// Overseas travel blog
Last night I attended an exhibition as part of a Berlin’s inaugural Project Space festival. It was the second offering on the calendar, following its grand opening on Wednesday 1 August.
The performance I saw was the first segment of a three-part exhibition, which was titled Figures in Air. Given all the wonderful events taking place on any summer’s night in Berlin, I chose this option for two good reasons:
1) It was free. Who doesn’t love a free exhibition (‘kostenlose Ausstellung’)? ; and
2) It was actually located directly under my old apartment in Hertzbergstraße, Neukölln. I had wanted to visit my old stomping grounds during my time here, and this seemed the perfect opportunity to do so.
The aptly named studio where the event took place, Apartment Project, is, according to its website: “a place for living, studio and exhibition space in Berlin” which “aims to form a platform based on the collaboration of interdisciplinary artists and researchers by living and working together.” (see Project Space Festival website ). In reality, it is a fairly standard Berlin apartment, except that the walls are painted studio-white, and the room is mostly devoid of furniture.
The website I’d checked on my way there noted that the performance would begin at “around 7PM”, so I arrived at 7:10PM to an interesting crowd of French, German and English speakers standing outside the venue. They wore typically dressed-down outfits and smoked typically hand-rolled cigarettes. I’d bought a beer from the Späti, on the way, and had been sipping it as I bounced along on the bus that took me from Hermannplatz, down Sonnenallee, and finally to Herzbergplatz. I saw that the others had tallies in hand as well, and also that no one was in any rush to go inside.
After a further 10 minute wait, a door opened and people started to filter into the space. I joined the first of the crowd, and looked around to see a white room with a bench at the front, a mixer and laptop setup on a wooden table, a camera on a tripod, and not too much else. A couple of people noticed some folded-up chairs propped against the back wall, and started to grab them and make their own seating. I followed suit, and was happy to have secured a spot as the thirty or so last of the group made their way in and squished together, standing, against the back wall.
We waited for another ten or so quiet minutes. People had brought their BYO alcohol in with them, and were sipping on beers as they waited for the action to begin. Eventually a French woman, dressed in black skinny jeans, black sneakers and a black singlet top (so Berlin), introduced the artists (including herself) and welcomed everyone to die Ausstellung. She elucidated the premise of her performance art, which was basically using the human body as topography, and using the breath and voice as a soundscape.
Without much of a pause, she began. Her colleague stood behind the laptop and mixer. He was responsible for the echo and reverb of her vocal sounds, which were transmitted via a clear, thin wire and microphone attached to her face.
The first five minutes consisted of slow waving movements with the hands, accompanied by repetitive, monotone ‘huh’ sounds which corresponded to changes in the direction of her hand movements. It was a little tedious.
I worked on my disinterested, Berliner-in-the-Berghain-line gaze, both being actually disinterested, and realising that I was directly front-and-centre in the frame of the videographer behind her.
The artist slowly stepped towards the bench, and then moved to lie underneath it, on the concrete floor. The next ten minutes consisted of more consistent hums, and slow hand strokes atop the bench. I took a chance to look around the room at the audience members. All were using the well-trained nonchalant Berliner gaze. ‘Do I fit in?’ I wondered. I met eyes with a guy around my age, and quickly looked away. I wasn’t there to play stare-down.
After some more impactful moans, the climax came when she pushed the bench up – quite impressively using her abs – so that she moved from lying to standing, and the bench was left propped on its side. She then moved away from the bench. This signalled the start of the hyperventilation session.
Now standing, she began to breathe in and out rapidly. The breath echoed between the white walls. Hyperventilating sounds were layered upon one another by the sound artist, as she improvised a kind of hushed drumbeat and rhythm. I looked for signs of distress, and wondered whether she felt light-headed. No pre-syncopal symptoms were noted, and the panting continued. It continued still, and I decided she was in good shape, cardiovascular-wise.
The end of the panting signalled the beginning of the whistling. Slow, elongated whistles in minor tones were the flavour of the day. Each whistle lasted an entire outward breath, and a pause of around three seconds came between whistles. It was tiresome. My face hurt from not moving and training my disinterested-but-engaged look. I flexed my calves so that I had an outlet for my restlessness. ‘I wonder if they can see my legs on camera?’ I thought.
After some time, the performance came to an abrupt end. I was left wondering what constitutes art, and when is it even cool to say you don’t like art. I suspected that purists would offer me the explanation that I simply didn’t ‘get it’.
As I exited the venue for the intermission, so too did the hipster crowd. They pulled out their tobacco pouches, and some French attendees blew some air kisses as they hovered over one another’s cheeks.
The next part of the exhibition proposed a life-drawing session accompanied by electronic music. I was quite tempted to stay, because the thought of music after such a hollow acoustic experience was enticing, but it wasn’t enough to keep me there. Instead, I opted to wander the streets and enjoy the beautiful orange sunset which was casting glorious shadows along Sonnenallee.