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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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.

The Late Shows

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Last night I was helping out at Vane Gallery with their display for the Late Shows. The Late Shows are a city wide series of exhibitions and cultural events which range from open studios to performances. This is the tenth year it has run with over 70 venues participating. Vane Gallery were previewing two new exhibitions and were also hosting a 1960s style photo shoot for people to play dress up. This looked like great fun and the polaroid photos of everyone came out really well. The vintage clothing was selected by Sara Makari-Aghdam, the curator of Vane’s current ‘Vinyl Icons…’ exhibition, and let’s just say she has great taste! In among helping out behind the bar, I was allowed to pop up to see what was happening on the other floors of Union House.

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B&D Studios had a silent disco playing, something which was incredibly surreal as I have never experienced it before. It was strange seeing people dance to no music. Then you put the headphones on yourself and close off the rest of the world as you enter your own little bubble of sound. The music was mellow and upbeat and really added to the fairy light lit atmosphere. There were also these amazing graphic drawings on display by the talented artist Luke Dixon. I love the colours and the geometric components of the animal’s faces and they were suitably eclectic artwork for the atmosphere of B&D.  

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It was really interesting to travel throughout all the floors of the building as there was everything from fashion to printmaking on display. I knew it was a creative hub of a building, but I hadn’t realised quite to this extent! There was also a floor where people had made imaginative creatures in art therapy classes and the option to take classes in pattern making.

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The night was so filled with artistic contrasts and I think this was what I was most intrigued by; you didn’t know what was going to happen from room to room. When you visit an art gallery, or know there is an artist exhibiting, you kind of expect there to be a sense of continuity within the space. With The Late Shows it was just full of surprises and seeing traditional crafting techniques followed by colourful projections, followed by taxidermy really did highlight the range of what forms art could take.

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There was a very scientific-based floor with a UV cloud installation. I have a bit of a thing for these kind of works, UV just excites me! I think it’s partially my childhood fondness of having glow in the dark stars on my ceiling. Having seen Benedict Drew exhibit at The Talbot Rice Gallery was another instance I got quite excited by UV as he effectively employed it to transform and manipulate structural components of the gallery. 

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What’s great about The Late Shows is that it encourages people that aren’t necessarily that interested in art to participate and visit gallery spaces that they may not otherwise. It’s a chance for anyone to engage and although I didn’t see everything given I was helping with Vane, I saw enough to realise what a great sense of community art can create.

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Back to The Empty Quarter

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Recently I’ve been thinking a lot more about my body against the natural environment and of possible places to shoot. I’m interested in how different environments create different messages when the body is posed in a particular setting. Such as with my graveyard and park shoot pictured above (click here to see post). Those were two selected settings with a chosen purpose at a certain time. My boyfriend was very kindly the photographer and it was interesting working with him and taking on board his notions of the surroundings. Varying interpretations are created all the time in artwork and it’s a really important thing to be aware of, particularly given that I work with the female body in the climate of social media and society’s conventional expectations of what beauty is and should be.

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I like the idea of shooting in a setting that has some personal attachment to me. I don’t just want to use anywhere as a canvas for my body. The personal relationship to place is integral as that is the only way I feel I can translate the intimate relationship I have with my body into the image. So I started thinking about places that I had been and thought back to The Empty Quarter in Oman, Middle East. It is one of those places that has really stuck with me throughout my life. The powerful feeling of solitude and silence in this empty wilderness leaves a lot for thought. When I think of Oman, I think of beaches, water, diving, mountains and here. There are no words to describe the beauty of this endless desert. We camped there meaning we got to see the transition from scorching hot sunlight, to a glowing sunset that never seemed to end. We climbed to the very top of the sand dune (which gave us all a good dose of exercise!) and we were greeted by the view I’ve captured in these images.

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The photographs definitely do not do this place justice, but they draw me back in as if I have never left given my experience of it. I feel like I can enter that image and fall back into the slippery sand that would not leave my socks, feel it tickle the backs of my legs, feel the warmth of the sun and the slight discomfort of the humidity. This is why I need  to work with a location which has some form of nostalgia, or that was from a different time in my life. I like the idea of bringing the past into my work and in a sense bringing the past forwards into the present. 

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If only I could go back to this beautiful untouched landscape. The dunes sat so perfectly, their lines looked as if they had been drawn with a precise fine liner pen. The sand was so soft in my hands and it danced off into the sunset as I let it go. I would love to go back there and do a subtly nude shoot. Nothing of a sexual nature, just a shoot that encapsulated the female body in one of the most beautiful settings in the world. Sadly I no longer have access to this (maybe one day I’ll return) and as it’s on the border of Saudi Arabia, posing naked in the desert is probably not the best idea!

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I am however on the look out for a beautiful place to escape to. I think it’s really healthy to step out of the studio and away from modern day life into nature. And what could be a more perfect way to do so than through the medium of my own body?