Touristing and Whatnot
Where am I going?
After building up some confidence with the tram it was time to explore and get to know the city of Bremen a little. First was a walk around my new hood, which has a lovely park/garden nearby, a little chilly to just hang out in, but, I will definitely go back when I need a break from both city and apartment. Then I ventured a little further. Seeing as I am here for 3 months and an important objective for me is to produce a good amount of work on this residency. I try to spread out my exploring and adventuring; when I go out I stick to one, maybe two, things in a day. I then spend a day or two at home developing ideas or making work.
Bremen is a pretty small city at 326 km2 with a population of about 550 000 people, in comparison with Durban at 2292 km2 with a population of 590 000. It’s a pipsqueak of a town but, to me, feels ginormous; it doesn’t help that my sense of direction and scale is about as good as a moles eye site. But, let’s not let the size fool anyone, like I imagine many European countries it has far more with regards to art then I have ever experienced. Through my little bit of research, I have found it boasts something like 13 museums, they are not all art museums, it includes the natural history museum, science museum and a few specialty museums but still... 13!!! Add to that at least 23 smaller art galleries, which I am still slowly figuring out and finding where and what they are. Then there are all the other tourist attractions, like a beautiful old Cathedral that sports exquisite artifacts, a very old town hall and town square with a few sculptures. Look, I am a realist when it comes to galleries, quantity is not always quality, so some of the 23 galleries I am sure will be filled with kitsch crap but, even if half are remotely good it will still be more than double what we find in Durban, South Africa. I have only gone to three museums and three Galleries thus far so the jury is still out. I will keep you posted.
I really felt the need to do some touristy site seeing to get a sense of the city. I checked out Bremen’s city guide, which is mainly filled with restaurants and shopping streets, all great but, not what I was itching to do. What I did find was that every day in the town square there is a little market. So, I kitted up and headed out to the town square. This market is mainly filled with fruit and vegetable stores, some cheese and meat, flowers, a coffee place or two and a bakery store. The market was lovely; it had all the fruit and veg you can imagine, including things I had never seen in real life, like boxes of different types of truffles. I was desperate for some fruit so bought myself some apples and tomatoes (only later to find out I can get fruit and veg for free in the kitchen at the retirement home), but was fun to do anyway. I spotted the bakery store and, being a sucker for baked goods, had to buy some rolls for my dinner. I bought two bread rolls for €2,20. I didn’t think anything of it but when I got home and did he math I nearly had heart failure. Thanks to the political card games being played back home that was a whopping R17 for one bread roll. Look it was a delicious bread roll but let’s just say I am eternally grateful for the supply of meals, travel and entrance to museums during my stay here with our exchange rate.
The market was all I had planned for that day but, it was a lot smaller then I had imagined. Apparently from about the 26 November that same square gets filled with the Christmas market which is said to be amazing, I am looking forward to that. So, seeing as I got through the market pretty quickly, I thought I would explore the area. The square is towered over by a medieval Cathedral and Bremen’s famous Town hall. I walk around the outside of the cathedral (St Peters cathedral to be precise) and noticed an open door. I had no idea if I was allowed in but, I figured I would just plead ignorance as a tourist if someone chased me out. Once I was in it seemed as though it is open to the public. European Cathedrals are something else. This particular one was initially build (well, at least in part) between 1043-1072 and then added on and change after that. Needless to say, its old. But, the craftsmanship and detail that was put in to the architecture, and specifically this cathedral, is mind blowing. I won’t talk about everything, here are some of my highlights: You enter the cathedral and you are greeted with a large, low lit room filled with corridors and pews, and high arching ceilings. Now if I had seen nothing else but the ceilings I would have been totally convinced, fulfilled and happy to get back to my apartment. The detail and geometric pattern is just so… satisfying (I know it’s a strange way to describe it, but it seems to be the best way to describe the feeling).
The inside of the cathedral is flanked by stain glass windows, a few nooks, with large scale paintings (honestly, I doubted the authenticity of them, looked like large framed prints, but I could be totally wrong) and a few other original artifacts hung on display. Near the center of the room is a carved wooden spiral staircase, completely covered in embellishment that are meticulously carved by hand. This staircase was just incredible, it made everything else I saw in there totally uninspiring.
After the cathedral, I walked out and admired and photographed what I now know to be the Famous Town Hall. Again, another beautiful, old building. I briefly walked up what they call their butcher street, a very narrow passage way of shops, jewelers and a gallery, before returning home. I will definitely be going back to that gallery in the near future, so I didn’t spend too much time in there.
Right next door to where I stay is the Focke Museum (Folk museum); it houses artifacts that were found in, and are pertinent to the history of, the city. This was my first stop. It was largely what you expect from a history museum, old artifacts on display, like money, jewelry, sand from around the city, mammoth tusks and so on, interesting none the less. I had a very friendly, or very bored, gentleman walk with me through the entire exhibit. Making jokes, explaining what it was I was looking at, or try to make discussion. I learnt a lot more with him being with me but, made it a little difficult to focus with a looming figure behind me. I later discovered that I had only gone into half of this museum so, I will need to have another gander; good thing it is right next door.
My first European Art Museum. The Kunsthalle. This museum is everything I imagined a European/American museum to be, probably smaller than most but larger than any museum I have been to. My understanding is that this museum houses the art collection the city owns, it also has changing exhibitions, mostly of other people’s personal collections (I may have the second half wrong and confused with another museum). This museum has money… I say this not because of the abundance of art with international acclaim, the modern masters, or the sheer size of the museum but, based on the advertising alone. There are huge billboards and posters everywhere you go, advertising the current exhibition. One just can’t miss it. The exhibition that is up at the moment is a German painter, Max Beckmann, classified within the expressionist period, but more figurative than one would usually assume from this period. The exhibition was extensive, rooms upon rooms of his work. His use of bold colours and carnival, celebratory imagery has an undertone of discomfort and horror, well for me anyway. I could appreciate his work, but it was not something I feel will be memorable for me. This museum has 3 floors, the first is for changing exhibitions, the second two are exhibitions of their collections. The second floor, is filled with modern European art, from throughout history, each room has been themed within an art movement and all the big names are there. It was all a bit overwhelming, I can’t believe I am saying this but…there was just too much to look at, I don’t think I really appreciated what was before my eyes, I was too busy being aware that there is another, entire room next to me to get through as well.
The top floor is much smaller and has more contemporary work. Except, I did happen across a good old William Kentridge on the second floor, I had a little proud moment standing before his work. But the rest of the contemporary work was on the top floor. Entering the top floor was, in a way, a moment of relief for me; I don’t think it was because it is art that I can relate to more or because it exists in a similar realm to the work I was trained to make, but more because they were large installations, which needed room to breathe. This simply meant that there was less work on this floor; this gave my eyes, and being, space to contemplate and experience the work. I was also lucky enough to have this entire floor to myself. You are welcomed onto this floor with a glorious John Cage installation, a big empty room with a few chairs dotted around, spot lights and, what feels to be, hundreds of speakers all making different, almost inaudible sounds hung from the ceiling. For those who don’t know, John Cage is an American composer and Artist. The work in this museum is, I think, called, ‘Writing through the essay’. The rest of the work, which was only about 5 other works, were all enjoyable to experience. I will not bore you anymore with more art from here.
I also managed to go to Gerhard Marcks Hause. Both a contemporary sculpture gallery and a museum of Gerhard Marcks, a famous semi-Bremen Artist. The contemporary exhibition was of Michael Kienzer. His work is made up of found objects, mostly metal wood and glass, and seem to be largely about the existence of the objects within space. Very industrial. I quiet enjoyed his work, especially the tactility of his medium and scale.
After all that wondering about I was itching, and I mean itching, to make some artwork, to make anything. I was driving myself, and everyone I spoke to back home, mad because I was beyond frustrated with myself for not making work. They all tried to tell me to stop being ridiculous it is only the first week or so, but, it was driving me mad. Like many artists, I am not a fulfilled person if I am not productive, and I do not feel productive if I am not creating. I was feeling a little stifled because I only brought a few sheets of A3 fabriano (Paper) with me. Enough to make a work, but not enough to explore and mess up with, which was stopping me from even touching them. So off to the art supply store I went, the Gerstaecker. Two trams later, a bit of a walk and I was there. This place is huge; it feels like a warehouse, two stories high, anything you can imagine, any shape/size/colour canvas you want. Any paint brand, paintbrushes, pens, inks etc. you can imagine. A whole section just for clay and ceramic products. And of course, my section of heaven, any paper for any purpose… they have it. It was glorious. Traveling back on the tram with large(ish) sheets of paper (I purposefully didn’t get my usual size because of the travel, but even so) is a sight to behold. I am rather fussy about my paper, and do not like it to be rolled, folded or creased. So, I must have looked like a right loon trying to both protect my paper with my life and not be in the way of everyone else coming and going on the tram…I could feel the eyeballs piercing my skin. But, me and my precious paper got home safely and the making could begin… Hooray!!!
It’s going to be a little difficult talking about my work and what I am doing on this blog. I generally don’t mind showing images of my process (and do so often on my instagram and facebook page), but, talking about it until my ideas and direction is solidified is a little tricky and very uncomfortable for me. I am sure many of you understand the process of art making, if you don’t, to put it simply, what I think I will make and what I end up making are very rarely the same thing. Some ideas and directions materialize others do not. Often I don’t have a very strong concept to start with just a general direction, so I may not discuss this thoroughly until I feel a little more confident. But, for this blog post I will give you a general sense, so when I blog and post about work I am making you will have some context.
I think what I imagined, and what others in discussion with me hinted at, is to come to this residency completely open and empty and allow the space and environment to inspire me. Hmmmm….. great in principle. All that seemed to do for me was create a heck of a lot of pressure. I found it very difficult because this was a totally new place, yes if you are a romantic there is no better way to be inspired then by a new place. But apparently, the romance is dead, I find myself spending more time, trying to navigate and orientate myself in a new city that doesn’t speak English, than being inspired. I think the pressure of knowing that I am meant to be getting inspired, instead of allowing myself to merely absorb and percolate, does not help (completely my own doing, I know). I do believe that art reflects ones environment and I am sure that consciously or subconsciously Bremen and its way of life will filter into the work I produce, but I am not waiting for inspiration to strike, it was making me miserable.
So what I have decided to do is start where I left off; one of my more recent works was a sculpture and a video installation about the tyranny that many a celebration, particularly carnivals across the globe, are born from. Themes of opulence, indulgence and dissatisfaction were also embedded within the work (click here and here to see 'veiled revelry' work in discussion). And these are the key words I have up on my desktop, and the key concepts I am generating ideas around. I do have a work that I am busy with but I will leave that for the next blog post, this is both to create a bit of suspense (hopefully) and truthfully allow me a little more time to try and resolve it before I discuss it. But If you want sneak peeks, with little to no explanation, I try to post often on my instragram account, both in my feed and my stories, as well as on my facebook page...feel free to have a look there.