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Color Mobile by Martin Vosswinkel

Color Mobiles in Berlin

by Martin Vosswinkle

Originally published in Up Art: The Newspaper of the Bremen Federation of Artists, No. 25 (March 2008). 

Translated from the German by Christina Price Washington.

I was told along the way that it would be better to arrive during the daytime since it would be difficult to find the studio, which was located in the back of a courtyard, in the dark. Naturally, I arrive in the evening and it is dark. The directions were so clear, however, that I found the studio within minutes. When I enter, I find myself in an empty space which is going to be my base for the next three months. It is difficult to describe what all was going through my head when I first turned on the light. Pure luck, perhaps? I like the room as empty as it is, as clear and minimal as many of my paintings. I would prefer not to add anything to this room. Just to be in an empty room for three months. In this moment, I realize that I have taken too many things from my studio at home. Not just materials but also ideas I wanted to turn into art. Now I meet this room, and am suddenly in the middle of the artistic process. I take lots of time to unload. I document photographically every change I make to the room with each thing I place in it. While I carry my especially huge aluminum sheets, I think that since I will inevitably pack them back up, unworked, in three months I could just as well leave them in the car. Of course, the painter in me wins and they stay in the studio.

After a couple of days of painting, the question arises of what sense it makes to move the studio 400 km to the east just to do the same thing as always. I have to get out. The city is pulling me like a huge magnet. On my first scouting trip, the backside of a billboard immediately catches my eye. It is empty, and the sky is reflecting in the metal background, so that the surface seems to be transparent. I notice the red frame and think about “Gates,” a series of my paintings whose monochromatic, empty centers also work with filigrees of color around their edges. The city defines a moment in me and I decide in that moment to find my paintings in the city or bring them into the urban environment.

In the following days I walk in all directions through the city and obsessively photograph billboards. I am not at all interested in their content but, rather, in the spacial situations in which they appear and what they contribute to the composition of the environment. I am especially fond of those that are lit at night. They seem unreal, like oversized bedside lamps which throw their reflecting colored light onto the street and suggest an intimate atmosphere.

Back at the studio, the commercial content of the billboards is removed and replaced with a brilliant surface of color. I also get in touch with advertising agencies to see if it would be possible to place my designs in certain spots. But they need more lead time, which means it would only be possible to place this kind of work in the urban space at a later point in 2008.

After the first round of photos in the early morning, I warm up in a bistro. Between coffee, croissants, pilsner, and sausage, Berliners engage in their daily discussion of politics. Everybody finds something to complain about. A retiree places his cup of coffee on the bar and adds to a heated conversation, “I’ve been told that the Eskimos aren’t happy with their government, either.” I find myself thinking, “There’s the dry Berlin humor I love.”

As I photograph subway and street car stations, security guards ask me to stop. I need permission. The next day, I speak to somebody on the phone who seems to be in charge and who informs me that this is absolute nonsense. He sees it as an act of art documentation or souvenir photography, and either is allowed. He gives me his cellphone number in case of an emergency.

The following evening, I take pictures for several hours at the Gesundbrunnen train station when a guy with a bitter face and aggressive tone of voice approaches me and asks what I am taking pictures of. I start to say that I have permission, but I end up saying that I am an artist. His face relaxes and produces a smile. Oh, an artist, he says, as he walks away, his sister’s boyfriend is also an artist. To be an artist in Berlin seems to be a type of hall pass, since everybody knows somebody who is an artist.

Meanwhile, I’m asking myself just what I am doing in Berlin, and my still unworked aluminum panels seem to ask me the same thing. Cornelia Wichtendahl, my gallerist, encourages me to pursue the projects I have started.

Martin Vosswinkel, Color Mobiles in Berlin.

In December, I start touring my “color mobiles” through the area called Wedding. I began this project in the summer during the gallery days in Berlin: colorful squares are placed onto everyday vehicles like a wheelbarrow or a shopping cart. They are pushed through the city and photographed to explore different spacial situations. For brief periods of time, the “color mobile” forms an installation or an urban color field that disolves only to reform anew a few meters away - the movement of a specific painting in space. A few streets in Wedding seem to be abandoned. Even so, because many window shutters are closed, offering quietly colored surfaces, a clear composition emerges.

On Sunday, I make my way towards the Bundestag with another color mobile. I try to photograph it in front of a big concrete wall opposite of the Bundestag, but the wind is so strong that it keeps knocking it over just before I take the picture.

There are surveillance cameras everywhere. I wonder what the guards must think when they see me on their monitors, but nobody comes and asks me what I am doing. On the fifth try, I succeed. But when I leave, a bus with tinted windows follows me at a walking pace. When I sit on a bench, they stop. After a few minutes, they lose interest and move on.

Of course, I saw a lot of exhibitions, visited museums, and went to openings. The Brice Marden retrospective at the Hamburger Bahnhof was excellent, but I had seen it in the fall.

Jannis Kounellis’s “Labyrinth” at the Neue Gallerie and, of course, Jeff Wall at the German Guggenheim - especially his light boxes. Perhaps the one that stayed with me the most was Karin Sander’s exhibition at Studio Sassa Truelzsch, a small project-room with only one piece made out of white chocolate that looked like a small monochromatic painting on linen. Also worth seeing is the popular new gallery quarter on Heidenstrasse across from the central train station, where large and small galleries and artist’s studios disport themselves.

It was worth visiting the Galleriehaus on Lindenstrasse and seeing a group exhibition at Krammig H Pepper on my last evening. After the opening, we visited a little bar with Nicholas Bodden, Barbara Rosengarth, the gallerists and their artists—a fitting finale for my time in Berlin.

As I carry the big unfinished aluminium sheets back to my car, I think that it was good to follow the momentum of the city. Berlin has changed the way I view things. I would like to come back.

Martin Vosswinkel is an artist who lives and works in Bremen, Germany. 

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