In the beginning of 2014 I travelled to Berlin to participate in the takt kunstprojektraum residency program with 10 other international artists. I spent 3 months learning where my work fits into the larger cultural spectrum while creating, collaborating and exhibiting abroad. I came away with a restored sense that Kansas City is one of the best places to be an emerging artist in the USA. Berlin is similar to KC in that living expenses are lower than other parts of Europe so it is an ideal place to produce work. Support however for most Berlin artists comes from robust digital campaigns, well documented exclusive exhibitions in other cities, or simply having a daytime career. I learned a lot about the collaborative necessities for a thriving and sustainable creative practice and community. Most of these pieces are already in play in my work but are either not well integrated or simply are under developed. (critical review/publication, social/cultural relevancy, quality presentation/exhibition, clear documentation/media archives, supportive/integrated community) The task I have at hand is to make a plan based on the direction of my new work and start to put the appropriate pieces together. Currently I am working on launching a new website later this year and exhibiting my new work at the Drugstore (Main and Westport) on July 18th. The following photos and reflections about my time in Berlin are merely a glimpse of the stories, relationships and art that took place earlier this year across the sea.
I left America last winter with only my Austrian friend Lukas (who I met in Kansas City) to hold down the fort of familiarity in Germany. I have moved almost every year of my life though primarily rooted around KC. Its taken me a long time to see that adaptation to unforeseen environments is also deeply familiar, grounding and good. As the familiar wanders, the unforeseen becomes embraced as familiar. That said, adaptation doesn’t happen instantaneously. 3 months is a good measure of time for getting acquainted.
I moved into a studio apartment in Friedrichshain located on the eastern side of Berlin by myself. It was a wonderful space to make new work… but totally isolated from the other residents in the Takt program. My hope for collaboration was a little stifled which forced me to initiate invitations and create my own intersections.
I resumed my painting practice within the first week but made civic and cultural exploration mandatory so to not just reside in my own island. Between subways, streetcars and by bike, I was able to move and explore quite thoroughly and freely within the downtown s-bahn(above ground subway)loop of the city.
Arriving in the heart of winter allowed me to see Berlin’s Jekyll and Hyde transformation when spring finally came. When its cold, so are the people. The exception to that rule is at a pub or in someone’s home. Between hops and hearth there is always warmth in Germany. When the snow first melted, its hard to explain how dramatically the demeanor of the whole city changed. The parks were suddenly full of picnics, ping pong players and the most well behaved dogs on the entire planet. The sprawling eastern block apartment complexes emptied out onto the streets with energy and activity. This did not change the fact that most everyone dresses like architects all in black with minor accent colors when appropriate. The amount of clothes however did decrease quite predictably. My interactions with people went from necessary and transactional to curious and polite.
Germans in general don’t do small talk. Americans in general don’t give long goodbyes. When learning how to navigate relationally I had to come to appreciate German efficiency and directness in the same way my new friends had to come to endure my round about way of getting to any point.
Meeting new people was initially difficult so I turned to friends on the internet to introduce me to their friends or acquaintances in Berlin. The “friend of a friend” model turned out to be the easiest way to break the cultural ice. This way I was given entrance into the many layers of of culture hidden behind closed doors. Where my first month was quite introspective, the second and third months became a lively exploration of the attractive and spinning intersections of meaningful experiences in the Heart of Germany.
to be moved.
When I’m completely still, the ground is rotating around its axis at about 1,000mph. The Earth is orbiting the Sun at nearly 70,000mph. The solar system in the Orion arm is rotating around the galactic center of the Milky Way at a little more than 450,000,000mph. (at this speed it will take approximately 225,000,000 years to complete one rotation) Not to mention our local supercluster of galaxies in Virgo continue to flow like a river at the relatively unimaginable speeds of the expanding universe.
In other words, when we are not moving, life moves us.
Being inspired plays a big part of making work that is inspiring. One of the best experiences of the Takt program was visiting artist’s studios and exhibitions. Not only was it great to see new artwork in progress but it fostered the meaningful dialogues about the content of the work, the intentions of the artist and more simply the day to day constraints and opportunities that each person experienced. On the same page as meeting friends through friends, I surmised that most German exhibition opportunities arise from personal recommendations from artists which is not so dissimilar from London or New York. Its no surprise, that in the end its relationships that matter.
The underground club scene is really underground. Berlin has not let go of the electronic, deep house and techno love thus the club scene is very alive in the bomb shelters and structures created in between WWII and the cold war. I can’t say how joyous it was to arrive at my studio at 8am completely soaked with sweat and depleted of all energy from a full night of immersive dance and subcultural hijinx! Going dancing with the fellow residents made for easy cross cultural bonding and simply exhausting workouts.
I came to be teased a little for my crazy exercise regiment. I had started a “light” version of my decathlon friend Jonathan Collin’s Shiftfit program. It really was pushing me to my limits every other day but in a very short time I was feeling stronger and healthier than I had in a long time. It may seem a little obvious, but a full cycle of exhaustion and rest impacts my ability to focus, my energy level, and simply my capacity to push through creative challenges.
Sometimes that energy was simply replaced by caffeine. Early on I revealed my inner epicurean and created a list of the most recommended or highest rated coffeeshops in the city and made a point to visit as many as I could with my friend Lukas. In the end there were only three that stayed on my list. 1.Aunt Bennys was a local brunch spot a block from my studio that had amazing shortbread cookies and decent joe. 2.Chapter One was a small hole in the wall with exceptionally delicious espresso. 3.No Fire No Glory was by far the best place to draw and had great pour overs using roasters from all over Europe.
At the beginning of my last month, Lukas convinced me to spend a few days in Warsaw. We extended our coffee shop explorations to Poland. The colors of the old city were completely amazing and the people openly smiled in public. Not that its a strange thing to smile but it was a memorable experience contrasting the subtle differences between cultures. I returned to my studio to finish the work for my show with a restored vigor and the added challenge of hosting Germans in such a way to bring out a few pearly whites.
to be moving.
Location has such a powerful influence on my work. I was already feeling isolated by the winter, and social media was no real replacement for community which translated into my initial tesseract paintings being quite dark and showing my need to try out some new directions.
For two weeks I worked on a science fiction novel which granted me the freedom to enter into unfamiliar territory.(which is what is most appealing for me in the creative process). While reflecting on alternative futures and other possibilities of life, a spark set off in my sketchbook that would eventually be carried on into my current work. I was leaving the reflective paintings and exhaustive poetic titles behind and drawing social force fields, quantum foam bubbles, alien bacteria and forgotten cultures. I had returned to drawing representationally which freed me up to play with the ideas that had started in my writing.
At the end of March I cleared out my entire studio and transformed it into a pop up gallery. I hosted an open studio with all my new work. It was proof of a small world and became an amazing evening filled with strange and wonderful intersections between all the people that I had met. I used it as another excuse to explore the night market and make some final culinary experimentation.
The residency came to a close with a group exhibition at the Tapir Gallery. Without a theme the show was very eclectic with insightful windows into the diverse processes and personalities of the resident artists. It was emotional and a little anticlimactic. In a strange way following up with email and facebook will never put this window of time back together… but it also can’t take it away.
to move some more.
The memories that we make, we keep. The stories that we share, grow together into new stories.
On my plane home to the states, I was eating homemade German cheesecake with tears in my eyes. The greatest experience of a culture comes when invited into a home to share art (food, stories, photos, paintings, etc). What started out as an endeavour to broaden my horizons through participating in a residency program in Berlin, actually forced them to shrink… and to deepen. After 3 months a part of my heart was left to dwell in Germany, while at the same time my thoughts were taking a piece of Germany with me back home.
Kansas City is my homebase. It holds a treasury of people that are my roots of encouragement and support when I am out making new art and exploring new places in the world. We all are moving in some shape or form towards the revelation of our times, our place and our expression. To find what we already embody is sort of a surprise. To share what we have made and experienced is an honor. To learn from another horizon is a gift.
This Friday is the group show at Tapir gallery. Its hard to imagine 3 months have gone by already. I will be showing a 6ft drawing on paper. It was the first graphite piece that I finished while in the residency and signifies a major shift in my work.
Believe me, when you feel like you’re in a creative rut, there’s nothing quite like visiting a few Holocaust museums to clarify the costs of apathy and provoke the absolute necessity of creatively maneuvering the present horizons.
Its sad here. Winter in Germany is always moving. Unnerving public calm to the degree that all people in crowds seem lonely. Cold, five hours of sun yet everyone is underground on the ubahn(subway) or nestled in their labyrinthine apartment complexes, hiding from tease of vitamin D. Strong willed honesty fills the dinner tables. Brash, like my life in America is some kind of sitcom found on the internet. Cheesy, witless, and tiresome. The affluent fled when the wall fell and took industry and globalization west and south leaving in the wake an empty place for bureaucracy… and more importantly, opportunity to be born.
Berlin is a common ground for the survivors, the refugees, the lost, those caught in the in between and no one wants to share stories. They want to write new ones down, right now. right here. The beauty is the cacophony of wayfaring souls. the layers and layers and layers. If you can see through all the history and the shit… the decay and death are acting like fertilizer of what is yet to come.
I’ve heard tales of the spring in Berlin. When there is singing and dancing in the streets. When the sun reigns and the bars are empty because the whole town has fled to the parks and rivers to have picnics and romantic encounters. Performances leave the institutions and museum Island is abandoned for the tourists as happenings and spontaneous collaboration erupt in the strangest of intersections. Maybe I’m dreaming on this full mooned Valentine’s Day in Eastern Berlin… but this dream I’ve hopefully allowed to creep into my work.
I haven’t drawn from a model in over a decade. I seem to always be late for the drawing sessions so I always end up on the floor and wrestling with foreshortening.
I have German lessons once a week but I’m still feeling overwhelmed by fragmentary understanding. Listening ever so intensely for the recognizable syllable or associative gestures, my eyes glaze over as the sound and layers of meaning grind my face into the sand of the cultural shore break. This is how I feel.
I’ve been working on a Sci-Fi novella as a knee jerk response to my frustration with my paintings thus far. Sometime last week when I was trying to describe the loss of self felt when teleporting (becoming temporarily omnipresent) I looked up at my paintings and realized they are exploring the feeling of being lost and disoriented and the longing for language to make sense or culture to give meaning and context to that feeling. So I’m going to try to finish the series this next week(Ill post detailed photos), now that I have direction about being directionless!
I painted some hearts to send as mail art this month but the Deutsche post did not like the shapes of my envelopes… so sorry that they will all arrive a bit late… except the one I delivered in person tonight. I hope it was enough to spark what was unvoiced in my ranting nervous wreckage… that namely, when faced with a smile that can melt the sun, can this fragile little heart find the courage to pursue such a light.