See the Light: James Turrell in Berlin

James Turrell, Ganzfeld Aural, 2018; © Jewish Museum Berlin, gift of Dieter and Si Rosenkranz, photo: Florian Holzherr

James Turrell, Ganzfeld Aural, 2018; © Jewish Museum Berlin, gift of Dieter and Si Rosenkranz, photo: Florian Holzherr

By Sara Bellini:

The way we experience space is connected with the way we perceive light. A thick fog, complete darkness, disco lights give a different depth to a place, which in turn influences the way we exist in it and our internal space. Our perception of space and light is what James Turrell has been exploring in his art for the past five decades.

This summer Berlin has the privilege to host two of his site-specific installations, among the many dispersed all over the globe (Roden Crater deserves a read). The first opened at the Jewish Museum in April 2018 and will be open until 30 September this year. “Aural” is part of the Ganzfeld series and consists of a room infused with homogeneous, coloured light. The eye needs time to adjust and the lack of walls or any other object can be disorientating. James Turrell wants to leave you alone with your looking and your awareness of yourself taking in the light. In a space without landmarks, perception is all.

The second installation is located inside a burial chapel in the Dorotheenstädtischer cemetery, in itself a place of significance in Berlin. Located next to Bertolt Brecht’s house, this graveyard is the burial place of the poet and playwright and of other famous Germans, such as Christa Wolf, Helene Weigel, Hegel and Fichte. It is hidden from the main entrance on the Chausseestraße behind the older Huguenot cemetery, and the bricks of the Humboldt University’s north campus are visible beyond the back wall. The church itself was built at the beginning of the 20th century and was renovated several times before the 2015 reopening. The studio of the architect Nedelykov Moreira has worked with James Turrell to come up with a modern minimal design that wouldn’t distract from the light show.

With ten light programmes that change according to the liturgical calendar and fifteen light moods, James Turrell’s installation works closely with the shades of the sunset. For this reason, and because of the late summer sunsets, the light show has different entry times during the year and is closed in July and August. You find yourself sitting in a place that looks like an anonymous church, gazing at the complementary colours of the lights positioned in the aps, transept, nave, narthex and walls, convincing yourself that the glass of the windows themselves must be stained this or that colour, only to change your mind a light mood later. Then you go out in the fading daylight, you look at the sky and for a moment you have the illusion that the neon have permeated your retina. Subjective perception is all.

***

Both shows have limited access so check tickets availability and opening times:
James Turrell at the Jewish Museum
James Turrell at the Dorotheenstädtischer Friedhof

Five Questions for... Vanessa Berry

Harbour Bridges_Teacup_detail_lo.jpg

Interview by Sara Bellini:

We love zines, maps, psychogeography and archives, which is why we really wanted to speak to Vanessa Berry. She started making zines in the 1990s and is the creator of the long-running Disposable Camera, the last issue of which was published a few days ago. Besides making zines Vanessa writes a psychogeography blog Mirror Sydney, exploring “the marginal places and details of the city of Sydney” and in 2017 she also published a collection of essays and hand-drawn maps with the omonimous title.

Vanessa’s work is equally autobiographical and historical, exploring her personal relationship with place and memory as well as the stories that belong to a specific place. In the case of Australia where the pre-colonial memory of the island has been highly disregarded, Vanessa always writes “with acknowledgement of the Aboriginal lands”, reminding us that we should always be respectful of spaces that we share with others and that many others before us have respectfully preserved.

Vanessa’s newest project is a book of essays on place, memory and relationships with animals and the 20th anniversary issue of her other zine I am a Camera.

What does home mean to you?

My connection to the physical environment is strong and deeply-felt and always has been. I attribute this to being a quiet and introspective person, an observer who has always felt a kinship with the environment around me - its objects, creatures, details, changes, daily rhythms - as much as with other people. I do a lot of work at home, in a small and cluttered room amid piles of books and papers, and this is probably where I feel most at home. Although writing is also a kind of home for me, if you see me with a notebook open and I'm writing in it, know that this is when I feel most connected with the world. Perhaps that's what home means to me: feeling connected to where I am, wherever that be.

Which place do you have a special connection to?

My mental map of Sydney is made up of many such places I feel a special connection to. Generally they fall under the categories of anomalies, places of respite and places of solace. In the latter category there's a particular headland overlooking the Pacific Ocean that I go to at times of significance or difficulty. The city's eastern edge is a long stretch of coastline, scalloped into bays and beaches between sandstone cliffs. The approach to this particular headland is a stretch of parkland which rises up to a rocky outcrop. I sit on the grass and watch the magpies which patrol it. A group of them live here, and whenever I am there I see them moving across the lawn, heads cocked, listening for insects under the soil. One time, when I was sitting on the rocks, they assembled in front of me and all started singing, which felt like a gift from them and from this place, which never fails to make my spirit feel lighter.

What is beyond your front door?

Having lived in the same house for almost a decade, this scene is now permanently established in my mind's eye and I could describe it to the utmost detail, however I will keep it brief: a low brick fence with a crooked front gate made of wrought iron shaped into hearts and curls. Beyond this, lining the street, is a row of native fig trees. Directly across from the house is an olive-green metal box a few metres long which I like to imagine holds the street's secrets, but is actually an electricity substation. At the corner of the yard is a hibiscus tree which is often in flower. People like to pick them as they walk past and I don't have the heart to tell them that once you do, the flowers close up very quickly.

What are you reading / watching / listening to / looking at right now?

I am writing this answer on a plane which is flying over a scene below where the land meets the sea in an outline of bays and rivers, and the sun has dispersed to an orange glow on the horizon. I'm listening to the new Gwenno album, Le Kov. Tucked into the seat pocket in front of me is How to Write an Autobiographical Novel by Alexander Chee and an issue of Elementum. My watching, for now, is all out the oval frame of the plane window, thinking about the ocean below, the atmosphere above, and how it feels to be suspended in between.

Vanessa Berry's blog
Instagram
Twitter

Five Questions for... Cosmo Sheldrake

Interview by Sara Bellini:

The first time I saw Cosmo Sheldrake performing I could detect an intriguing mix of musical influences and yet he sounded like nothing I had heard before. This singer-songwriter / composer / multi-instrumentalist from London makes music combining field recordings of endangered animals and his own vocal improvisations. Luckily he has the nice habit of telling his listeners the stories behind his songs, accompanied by music samples of the various musicians in his wildlife orchestra…  “and on the bass, the long-eared owl” or “this is what a healthy coral reef sounds like”.

Cosmo Sheldrake grew up in a creative environment between music and nature, has a background in anthropology and a body of work that includes composing music for Beckett’s plays and the soundtrack of the Netflix series Moving Art. His first solo record The much much how how and I was released in 2018, following the EP Pelicans We and the single The Moss. His current work about endangered bird species brought him to a collaboration with Extinction Rebellion last month in London, where he played a song made entirely of recordings of endangered British birds, streamed live on smartphones and portable speakers. At the beginning of May he released Owl Song and Dawn Chorus.

Cosmo Sheldrake is “really interested in capturing a sense of place in music” and in particular in making “ecological music, music that emerges from a particular place or ecosystem”, which made him a great choice for an Elsewhere interview. Here’s how he replied to our Five Questions…

What does home mean to you?

Hard to answer that concisely as it’s a big question. But I grew up in a house that I still spend a lot of time in and make music in. So, I have been lucky to put down roots in that place and have a real connection with it. So the simplest answer would probably be the place I grew up.

Which place do you have a special connection to?

I have a special connection with lots of places. But one that pops to mind is an island in British Columbia that I have gone to more or less every year since I was born. Feels like a second home. It very much feels like I have done a lot of my growing up there.

What is beyond your front door?

Well I live in Seven Sisters (North London), so a reasonably busy road. But outside the front door of my studio and the house I grew up in is Hampstead Heath. It’s the closest you can get to not being in London while being in London, a thousand acres of fairly wild land. Another place I have a very special connection to.

What place would you most like to visit?

Ooooh, so many! Just to pick the first one that popped into my mind, Colombia.  

What are you reading / watching / listening to / looking at right now? 

Right now, I have about six or seven books on the go. I am reading a book called Imagining Extinction by Ursula K. Heise. It’s about how people have responded to ideas around extinction, a sort of anthropology of extinction.

Another one in the pile is Air and Dreams: An Essay on the Imagination of Movement, by Gaston Bachelard. He is hard to really pigeonhole but I guess he is a kind of philosopher of poetry and much more. Another one I am racing through at the moment is a book called The Invention of Nature: The Adventures of Alexander von Humboldt, the Lost Hero of Science by Andrea Wulf. Which is a brilliant book about Alexander von Humboldt, who was an absolutely extraordinary man. A total visionary, the book is about how the idea of nature that we more or less take for granted is largely to do with his work and discoveries. He was in a sense one of the first ecologists (in a modern scientific sense).

I am also reading a book called Getting Started in Radio Astronomy, which I guess is fairly self-explanatory. I want to build my own antennae and start recording sounds of space.  Have a few more I am chewing through also. I find it impossible to read one book at once. One more that I am not reading at the moment but is a great book on the nature of place is a book called Wisdom Sits in Places: Language and Landscape Among the Western Apache by Keith Basso.

***

Find out more about Cosmo Sheldrake via his website and on twitter.

Sara Bellini is the online editor of Elsewhere: A Journal of Place. She lives in Berlin, the place she calls home at the moment.

The Fabric of Place: Yinka Shonibare's The British Library

The British Library, 2014, by Yinka Shonibare, Tate Modern 2019 © Yinka Shonibare. Photograph Oliver Cowling, Tate. Purchased with Art Fund support and funds provided by the Tate International Council, the Africa Acquisitions Committee, Wendy Fisher and THE EKARD COLLECTION, 2019

The British Library, 2014, by Yinka Shonibare, Tate Modern 2019 © Yinka Shonibare. Photograph Oliver Cowling, Tate. Purchased with Art Fund support and funds provided by the Tate International Council, the Africa Acquisitions Committee, Wendy Fisher and THE EKARD COLLECTION, 2019

By Sara Bellini

It was 2014, during what ended up being my final months in England before leaving for good. In my attempts to deal with work-related stress I started taking day trips to escape central London, and it was thanks to two of these trips I came to know the work of Yinka Shonibare.

Without knowing it at the time, my first encounter with his art dated back to my very first week in the country in 2011. His work Nelson's Ship in a Bottle was on display on Trafalgar Square’s Fourth Plinth, with its colourful sails made of the artist's signature Dutch wax fabric. The fabric (and the meanings behind it) would be the detail that stuck with me during the years, while the photos I took got lost in my poorly managed digital memory.

Dutch wax fabric visually identifies West Africa, including Shonibare's parents' native Nigeria, where he also lived as a child before moving back to the UK to study. What I didn't know about this textile is how complex its ties with colonisation, globalisation and identity are.

Dutch wax fabric takes one of its names from the Dutch merchants that started mass-producing it in the late 19th century, when it was first introduced to Africa through naval commercial routes. Their model was batik, a wax-resist dyed cloth from Indonesia, a Dutch colony until 1949. The initial purpose of the merchants was to break into the batik market with cheaper fabrics, but they couldn't compete with the original hand-made prints. Meanwhile the African market was prospering, driven by ex members of the Royal Netherlands East Indies Army in Indonesia who had returned to the Dutch Gold Coast in West Africa. Other European countries started making Dutch wax fabric and eventually local companies developed more African-inspired patterns. When African countries gained independence from their former oppressors after WWII, African wax print had interwoven its role into various African communities, especially in the West, enriched with local meanings and customs.

This is how we get to a British contemporary artist, born from Nigerian parents who had moved to the UK in post-colonial times. Shonibare explores all these themes in his works: (post-)colonialism, multiculturalism, history, identity.

The two exhibitions I saw when I was still living in London were at Royal Museums Greenwich and the installation The British Library at Brighton Museum. The British Library is a room lined up with bookcases where each book is covered in Dutch wax print and their spines carry the names of immigrants and children of immigrants that had made contributions to British culture. A computer was available to explore the library and find out about Zaha Hadid, Hans Holbein, Noel Gallagher and more famous and less famous names.

At the beginning of April 2019, Yinka Shonibare's work The British Library was purchased by Tate Modern. Another work from the same series, The African Library, is on display in the exhibition Trade Winds at the Norval Foundation in Cape Town until August 2019.