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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Artist Takeover at The Laing Art Gallery

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At the weekend The Laing Art Gallery held an amazing Artist Takeover Event. It was the first time they had ever held such an event and it was partially a testing ground and partially to raise awareness in their aim of winning a bursary. If they succeed and win this bursary it will bring artist Marcus Coates to the gallery to host a ‘Museums at Night’ event in October. Given the success of Saturday, I am feeling positive for The Laing, however it will all depend on voting (see bottom of blog page). The Artist Takeover was unlike anything I had ever participated in before. It was a very exciting day with the event running from 10-4pm. Not only was the event open to working artists, but to anyone who considered themselves an artist and a whole range of mediums were therefore accepted. These included contemporary dance, paper-cutting, a blackboard of ideas, modernist installation art, live painting, charcoal and inks, and performance art. This made for an eclectic variety of practices and a room bubbling with creative energy and people. 

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I myself had proposed to do a piece of Performance Art which explores the relationship between the serenity of yoga and the manifestation of trauma within the female mind and body. I had never proposed anything before and this was a very interesting proposal in the sense that only one sentence was required. This was challenging  yet helpful to me; as to sum up my work in such a short word count is difficult, but also beneficial as it forced me to really consider and realise what my work is currently about. 

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So not only was the day itself exciting and new, but the experience was also a great one. I spoke to so many different and like minded people, artists, non-artists, the curator. It was a day filled with learning and inspiration, of pushing the boundaries of what art could be and the way we view conventional gallery spaces. It was also a whole new experience for me performance wise. As it was an entire day event, I decided to perform more than once, which I have never done in a single day before. I thought I would be more nervous doing this, however the relaxed and creative atmosphere helped put me at ease. I did the first performance in the room with all the other artists but in a different room for the other two in order to create a different environment for myself. It was interesting how the differing rooms affected and shaped how the performance evolved as apart from my prop of ribbons it was entirely improvised.

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I had a sound piece to accompany my work which filled the gallery space with the sound of my breathing, which brought an unsual atmosphere into the room. In comparison to a lot of places, I would consider The Laing quite a traditional gallery as it holds a lot of spectacle artwork such as that of John Martin (he is one of my favourite artists and I actually did a performance piece in the room where his works were hung which was an incredibly exciting moment for me!) Yet the Artist Takeover completely transformed this stereotype of it for me. I realised that The Laing was willing to engage with its local artistic community. It is a rarity for local artists to be asked into a professional gallery space which is why I was so honoured to have my proposal accepted. It was such a great experience and can hopefully be the first of many events such as these.

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I think a lot of people can feel isolated from the arts or not good enough to either engage or practice art. Events such as this however I feel help break down those boundaries; they make you realise that art can be anything. There was dance, there was mime and there was performance present in the gallery alongside more traditional art forms such as painting and it was refreshing to have these conventional forms of artistic segregation removed and the broad umbrella of the word ‘art’ applied instead.

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Art is limitless, but art also relies on an artistic community and I think an event such as this truly harnesses this and taps into what contemporary art means today. Hopefully this sense of community and artistic discussion can be expanded and built on with Coates’ arrival in October. 

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If you’re interested in finding out more about the October event, take a look at The Laing Art Gallery’s website: 

https://laingartgallery.org.uk/votesforcoates

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Sculptural History

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Surrounding myself with so much contemporary art can sometimes be exhausting; there’s so much technology to take into consideration with this genre, so many modes of display and notions of space that you have to consider in the reading of it. For me it’s really refreshing to take a step back from it all and immerse myself in more traditional art forms. These photographs were taken at The National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh. I’ve always found the history of sculpture fascinating, I think mostly because I am in total awe of the skill and craftmanship which would be required in the making of marble sculptures such as these. 

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What I’m intrigued by is how our use of sculpture has evolved over time. Traditionally in places such as Ancient Egypt it was used as a representation of Gods and deities. Sculpture is a fundamental component to certain cultures and religions. Places such as Hindu temples are embellished with religious motifs and decor. The stone, bronze, and iron materials all come to take on the form of a god-like being that cannot be made physical through any other manner. Ancient Greece is renowned for its captivating monolithic sculptures; pieces that were carved out of a single block of stone in depiction of all their Gods. These days sculpture is used very differently, more often than not it is used as a means of forcing us into an awareness of self through our relationship to a sculpture in a certain space.  This way of working has for me become so commonplace, that I have almost lost interest. I want to go back and look at the traditions of sculpture; it’s rich history. 

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My love and interest in history as a subject of course feeds this intention of mine. I studied history all through school and had it on the cards to study at university level. Art of course got the upper hand in my final choice of study, but my love of history remains and I currently do weekly volunteer work as an archive researcher which is something I absolutely love. So for me sculpture is very much imbued with history, neither can be separated from the other; both entirely and intrinsically linked. The history of sculpture is also mostly concerned with the human form, again a predominant interest of mine. Both my human body and historical interests is why I am more drawn to the ‘modern’ sculptural works of Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth as opposed to something like Tracey Emin’s bed piece. Despite Emin’s conceptual reasoning for this piece, to me it is in all honestly entirely mundane. Traditional sculpture on the other hand, such as the work pictured here, is truly mesmerising to me. How long did these take to construct? What kind of tools were used? How many people worked on them? What were they created for? How old are they? All of these questions and possibilities run through my head when I look at traditional pieces such as these and regard them in relation to their historical presence and significance. 

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Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Glasgow

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So over the weekend I was in Glasgow, which was fantastic. The trip was a mix of partying, seeing friends, seeing Deadpool and seeing Glasgow. A lovely trip away! We were really lucky with the weather on the Sunday when we went to Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. There was even some Scottish sunshine to be seen! It made the Kelvingrove building look even more stunning with the red brick against the backdrop of a beautiful blue sky. It really reminded me of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam – oh to go back there!

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The architecture of Kelvingrove could not have been more intricate and visually captivating. I couldn’t help but gasp as I walked in. The space and size of it all was incredible and the way the light fell through the windows only heightened my sense of awe. The building underwent a £27.9million refurbishment a few years back, as it has been in existence and open to the public as a Museum since 1901. So obviously a bit of an update was necessary and wow, what a good job they did!

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As well as being totally blown away by the building, I was also amazed by the breadth of  items on display. There are 22 themed galleries with 8000 objects. The collections are extensive and a real mix ranging from Ancient Egypt, to Arms and Armour, to Scottish History and Archeology, to Charles Rennie Mackintosh and the Glasgow Style, to Scottish Art, to Dutch Masters including Van Gogh and Rembrandt – the list goes on forever!

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There was just so much to see, once you got to the end of one section, a whole new one began. I traveled through Egyptian objects and dinosaur bones and animal fossils to arrive at what was unsurprisingly my favourite section; the art. There was a Salvador Dali piece, Van Gogh work, Monet – it was like being in Amsterdam again and admiring all the renowned masters. Like meeting the true artistic celebrities. There was also a collection of the Scottish Colourists, another favourite art movement of mine. Samuel J. Peploe is to me the father of the Scottish Colourists, so much so that I even have a calendar of his work (yes, I am a super art nerd!)

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As well as art there was also music, with an organ recital at 3pm which reverberated through the entire space. As it was Valentines Day there were a lot of people there and it was such a beautiful moment when the organ began and everybody stopped. It was as if time stood still for a moment before people carried on drinking their tea of looking at the map of the floor plan. The music just silenced everyone, especially in that initial moment, as if a spell of amazement had been cast on us all.

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As if there wasn’t already enough to be seen, there was also this sculpture composed of floating heads with varying facial expressions hanging from the ceiling. Light was directed at the heads to make them change colour periodically. This added a sense of serene to what were in some cases very distressed countenances. Despite this is truly was a powerful piece that captured the attention of everyone. 

On the whole this was a brilliant way to spend a day, I would absolutely recommend it to anyone visiting or in Glasgow. If you want a good day of culture, look no further than Kelvingrove!