wanderlust

Berlin Air: Inside An Artist Residency

Artist residencies exist for artists at many stages in their career.  Emerging artist, established artist, undergraduate, 'youth' prizes and professional competitions – there are many ways which we pigeonhole the varying stages of an arts practice. Yet it is often hard to find that place in between those classifications and to get the chance to move from one bounding point to the next. Often, an artist must have an already impressive portfolio riding on their shoulders before they can get a look into a residency. Künstlerhaus Bethanien, one of the most well known residencies in Berlin, for example, is held in high regard – but if you don't have that truck of experience behind you, it’s probably not worth the bother.

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There are of course a few residencies that will nurture more emerging practices or seek to bridge that gap between professional and emerging artists. GlogauAIR is one of them. I decided to get a look inside and find out what brought some of its current residents to Berlin.

Back To The Future

GlogauAIR is a place where moving forward in one's artistic practice ironically might feel a little like going backwards. Just when most of these residents were not so far out of a University education, it's back to the institution atmosphere.

Working and living at GlogauAIR. Photo: Lara Merrington

Designed in 1896 by architect Ludwig Hoffmann (most famously known for his designs of the Pergamon and Märkisches Museums) the residency utilizes what were former school buildings. The converted classrooms now operate as studios, housing up to ten live-in residents at a time. The whole place retains a certain academy vibe, where the architecture and history of the building seem be soaked into the atmosphere of the place even though it hasn't existed as a school for many years.

Irene Pascual, the jovial director is warm and welcoming. I asked her what makes GlogauAIR special amongst the many art residencies out here in Berlin. The difference, she tells me, is that they like encouraging not necessarily artists with a huge portfolio, but rather those who have a very strong idea of their work and possess a drive and passion to do it – in short: a long list of exhibitions up your sleeve won't guarantee you a place here.  Since its initiation in 2006, the intention of GlogauAIR has been to foster artists who can share their practice and encourage a mutual space for experimentation. There is also no particular focus on any artistic discipline here, which helps even the most experimental outcasts of the bunch.

At GloguAIR: Smells like a school but tastes like home. Photo: Lara Merrington

The reasons behind doing an artist residency varies from resident to resident. However, the chance to put oneself on an international scale seems to be a general similarity, along with the chance to create new networks and inspire new ideas. For some, it brings the opportunity to have a solitary space away from daily distractions, while for others it serves as a collaborative space for practice where new skills, work methods and artistic connections are forged.

Meeting The New Residents

Even though Berlin has some fairly obvious drawbacks, geographically and culturally for doing a residency here, I was interested in how it fits the practice of the residents and if they have sensed Berlin's influence in their work.

Yasmina Lahjij at GlogauAIR. Photo: Lara Merrington

Yasmina Lahjij, a young Parisian artist, has left the institutional gallery world of France behind to concentrate on her practice here. Berlin might take a while to seep into her studio though, as her living and working space feels very Parisian still: Yves Saint Laurent glasses sit on the windowsill, a French candle on her desk, and a carefully curated bookshelf of stylish trinkets and clothes. Her most recent series, "Butchery," consists of nine individual incredibly intricate yet simplistic drawings of cuts of meat on butcher's paper. Beyond meticulous and laborious, Yasmina says drawing is, "A space where she can allow herself to think in a meditative way, as a sort of opposition to the world’s fast-paced rhythm."

Drawings by Yasmina Lahjij at GlogauAIR. Photo: Lara Merrington

In Berlin, her muse is the Berlin Medizinhistorisches Museum. In her fragile and delicate aesthetic, she will concentrate on illustrating medical instruments, giving a tactile and intimate depiction of a sterile object used for such intimate processes. She sees this residency as a valuable time in experiencing a supportive core within the art jungle that is Berlin.

One floor below, I go to meet Matt Reynolds from California. He came to Berlin because it was, "Simply the best art scene in the world." His room is colorful, messy, and full of stuff and character – just like his work. Currently, he is exhibiting in the vitrine of GlogauAIR, a space that residents can use to make small exhibitions and showcase their work directly at street level.

The vitrine at GlogauAIR with work by Matt Reynolds. Photo: Lara Merrington

Enjoying the chance to interact with passersby who happen upon his work in their daily commute, the piece changes almost every two to three days. In form, Matt has modeled it on inspiration from visiting the Pergamon Museum: it is a pile of neatly stacked bricks that retains the unique materiality and fun of his other works. Each brick is made from foam, painted in bright colors, varnished and then covered with hair he especially ordered from Amazon (its more "workable" this way, apparently).

Matt Reynolds  at GlogauAIR. Photo: Lara Merrington

He admits his works don't go so deep into concept but work much more with inspiration form the tactility of his environments. Found objects often form the basic shapes for his pieces that then transform into strange monsters, abstract shapes; anatomical forms made in an organic manner.

First-timer (in Berlin) Elizabeth Glaessner has done a few other residencies already but came here from New York for an injection of inspiration and a challenge. Initially, she felt that Berlin might not influence her work so much as it would be great to be living and working here. She is currently working on a mix of painting and installation creating imagined landscapes.

Elizabeth Glaessner with her imagined landscapes. Photo: Lara Merrington

Traveling to and working in new and unknown places will almost certainly influence any artist's practice, whether they are open to it or not, and whether that is immediate in the work produced or becomes apparent much later down the road. So it will be interesting to see what Elizabeth, Matt, Yasmina, and the other residents produce in the near future. We'll be fortunate to see these changes during the open studios coming up at the end of this month.

As Irene tells me,"The most important aspect of any residency is the chance to put one's work into a global context." For her, the most satisfying aspect of working in the residency for the past few years is seeing the progression of the artists from beginning to end – that the inspirations and connections they make "enhance their palette of colors, making their individual color clearer."

In the last five years, artist residencies across the globe have become hugely popular. Residencies are popping up everywhere, from grassroots level organizations to established institutions to secluded getaways in coffee plantations. It's a jungle out there once you start looking, but Berlin is a pretty great place to start!

Article by Lara Merrington