A look back at PICTURE BERLIN - Fall Session 2015

I was in Berlin between 30th October and 8th November for PICTURE BERLIN's first fall session. PICTURE BERLIN is a not for profit artist-initiated hybrid residency/art academy that was founded by April Gertler in 2009.

Picture Berlin normally runs a session every summer that lasts for approximately a month and a half, but when I heard about a fall session that lasts for 10 days, I applied and thankfully got accepted.

The fall session doesn't involve producing work like the summer sessions. Instead, the visiting artists get to explore the creative scene in Berlin.

Four of us attended the inaugural autumn session and we were led by April Gertler who is also a cake maker extraordinaire. More on that later.

The participants included Ayala Gazit, Aaron Holloway and Katarina Murto, three fellow artists that I had the pleasure to spend time with. We all learned a lot during the 10 days we spent together.

We explored Berlin and visited artists studios, project spaces, commercial galleries, attended gallery openings and even presented our work one evening to an event that was open to the public to attend. We also had a portfolio review session and attended a workshop with an accredited coach, Eva Hartmann from Future Glitter, focusing on our personal development as artists.

We also drank lots of coffee/tea, had lots of soup and ate lots and lots of cake. April baked the most delicious cake during the 10 days we spent with her, she takes pleasure offering cake to the residents and the artists we visited. There was always a look of joy when the cake was revealed.

I enjoyed the 10 days tremendously, it was an opportunity to get an insight into the arts and creative scene in Berlin. In Dubai I'm exposed to commercial art galleries and there isn't much room for independent artists like me to exhibit their work or collaborate/programme artistic events. Seeing the network of artist run projects spaces in Berlin was a revelatory experience for me and I'm hoping I can incorporate in Dubai some of what I learned from these spaces.

Here's a look at what we did, I compiled the photos I took into videos.

In Search of the Miraculous - a walking and listening tour across Berlin

On our first day, the four of us went on a 9 hour walking and listening tour broken into sessions throughout the day, led by April Gertler, Hannah Goldstein, Katja Haustein, Adrian Schiesser and Susanne Kohler.

It was a very insightful walk hearing each artist talk about the parts of Berlin they showed us, its history, what it means to them, how they engage with the city. It was the first time I got an insight into the city from Berliners, especially East Berliners, and heard alot about gentrification, the changes in the city, especially the rise in cost of living. A story common in many cities worldwide.

The video below includes photos and some music recordings we listened to during our walk with Adrian Schiesser which was my favouite part of the walk. I want that mobile Philips record player. WANT.

From the Picture Berlin Fall Session 2015 Handbook:

Through a series of guided walks an interrogation of what is considered to be hidden, over-looked, obvious, familiar, mundane and spectacular will be considered as the group moves through various neighborhoods in Berlin.

Personal narratives are interwoven throughout the day while the guiding artists explore memory as a collective experience. Questioning fact and fiction of place is the framework for each walk. 

Studio Visits

We visited several artists and one book designer in their studio spaces. It was so rewarding listening to them talk about their work, their background, their journey and why they do what they do.

We visited Kerstin Honeit, Shannon Bool, Anja Lutz (designer at Green Box),Mila Teshaieva and Jan Zappner -  all of them were so warm and generous with their time and information. We even had dinner cooked for us by Mila Teshaieva, which was delicious. I really hope our paths cross again in the future.

Boros Bunker tour

This was a fascinating tour in a former World War II bunker. The space is owned by Christian Boros who purchased and renovated the bunker to house his art collection which consists of works by international artists dating from 1990 to the present.

The Bunker can only be visited in groups of up to 12 people accompanied by one of the in-house guides which must be booked in advance (which I heard sells out months in advance).

The current collection on display includes work by Ai Weiwei, Awst & Walther, Dirk Bell, Cosima von Bonin, Marieta Chirulescu, Thea Djordjadze, Olafur Eliasson, Alicja Kwade, Klara Lidén, Florian Meisenberg, Roman Ondák, Stephen G. Rhodes, Thomas Ruff, Michael Sailstorfer, Tomás Saraceno, Thomas Scheibitz, Wolfgang Tillmans, Rirkrit Tiravanija, Danh Vo, Cerith Wyn Evans und Thomas Zipp. For more information about Boros Bunker and the collection, head over to www.sammlung-boros.de.

Printed Matter Tour

The Printed Matter tour was a day where we visited art supply shops and stores selling art books and magazines. We saw everything from shops selling independently published books to the usual big names. It was so great to be able to access a varied selection of shops and libraries, plus it was heartwarming to see print still matters.

Gallery Tour

We visited the following galleries and saw a varied selection of work ranging from photography, installation and paintings. 

  • Jarvis Dooney (formerly known as Galerie Pavlova) had an exhibition titled Terra Australis featuring photography by Siri Hayes, Katrin Koenning, Brendan Lee and Vivian Cooper Smith - work that touches on aspects of cultural identity, the Australian landscape and European heritage. My favourite was work by Brendan Lee, his work looks at Australian identity through film, referencing the Mad Max era of Australian cinema.
  • Barbara Wein - not only is this a gallery space, but it is also a publishing house and has an amazing art bookshop/library.
  • Kehrer Galerie- an exhibition titled Unendlich featuring work by Rolf Julius, which unites Julius' early photographs with installative sound works that are characteristic for his interdisciplinary oeuvre. "With Rolf Julius (1939–2011), whose attitude towards the world was characterised by high attention and precise observation, Kehrer Verlag published its first book in 1995 with the title »Rolf Julius: Small Music (Grau)«."

From the Picture Berlin Fall Session 2015 Handbook:

Berlin’s over 400 galleries are spread throughout the city and contribute to the extremely dense art scene. There are also about 150 non-commercial showrooms also called project spaces, that regularly show new exhibitions. For almost 20 years, a new gallery has opened almost weekly at various lo- cations across the city.

The last time the city experienced such an art boom was during the 1920’s right before the second world war. It is said that over 20,000 international artists live in Berlin and up to 6,000 of those artists show their work annually in Berlin. Therefor the Gallery Tour has been put together to give the the Fall residents a glimpse into the vastness and complexity of the Berlin gallery scene.

Project Space Tour

This was a great discovery for me. We got an insight into artist run/not for profit project spaces across the city of Berlin. We visited project spaces that vary in size and the way they are run, from an old concierge room at an entrance of a residential building (Loge) to a project space run as slick as a commercial gallery (insitu), we met people who are very passionate about what they do and who are vital and a positive contribution to the arts and creative scene in Berlin. I loved this tour and Loge was my favourite discovery.

We visited the following spaces:

  • exp12 - Founded in 2010, it's a forum for photographers hosting exhibitions, slide shows, talks and lectures. "It is intended as a visible work in progress in order to promote the dialogue between photographers, curators, collectors, and the interested public."
  • Platform - A mobile installation project on Berlin's U-bahn platform, exhibiting art in unused and ordinarily commercial spaces on the underground rail line. The aim is to get commuters  to interact with an art installation in an unusual space and to "affect people’s physical path of movement, routine and thought process".
  • insitu - Founded in 2012, insitu designs its program in annual Cycles, which provide a thematic focus for exhibitions and events throughout the year. The cyclical structure provides insitu with the opportunity to ask new questions each year. Its currently on Cycle III and the exhibitions for this cycle are developed as  fictional characters. Each exhibition provides visitors with an intimate encounter with the character, creating the feeling that one not only just met a new person but entered into their private world. The current show is a video exhibition is titled "Jonny", described as "your romanticised dreamgirl from the imagined future that has already passed". I really liked this exhibition.
  • Loge - A tiny space that's only four square metres in size. I fell in love with it as soon as I saw it.  Here are words from Loge's website to explain more.

...Four square meters of an historical floor plan. It's a small, romantic space in a building constructed before the First World War. It's located in the old newspaper district, where insurgent workers battled against the Freikorps in 1919, and where American tanks were turned against the East in 1961. Just touching the sandstone facade brings the history alive.

...In a way the Loge is akin to a chapel on the side of the road, a kind of roadside shrine that offers up something to the "wanderer." Perhaps a tiny awareness of the quality of restraint and of concentration.

...It has a lot to do with the fact that for quite some time we've had enough of the loud, the overblown, and the showy. It turns us off more and more. Four square meters and only ever a single work. For us that's absolutely enough for here and now.

  • Bibliothekswohnung - Founded in 2004 by Anna-Catharina Gebbers, it's a library and workspace as well as platform and non-profit project space for environment and site-specific transdisciplinary collaborations with cultural activists and with other institutions. 

From the Picture Berlin Fall Session 2015 Handbook:

In an effort to give the Fall residents a perspective on how Berlin plays an important role in the international art scene, it’s important to understand the local scene. That local scene is complimented by the very vibrant project space or alternative gallery network. We will be taking a tour of some unique project spaces run by artists, curators, and cultural creatives, each of whom have a unique perspective on how art can be viewed in their opinions, which is largely evident in the diversity of the spaces that will be visited.

Exhibition openings 

There's an exhibition opening every night in Berlin and we went to quite a few openings (commercial galleries and project spaces) in different parts of the city.

Studio visit with April Gertler

On our last day, we had an opportunity to listen to April talk about her art practice, how she started, the challenges she faced, her past work and her new projects. From her collages that combines found images and her words to her recent endeavour into performance lectures - using the format of a cooking show to address the role of women in society, arts, culture and history.

The afternoon ended with one last round of delicious cake made by April. She's my new hero. 

A big thanks to Peggy Sue Amison for bringing this program to my attention. Thanks to April for being such a warm and welcoming host and being such a positive and generous source of information, and thanks to my fellow fall session comrades Ayala, Aaron and Katarina for being such great pals and for inspiring me during this residency. Lastly, a thanks to everyone I met during the 10 days, I learned so much from all of you.

PICTURE BERLIN's next summer session is on from 19th June - 16th August 2016. The deadline to apply for this session is 20th February 2016. The next fall session is on from 28th October - 6th November 2016. If you're interested in applying or to get more information, head over to www.pictureberlin.org.