I suppose the immediate problem with hitting up the Berlin art scene (or any art scene for that matter) is the innate cliches and preexisting ideas we all hold, whether via our social media feeds, word of mouth arts publications, our mental rendering of a place can often be a highly tweaked version of its IRL counterpart. The particular point of this trip was to attempt to dive below the obvious and easily accessed strata of Auguststraße commercial galleries and the likes which alongside the big hitter Museums seem to saturate Berlin's artistic landscape.
The idea of access is often heavily bandied about with regards to project spaces, elusive creatures that they are. It's well noted that spaces supposedly garner an 'exclusive' audience - or so outsiders feel - with little or no inroads and an in the know marketing strategy bled out via well enclosed social media circles. Although this can be true in some respects I know a large swathe of spaces who go the extra mile for inclusivity 〰 equally I feel the value of these types of spaces is in building their audiences slowly but assuredly, with a sprinkle of trust yet the capacity to surprise. The point, however, is that trying to implant myself in a new artistic ecology for a few days with little knowledge of the existing platforms can be challenging and a potentially inaccurate overview of the scene (disclaimer essentially).
Project Space Festival Berlin was pretty much my sole guide to what is feels like a semi-elusive scene 〰 yes there's indexberlin.de but it's such a blank, lifeless rundown of exhibitions & spaces that it's near impossible to get an idea of 'personality' from these spaces. Project Space Festival was set up this year as a way to highlight emerging project spaces in Berlin. The strength in its output is the model with which the festival ran by. Over the month of August 31 spaces were selected to produce a project for the programme. Each space would be given a single day in August to exhibit and for those 24 hours (and nothing more) they would open up for the festival crowd. The website is a strong resource with an interactive map of the spaces alongside a brief intro in each, it's ethos, style, brand, programming...etc. And i think this is the main factor in PSFB's strength ⫸personality⫷ not oozing on about a space’s hype or artistic differences/merits but something more human which is descriptive without being prescriptive, informative enough to allow a general audience to break in. Unlike the commercial scene in Berlin which smartly clusters around streets/districts for operational benefits the project spaces (similarly to Manchester) are scattered wherever they can find an appropriate residence. In effect you need to have a conviction in their personality before heading out to the other side of town.
Insitu Berlin, who in part set up PSFB, is an obvious example of this disparate geography ~ located between the Red Light District, a smattering of commercial galleries and just too far west of Kreuzberg to be 'in' enough. It's a neat little space in a not-quite-low-enough-to-be-a-basement space, on a pretty bland road (although the far ends of it are a bit more [relatively] fun with an oddball children's park to the east and a selection of sex shops to the west). Their curatorial remit is simple but effective referring "to the curatorial team’s understanding of curatorial practice as being necessarily »in situ« in terms of cultural, social and geographical spaces". And this most likely fed into the production of Project Space Festival. A space's geography can be a strong influence on their output, and many of the spaces who were included are much more of a destination than part of a wider hub or cultural 'village'. And I think this becomes and interesting aspect into not just Berlin's art scene but the many (outside of London) that I've visited. The focus turns to individual spaces in a concentrated period of time, to the PV's on every other night and the dash to catch the return train home. In becoming destinations, spaces can provide the viewer with the ability to focus on each, individually and without distraction (unlike those night where you try to drag yourself around an handful of PVs, drink too much free booze and it all gets a bit social club with some art as the wallpaper). It builds an audience who can develop a relationship with a space and not just feel like part of a mass viewership.
As chance would have it ZK/U studio/residency/arts complex housed in a former railway depot in N.W Berlin had their annual OpenHaus on the day of my arrival. I wasn't really expecting the scale of the complex that I witnessed. The place felt close to Islington Mill/Rogue in its setup as a multi-use converted space encompassing everything from studios and co-working spaces to an auditorium, basement space [at the time showing a variety of video works yet probably has a lot of scope for other projects] alongside a terrace bar on the platform (?) complete with the soundtrack of the Berlin Rail system in the close distance and an outdoor playground with a huge claimable construction complete with slide (definitely need to import that idea back over here). ZK/U seems to concentrate its efforts on being a residency and studio complex first and foremost, importing a range of artists globally scattered and jamming them in a close knit scenario with numerous opportunities for critical dialogue. The result was a chaotic mix of work, from film to architectural conversions (a group called transstruktura had converted old bottle bank into a hut/den in the front yard).
Alicja Dobrucka's work I like you, I like you a lot was a stand out piece within the OpenHaus. A small projection on the back wall of the basement space slowly flicked through a series of hazy pictures, infused with a kind of warm snapshot glow. The whole slide of around 30 slides weaved through landscapes and interior imagery of Poland amongst intimate portraits documenting a lifestyle, or indeed just life with little style. The backstory of this piece adds a huge weight to it's power. The piece acts as a documentation of the aftermath of Alicja's 13 year old brother's death after he drowned during a scouts trip in May 2008. The work become a documentary of character, and the change of character and the loss of character. Alongside this it works as a relic in scrutinising the procedures around an accidental death, visiting her brother's friends playing dress up in American soldier uniforms and toying with Air Shot Guns, a particular craze amongst young people in Poland. The work in effect becomes a study into how absence can become a part of peoples lives, and how the lost have as strong a presence as the existent, but equally it becomes a facade or structure to access someone else's mourning, a transient and loose atmosphere clamped down in the solidity of slides.
Back in the centre of town......I'm @ KW.......fresh carpet smell. Deck chairs, lounge chairs, cinema chairs, electric chairs [the comfy kind] complete with light-up cup holder ~~~ loads of fucking chairs | 6 screens, take a seat (take your pick) choose your angle in this omnidirectional seascape of projections. Look up, hey, there's a screen, drilling your eyeballs with 3D rendered scenarios, jolting every other second with something fresh. Eyeballs dead, white, wide, I feel like a barrel of Red Bull might catch me up to them. Yep it's Trecartin, spinning your mind into a twisted weave of chaos/numbness, drunk on visuals, loaded sky high in some toxic scenario. Talking about Trecartin is like writing about an extreme clubbing experience or trying to remember a dream you just had as you stand in the shower early AM putting the shampoo on your hair twice because you're in such a daze. His installation strung together narratives and imagery to the point where you begin to zone in and out around levels of stories, winding, diverting between that kind of POV camera angle he's got to a tee against 3D rendered landscapes, overlaid with more POV vids. The effects is that you start to latch onto specific stories and slip out of others. The arching narrative revolved around what seemed to be a fantasy-escape style plot, with a crazed bunch of characters - each an extrapolated stereotype from movie plots, accessible in their personality yet with triple the voltage - attempting to navigate themselves around some kind of post-disaster mall/complex/big building (not very descriptive I know). Trecartin’s work seem’s to be stepping up a gear recently - he’s effectively build a paradise of chaos for viewers, allowing little if no time at all for distraction, everything 100%, saturated colours to the even more saturated characters in landscapes drowning in theatrics
Trip kindly supported by Arts Council England