Sunday, 17 August 2008

Talking of yesterday in today, after waking, before breakfast. Yesterday Cara and I returned to early Berlin, to the diagonals of exploration that first mapped out this city for us. The slants of the streets here are deceptive and very often the compass seems to turn on its axis, so not only does east become south, but north becomes down and west becomes under. We got caught yesterday, caught in the summer rains which seem to threaten each and every afternoon at once, but this great flag of weather allowed us to cower in a bus stop and talk of what we just saw.

Currently at the Neue Nationalgalarie, Hiroshi Sugimoto’s retrospective fills the downstairs floor. This is the second major photography retrospective I have visited recently, Wolfgang Tillman’s Lighter being the other. In comparison, and this is not to dwell on relative merits only differences, Sugimoto’s exhibition was laid out conceptually and with great care to elaborate on an idea.

The interpretive text, rather than giving the traditional over-elaborate, self-important tautologies and artspeak (which I gladly write, but hate to read), gave simple quotations about moments in which a relationship, concept or idea came to him. That was then played out extensively through many example of his work covering the hues of shadows; still monochrome seas; the bringing to life of Dutch portraiture through lit photographs of waxworks; white rectangles bordered by the intricacies of theatre interiors; long-exposure drive-in movie sites; pine trees, blurred, leaning and then cut into huge segments and laid next to each other incongruously; and lightening fields, great dividing sparks like blood vessels captured on photosensitive paper in negative.

In the evening, having barely dried out, I rode over to that big road beyond the park with the name I struggle to remember, let alone spell. The roads were gleaming as my little dynamo threw out an intermittent weak light onto the black surface and it was cold, cold for August in Berlin. In Electronic Church I bore witness to the closing day of an experimental music festival featuring some collaborators and acquaintances of mine.

The loose curation of the festival was about finding the edge of experimentalism in today’s electronic music and the audience, sitting in a rectangular room with high arching ceilings (a church of sorts for sure), were first converted by Stephane Leonard whose set of post-processed crescendos, cuts and stalls held a remarkable depth and dynamic, carrying his work beyond my preconceptions of ‘laptop’ artists. Other artists followed, unnamed here through sheer neglect, and made interesting directions with Berlinesque glitch over glorious treated strings, then microscopic whirrs and static from contact mics trapped between the pages of a book and a less successful demonstration of filters and the fallibility of macs.

Finally Marcel Turkowsky and James Edmonds were brought together in a collaboration that drew on the strengths of both to ascertain a new focus. James, placing organic and man-made objects onto an old portable vinyl player and Marcel, firstly setting off dictaphones and treating them acoustically with movement and placement, built towards a glorious drone of tape static, slowed vinyl loops, acousmatic tones, delayed contact sounds and that old chestnut the mouth-organ-taped-to-a-vacuum-cleaner.

Then the inevitable wet ride home, which seems to take longer and longer as the city – at least in my mind – gets smaller and smaller. Still yesterday was a living proof of how big this city is both in breadth of land and depth of personality. To see buildings you have never seen before, see art that makes you reconsider vision and then hear sounds that require a new mode of listening – what choice is there? Saturday has a new function.