Greetings from Berlin

This July August I was lucky enough to be invited to do a short studio residency at the VCA’s studio-apartment in Berlin, a partnership with Phasmid Studios in the East German borough of Marzahn.

The studio is between some new housing developments and a row of factories mostly surrounded by bushland. From the studio windows you can see the huge smoke stack of the Heizkraftwerk, a gas power plant: a constant background to my studio endeavours.

The studio is large and comfortable and despite the fact that most people are horrified that anyone would live so far from the city centre it’s only a 25 minute tram ride, a tram that reminds me of Melbourne so much because of the large Vietnamese population in Marzahn, 80s immigrants from North Vietnam to communist East Germany.

Berlin is famous for its 24-hour decadence but knowing that you can work until 2 am and then go out and meet people for a drink actually made me more productive though my body clock started to do strange things.

As with everywhere in Berlin Marzahn has layers of disturbing history. The nearby water treatment plant was an internment camp for Roma people from 1936 until 1943 when they were deported to Auschwitz. Very few of them survived and Marzahn is one of the places commemorated on the monument to Sinti and Roma: a flat, black, triangular pool near the Jewish memorial. The German state is forced to interact with and critique its history but the overall effect is a more advanced style of state propaganda, making the government seem reasonable and just but functioning in the same way that capitalism is capable of incorporating and subsuming its own critiques.

The Reichstag Art Collection is a good example of this, featuring works by Sigmar Polke and Hans Haacke that are critical of or poke fun at the German state. This strategy of incorporation or co-option is far more nuanced than Australia's attempts to shut down art and critical debate in general, but definitely something I’ll be thinking about for some time to come.

Marzahn is also famous for neo-Nazi rallies against refugees, always vastly outnumbered by the anarchist Antifa (anti-fascists). During my residency the Berlin elections brought out some of the most hateful political posters I’ve ever seen. The posters of the NPD (actual national socialists) feature photographs of a man in Islamic garb with a mobile phone in one hand, and a fan of 50 euro notes in the other. Meant to represent a refugee, the caption reads ‘They get everything, and you?’ Unlike One Nation the NPD are never elected federally though this style of racism in politics does feel uncomfortably familiar.

Anyway Greetings from Berlin!!!




From the performance lecture- The Obverse, 2016 performed at phasmid Studios Marzahn - Photo by Conor Clarke.jpg

From the performance lecture The Obverse, 2016, performed at phasmid Studios Marzahn

Conor Clarke

Phasmid Studios, Marzahn, Berlin - Photo Ariel Hussan.png

Phasmid Studios, Marzahn, Berlin 

Ariel Hassan

Video still from performance lecture The Obverse, 2016 - Photo - Nathan Gray.jpg

Video still from performance lecture The Obverse, 2016

Nathan Gray

View From the VCA Phasmid Marzahn studio -Photo - Nathan Gray .jpg

View from the VCA Phasmid Marzahn studio

Nathan Gray

Nathan Gray’s work Species of Spaces, 2014 was the winner of both the 2014 Substation Contemporary art Prize and Substation People’s Choice Awards and is now part of the permanent collection of the National Gallery of Victoria. He has shown at the 19th Biennale of Sydney and the 2012 TarraWarra Biennial. His work Score for Dance was shown at Open Archive in 2011 and ACCA in 2014 and he has had numerous solo shows including Work with Me Here, 2015 at RMIT DesignHub, Things That Fit Together, 2014 at Utopian Slumps, Theorist Training Camp, 2012 at Westspace and ACTS, 2012 at Utopian Slumps. Over the last year Liquid Architecture, Melbourne, The Audio Foundation, Auckland and North Projects, Christchurch have presented his recent film The Shakes. He has held residencies in Japan, Brazil, New Zealand, Indonesia, regional Australia and Germany where he is currently based.