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By: Denise Bryan
This is a blog about the 2 month residency that I am taking up in Berlin. At Oxford Brookes University, one of the "creative stratagies" that we give to our first year students is to go for a walk. My own practice is formed through walking, walking generates the thought and then in the studio these ideas begin their journey into the light. I am finding light in Berlin.
# 28 [27 March 2013]
So, I spent 3 very packed days in Berlin. It was beautiful bright and sunny, but very very cold and snowey. It was as if I had left yesterday and returned a day later and someone had added winter to the scene.
I instantly felt at home and as if I had not been away at all. Another collegue from London is situated in the studio just now and it was very strange to visit her there. It all felt so familiar, but there was some one elses toothbrush, and someone elses work! However it was lovely to see the studio again and to meet up with some of my German collegues.
I also enjoyed walking through the winter streets and trying to visit as many galleries as I could, in between socialising. There are just so many galleries in Berlin, it is crazy, for such a small city with such a small population.
However, the main purpose of the trip was to discuss showing in the Milchhof Pavillion, I had a great meeting with one of the artists in charge of the panel about possibilities, and partly due to seeing the space again and because of his input feel that I have some really concrete ideas of where the work is going. Very useful. So there is a plan afoot, and I am aiming at having a full proposal in place for September and showing in the spring next year. Let us hope the weather is more clemant by then.
All in all I feel very positive. Some decisions were reached, for example that the sculptural ideas are seperate from the video ideas. I think they should be kept for another space, I still remember the orangery at Charlottenburg Palace. This would be ideal. Also I need to get better footage from inside the palace and maybe I can do that in September.
It would also be good to have a pre showing somewhere in London, just a kind of work in progess affair.
Meanwhile the dolls are burgeoning in the studio and demanding exhibition space and I am off to Morocco in a couple or weeks to fire up a couple more projects. I need a couple more blogs!
# 27 [8 March 2013]
I am re igniting this blog, as I am off to Berlin next week for a few days. Partly because I am missing it so, partly to see if I can get some more concrete plans for an exhibition in the city.
I have been unable to leave the work on the large scale drawings alone. I have been trying to finally resolve other work started before the residency, primarily the doll work. But the drawings are progressing in strange and wonderful directions and it is very exiting.
I had a visit from some curators at my studio on Tuesday and they were very impressed with the increasing army of dolls marching across the studio floor, but they were also very exited by the large scale drawings. This was encouraging. I feel unable to gauge the success of this new departure in my work, so it is great to get some feedback on them.
I was sorting through my plans chest a couple of weeks ago and realised that these drawings are not just the product of the residency, but that I have been making drawings consistantly over the last 3 or 4 years. Not sculptors drawings, but first life drawings and then more abstract developments from the life drawings and sculptural works. Berlin just allowed the drawing to become the focus of all my creative thoughts, not just a contingent activity. It was a kind of release from more conceptually bounded work.
I have been made aware of what a time away from normal routine and environment can do for ones practice.
I am exited by the thought of going to Berlin, it will be strange to be there as a visiter again, just for a few days, not months. It will also be cold!
# 26 [7 November 2012]
It really is a long time since I added a post. In a way I feel that I should put this blog to bed for a while. The transition back to making work with the dolls is nearly complete and, whilst I am still developing the drawings other things are taking preference now. Berlin recedes into the mists of Autumn.
The open studios went well and I got some very good feedback about the drawings. I then had a piece in a group show, a piece that is about 2 years old, this revived interest in that body of work, with the possiblity of organising a show. So the policy is to get the head down, finish off and resolve the Doll work, develop show ideas for the Water Bottle Label work, finish off the website and keep the Berlin ideas developing on the side.
So I think that there will not be any posts in this blog until I start working for a show in Berlin.
Perhaps I should start a blog dedicated to the Dolls.
# 25 [20 September 2012]
Busy times, getting used to being back in my own studio after such a long time. It is wonderful. Despite the fact that I thought that I would be revisiting the work I was making with dolls, I am continuing with the drawings I was working on in Berlin. I realise that focus is something I struggle with, this has meant that I have decided to "Focus" and develop the new work while it is still fresh.
This activity has been driven in part by the fact that we have our annual Open Studios this weekend, this year we are once again part of London's Open House Weekend. In short it means a lot more visitors than usual, Open Studios become very tiring after time, loyal as friends are they do not want to troop along year in year out. Therefore an extra effort is required to bring the latest set of drawings to some sort of conclusion. I know that those people who come to see what I have been doing in Berlin will want to see this work. Also, to be perfectly honest, in addition to the larger drawings, I have been making a series of smaller drawings in the vain hope that some of the architectural visitors feel like opening their wallets.
Any way preparations are under way and photos of beautiful drawings presented in a beautiful space will follow.
I have also been putting together ideas for the Pavilion back in Berlin at Milchhof. As usual fiddling about trying to arrange these ideas clearly and in a suitable emailable formatt took more time it should have, let us hope that we will all be using cloud technology soon. But like all writing about and collating of work, it has been very useful in trying to find out what I am actually trying to do at the moment. This process included trying out some mirrored video ideas, still very early days, but there is a lot of potential with these I think.
But it is the progress of the drawings that fascinates me, it still feels new to be working in this way, allowing the work to develop in along a less intellectual path. But I feel secure in the knowledge that there is a strong concept underpinning the work. It is also interesting to see how drawing has been fundamental to much of the work that I have made in recent years, rather than earlier works in which I feel as if I had been creating a sculptural illustration of an idea. Work becomes really exiting when the conscious mind takes a bit of a break.
Anyway FOCUS is the word driving the work this week.
# 24 [22 August 2012]
I have been looking at the photographs and video that I shot in Charlottenberg Palace. When I looked at this material in Berlin it seemed OK. Now I have been home in London for a week it all seems quite extraordinary. The opulence of that palace appears even more absurd from this distance.
I was struck when I was shooting the video that all the rooms contain a lot of mirrors and so most of the video is footage of tourists moving around rooms reflected in mirrors. Those of you who have read most of this blog will know that the concept of mirroring appeared in the work I was making in Berlin quite early in my residency. A lot of the video that I shot towards the end of my stay was composed with the idea of mirroring it through projection. However this footage of actual mirrors in the palace is very successful. I am particularly pleased by this as I shot it using my SLR camera rather that the video camera. This does mean that it is lower quality. The people entering rooms and moving around between actual presence and reflected presence seems choreographed and performative rather than banal. They all sport headphones as if on a sound walk, in fact it is the audio tour. Who knows what they are hearing, instructions, information about Frederiech II? They are absorbed in their own worlds, absorbed into the baroque decor.
In Berlin I started to make drawings in 2 and 3 dimensions from the map diaries that I kept throughout my stay. Having stuck these up on the wall in London I decided that these drawings have potential and can be developed further. So far the experiments in the studio are still quite basic, but as I was looking at the details of Roccoco stucco from Charlottenberg I was reminded about the way in which I thought I could reflect these arabesques and reflective curves in the drawings. I should take that thought to the studio today.
I am finding it really hard now that I am home to keep focus and to try and hold on to all the thoughts and sensations from the last 3 months. The time spent in Berlin was so intense that I feel a little like I am half asleep now.
# 23 [14 August 2012]
I did do a lot of filming in my last weeks in Berlin. Now I am home in London I will have to spend some dark winter nights looking through all the footage to see what I can do with it. In the end I experimentally tried cycling down the runway at Templehof with the camera running? Whether this will actually deliver any reasonable footage waites to be seen.
I also made films of people traversing the long axis at Templhof and at Sans Soucci. Also I took a lot of film of people passing through mirrored rooms at Charlottenburg Palace.
Now for 2 weeks I have been making a whirlwind tour of Germany, Leipzig, Dresden, Bavaria and lastly Kassel for the Documenta. It is all a bit mind boggling really. Just so much to digest, on top of all the time spent in Berlin.
However, my studio sublet moved out yesterday so I am heading down to my own space shortly. But how to begin there, will I resolve older work first, or should I begin by reviewing Berlin work. Resolving old work while the German experience settles would seem to be the most sensible course, but I have to get out all the large scale drawings that have been rolled up in the car for 2 weeks. What do they really represent, just thinking aloud, or do they have value in their own right. Exiting problems to have.
# 22 [16 July 2012]
This week will be dedicated to filming, I have decided to go down to Templehof today to film the enormous sky there. Because Berlin is so flat, the ground seems to fall away beyond the boundary fence. Areas of the park are given over to allotments and crazy golf and windsurfing, but because of the immensity of the space these are mere blemishes on the surface.
This place is unique, an enormous open space full of very little, in the middle of the suburbs. Imagine if Heathrow stopped operating and it became a park for a while. When I was there the other Saturday the grass was full of Skylarks and there are birds of prey hovering over head. Just to be able to walk the circumference of the taxying area and down the run way is incredible, it still bares the hieroglyphs of international travel. It makes you feel as if you are tracing a huge line with your body.
Then looming at one end of the field is the Nazi built airport building, reputedly the longest building in the world, nearly 2 km. Its scale immense when you are close to it, so big you can't see how big, then dwarfed by the landscape from far away. They use it for raves and temporary exhibitions, filming and that sort of thing.
The history of the place is very resonant, it is where the Berlin Air Lift took place after WWII. It also formed the link between West Berlin and the rest of Germany during the Cold War, making it the gateway to Berlin for most westerners.
It won't last of course, it will have to be built on, no developer could just allow that amount of prime location land to return to nature.
Anyway the weather is windy and the sky amazing, so I must get down there.
It is definitely a time for making and filming, I visited the Hamburger Bahnhof again on Saturday and could not concentrate on the work in there, too full of my own thoughts. Have been in the studio, working and contemplating over the weekend, its like an experimental hub, I am trying not to care too much about the results, I feel sure I know where it is all heading. I don't know if any of the experiments are worth anything in their own right, but they are helping me think. The liberation of being out of my own studio and environment is amazing, I feel as if I am a foundation student again.
Before I go down to Templehof, someone from the studio is coming to visit this morning, this makes me feel a little less liberated and more self conscious about my efforts.
# 21 [12 July 2012]
Since I last wrote on Saturday I have realised that some of the things I was so sure of at that time are not really working in the way that I supposed. But I am still exploring the city and having ideas, so many ideas, but they are coalescing and resolving through my experiments in the studio. I feel a slight element of panic creeping up on me as I realise I have less than three weeks left here in Berlin. Somehow three months would always be better than 2, allowing for settling in, getting started and then having more time to reflect and develop. However, when I return to England in August I can continue, without the distraction of Berlin all around me.
Berlin is still throwing up new spaces and places. Still growing before my eyes, full of unbelievable, huge, buildings and vistas. On Sunday I cycled out to the Olympic Stadium, it is almost a straight line for about 5 miles, nearly flat, that could not happen in London. As I cycled back I could see Alexandar Platz straight ahead, getting bigger as I approached. This kind of scale distorts distance, the same thing happens in vast natural landscapes. You feel that you have nearly reached a point ahead, only to realise that you are still far from it.
Something similar happened recently at Sans Soucci (the vast pleasure gardens and summer palace complex of the Hohenzollerns in Potsdam). Walking down the central avenue towards the Neue Palais it seems quite near until you realise just how huge it is and how tiny the people approaching it are.
This is exactly what I was thinking about before I came to Berlin, this vertiginous, dizzying hugeness. Distorting our sense of scale and self. It happened again yesterday on a visit to Gropiusstadt. The high tower block there is just unbelievably tall. So Kings and Dictators and Urban Designers have shaped the landscape of Berlin, making us all feel as tiny as the figures in a David Friedrich painting.
I also made a tour of rubble mountains this week. I saw the Teufelsburg from the clock tower at the Olympic Park. I mentioned this in a previous post, a "mountain" made from rubble collected, by women, after the 2nd world war and shipped out by rail to west of the city. Today it looks like a natural feature, covered with trees, standing above the flat flood plain of the Spree. Then on Tuesday I cycled up to Gesundbrunnen and out to Friedrichshein which both have Bunker burgs, now moulded into the landscape of the parks, but there are huge scarps of concrete jutting through the undergrowth. A squashed city of fear, flattened by the forest.
What forests surround Berlin, a primordial vastness of flat green colour interspersed with lakes and rivers. A half formed landscape, stretching out across central Europe. There is nothing like this in England. My friend says he has seen wolf tracks in the forest quite close to Berlin. Inspired by him and reading Robert Macfarlane's The Wild Places, I must get into it. So far I have only seen it from above, as I fly into Schonefeld, from the Muggelturm in the East and the Bell Tower in the West. And there in the middle of this green sea the Fersehenturm stands proud, dwarfing everything, city and nature, you can make of that what you will.
Meanwhile back in the studio I have been playing with photographs in Photoshop, reflecting and expanding them. I am also continuing to keep a map diary and I am having ideas about how these shapes could become three dimensional.
# 20 [7 July 2012]
It does seem that I have been a little lax with this blog, too busy since the last entry, the brief period of loneliness and rain has been transplanted by sunshine and visitors. Hence the silence. I feel as if, half way through my time in Berlin I have achieved a lot and the work that I am doing is starting to mean something Until this week I felt that I was just playing around and taking in a lot of new sights and ideas. But today, now the rain has returned, I have stayed in the studio, I pottered and thought and I realised that things are falling into place. I am even starting to work three dimensionally.
I suppose that this is how a residency works. Time out from normal life gives you an opportunity to play around and experiment, without constantly referring to current concerns within your practice. It also gives you the opportunity of adventure each time you leave the studio, even a trip to the supermarket can be interesting and new. Pants and tights seem to turn up in the oddest places, next to the bottled water, before you get to the tinned beans.
Anyway I have established today that several things are taking place in my thinking, resolutions for ideas and projects ranging back to The Char Dham Project are formulating. But also in a very exiting way, new ideas for Berlin have arisen.
There is an exhibition space here at Milchhof that I now have my sights on, and this could form the framework of a new installation. Ever since my visit to Charllottenburg Schloss I have been thinking about reflections. The Pavillion Milchhof is a half glass construction that reflects the world as well as allowing a window into the art. I am watching this space.
The artists here allowed me to put a small drawing into their Sommerhits show, which contained work from many of the Milchhof artists and was curated by Werner Kernebeck. So, in a very minor way my exhibiting history in Berlin has begun.
# 19 [20 June 2012]
Feeling less than chipper today. I thought that the studio would be buzzing this week as they have an opening and summer party on Saturday, its like a morgue. It is difficult to get to know who the other artists in the studios are. I don't like to disturb people because I know that they are here to work, not to entertain me. We all know what studio blocks are like, all closed doors buffering the sounds of industry within.
Having said that, the artists that I have met here are really friendly and they all speak good English, which helps. My German is not up to much, but I am trying to practice. This is not easy as everyone answers immediately in English.
On top of that it is raining!
It was raining on Saturday, but that did not stop Florian, a really old friend of mine here in Berlin, from giving me a tour of the beautiful parks and gardens of southern Berlin. I am sworn to secrecy about this, to prevent a tourist avalanche in this quarter, but I think that most people will be aware of Templehof, the former Airport. I will definitely go back there to do some filming, it is an incredible space.
I feel as if I am continually walking in gardens whilst here. Unusual you might think for such a big city, but Berlin is blessed with a great deal of open space. This varies from traditional formal gardens like those at Charlottenburg, to very informal, like Mauer Park, which is barely more than a strip of untamed ground. Then there are the new formal gardens being created from the carnage of the 20th century.
On Friday I spent the morning photographing the amazing landscaping that has taken place where the Mauer (wall) ran along Bernauer Str. Very close to the studio. It is like a Richard Sera sculpture park, making a three dimensional map of history. A subtle and beautiful sculptural statement containing a moving narrative.
I also visited the Hamburger Bahnhof, the National Gallery of Contemporary Art, they have extended the museum into a huge corridor like exhibition space to the rear of the main museum. The exhibition there, Archetektonika 2 was extremely inspiring for me. Containing work by many of my favourite artists, all pertaining to architecture in some way, mainly sculptural and spatial work and some photography. It made me want to start working 3 dimensionally. Not easy, I keep wanting to go skip hunting, but then it rains and I don't want a studio full of damp garbage.
Link to information about exhibition
I have been doing a lot of drawing and am continuing to make water colours from the photographs of Mauer Park. Yesterday I took more photographs, in Charlottenburg Gardens. It was wonderful to spend time in the imagined landscape of the 18th and 19th century, where every turn in the path brings a picturesque vista. Very peaceful and meditative, very egalitarian now, unlike it's elitist past. I started to see a connection between the hedges of the formal gardens there and the hedges that mark the passage of the wall through Mauer Park.
The last 3 days have been beautiful and sunny, Monday was incredibly hot. This gave me plenty of opportunity to get used to the bicycle that a friend has lent me, definitely the best way to explore the city, Berlin is very bike friendly. However it is an old fashioned "sit up and beg" sort and far too big for me. Well I guess the rain should keep me in the studio continuing to try and make some sense of all my explorations.
See the latest photos here
I am a visual artist, having studied sculpture at the Royal College of Art, I now make mixed media installation and performance pieces. I often collaborate with Adrian Wilkins a sound artist.
I have exhibited widely in the UK, in Europe and the US. Sometimes in galleries, sometimes in other kinds of spaces, collaborating with institutions like museums, working on site specific projects.
As well as maintaining my own practice as an artist I teach Fine Art at Undergraduate level and I run art workshops for people with mental health issues.