My initial theme for this project was the word ‘Silence’. I had been inspired by Berlin during the Commune, where the air feels heavy with history, and even in the absence of words there is a physical feeling. At first I delved into the history of certain places, but around 3 weeks in I found this to be very limiting. Many of my sources were secondary, books on the Cold War, documentaries and accounts. Also, I found the word ‘silence’ to be far too broad, and in retrospect, I should have made a hypothesis from the start – set myself a question that I would answer throughout the project. However, I did eventually find the question.
One of my main inspirations was a video opera called ‘Three Tales’ by Steve Reich and Beryl Korot – a response to nearly 100 years of modern technology, concerning the explosion of the Hindenburg, US atom bomb testing on Bikini Atoll, and the cloning of Dolly the sheep. I was completely fascinated by the piece. In a similar vein to Rauschenberg and his repetitive images using silkscreens, Reich uses ‘speech melodies’, where certain recorded words or phrases are repeated for dramatic effect. I began to experiment with collage, using the photographs I had taken in Berlin and splicing them together to convey a sense of narrative. At the Topography of Terror in Potsdamer Platz I found a recording of Polish writer Kazimierz Sakowicz talking about the massacres in his neighbourhood of Paneriai. I took some of the phrases and repeated them in my own work, using frottage (cellulose thinners to transfer images) to convey a sense of past, and victims forgotten.
The main theme in ‘Three Tales’ is a Faustian desire for more, the absolute greed of the modern man. My next inspiration came from Doctor Faustus’s prologue, more specifically: ‘till, swoll’n with cunning of a self-conceit, / His waxen wings did mount above his reach, / And, melting, Heavens conspir’d his overthrow’. Inspired by these words and the desire to create something more current, I switched my lens to interrogate the modern man, asking the question: 'Are we flying too close to the sun?' I sought to explore this instead of ‘silence’, changing my title to ‘ICARUS’.
After finding formative inspiration in the work of Parr and Tillmans, with ‘Common Sense’ and the Tate Modern exhibition respectively, I decided to transfer to purely photographic work. Over a two week period I travelled around London, seeking examples of greed, excess and gluttony, at tips, Sloane Street, the funfair, and central London.
In retrospect I would’ve liked my book to be much longer, studying 21st century greed in more depth. I also would've had more fun with it, caring less about the slick outcome - instead - taping pictures in, using collage techniques and interesting textures. If anything, the final outcome was slightly rushed and if I were to begin again, I would set myself an actual hypothesis at the start, tackling a question instead of a broad theme.
THURSDAY 20TH APRIL
Today I experimented with making book covers for my final piece. I knew I wanted to incorporate wax because Icarus was not only my inspiration but also the name of the book itself. At first, I tried to decide what font I would use. The contents of my book are very modern images depicting life in 2017 and the interpolations between new or old that beg the question - are we going too far? In this respect, I thought i should utilise a modern, sans-serif font that would reflect the pages within. Bebas is a font I have used before that is very simple but powerful and punchy. It is the font used for amnesty international. I thought about helvetica but at the end of the day it looked so boring. It is such a boring font. Bebas has an edge, you don't see it all the time.
However, the first page of my book was an extract from the prologue of doctor Faustus, which I'd chosen to show in Baskerville, as it was the same font as the book I'd gotten out of the library - and definitely fit with the mythological/////renaissance feel. In this way, I thought it would be good if I used Baskerville for the front cover too.
Also, today my books arrived! They were 4 hours late, which was nail bitingly stressful. HOWEVER they look amazing in my opinion. My decision to go A3 makes the images so much more powerful, and the fact that I chose non-gloss uncoated paper is so much more aesthetically pleasing. Through my research I knew that was what I would prefer, and I’m so glad I listened to my gut!
As for the binding, I think it works really well. There are some images (I knew this would happen) that fall down the crack of the binding. This wouldn’t have happened if I’d chosen layflat binding but that was £200 more – money that I just don’t have.
In retrospect, there are a few things that I think I definitely rushed. For one, the captions are not thought out on the final page. With a couple more hours I could have really thought about what I wanted each one to be called. But we had to send it off to the printers by 730 so there wasn't really an option for me to change anything or think about anything more deeply. Another thing I would've changed would be the font choice for the captions looking back at it, I have no idea why I chose Futura. Baskerville would've been much more in keeping with the first page of the book (that has the prologue to doctor faustus written in Baskerville).
Another thing I would've spent more time on was the covers. I really think they could have looked more professional if I hadn't used cardboard. As I put the wax on to the cardboard it's see-through and made it look kind of wet, not the look I was going for. If I were to make the book cover again, which I may do seeing as I have three more books that I ordered, I would try the wax on different materials. I think on wood it would look really good, really professional. Just something that the wax wouldn't seep into.
Annoyingly I really do think that I've rushed this project definitely in the final weeks. I think I found the self-directed nature of it really difficult. Definitely, in the middle of the project I felt very lost with no sense of direction, especially since I was making work about the past and I couldn't seem to get involved with any sense of narrative because I couldn't relate to what had happened. As soon as I decided to make my project about current life and a sense of consumerism and materialism and that we see every day, I became much more enthused with it.
I think my main issue was the fact that I took too long to narrow down my project. I tried to do everything, my mind maps were filled with so many different kinds of topics. Even from the beginning I had no sense of direction. The theme of silence was just the broadest theme I could think of because I had no idea what I was doing and no idea what kind of work I wanted to create. I should've just sat down, and committed myself to one brief. I should've set myself a hypothesis, I should've questioned something and sought to find the answer in my work.
TUESDAY 18TH APRIL
Today I met with Umberto to show him the InDesign document for my final publication. I’m really happy about how it’s progressing, especially with the images I’ve been able to procure over the last few weeks. I thought I’d initially let myself down by narrowing it down to a purely photographical piece, instead of incorporating collage and more hands-on techniques.
However, I’ve come to realise that I actually can’t incorporate all of my ideas and processes into a final outcome, and if I did, it would be such a confused final piece instead of being concise and professional.
Also, I understand that photography and layout can be as experimental as collage, and just as fulfilling. The process of laying out the pages has been really exciting and I didn’t think it would be! Choosing the coloured background and deciding how the images should interact with each other has been really exciting. Especially with choosing hero images – really deciding which photo is best and where it should reside within the publication.
Coming back to my regret about not choosing collage, I’ve come to understand that I can keep these ideas for another project – this isn’t the be-all and end-all, I have my whole life to create things and produce outcomes, I can keep these thoughts in my mind and come back to them at a later point.
Me and Umberto talked about the cover of my book. I have been leaning towards making a wax cover, as the name of the book is Icarus and obviously the story is about his waxen wings melting as he gets too close to the sun. However Umberto thought this would give too much of a craft feel, jarring with the slick interior. He thought I should keep the cover very slick, suggesting an all black hardbound for front and back. I just think that is so boring though. If I had the opportunity to create something different, but not many people have seen before, then why wouldn't I?
Also I found inspiration in the book mutant materials in contemporary design, which has a cover made from what looks like resin. I have a bad feeling mine will look nowhere near as professional, but I can give it a go!
SUNDAY 16TH APRIL
Today I went to Chelsea, or more specifically, Sloane Street, to take pictures of window displays. I initially wanted to go to Harrods, but because it was Easter Sunday it was closed. (Very frustrating) (And I don't even have enough time to go back on another day) (Fabulous). When brainstorming how I could document the materialism of the upper middle class, this was the first thing that sprung to mind. Also, there’s something about the nature of mannequins, cold, hard and unmoving that’s not dissimilar to the consumers (in my eyes). Blank eyes, staring out, convincing you to spend your pay day money on a Gucci scarf. The bright colours are so jarring and kitschy I almost love them. I really found exactly what I was looking for.
Interestingly, a window display at La Perla touches on a topic I have always been interested in. The mannequin has impossibly skinny legs, the kind women all over the world pine after. But she’s not real. And yet, she’s admired. She’s plastic! It’s plastic! How can this happen. We are being sold a falsity on every single level.
SATURDAY 15TH APRIL
Today I went to my local tip to take photographs. My main inspiration for this, amongst others was Tillman’s Lampedusa. (pictured below) I’ve always been really interested in obsolescence, and have researched it in many other projects, notably the Building Blocks project where I fashioned a typeface from disused apple products. With that, I sought to show the ridiculousness of the life span of apple products. With this photoset, I hoped to do the same thing.
At the tip, I found a whole breadth of different things that people had thrown out, from seemingly new flat – screen TVs, children’s toys, microwaves, sunglasses and compost. Some sections were more poignant than others. The children’s toys struck a heart string in my heart. Things that were so loved, now covered in dust at the bottom of a pile. It is quite sad, and I want to capture that in my photographs. We are a nation of consumers, obsessed with material goods, with plastics and non-biodegradable objects. These things don’t even make our lives better, they just clutter up our houses.
I think this is especially true with branded clothes and accessories. Why does the fact you have a Michael Kors bag make you feel better about yourself? Why do people feel the absolute need to have one? As soon as they buy it, they’ll probably see someone else walking along with a Gucci bag, and think ‘I wish I had that instead’. There’s no satiation with things like this. It’s never ending. No one is ever satisfied with what they have, and like Icarus, we are constantly striving for more. Gluttony and impatience has taken over our lives in the 21st century.
FRIDAY 14TH APRIL
The other day my brother posed the question: is Icarus’s decision to fly too close to the sun a bad thing? This got me thinking. Obviously, in the myth he dies. But, can his greed be applied to someone or something today? Taking a leap, a leap of faith? The consequences may not be as bad as death, but was it worth it?
Suddenly, I saw the connection between the myth and my oldest friend, Matty. A few weeks ago we went out in Brixton and a boy around our age, maybe 19, mutual friends, starting filming Matty to put on his snapchat story or something like that. You could hear him say things like ‘fucking faggot’ under his breath. Earlier in the night he had gone up to Matty and said ‘what the fuck did you smoke before you came out?’ I assume he was referencing Matty’s outfit, which was a pink plaid skirt, pink top and fishnets. After hours of his abuse, I decided to go up and speak to him, which ended in him getting really aggressive with me and (finally) getting kicked out of the club.
However, this isn’t about me. This is about Matty. He wore what he was comfortable in, to go out in Brixton. Yes, his outfit for many may seem ‘out there’, but to him, it’s the same as a nice pair of jeans to someone else. Matty couldn’t care what other people think about what he wears, it would just be nice for him to go out and not be harassed for it – as IT IS NOT AFFECTING ANYONE ELSE.
Let me say that again: what someone decided to wear DOES NOT AFFECT YOU.
Does this mean that he should never go out in a skirt again? Of course not. It means he should do it more, and more, and even fucking more. In this way, I can align Matty’s character with Icarus, but it is no tragedy. In this respect, it is a story of glory, breaching through the clouds in fucking fishnets and a tiny pink skirt.
Therefore, I decided to take the most fucking badass pictures of Matty, in all his glory – clapping back completely at the low life that decided to harass him. (He rides a scooter at the skatepark and calls himself Connor ‘Conz’ Turbo – just so you know). These photos exude his absolute confidence. He embodies Icarus completely, in the modern day.
I’m really glad that I was able to get another perspective in my book, that wasn’t just doom and gloom. I guess what I’m interested in most is that moment: breaking through the clouds, the motif of being on a precipice, a tipping point. And the decision whether to go for it, not caring if you make a mistake.
TUESDAY 11TH APRIL
Today, I was late for school. A group crit was happening – one of the ones where people leave their work out on the tables and everyone kind of circles around looking at what everyone else has done. However, I did catch the end of it: enough to be really stressed out by the amount of portfolio pages everyone had! I only had two… Some people had like 10 already – madness. There was one piece of work (amongst many) that really stood out to me. A girl had taken a drawing she’d done of her dad when she was a child and recreated it in 3D format. It was such a nice, nostalgic idea. Really simple and effective, reminded me of what they talk about in A Smile In The Mind – it makes the viewer happy, nostalgic and fuzzy! (Silently jealous that my work does the opposite….)
However, this did give me impetus to work differently in the next project I do. I always think too big, as if I’m a bloody world leader or Mother Theresa. Not every piece of work I do has to be a scathing remark on the state of human existence in the past or present. I need to give myself a break (and everyone else). Maybe my next project will be about biscuits? Who knows.
Later, I had a chat with Umberto and one other student. I showed him my two portfolio sheets. One had a collage on it, splicing together the prologue of Faustus with a painting of Icarus fallen down to Earth. The other had some of my recent photographs I’d taken of churches in Central London. Umberto reacted so well to the latter, and almost jumped off his chair to take me into the print room.
He suggested I take my favourite image from the set and screen print it A1. I thought this was a really cool idea and I’d never done screen-printing before so I was both excited and nervous to try it out. Luckily, the technician working on that day was the most accommodating, sweet person ever, and completely lead me through each step. The whole process was so exciting. And the atmosphere in that room was really amazing, full of people just doing what they love, these analogue techniques like lithography and etching. There was music playing and a hum of chatter. It was such a good day! Made me want to stay at CSM next year. (Still haven’t decided).
Each step was so scientific and methodical, which is why I was so glad to have someone helping me along the way. It wasn’t cheap though – came to about £20, but it was definitely worth the money.
Thoughts on making work about the past
Lately I've been finding it really difficult to relate to my work, as it's not current. A common issue in my work, when it's related to things that have happened in the past - is how to make it effective in a modern environment. Especially in terms of research. We are not currently living through the Cold War. I am not living in East Berlin. It's hard for me to make work about something I have never experienced - through mainly second hand sources. That's another point. I'm gleaning all my information through books on the cold war and other people's photos. This isn't current. How can I make people emphasise with something they will never understand - if I can't and I've been researching it for three weeks. It's really -fucking- difficult.
That's why I'm leaning more towards the interplays of how what has happened may affect what's going to happen - in light of Trump and Theresa May, the two lizards taking over the planet.
MONDAY 10 APRIL
I found today quite stressful because in the morning we were looking at everyone else's work. It was nice, as always, to see the breadth of talent and subject matter - but I felt so worried that I hadn't done enough. Also, some pieces were very traditionally 'graphic', one girl had made a 3D typographic piece that revealed silent letters in words like (k)nife and w(rangle). It seemed like such a simple yet effective idea, that anyone could appreciate.
However, I look at this in two ways. I don't really want my work to achieve that. I want my work to be intricate, and mean something to me - instead of a grammar trick that we learnt in primary school. It sounds like I'm being harsh, but at first I felt annoyed at myself for not having such simple quick ideas. i think it's a really cool way of presenting it too, makes it even more effective as the word is only revealed from certain angles. But after wallowing for 5 minutes, I realised that I'm doing something like this current project because I wanted to: I wanted to learn more about the hidden history of this city, I wanted to delve into classic plays and find their correlations with modern life, I wanted to make scathing remarks on the overconsumption of the 21st century. I needed my project to interpolate all my frenzied ideas about today, culminating into pieces that I made with my hands - instead of on illustrator, that had someone actually drawing and doing.
WEEK OF THE 13TH MARCH
I have really found myself in a lull/ rut this week, mostly because I've been finishing a portrait commission that has to be done by the end of the week. However, I can't wait to throw myself back into the project. I've been doing lots of research, mainly into the cold war.
WEEKEND (MARCH 11TH)
Over the weekend I decided to make a short film from the various bits of footage I had recorded at Teufelsberg in Berlin. I never really experiment with film so for me this was both challenging and exciting.
I think what I find the most difficult about making a short film is the editing of clips. There are SO MANY DIFFERENT WAYS THAT YOU CAN EDIT A SHORT FILM. In the same project, I had about 8 different variants. Either:
- I couldn't decide about the cuts between shots, should they be on the beat of the song, or random?
- I couldn't decide on the music itself,
- I couldn't decide on the transition. Should it cut to black before another shot is introduced?
- I couldn't decide on the opening shot, should it be a door to imply a subtle narrative, or should it be my favourite shot?
I was very unsure. Therefore it took me a very long time to decide what was best, I had to ask friends and family what they liked more. At the end of the day though, I think you always have a gut feeling about what looks best, and I think I was just doubting myself as I'm not well versed in video editing.
These are a few of the things I wrote down from the progress tutorial:
- Find different places around London as to collect primary research instead of relying on the photographs you took in Berlin
- Create large pieces of work at the places
- Encourage members of the public to join in with your work
- Make short films, but incorporate more of a narrative instead of moving stills
- Create your own stamps, veer from using the classic stamp.
These were the notes Lucy made:
Feedback on progress
- Your reflection is good where evident, but you have a lot to update
- Your research is not evident at all, please make sure you get it onto Workflow by Wednesday
- You made a good start with your large scale collages, but your activity seems to have waned since then. Your challenge for the remainder of the project will be to build up and maintain a momentum with the work you are doing.
- The film you made in Berlin is sensitively shot and has a nice pace but it almost feels like a collection of stills. Develop another film in a different location with more of a focus on a narrative.
- Your sketchbook is tiny and does not give you enough space to fully explore your ideas.
Action plan and advice
- Update your workflow site regularly with reflection and research
- Continue in a larger sketchbook - even A4 would give you more space to explore ideas, directions, materials, processes, colour, type etc. You need to begin to use your sketchbook as a space to think through what you are doing.
- Identify locations in London that you could work with in the same way as you have worked in Berlin. Explore those sites (visit them, film there, draw, take photos, record your thoughts/feelings)
- Consider what you want your existing collages to communicate. Organise into publications? Use text to direct the focus a bit (i.e. the air was heavy with history)
- Consider type - explore creating your own rubber stamps.
- You talked about orchestrating a collaborative drawing/response to a place in situ. Explore this idea in your sketchbook.
TUESDAY 8TH MARCH
Today we started the two day project with Umberto.
At first I was slightly hesitant about creating a leporello book with four scenes as I felt the content of my subject couldn't be represented in that small a time frame. I thought for a while about what I could make the story, and settled on a representation of a Kazimir's retelling of the massacres in Paneraia. This was a massive struggle as I found it really difficult to illustrate such a difficult subject matter. At first, I started with the motif of crows, as in his story he recounts how the ravens would disperse at the sound of gunshots. I thought about whether there was a way that i could take the motifs of a forest, the massacre, and the ravens, and distill them down into something that was concise and had a clear narrative.
When I got home, I experimented with many different ways of telling the story. Much of my project is about the hidden history of spaces and places throughout the world, and my first idea was to try and illustrate the spaces between the trees in the forest morphing into the shapes of people - the murdered Poles. I found this really hard, as I couldn't find a way to illustrate it without it being too gruesome, even though that was literally what it was about. Also, I thought that my work would never represent the amount of human suffering that had taken place in that forest, and that there was almost no point in me trying, it almost felt offensive. So, I decided to go with the more abstract idea, of the trees in the forest actually being made of crows themselves, and the final storyboard showing them dispersing due to a gunshot. In this way, the notion that something awful had happened was implicit instead of obvious. I also thought about making this into an actual publication, or an animation. If it were the former, I could put the actual words from Kazmir's story on the final page, to show tribute firstly to the lives of the massacred people, and secondly to Kazmir himself.
Sadly I was unable to attend the actual printing in Umberto's class the next day, but I plan to further develop these thoughts and create something complete in the next few days.
One thing that I pondered during the formation of the storyboard, was the difference between my subject matter, and everyone else's. Hardly anyone in my class has tried to tackle something as horrendous as what I'm trying to. This has positives and negatives. In a way, I'm jealous of the lighthearted nature other students are ensuring in their work. However, there's nothing to say I can't create something comic further down the line.
I think the fact I went to Berlin for the commune meant that it was nearly impossible for me to get away from the history of the place. As I've said before, it's as if you can feel the past in the air - it's unavoidable - and in this way I knew it was going to clearly affect my work. I knew the stories I read were going to form the basis of my research, and it's hard to create something lighthearted from a place rooted in such devastation.
However, I do think sometimes the reason why I'm so stumped is because of the subject matter, it's hard to be prolific, when the topic is so sensitive. You really have to plan what you can say and do in a project like this. I think I'm really challenging myself, pushing myself to finally create work about things I've previously been too scared to even consider. For me, and probably other young designers too, this can be said for a lot of topics.
For example, I know I want to make a project about mental health, in particular the battle against depression that myself and so many others have, and continue to go through. But, like the massacres in Paneraia and Hitler's bunker, these subjects are still unavoidably taboo. This is no excuse though, which again is why I'm pushing hard in this final project to create work that I'm proud of, and means something to me.
In the past, it's been easy for me to create something that has little substance, but a polished outcome. For unit 7, as it's so self directed, I want to turn the table completely. Especially because it's so much longer, I want to focus more on making mistakes, forming ideas and exploring materials. I want to delve into my subject matter, so I'm halfway through a book on the Cold War, I'm watching documentaries and finding diary entries. This, for me, is so important and I'm so happy I'm finally doing it, instead of half arsing a meaning after polishing a final product.
I also think working like this is helping me discover who I actually am as a designer, and what I want to achieve in my work.
MONDAY 6TH MARCH
Today was the one day project. We were tasked with creating a piece in that day, that related to our main unit 7 project. I was really proud of the way I worked today, because I really threw myself into what I was doing. I cleared a large space on the floor and decided to work on an extremely large scale. This in itself is really refreshing for me because I’m used to working, especially within graphics, on a small scale - or basically on my laptop. Most of the people in my class were working on their computers. This is something I find extremely limiting, and it’s what I’ve been striving to get away from throughout this project. I’ve been trying to use mostly analogue methods, with workflow (sadly) being the only exception.
On that topic, I do find using workflow really (not physically) painful. I think it’s such an arbitrary way of writing down your thoughts, and the particular server and website is relatively frustrating to use. However, I do think it’s good to note down your daily thoughts, but I would much rather do this in a physical format. Especially for this project.
I had a lot of fun working on the floor and really getting hands on with my work, however it would have been better if I had access to all of my materials, but I can add to the pieces at home.
At the end of the day we went around the room, and looked at everyone’s pieces from the day. The breadth of work, as ever, was so great. There were many pieces that I thought were really successful.
Also, an interesting topic was broached when we were looking at one particular piece, about the successful, or appropriate use of felt in a project. Someone had made an infographic about specific rates in schooling and business, for opposing genders. I thought it was a really interesting piece, and gave a breath of fresh air for the fact that it wasn’t just a run of the mill graph made on illustrator. I find this really banal at times, and the way she’d layered the felt on top of each other was really interesting. However, lots of the critique was about how she should be using digital resources to make her graphs. Although I disagree with this, and think different materials should definitely be explored even if they’re not considered ‘appropriate’, I understand the point that there was little to no correlation between choice of material and subject matter. I think this is an interesting topic of debate.
When we, as designers, make something, we often have to think why were are using a certain material or medium. I don’t know how I feel about this. In a way, yes, sometimes I don’t think we should just use something because we feel like it. But then again, why shouldn’t we – why does everything we produce have to have such a long explanation and causation behind it?
I posed this question to my table:
‘As designers, when we create things, do you find it annoying that there has to be a reason behind everything you are doing, and your decisions about specific materials?’
- Natasha – yes
"Because I normally feel like what I feel like doing, and I don’t have a reason for it".
- Dom – yes
"The fact that everything needs to have a purpose is a load of bullshit, and why can’t we appreciate something just because it looks cool. Aestheticism".
- Sam – yes
"If I wanna make something I wanna make it because it looks nice".
- Liv - yes
"Sometimes you just want to make something because you want to make it. It doesn’t have to have a complete purpose. Sometimes you just want to make something because it looks pretty".
- Michelle (tutor) – I don’t know
"I’m a real believer in meaning. I think it’s really important that every aspect of a project should be relevant to the meaning. I think anything they can add to the meaning can add the purpose".
Dom – "But can’t it just be a pretty picture?"
Michelle – "if the purpose is just pure entertainment and joy, then yes, perhaps".
"I think if you purely want to get to that then that’s a valid reason. But you’d surely still use materials and surfaces to convey that".
I think all of these points are valid, and in some ways I definitely agree with Michelle. The way that you can add meaning to a piece through things like material, or enhance the original meaning, is really clever.
However, with explorative and experimental work, like the work I’m creating at the moment, a lot of times there’s no real ‘reasoning’ behind the textures I’m creating. Sure, I’m being inspired by the graffiti and layering of old and new that exists throughout Berlin, but the process of layering tape onto felt and card – that specifically – has no particular meaning. And I don’t think that’s a particularly bad thing, if I’m honest.
I asked my brother, who is studying architecture.
"It's really necessary to justify what you're doing if you want other people to get involved. But it's not necessary. Sometimes things are interesting to you, but they're not immediately relevant. I don't think it's good to restrict yourself completely. It's good to make rules, then bend them, and think of new rules."
I also asked my father, who is a designer.
"I think that question kind of outlines the difference between artists and designers. An artist doesn't really have to justify decisions and processes. Most designers have to have a good reason for doing pretty much everything."
COMMUNE - REFLECTIVE STATEMENT
We knew before going, that one of the most important things was ensuring that everyone was able to do what they wanted. For example, I really wanted to visit the carpark above the Fuhrerbunker in order to collect primary research for the basis of my project. No one had any issues with it, as we were all happy to do things as a group.
I really wanted to immerse myself in places that were so rich with information. For example, in the Topography of Terror museum, I sat alone for around an hour listening to audio clips of Polish writers, men within the Gestapo and many more, noting down everything and trying to visualise the history in my mind. I think this was really important. For many young people it’s hard to find meters upon meters of text truly engaging, no matter what the subject. However, I knew that this is something that can’t just be glazed over. I wanted to absorb as much as I could, and luckily so did everyone else. We ended up staying around two hours.
Throughout the trip I used my film camera as my means of collecting primary research, as well as noting down transcripts (as mentioned above). However, I wanted much of my research to be physical, and about how I felt in a certain environment, or how it affected us as a group. Berlin is a place that is pregnant with history. The air is heavy with it. You can feel the past of certain places, especially above the Fuhrerbunker, in Teufelsberg and around the remnants of the wall. You are so horrified that something like this could have ever happened, staring between the rows and rows of concrete slabs in the Holocaust memorial. Places like the Jewish Museum are filled wall to wall with narratives, amongst objects held dear to slaughtered Jews. The weight of an object like this, behind the glass, is indescribable. The way it makes you feel is something you can’t put into words, or capture in a picture.
Time to scrapbook
Every night, we allocated the time before dinner to mull over what happened during the day. We used this time to scrapbook, collage and write down our thoughts in our sketchbooks. I found this really helpful as my thoughts were fresh in my mind, ready to be transferred onto the page. There are certain words and phrases that stay in your mind after collecting research in a place like Berlin. ‘Brisk business’, ‘I’m not a communist, what are you doing’, ‘The ravens remain, shots disperse them’ are some I still remember.
Losing my voice
Halfway through the trip, I began to get very ill. I completely lost my voice, and this almost completely tied into the theme of silence. I couldn’t speak. In a group of six, this is ridiculously alienating. I had to hold my hand up, before whispering some input in a conversation. I have no way of knowing what it must feel like to be voiceless, but if this is even what it feels like 0.6%, it’s horrible.
After I lost my voice, I decided to let my body rest while the others went clubbing. Suddenly, I realised I had caught norovirus, and spent the next 12 hours in a delirium, and, you know the rest. What struck me most about this time, and if you’ve had the virus, you know how both debilitating and contagious it is, is how amazing the girls in my group were being towards me. I didn’t want anyone to see me, so my friend Tash sat on the other side of the bathroom door for 4 hours while I slept on the tile floor, just trying to chat to me, trying to get my mind off it.
Today was a really interesting experience. Eva and Rebecca were the visiting speakers, and they gave a presentation about the work they had done in the past. I found the projects they had done with small societies and groups the most inspiring, especially the ones in public spaces. For example, there was a specific project they were working on in Elephant and Castle to help rejuvenate the shopping centre. I think this highlighted how communication and group events can have a really positive impact on residents. I also found the performance pieces Rebecca had done really interesting, and it made me want to push the boundaries of graphics again to try something new and different.
In the second part of the day we tried a really interactive and exciting task which was to get in our groups and create a sculpture out of alginate and the spaces between our clasped hands. This highlighted to me the endless bounds of what we could do during our research time, and how no idea was too wacky. As we waited for the alginate to solidify, we were given questions to mull over and talk through.
I think during the trip to Berlin we should do something similar to this, pick a topic and debate it each night. It’s always interesting to understand other people’s viewpoints on an issue, especially if they are different to your own. I think the interactivity is what made this task really great, and it was definitely more than your average bonding experience!
The group lunch also gave us incentive into how we should be coexisting during the trip to Berlin. This sharing of ideas, food and care throughout the day was really interesting and I think it outlines the basis of working in groups. It was also just really sweet that people had brought in dishes that they’d made, and the amount of care that went into providing for other people.
In the latter part of the day, we were split into our groups again, and had to brainstorm what our Commune manifesto was going to be about. At first, it was really difficult to find some common ground, especially when you don’t know everyone in the group that well. Also, trying to think outside of the box, and trying to make yourself inspired can be very hard. However, as I was writing down random words to spur us on, we broached the subject of old vs. new, which is something I often attack in my work, through discussing over-digitisation of everything etc. Suddenly, everyone was agreeing and we started to form a plan where we would take all our pictures on film, abstain from using any form of social media and try to really immerse ourselves in the experience of going to Berlin, instead of viewing it through a camera lens.
The only thing that worries me slightly about this particular rule is that Dom, someone in the group, will be filming everything, and refused not to use social media. (Which to me makes the whole point of the manifesto kind of useless). However, that’s just one exception.
We also decided that during the trip we’d do a collaborative drawing each night, with the subject being our day in Berlin. I think this is a really good idea as it’s an innovative way of keeping track of what happened. Like a visual journal, which is much more interesting than a ‘Today I…’ kind of thing.
I think this workshop was really helpful and exciting, and definitely got me to think about how I could push the boundaries of traditional research methods during the trip to Berlin.