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.

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Alice Theobald and Atomik Architecture

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 I have viewed this piece at The Baltic a few times now. I did not run to write a blog about it, as I wasn’t entirely sure what I thought. I needed more time to process what I’d seen and I also felt like I had to see it again before I could formulate my thoughts into anything worthwhile. That is not a negative thing. The fact that this work forced me to really think and contemplate my experience of it shows its staying power and effectiveness. The work is co-authored by Alice Theobald and Atomik Architecture. It’s an endevour to blend an artistic practice with architecture. Given that Theobald works in performance, sound and installation, it’s quite an ambitious choice of blend. Hence my excessive contemplation over it all. 

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It was interesting because when I arrived on Level 2 the above scene is what I was greeted by. There’s an instant blockade which suggests a lack of access. A lot of visitors did in fact question whether or not they were allowed to enter the structure. I don’t know if it’s because I’m an art student and have seen things like this before, or if it was just an assumption on my behalf, but I entered without hesitating. I knew it was designed to make the viewer question so I was instantly quite taken by it! That was before I even entered the structure which is made up of everyday objects such as duvets. The comfort of that item in a space as awkward and industrial as this was quite a contrast. It brought the idea of comfort zone and bedroom space into a gallery setting which was an unusual experience. Yet it demonstrates the success of the piece given its play on the conventional associations of architecture. 

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There was writing scrawled across these interior duvet forms; it was difficult to make out so it took a lot of time to read. I found myself reading out loud in an attempt to process it better. This play on interior and exterior was brilliantly constructed. As the piece had all sorts of components including sound, video, performance through the installation, it could have been a very overwhelming experience. However, given how they had broken up the space by placing spherical structures at various intervals, it created an easing of the senses. There was singing playing throughout the gallery and the spoken word as well, yet when I entered the ‘duvet columns’ as I will call them, the exterior sound reduced slightly, allowing me to better concentrate on the text. 

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These ‘duvet columns’ were dauntingly high, so much so that they reached the ceiling. As well as emphasisng the expansive nature of the piece, it also really highlighted the relationship between the work and the architecture of the gallery. It was entirely work-in-situ. This was highly effective as it is not often you contemplate the ceiling of a gallery space, yet Theobold and Atomik make it a key element. The height also furthers the emphasis on the difference between interior and exterior. As does the fact I was being videoed as I circulated the work. There was a live stream documenting people walk through the work. This meant at certain points there were projections of my face at certain points up on the outer walls of the structures! This was on the one hand quite funny and amusing, but on the other quite uncomfortable. It was a relief to get out of the view of the cameras once I was back inside the columns! This created two different emotions for me in response to the entire space. Outside and looking up at the columns made me feel small and exposed; being inside the columns surrounded by duvets and away from the cameras made me feel comfortable and safe. Two entirely different experiences, both within the same space. 

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I’m so glad I went more than once before I wrote about it, as my experiences both times were entirely different. The first time I went there was music in the background and performers on the stage, the second time I went there were no performers with only a woman speaking as the audio. Two entirely different situations, but again within the same space. This led me to question how the piece is set up, do the performers come on at a fixed time everyday? Do they perform daily? Do they improvise? Why is there music when they are on stage in stead of the spoken word, is it to make it more theatrical? All very interesting questions that contribute towards the complexity of the piece. It’s not what people would call ‘pretty art’. Personally however, I far prefer art that challenges me and really forces me to question it. Theobald and Atomik are certainly successful in that respect. 

Doodle Galaxy (Doodle Time Part 2)

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I didn’t really notice the kind of doodler I was until I compiled them altogether for these posts. Given that they tend to be entirely separate and individual occurrences, I don’t pay much attention to the technique or style at the time. So photocopying them from my notebook and creating digital copies was quite a sterile process for me, as it almost diluted the fluidity of such personal drawings. 

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For someone who is generally not too interested in natural forms, it is interesting to see how much these feed my depictions. Flower motifs are abundant in my drawings which is highly unusual when compared to my body of work, as I tend to avoid explicit feminine depictions like the plague!

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Yet for me there is something incredibly soothing in creating these organic forms. Water and leaves are also core components to the drawings, as is an almost excessive use of line which I exploit almost to the point of exhaustion. 

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It’s a soothing and somewhat addictive repetition. Molten forms and swirling shapes cluster the pages. Unlike a painting I don’t think you can ever overwork a doodle, as you can simply adjust your progression across the page if it goes wrong. In most cases however I know when a doodle is done, as I no longer have the urge to pursue and extend it. I just know that I have done all I can and all that I want to do and as long as I have that therapeutic longing satisfied, then that is all that matters. 

Pop Up Pink (Part 1)

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Tuesday night was the Pop Up exhibition of Pink inspired by and a result of the ‘Pink’ talk for Colour Studio Northumbria (http://colourstudionorthumbria.weebly.com/). These are weekly conversations mostly led by fellow course mate Rebecca Gavigan. Having led one this week myself on the topic of ‘Time’, I am even more in awe of how she puts them together – especially on a weekly basis with everything else we have to contend with as final year students. Other students and tutors have also led talks  and it’s a really interesting mix of topics that are discussed including things like laughter, material, chance, etc.

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So it was really exciting to see one of the talks mould and shape an exhibition. One of the primary focuses of the exhibition was the motif of ‘shifts’ due to the development of our conversation during the Pink Talk. We covered and shifted across so many different topics that it seemed appropriate to incorporate this aspect into the exhibition. Whilst researching in preparation of the talk I kind of hit a wall. As I have an incredibly girly girl sister, it is difficult for me to look at pink in a way that surpasses my sister’s excessive use of it! I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, I love that when I think of her a colour instantly springs to mind, I think that’s a beautiful way to visualise someone you love. However, it did mean I had to try really hard to distance myself from those associations in an attempt to research more broadly.

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‘Transfer’, Sue Spark, Highlighter and oil on paper, 2016

The Pink Talk was mainly questioning the ‘art pink’ that is so present in the art world today. If you look at art thinking about pink you really do start to notice it’s presence everywhere. Whether it’s a pastel pink, a funky neon pink, or a muted dirty pink; all sorts of variations can be found in different places and across artistic practices. Even in catalogues and publications, pink really is the ‘in’ thing! I can’t tell whether or not I’m surprised it has become a trend, I suppose given the conventional associations of the colour all of these interpretations are an attempt to redefine what pink can be. 

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‘Untitled Slants’, Charles Danby, Acrylic, oil, pencil, ink, magazine, highlighter, paper, linen, 2008-16

What I love most about the Colour Talks is they take something simple and expands it into realms you had never even considered. In my reading of pink I was thinking about gender, feminine elements, flesh – those kind of associations. Of course in the talk we did discuss these. It turns out pink was historically more of a boy’s colour, as it is a diluted version of red which of course symbolises male strength. This is something I would never have guessed myself given all the pink baby girls clothing we are constantly bombarded with! The talk also covered things such as pink in the natural environment and how this colour  can be really striking in that context. The discussion had so many components to it that I don’t think I will ever look at pink in the same way again!

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‘Jawbone’, Projection, Matt Young and Nikki Lawson, 2016

It was interesting how for the most part, those of us who exhibited a work were drawn to the use of a more high frequency pink. This was completely accidental as nobody had discussed the exact tone they would be using in their piece prior to exhibiting. We only realised once all the works were placed in the room. It therefore perfectly demonstrated exactly what we all felt was ‘art pink’. 

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‘Oh Sorry’, Rebecca Gavigan, PVC and highlighter, 2016

We were also all free to choose what we submitted in terms of media, so there was a good range as a result. The mix included installations, video, paintings, drawings, work in situ – there was a bit of everything. Eclectic textures were present too which evoked tactile sensations. Each work had been carefully placed and hung in order to allow the eye to travel across each piece. Placement was key to how the pieces were all viewed and navigated so I found having work on the floor as well as the wall added a dynamism to it all. It was curated in a day and although this was a very brief time period, it was long enough to let me see the thought and process that goes into curating. Something that I currently have little experience of!

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‘No Sexual Connotations Intended’, Samuel Johnson, Timber, mesh voile, gloss, oil and iridescent paint on canvas, 2016

Following this exhibition however I am intrigued by the idea of curating. There’s a responsibility to assembling works effectively; not only to the pieces themselves, but also to the artists who made them. I’ve never done it before but having seen how thoroughly Rebecca considered the hanging of each work, I feel it could be a really exciting thing to try!

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Close up of ‘Rizzo’, Camilla Irvine-Fortescue, Acrylic on canvas, 2016

Hajra Waheed

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So I had a wee trip down to The Baltic this afternoon thinking there wouldn’t be anything new on given how often I go. But I fancied a walk and some fresh air before the gym so decided to go anyway. I was pleasantly surprised to be greeted by Hajra Waheed’s exhibition. Waheed’s work explores the increasing militarization of the sky and how satellite surveillance is becoming more commonplace in our everyday. She works in mixed media ranging from collage to video installation. Her works include archive fragments and field notes which bring an interesting dimension to the artwork as it feels so much more intense with those elements in it. To me that is, maybe to science orientated people it’s more of a natural dialect. 

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I am often fascinated when an artistic practice blends itself with science as that is a theme that differs so greatly from my own. Science and technology are fascinating to me, mostly I think because I have no knowledge about them. To me they are merely the great unknown! Yet strangely in this case I have no urge to make this unknown known, it’s almost as if I prefer it all being a mystery so that I can continue to appreciate it from the outside. Or maybe my brain is already too full with arty stuff, which is probably more accurate if I’m being completely honest!

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What really struck me about this exhibition was the layout; you could tell how much thought had been put into this aspect. There were divides within the space so that some work was hidden when you first entered, there was a separate room and then a little alcove in the wall. There were waist high plinths and then plinths that were just above ground level – the exhibition really forced your eye to travel and it was fantastic! It felt almost like a journey through the artwork. There was also sound playing across the entirety of the room which I think was the sound of materials scraping against the floor as they were being moved. I may be wrong as it was kind of obscure and difficult to pinpoint but given the satellite material laid out on the low-lying plinth, it did suggest the sounds were depicting the movement of these items. If not then I am intrigued by what the sound was capturing; in a way it is this ambiguity that makes it all the more interesting. 

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My photographs sadly, do not justify the exhibition. Because I didn’t think there was a new one on, I just chucked my basic little camera into my bag last minute. Speaking to a member of the Baltic crew, he said Waheed is very particular about how her exhibitions are documented given the thought and time she puts into layout. So she would probably hate me right now with these awful snapshots of her work. They do give you an idea however of the space. The artwork itself did not trigger much response from me I think because I was too fascinated by the arrangement of it all. I particularly liked how she’d arranged all her framed works, it had a satisfying regimental quality to it (photo above). 

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I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed an exhibition where the lighting has made such an impression on me. It was both dramatic and subtle at the same time. There was kind of a blue hue throughout the entire space which created a real sense of calm despite the quite intense subject matter. Waheed grew up on the gated Aramco compound of Saudi Arabia where I myself spent some time when I was growing up. It was interesting looking at her work once I found this out as there are some controversial explorations carried out which I think are heightened by the fact she had lived in Saudi and is not simply an artist observing from the outset. Controversial and highly political and not something I am really wanting to get into given my experiences.

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On the whole I think this was a very successful exhibition. The artwork itself was not exactly to my taste and doesn’t make me want to run off and research her. However the thought and skilled arrangement of it all does. You can tell this is an artist who thinks about the bigger picture when making artwork and I think that’s really important to being successful in today’s art world.