulating old buildings and using LED lights).

There is a wealth of community-based, down-up projects, like the mini-gardens that have been cultivated around trees by the residents of Oderbergerstrasse in Prenzlauer Berg. This trend is set to grow; Priya Prakash is keen to roll out Changify in this city, although we still have a long way to go before we catch up with the Mayor of Seoul, who has installed a giant ear in his city that transmits the public’s complaints directly to city hall. The boundaries between people and governments are also set to blur through increased use of social media and technology.

We have the Flussbad to look forward to, which means that we might soon see people swimming around in the river near Museums Insel:

Berlin has great potential due to its abundance of unused space, and space that can be creatively re-purposed. Merkel’s recent pledge to make Germany nuclear power free also creates opportunities to use more renewable energy and rely on energy loops (waste from one thing being used as food for another).

Two significant talks drew our attention to those people in places not as fortunate as us. Writer and film-maker Lina Hadsbjerg focussed on the lives of refugees living in the inner city of Johannesburg, South Africa. I’d be interested in watching her documentary Into the Shadows to find out more:

On a similar note, photographer Alessandro Grassani presented his photos of environmental immigrants in Bangladesh and Mongolia. In 40 years, every 1 in 45 people will be an environmental migrant; 90% of these will be from the poorest countries, and as is often the case, the problem will affect the world’s poorest people.

The message is clear – cities are getting better, but there are still many growing challenges that need to be addressed.

If you’d like to watch any of the talks mentioned or find out more, visit the TedxBerlin website.

art, Berlin, Humour

Villa Grisebach

Villa GrisebachOn Sunday, The Bavarian and I previewed some works that are to be sold over the next week at one of Berlin’s finest auction houses – Villa Grisebach in Charlottenburg – because the Bavarian has registered to bid in their Autumn Auction.

He dragged me from room to room and floor to floor, past stone statues from the Song Dynasty and 19th Century Berlin-made hanging crystals, pointing at things like this – “Kneipe” by Käthe Kollwitz, expected to fetch between €70,000 – 90,000:

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And yelling things like Shall we buy it? We can bid on it next week! Or how about this?”

Click for Image

It looks like that guy from Boardwalk Empire. I like Broadwalk Empire. I’ll make a note of the number, he enthused at the painting above by Conrad Felixmüller, estimated at between €40.000 – 60.000, before dragging me across the road to the contemporary exhibits and settling on a Daniel Richter:

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“But don’t they check whether you can afford this stuff?” I asked.

“Nah. You just have to register online,” he said – delighted.

“But what if you bid on something that you can’t pay for?”

“Ha! We’re gonna find out soon, eh?” said the Bavarian, pulling on some white gloves and studying a Max Beckmann print…

Click for image

Then yesterday, a woman from Grisebach called him.

“She asked for bank references and stuff,” he said.

“So we’re out of the bidding game then,” I said.

“No. I told her that I was considering bidding for something in the under €3,000 category and she agreed that there was no point in checking our bank statements for such a small amount.”

“Oh, so you can only bid in that category,” I said, kind of relieved that at least there was a limit to how much damage he could do.

“No – that’s just what I told her. Technically, I can still bid on whatever I like!”

Great. Now my entire week has become a mission to distract him from this auction that he is set, not only on going to, but participating in. He’s even honed in on a particular piece he likes by Berlin artist Georg Tappert (1880 – 1957), called called “Clown and Girl”, which appropriately sums up our relationship:

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So  if you don’t hear from me again, it’s because I no longer have a computer, or a home for that matter, and the Bavarian and I are out on the street, sheltering under our newly aquired Sigmar Polke.

art, Berlin, Life in Berlin

Gallery Weekend, Berlin

Friday 26th April to Sunday 28th April was Gallery Weekend – when galleries all over Berlin had exhibition openings. There were 51 official participants, but a lot of other galleries opened their doors to visitors during this time too, which was useful, because most Berlin galleries have random opening times. The Bavarian and I took a stroll down our favorite gallery-lined street in Mitte; Auguststrasse, and saw some fantastic art. Here are our highlights:

1. Silvia Gertsch and Xerxes Ach at Michael Fuchs Galerie

This exhibition is called Silent Moments – Cosmic Light, and they could not have chosen a better name.

S_Gertsch-Late_Afternoon_II-86_x_150_cm_fd0368616e

Silvia Gershe”s works seem to emanate their own light, whether it be the glinting sun, or the glow of street lamps at dusk. They are placed behind glass, giving them a reflective, photo-like quality. In fact, her starting points are photos that she takes herself.

Xerxes Ach’s works are more abstract meditations on colour. They are beautiful, sensual, pure. The work of these two Swiss artists go together really well, and I was interested to find out that they are a couple.

Silent Moments – Cosmic Light is on at Michael Fuchs Galerie, Auguststrasse 11-13, 10117 Berlin until 1st June 2013.

2. Photography at CWC Gallery

Just downstairs from Silent Moments – Cosmic Light, is a photography exhibition at the CWC Gallery featuring more than 100 chosen works from seven prominent photographers; Helmut Newton, Jeanloup Sieff, Herb Ritts, Nick Brandt, Jean-Baptiste Huynh, Paulo Roversi and Yoram Roth.

It’s worth noting that all these photographers are men, and of these, four (Newton, Sieff, Roversi and Roth), have a strong focus on female body / erotica, so it’s a bit like being stuck between the covers of an artsier version of PlayBoy. However, relief is provided by Nick Brandt’s African panoramas, Jean-Baptiste Huynh’s portraits from around the world, and Ritts’ series of ballet dancers. It’s a rare treat to see so many high quality photos and famous images (including disturbing close-ups of Jack Nicholson as the “Joker” in Batman) in one place.

The exhibition is on at CWC Gallery, Auguststrasse 11-13, 10117 Berlin until 24th August 2013. Opening times: Tuesday – Saturday 11 a.m. – 7 p.m.

3. Mariana Vassileva at DNA

If you like contemporary art, DNA’s Fold & Break exhibition of Berlin-based Bulgarian artist Mariana Vassileva is for you. It features video, installation and sculpture. I particularly liked the way she uses everyday objects in unexpected ways with a minimal style. Check out the illuminated tree of shoes in the basement!

Fold & Break is on at DNA, Auguststraße 20, 10117 Berlin until 25 May 2013.tatafiore

4. The Drawings of Ernesto Tatafiore, 1965 – 2012 at Galerie Dittmar

This collection of drawings from Neapolitan artist Ernesto Tatafiore focuses on the French Revolution; its polarities, contradictions and ambiguities. The drawings are simple – they look like they have been done on papyrus – yet funny, thought-provoking and sophisticated at the same time.

The Drawings of Ernesto Tatafiore, 1965 – 2012 is on at Galerie Dittmar, Auguststraße 22,  10117 Berlin until 8th June 2013.

5. Juan Miguel Pozo Cruz at Liebkranz Galerie

Juan Miguel Pozo Cruz is a Cuban Berlin-based artist, whose paintings reflect this combination, representing scenes relevant to both Havana and Berlin.

His paintingLiebkranzs have a flat quality, yet are composed of peeling layers, scratches and deliberate gaps, reflecting his concern with history, nostalgia and the falseness of visual propaganda. Very interesting work.

Juan Miguel Pozo Cruz: Market is on at Liebkranz Galerie, Auguststrasse 62, 10117 Berlin until 1st June 2013.

art, Berlin, Life in Berlin

R.B. Kitaj: Obsessions Exhibition at the Jewish Museum Berlin

The Unpacking my Library, 1990-1991 first large-scale retrospective of R.B Kitaj‘s work in fourteen years is currently on at the Jewish Museum Berlin.

R.B Kitaj (1932 – 2007), an American Jewish artist, spent almost 30 years in England. Like his friends David Hockney and Lucien Freud, he turned to figurative art in the 1960s.

His work is highly referential and collagic, drawing on a wide range of literary and artistic sources. He frequently uses newspaper cuttings and other texts in his work. Literature played a significant role in his life – he was a “self-professed bibliomaniac” and part of his huge collection of books are on display in the exhibition. The painting above is entitled ‘Unpacking My Library’, alluding to an essay by Walter Benjamin.

Kitaj’s circle of friends included philosophers, writers, poets and other artists. He drew from their work, and also represented them in his paintings. Below, ‘Two London Painters’, shows close friends Frank Auerbach and Sandra Fischer.

Two London Painters, Kitaj

Other friends and role models included Philip Roth, Joseph B. Soloveitchik and Ezra Pound.

Much of his work, such as The Murder of Rosa Luxemburg, La Pasionaria (a.k.a Isidora Dolores Ibárruri Gómez, a leader of the Spanish Civil War) and Dismantling the Red Tent, painted in the aftermath of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination, refers to historical and political events. Another obsession of Kitaj’s was his Jewishness, reflected in works such as ‘Drancy’, which was an internment camp from where Jews were deported to death camps.

The last retrospective of Kitaj’s work, held at the Tate in 1994, received bad reviews and proved a traumatic experience for the artist. He blamed critics for his wife’s death following the end of the show, and left England soon after, never to return. For him, the ‘Tate Wars’ confirmed his position as an outsider. Several works made after this episode reflect his feelings – the most obvious being ‘The Killer-Critic Assassinated by His Widower, Even’ painted in 1997.

In 2007, Kitaj committed suicide. A couple of years ago, The Guardian blog asked, Did Art Critics Kill Kitaj? Whatever the case, the current exhibition proves he was unfairly judged. For more about the artist, read his obituary in The Guardian.

Obsessions is on at the Jewish Museum Berlin, Lindenstraße 9-14, 10969 Berlin, until 27th January 2013.

art, Berlin, Germany, history, Language, Literature

Book Review: Remembrances of Copper Cream

Remembrances of Copper Cream CoverThis unique little book by Berliner Johannes CS Frank, (illustrations by Felix Scheinberger and translations by Florian Voß, Ron Winkler, Judi Hetzroni and Merav Salomon), combines prose and poetry, words and images, diverse voices and languages (with sections in Hebrew, English and German).

This might sound confusing, but the different elements flow together, washing over the reader to create a visceral experience.

The book is a series of impressions of Israel, evoking the heat and illusions of the desert, the hustle and bustle of Tel Aviv, the people and places of Jerusalem, the violence, the religion, the wall.

The copper cream of the title colours the scraggly ink sketches depicting electricity lines, men of religion and soldiers.

Remembrances of Copper Cream

It’s an interesting collaboration; the author grew up in England and Germany and lives in a city that is also haunted by war and the division of a wall…

Remembrances of Copper Cream (German title: Erinnerungen an Kupfercreme) is out now, published by FIXPOETRY. An exhibition of the art work can be seen at the ACUD Gallery, Veteranenstraße 21, 10119 Berlin-Mitte, until 17th June 2012.

art, Berlin

Exhibition Opening: Condition Humaine at the Laden Gallery

Eva, by Lilli Hill
Eva, by Lilli Hill

Yesterday saw the opening of Condition Humaine, an exhibition organised by the Ingeborg-Leuthold-Stiftung, a foundation promoting the art of women – especially realistic fine art in Berlin, at the Laden gallery in Tempelhof.

The exhibition brings together the work of three artists living in Berlin from different generations:  Lilli Hill (b.1976) Ingeborg Leuthold (b.1925) and Heike Ruschmeyer (b.1956).

Although they are distinct, their work displays a common theme; the body.

Heike Ruschmeyer, winner of the Marianne Werefkin prize 2005, paints corpses. Her huge canvases are most affecting, depicting blown-up images of the dead subject up close, taut in their rigor mortis, tinged yellow, purple and green. The images invoke eeriness and contemplation, reminding us that violence and death are part of the human condition.

In contrast, Lilli Hill’s paintings of fat women are solid, celebratory, lacquered and Rubenesque in their sensuality.

Ingeborg Leuthold’s naked bodies, bejewelled and tattooed, with mobile phones and sunglasses, are displayed in the context of modern leisure, evoking a bright, lively atmosphere.

Gehen, Bleiben, Durchdringen, by Johannes Grützke
Gehen, Bleiben, Durchdringen, by Johannes Grützke

In addition, the Laden Gallery is crammed with paintings and drawings by Berliner Johannes Grützke, whose works were celebrated in a retrospective at the Germanischen Nationalmuseum Nürnberg earlier this year and of which the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (09.29.200) said, “In a hundred years, people will hardly use our contemporary art to look for information about our life and bustle. Primary image sources are photography, film, television. The work of John Grützke is a rare exception because Grützke’s images are unique…They comment on bizarre social role- playing, attempts at emancipation and infantile regressions, single culture and obsessive group behavior, the battle of the sexes, women’s power, sexual liberation and sexual tensions, ideological contortions and collective neuroses…”

Condition Humaine by the Ingeborg-Leuthold-Stiftung is on at the Ladengalerie, Alt-Tempelhof 26, 12106 Berlin (U-Bahn 6 Alt-Tempelhof) until 26th July 2012. The gallery is open on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays between 12.00 and 18.00 or by appointment.

art, Berlin

Gerhard Richter: Panorama at the Neue Nationalgalerie

Gerhard Richter: Panorama, a comprehensive retrospective of Germany’s greatest living artist at the Neue Nationalgalerie near Potsdamer Platz, is awe inspiring.

Around 130 paintings and five sculptures, made between 1962 and 2011, are exhibited in the light, open space of the upper floor of the gallery. The work is displayed chronologically, although there is no strict path from one painting to another, leaving one free to zig-zag between them, presenting figurative paintings next to abstracts, seascapes alongside landscapes, his recent large-scale squeegee paintings near smaller works of acrylic on glass.

Gerhard Richter was born in Dresden in 1932, where he studied wall painting at the art academy. In 1959, he visited the international art fair, documenta II, where he saw the abstract works of Pollock and Fontana. Looking back at the event, he said: “Their sheer impudence! I was deeply fascinated and moved by it. I could almost say that these pictures were the real reason why I left the GDR. I realised that something was wrong with the way I thought.”

Although Richter left the GDR in 1961, just months before the construction of the Berlin wall, he did not fall in line with the prevalent Western trends in painting, but rather started thinking about the medium of painting – a concern that has occupied his work ever since, most notably in his ‘photo paintings’, where he starts with a photographic image, mostly culled from magazines or a private albums, and transfers it, enlarged, onto canvas before smudging the oil paints while they are still wet, resulting in a blurred effect. The brushstrokes are so fine that upon first sight, you are not sure whether it is indeed a painting or a photograph. The effect makes you scrutinise the image, ache to bring it into focus and scratch beneath its surface.

In Richter’s own words, his work is an “attempt to probe the possibilities of what painting today still can achieve and may achieve.” It is a question that recurs as you experience the exhibition – down to noticing the incidental detail – a common phenomenon in galleries nowadays – of people taking photos of paintings with their iPhones or digital cameras; what is the point of taking a photograph of a painting that was based on a photograph?

Richter’s huge colourful multi-layered and textured abstract paintings make you wonder how on earth such an effect was achieved. Luckily, Corinna Belz recently made a film about his process:

The sheer diversity and number of the works on display in the exhibition demonstrate just how thorough Richter’s inquiry into the medium of painting has been over the last five decades and is well worth seeing.

Gerhard Richter: Panorama is on until 13 May 2012 at the Neue Nationalgalerie, Potsdamer Straße 50, 10785 Berlin

art, Berlin, Life in Berlin

Berlin Street Art 2

Just GraffittiFollowing on from my last post about Berlin Street Art I recently discovered what must be the best Berlin Urban Art Blog, run by JUST, who’s been recording the street art movement for over ten years.

You may have seen the word JUST graffitied across buildings all over Berlin – that’s him…

art, Berlin

Preview Berlin

Preview Berlin 2011, Hangar 2, Tempelhof AirportWe went to the opening of Preview Berlin: The Emerging Art Fair last night.

Sixty-one international galleries, from London to Israel, have set up exhibits in the open space of Hangar 2 of the former Tempelhof Airport.

Most of the galleries are from Germany, and of those, the majority are from Berlin, presenting a good overview of the city’s art scene, unlike the poorly curated Based in Berlin exhibition earlier this year.

As can be imagined, the rangPreview Berlin 2011e of art on display is wide, and each gallery has used their section in a unique way. Sculpture, photography, installations, drawings, paper art – it’s all there in different styles, sizes and materials.

In addition, there are two new projects this year: Video Art Box, presenting contemporary video art by Israeli artists, and Focus Academy, showcasing work from a new generation of young and promising artists from the Bauhaus University of Weimar, the Muthesius Academy of Fine Arts and Design in Kiel, and the Academy of Fine Arts in Nuremberg.

Preview Berlin is open from 1 – 8 pm, 9th – 11th September 2011 at Hangar 2 of the former Tempelhof Airport. Public Transport: U6 to Platz der Luftbrücke (exit Columbiadamm) or bus no. 104, 284 to Flughafen Tempelhof.

art, Berlin

Berlin Street Art

Berlin is a world hub for the street art scene. It is everywhere and, as is the nature of street art, forever being re-plastered and re-painted over. Here are some photos I took in Friedrichshain at the weekend…

For more on Berlin Street Art, this blog has info about well-known artists and crews working in the city,  The New York Times covered the subject a couple of years ago, this blog has some cool recent photos, and there are masses of images on Flickr.

art, Berlin

Turning the Seventh Corner

Turning the Seventh Corner is an installation by Tim Noble and Sue Webster currently at the newly opened Blain|Southern gallery in Berlin.

The installation, made in collaboration with architect David Adjaye, was inspired by the tombs of the Egyptian Pharaohs and is an allusion to the Book of Proverbs, 9:1 – “Wisdom hath builded her house, she hath hewn out her seven pillars.”  The work focuses on light and shadow, which the artists are most well-known for, although this has been described as their most ambitious project to date. 

The visitor walks through a dark passageway turning a series of corners at the end of which… well, I don’t want to spoil the surprise for anyone who wants to experience it for themselves.

Blain Southern Berlin

The gallery space is impressive; it is a spare concrete, steel and glass structure in a hof just off Potsdamer Strasse which used to house the printing presses of the Der Tagesspiegel.

The hof is also home to a cluster of about three or four other galleries including the also newly opened Maerz gallery, which specialises in works from the New Leipzig school and features work by Hans Aichinger, Tobias Köbsch and Ilkka Halso. At the moment, this gallery has quite a small collection (there was nothing, for example, by Aris Kalaizis when we went) so hopefully they’ll get some more stuff in soon. 

Turning the Seventh Corner is on until 16 July 2011 at  Blain|Southern Potsdamer Straße 77–87, 10785, Berlin