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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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?