Thursday, November 26, 2009

Und jetzt

Cornelia Schleime; photo by Val PhoenixTypical. As soon as I leave Berlin, exhibits pop up everywhere I would want to see. The latest is Und jetzt, a group show of female artists from the GDR. Among the 12 artists on show are Verena Kyselka and Gabriele Stötzer, two former members of Exterra XX about whom I have written. Other artists include Christine Schlegel, Elsa Gabriel and Cornelia Schleime.

Recently, I had the pleasure of speaking to Cornelia Schleime when she came to London to present some of her Super 8 work. Sadly, I could not attend her talk, as it coincided with my visit to Berlin, but we spoke at length about her life in the GDR and her emigration to West Berlin in the 1980s. She also delivered a highly amusing rant about the plethora of prams in her neighbourhood of Prenzlauer Berg, the baby boom there an unexpected post-wall development.

Und jetzt runs at the Künstlerhaus Bethanien 27 November to 20 December.
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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Berlin Insane

Exterior of Pale Music HQ in Berlin; photo by Val PhoenixTomorrow, were I not otherwise engaged (and far away), I would definitely get myself over to SO36 (a venue I STILL have never been inside, though I have passed by) in Berlin to see the lineup gathered for Berlin Insane: the next chapter of Pale Music. It includes Mona Mur & En Esch, Italoporno, Kill the Dandies and Pale supremo Steve Morell on the decks.

During my recent visit to Berlin, I stopped by Pale HQ to speak with Steve, as a longtime observer of the alternative scene, about gentrification. He had a lot to say, but concluded he fears the powers-that-be want to clean up the city. "Keep Berlin dirty" is his mantra.

As it happens, I also met up with Mona Mur, at photographer Ilse Ruppert's birthday gathering. Just back from touring Poland and the Czech Republic, Mona was buzzing, the kids digging her brutalist industrial vibe. As we left Ilse's flat, Mona spotted the bus we were both meant to be getting and set off on a sprint in her high-heeled boots. Shod in sensible shoes, I quickly outpaced her, but she still made the bus. I was impressed. "These are my stage shoes," she declared, once we were seated on the top deck. From there she directed my attention to various landmarks, including former locations of the wall. Berlin by Night, with the Queen of Darkness. Now that's a tour.
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Thursday, November 12, 2009

Save Berlin

Cranes over Berlin; photo by Val PhoenixBack in London one day now, I am still reflecting on my whirlwind trip to Berlin-- mostly work, a bit of fun, not much sleep.

The big topic among people I visited was the future of the city, development, planning and gentrification. The timing of my visit was very much based on the 20th anniversary of the fall of the wall, but only because that is a good starting point to assess the changes that have occurred since then and how they affect the future direction of the city.

As areas like Friedrichshain see huge developments like O2 World and Mediaspree, is there still room for independent, small-scale projects, especially in the area of alternative culture and politics? This is what gives the city its special character and is such a lure for people like me. But, it's not what gets funding.

This weekend sees Save Berlin, a three-day exhibition of alternative visions for Berlin, organised by Ex-Berliner magazine. I missed speaking to the organisers but did have a chat with Julia L, one half of Julia + Julia, the performance duo I met on my last trip. The Julias are collaborating with two others, under the less-than catchy name of Julia + Linda + Julia + Ines, for their Amazonian-hand-craft themed installation in the foyer of the exhibit. This and other visions are on display throughout the weekend at a venue in Wedding, an interesting choice, as Wedding is one of those neighbourhoods being touted as the next Kreuzberg or Prenzlauerberg. So, in five years will people be complaining of how it's too hip, cool, trendy and not affordable? Possibly.

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Monday, November 09, 2009


Domino Galerie, Berlin; photo by Val PhoenixA cold, grey, drizzly day greeted me as I ventured out to see the Domino Galerie running from Potsdamer Platz up past the Brandenburger Tor. A symbolic wall, set to be toppled this evening to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, this bit of commemoration strikes me as a bit cheesy.

Laid out in a narrow strip patrolled by guards and lined by fencing (Hmmm), it lacks the gravitas or dignity one would expect of such an occasion, especially with the burger vans and commercial enterprises hovering in the background. Nearing Brandenburger Tor, one finds a sense of expectancy and enthusiasm otherwise lacking. Not for me. I won't be anywhere near the place when it all comes tumbling down to the tune of Paul van Dyk.

Sunday I spent the day in Hamburg visiting the studio of artist Anja Huwe, as she prepares for her next exhibition in January. We had a good long talk and were joined by her friend, photographer Katja Ruge, who dropped me off near the coach station. Prowling the mean streets of Hamburg, I spent a good 11 minutes listening to church bells marking 6 pm before devouring a falafel and some Turkish coffee. Didn't see much of Hamburg but found it enjoyable, nonetheless. Not so the 7-hour coach journey, but that's another story.
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Saturday, November 07, 2009


A rather frantic day running around arranging and completing interviews ended with some lusty Hüfteschwingen to loud rock music in the upstairs corridors of RAW-Tempel, a quite extraordinary grassroots project in Friedrichshain that is in dispute with its owners and thus in limbo. An Open House evening, the Treppening featured exhibitions, open studios and a band playing under the stairs while visitors wandered the maze-like layout, sampled fresh waffles and experienced the camaraderie of social cohesion that is sadly lacking in so many neighbourhoods. Long may it reign.

Friday, November 06, 2009


Manon Duursma at the opening of the Feedback exhibit at Neurotitan in Berlin; photo by Val PhoenixNeurotitan Gallery, Berlin
Until 28 November

On a short trip to Berlin, I found myself this evening at the opening of Feedback, an exhibit curated by Danielle de Picciotto. Wandering the space, I tried to imagine the relationships between the visual art on the walls and the sound installations that stand in front of the works. What, for example, is the connection between the intricately cross-hatched drawings of Laurie Lipton and the strange mutterings of Algis Kizys?

Later, I spoke with de Picciotto, who explained that she asked the musicians to respond to particular art works, reversing the usual visual-response-to-music dynamic. "I like to flip things," she declared. An artist, not a curator, dePicciotto works to a particular plan in organising these group shows. Bringing together people who would not normally interact, working with artists she knows and installing the results in Neurotitan (where earlier in the year I viewed Transgression) are all purposeful statements, supporting bold work and independent spaces, such as Neurotitan, which is run by artists.

Art in Berlin, she feels, has changed dramatically, with the commercial element coming to the fore. With rents rising and the prices of work declining, it is harder for artists to get shown and to make a living. The scene has become more competitive, with artists in group shows fighting to be the one to get a solo show.

Cigarettes and beer bottles in hand, visitors mingled with participants including musician Alexander Hacke in a shiny brown suit, and sculptor Petra Wende. I also had a chat with Manon Duursma, whom I met earlier in the year and who is slowly venturing back into music, making field recordings at home. Most intriguing.

Gearing up for the 20th anniversary of the fall of the wall, Berlin is poised with uncertainty. Even the weather can't make up its mind, snowing one day and beaming with sunshine the next.
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