Okay, I must admit that sitting down to write the first blog post in Berlin is no easy task. Are you kidding me? Sit inside when it is sunny and above freezing outside?? –> Those boots right there were made for walking for hours at a time. (And yes, that is exactly what I will be doing once I check a few items off my to-do list.)
Yesterday, Helsinki attempted to kidnap me with its blizzard flight delays. Nonetheless, I arrived in Berlin, albeit two hours later than anticipated. The Agora Collective in the Neukölln neighborhood has taken me in, and I was ushered into a cozy room with a desk, a chair obviously not made for that desk, and a snuggly bed. Downstairs lies the Kurz vor Eden cafe. Did you know that other people will actually cook your meals for you? After weeks of eating cereal and eggs on rye toast (I am damn good at those recipes, by the way), having a chef make me a goat cheese salad and cauliflower puree and steamed spinach and panna cotta… I was in heaven.
After one large glass of wine and a brief checking of the emails, the aforementioned snuggly bed ushered me into its embrace, where I slept soundly only to be awaken by sunshine and chirping birds. Y’all, after the utter peaceful silence in Hämeenkyrö, I had forgotten how energizing little birds and a breeze clattering the windows and a far-off rumble of a commuter train can be.
Okay, enough gushing. So, why am I even in Berlin? Well, a little background first. While living in South Africa, I met two wonderful street artists based in the Berlin area, and they would often reference how busy the street art scene is here. So when laying the foundations for this project about the dialogues between visual artists and their communities, the street art scene in Berlin simply was a perfect fit.
Street art and graffiti murals have been an integral part of Berlin pride and protest since the reunification of the city.
Today, such work has made the street art a tourist attraction. Kunsthaus Tacheles, once an artists’ squat and still a focal point of the scene, holds disco nights downstairs and sells urban art books upstairs — its bar is as expensive as anywhere in the city. Artists such as XOOOOX, Mein Lieber Prost and Alias have started to exhibit and sell in galleries. They still work on the street, but they are no longer impoverished artists — if they ever were. They can afford to travel and work in countries across the world.
While these artists believe that street art needs to appeal to a wider audience, the local, more traditional artists, such as the tagging crews, disagree. They argue that street art derives its power from being on the margins of society; only from the outside can they address problems within it. That difference of opinion is opening a space in the scene that can be filled only by the mainstream. In the next few years, street art has the potential to become a social movement as inclusive as anything from the ’50s and ’60s.
I was given Urban Illustration Berlin for Christmas, which will be a good guide (yes, I do realize the absolute absurdity in attempting to make a static guide of an ever-changing, ever-evolving scene), but the best observations happen when you just allow yourself to get lost in a city, right?
So my main goal for Berlin is to wander for hours a time, happening upon street art and meeting up with street artists to talk about their process for creating their artwork and how they view the relationship between their art and the community in which the art is displayed.
To reflect the differences in surroundings, my sketchbook style will also be different than it was in Finland. My sketchbook there was large, and I worked across two-page spreads to reflect the panoramic landscapes and overwhelming vastness of the calm. Here, I will be working in a much smaller sketchbook and dashing off quicker sketches to reflect the energy and rapidity required in street art and urban living in general.
Okay. I have a date with a giant platter of chicken followed by a long long walk to burn it off. How about you leave me a slew of questions for Berlin street artists for when I get back?
Side note: Apparently there is a women-only boxing gym a 10 minute walk from our building, which I will be checking out this evening to see if I might actually be able to find a sparring partner. (Have no idea why I would be looking for a boxing gym? See this past post, which talks about why boxing before traveling is quite useful.)