Edinburgh Escapism

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I recently moved to Edinburgh and am still configuring its layout and exploring the city almost a month later. I feel this sense of exploration will be constant the whole time I am here. Edinburgh is one of those cities where you are never stuck for things to do, or places to see, or areas to explore. For someone who enjoys long head clearing walks as much as me, it is the perfect place. Yes, during tourist and Fringe Festival season the streets were packed; people crammed against each other on the pavement unable to overtake or cut through the crowd to cross the road. It was heaving. Now that the Festival is over, it has quietened down somewhat. Much to my relief, as I am not a huge crowd fan. I am however, an architecture lover and here in Edinburgh, everywhere you look there are beautiful buildings! There’s the Castle on the hill, there is the quaint area of Stockbridge which was so picturesque I didn’t mind getting lost! There are streets filled with older buildings, the  Scottish National Galleries boasting proud pillars at their entrance, the train station even sits nestled opposite Princes Street Gardens. I feel like I am having an affair behind the back of all the other cities I have visited given Edinburgh is all so breathtaking!

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It is a truly beautiful place and having visited Berlin this summer and been so consumed by its incredible culture, I can’t help feeling that a bubbling city like this is the creative starting point for me. It’s the energy, it’s the atmosphere; both of which are infectious. I’ve visited Edinburgh for countless day trips in the past, so it’s strange having to remind myself I am now a resident needing to commit an Edinburgh postcode to memory! Although it’s going to take some adjustment and I am still settling in, I am of course very excited by it all. Who isn’t with a city move?I feel as if the city has been waiting for me. As if this was the place I was meant to come back to. It’s funny how humans can have such an affinity with a place, but I feel with the countless art exhibitions and the constant creativity, this city could not be more perfect for someone like me. It’s picturesque and it’s peaceful. I have recently spent a lot of time sat reading in the Gardens, just people watching and absorbing the city and it’s occupants.

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I think contemplation is incredibly important during times of change and transition. Fortunately I have had the time for that this summer. Usually life is so busy and consuming that we forget to stop and think. We forget to put our phones down and not check them constantly. We forget to look out the window instead of choosing a playlist. We forget to be dreamers and instead glue ourselves to screens. People in airports, people on trains, they are all frantically typing away, scrolling down their tablets. I often feel saddened by this, because with all the days in our diaries crammed full of meetings and appointments, it’s difficult to slow down and tear yourself off the rollercoaster of life. Which is why I think this move has been so good for me. I am guilty of being consumed by the pressures of modern life; of forgetting to eat lunch and running from one meeting to the next. Yet I feel Edinburgh is a place where I can still balance a crazy, wild schedule, yet also make time for myself within the city.

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I feel that the amount of greenery everywhere in Edinbrugh provides a refreshing escapism from the rooms we occupy. Glancing round, there isn’t just granite and infrastructure, but vast expanses of nature serving a reminder that our busy lives are just a tiny microcosm in the universe. Little streams that gush and flow, the roses in the Gardens, the bees humming through the trees and the squirrels tamely venturing out all exist quite happily alongside the dull thrum of traffic and trams. All of the natural elements provide a reminder that we can stop and look. We can breathe in and think. We can sit down and we can start again.

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Visual Essay on Architecture

Being in Berlin gave me so many revelations that I can’t stop thinking about. It also, much to my delight, reignited my love for architecture. I did a project on architecture as part of my Art coursework at GCSE level, but have never returned to it as a topic since. Partly I think because I was put off by the result of my naive endeavors. At GCSE level I explored Omani architecture with it’s beautiful mosques and arched doorways, as well as more modern twisting architecture in the form of the Armani Hotel. I feel the way in which I approached it at the time was far too broad; I just plunged in with the only focus being ‘architecture’, meaning the results were weak due to the lack of specificity. Now I look at things with more refinement, far more critically and only really pay attention to things that ignite my utmost interest. Which pretty much all of Berlin did! I always remember someone telling me to look upwards as you walk round cities, because that tends to be the place you see the most exciting and unexpected things. Watching ‘The September Issue’ (a fashion documentary) years ago also made me think about how and where I should be looking as what was said has stuck with me. In the documentary, Creative Director at the time, Grace Coddington, talks about how you should never shut your eyes and sleep, but always look out the window of a car and absorb the world as it flashes by. Never miss a minute.

Walking around Berlin allowed me to contemplate the city and its structures at my own pace and I am slowly starting to formulate the idea of exploring the bridge between architecture and life within my artwork. I have studied and worked with the human body for so long now, I feel it is time to refine even that as a topic.Possibly merge it with my revised interests in the buildings that surround us on a daily basis. Culture of course comes into architecture, as does history. Not just of the buildings themselves, but of how infrastructure has developed over time. Perhaps a comparison between Egyptian architecture and the historical buildings of Berlin will feature? Perhaps a trip to Barcelona to finally see the work of Antoni Gaudi will happen? I don’t know. All I know is that I want to explore more. I want to try broadening the palette of my focus. So again I have resorted to a John Berger style visual essay on the architecture of Berlin.

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Berlin Berger Style

Recently I have been reading the art critic John Berger’s two books ‘Ways of Seeing‘ and ‘About Looking‘. Both are truly inspiring reads; Berger’s insights highlight things you think or notice on a subconscious level, but had never fully come to realise yourself. He is like the stepping stone to realization. He draws out your way of thinking and forces you into a mode of questioning that can be applied to everything from that point onwards. ‘Ways of Seeing’ was particularly eye-opening for me; the way in which I read paintings, their composition and their form has forever changed for me following these two poignant books.

What I particularly liked about ‘Ways of Seeing’ was it’s composition; it is split into concise sections which are well structured and coherent in their point. Yet between each of these sections is a visual essay, an essay composed entirely of images. This was unlike anything I have ever seen before. Each visual essay acted as an introduction to the subsequent written essay. This forces you to try and decipher the images themselves in isolation from the written word, before having Berger go on to elaborate their context in the next chapter. I thought this was an incredibly interesting way of conveying an idea and I was delighted when I was able to comprehend most of the visual essays. Recently I have been drawn more to visuals than writing, particularly with all of the interesting content I follow on Instagram in the form of various galleries and art collectives. So reading the Berger books and discovering the visual essay came at the perfect time for me. In Berlin I was looking, sketching and trying to capture what I saw. I needed a more instant way of absorbing the city which writing did not quite satisfy and so visuals became my supplement tool. Following all of this visual inspiration, I thought I would have a go at compiling a visual essay/visual summary myself of our time in Berlin and how I saw and perceive the city.

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Photo credits also to Jamie Strathearn.

Beautiful Berlin

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It’s been a long time since a city has inspired me as much as Berlin. Amsterdam was absolutely fantastic – there was so much to see. Our art-orientated sightseeing ranged from seeing traditional artwork at the Van Gogh Museum to more contemporary works at the Stedelijk, Amsterdam’s equivalent of New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). However with Berlin, it’s different. You’re not just entering buildings and spaces to look at the art; it’s everywhere. It’s in the buildings, not just physically, but inherently. It’s ingrained as part of the architecture, it’s on the street, down alleyways, on subway routes, it’s even encapsulated by people’s eclectic mix of clothing. The city seems to pulsate with this artistic aura, which threatens to overwhelm you it’s so inspiring. You feel as if you’re going to burst with this creative warmth brewing in your stomach as you take it all in!

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The history of the place seems to enhance this sense of creative energy, particularly given the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. With the fall of the wall, came the fall in both political systems and social barriers. Berlin realized a new kind of freedom that had never been felt before and consequently aspects such as the music scene flourished as people endlessly celebrated the reunification. Given their history it seems people in Berlin have something to say; it’s as if the years of oppression made them realise that they want to be heard. With transient chalk-based artworks on the pavement, alleyways bursting with colourful graffiti, the life and soul of the city can be found anywhere and everywhere. I think this is why it had such an impact on me. The creative culture of the city was not confined to sketchbooks and galleries, or exclusive artistic spaces. Instead it was living and breathing on the street, trickling into the galleries from outside.

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Walking through this cultural hub that is Berlin really focuses your mind. Because there is so much to absorb, you realise what it is you want to pinpoint and fixate on; what explorations you want to further. I’ve always been fascinated by graffiti, however in the past it was more of a subconscious fascination. It was only as we walked through Berlin and I was catching glimpses of it in places and on the facade of big buildings that I became aware of how interested in it I actually am. Now that I am more aware of this interest I reflect and realise that there have been very poignant moments that fueled my interest in street art. One of those moments was years ago when I was walking behind Edinburgh Waverly station and I came across this wall absolutely crammed with colour and bubble shaped writing, graffiti creatures curling out of the wall. There was someone spray painting and I remember thinking how free they must have felt in that moment. To have no paper or easel, no barrier between their spray can and a permanent site. They were leaving their mark in a space that didn’t belong to them and I thought it was beautiful. Joseph Beuys once said that anyone can be an artist if they realise their potential and find the necessary form in which to communicate their ideas. This sentiment has caused a lot of debate and I am in agreement with him to an extent. However I am more of the belief that art is everywhere. Even though we don’t necessarily see it, or aren’t necessarily looking, it is still present. It’s present in the black polka dots of a lady bug climbing over a green leaf,  it’s present in the synced rhythms of our breathing and living bodies, it’s present in the way we gesture as we speak. Art is everywhere and it is the ability to take the things we see; to capture them and their essence and translate them into an entirely new form, that I believe makes you a true artist.

Back from Berlin

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I am not long back from Berlin and let’s just say, it is one of those places you don’t easily forget. I am struggling to pinpoint what exactly about the city had such a lasting impact on me, but it’s difficult to specify given the broad range of things that appealed. Firstly, of course, was all of the culture. There is even a Museum Island.  An island dedicated entirely to museums! Yes, that is my idea of paradise (we have already established on countless occasions that I am a major nerd). So there is no shortage of things to absorb and learn which is my kind of holiday – what I call a holiday/research trip. We did so many things ranging from the National Gallery, to The Jewish Museum, to the Berlin Biennale. What luck our visit coincided with that! For those of you who don’t know, a Biennale is a very prestigious art festival which takes place in countries like Venice. If an artist’s work is represented in a Biennale, that is something they will be glueing to their artist CV for the rest of their career! So being the contemporary art fans that we are, my boyfriend and I got very excited by that (as you can probably tell by my sidetracking). Anyway, culture. Culture, culture, culture. There is something for everyone under that broad umbrella – whether you like art, history, architecture or music.

13643565_1076082349149719_139534304_n The architecture I must say is absolutely breathtaking, especially on Museum Island. Everywhere you look there are beautifully shaped buildings. Curved dome roofs, intricate designs and embellishments, magnificent and proudly standing statues, ceiling and wall murals; it is a visual feast! It’s not only the older buildings, but the modern architecture is also truly incredible; tall skyscrapers are built at almost unimaginable angles, with glossy glass windows glinting in the sun from top to bottom, dwarfing you as you crane your neck looking up. Almost everywhere I looked there was something I wanted to draw. Which is why we ended up spending several evenings sat on and near this lawn of Museum Island sketching, drinking and just absorbing the evening atmosphere. This was another thing that greatly appealed to me, the general mood of the city. Although everywhere was crammed with tourists, the pace of life just seemed so calm and tranquil; public transport moved smoothly, people everywhere were laughing and smiling, buskers on this lawn had everyone clapping, people were casually drinking beer in most places we went. It was all just so magical and unforgettable. It stayed light late into the evenings and even when we were full of beer and arted out, we couldn’t help but keep admiring the place. The bridges, the wide wide roads and the cycle footpaths were all so peaceful in the evening light.

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We were there for only four nights and for a city as big as Berlin, it was not enough. You need a week at least to do everything you want to do, whilst still allowing time for adventuring down alley ways and seeing where they’ll take you. I have been to Berlin before – in 2013 on a school History trip, which was lovely, but for such an art orientated person like myself, it was not enough. I thought this extra trip back would suffice, but again I am left unsatisfied and with a thirst for more exploring. I feel each trip has to be better than the last (although this one will be hard to beat), because I know I’ll definitely be heading back. Although this time, I will be better prepared for the language barrier. That was tricky. Tourist places do of course speak English, but the little restaurants we discovered off the beaten track were very much native speaking. And neither me nor my boyfriend are the master of the German language. For some bizarre reason, French phrases kept popping into my head every time I tried to converse with a local. It’s good to know I’ll be fine when I get round to visiting France, but it just wasn’t any use in Germany. So my advice to anyone visiting, get a book and learn some of the language!

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Having now visited Berlin twice, once in winter and once in scorching hot summer (my pale self actually got a slight tan – which is an absolute miracle!) it was really interesting to see the contrast of the seasons. Mainly because of the fashion. The Germans have such an effortless look, they could throw on a black binliner and look like they owned it. I think European style in general just tends to have that effortless, ‘I just threw this on’ look; whether they’re snuggled up in thick coats and winter scarves, or wearing cascading summer dresses and ripped up mini shorts. I think the fact that a lot of them smoke also contributes to this glamorous aura. I’m not saying smoking is good, I’m just saying some people really do look good with a cigarette between their lips. Having now branched into visiting more of Europe with Amsterdam and Berlin under my belt, I am beginning to realise that I could happily live there. Or live abroad at least. There’s something mesmerising about a place that isn’t home. The very fact that you could eat a sandwhich for breakfast in Berlin delighted me, as I am very much a traditional breakfast eater with porridge and coffee generally the norm. Yet in Berlin you can have a breakfast consisting of a mozzarella and tomato sandwhich (to die for!), a sandwhich absolutely crammed with brae, croissants with sausages and cheese melted through them – an endless and yummy variety of options. I am very much a social meal eater. If I am alone, I couldn’t care less about food and I just eat for the sake of fueling my body. However when I am with other people, I absolutely love making an occasion of it; having a late breakfast, eating a long lunch, people watching from the cafe you’re sat in. Sometimes I think drinking tea and observing the world is one of the most peaceful past times that I would be happy to do forever, especially in a city as bustling and exciting as Berlin.

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So if you’re planning your next holiday, think of Berlin. Think of the buildings. Think of the art. Think of the history. Considering Berlin was not long ago divided by the Iron Curtain and had a Communist regime imposed in East Berlin by the GDR, the composition of the city; it’s infrastructure, it’s culture and it’s economy is incredibly impressive, particularly given it’s rapid progress. These features all show that despite it’s bleak and dark history, Berlin is a place that is very much orientated on the present, and what a superb present it is.