Monday, July 21, 2014

July 21, 2014 - Goodbye Deutschland

Since the opening for H2Oh! I have been even busier than before. My responsibilities for the kunstkreis have been mostly opening and closing the galleries, handing out flyers at events and businesses, and welcoming guests during the open hours. The work has been very relaxing, which has given me a lot of time to get to know the various volunteers of Kunstkreis Gräfelfing. Everyone here has been incredibly kind and generous with me, I am very blesssed to have been awarded this fellowship that has given me such a memorable summer.

So, as most of the world knows, Germany had a pretty memorable summer. Normally I'm not a huge soccer fan, but it was hard not to get swept up in the excitement of the World Cup. After each game that came and went, I saw the nation collectively struggle with a mix of emotions including pride behind a flag, doubt so as to not be too confident, hope for greatness, and frustration with a overly commercialized sport. Nonetheless, when Germany won in the final against Argentina it was a scene to experience and remember. The local professional team here is Bayern Munich, the best team in Germany and easily one of the best in the world (half the national team plays for them). The culture for the sport is strong in Munich, and they showed their support for the German team just as strong. Leopoldstraße, a main street that runs directly to downtown, is regularly closed after wins so the public can celebrate in their own way. I decided to go out with friends after the finale because I knew that it would be a celebration that I couldn't experience anywhere or anytime in the states. It was something to behold.

A little over a week ago I was interviewed by a reporter for Süddeutsche Zeitung. She was unable to attend my short presentation of my work, but we scheduled a time to meet the following day. I assumed it would be a short write up about the Kunstkreis and my involvement with it, maybe a little about my work in particular. The paper is quite large and I guessed it would only be a small article in the local section. When the reporter learned that I was a veteran, our conversation quickly turned to that subject and how it relates to my work. It's pretty normal for people to have questions about that, but not as much in Germany. I could tell that it interested her, but wasn't sure exactly how it would be worked into the article. When the paper came out, I was very surprised. It was published in the "Leute" section, which profiles people with interesting stories. Apparently the top story, published in every copy of Süddeutsche Zeitung, my article and picture took up nearly 2/3 of the page and focused much on my experience in the army. I'm working on a good translation of it, but from everything I can understand and the impression it has had on my friends here it is well written and complimentary. I did not expect to get this much attention here, but I'm so happy for the opportunity.

Still exploring all the art I can, I'll share some thoughts on my favorite two shows I've seen in the last couple of weeks. Unfortunately I don't have any pictures from Dasmaximum, a private gallery near the Chimsee, 2 hours east of Munich. The names of the artists in their current show are impressive - Warhol, Dan Flavin, John Chamberlain, and more - but their space was possibly even more so. In a former car manufacturing facility, it has been remodeled into a magnificent multi-building gallery space that can easily display the massive works currently on display. Our private tour was given in German, so I was mostly left to wander among the work alone and allowed to experience it without any background except for the basic didactic information. I found out halfway through the tour that this is actually the way the director of Dasmaximum prefers his exhibitions to be explored, without explanation, forcing a the viewers to make a cold-read of the work. Like anyone, I get automatic reactions when viewing artwork, but I enjoy disassembling those reactions to understand why. Whether positive or negative, I like pinpointing aspects of work and the impressions they give me. This was a perfect opportunity for this.

The second show that made a big impression on me was the student show at the Kunstakademie. I gave myself about 4 hours to see the show and it was nearly not enough. Simply put, there is just a ton of quality work being churned out there. It spans all mediums, which is probably the most impressive to me. For how much I saw and was moved by, I can't contain my thoughts about it to a single paragraph. I think my photographs could probably show it more easily.

In the first few weeks after arriving in Gräfelfing, I was told about the music festival that happens every summer called Tollwood. I kept it in mind and when I found information on the event I looked at the artist playing, recognizing about half of them and wanting to see about 1/3 of them. The ticket prices kept me from jumping at the opportunity, but because of some strategic questions from Henny of KKG, they decided to gift me a ticket to see the show I wanted to see most, Fat Freddy's Drop. It was an amazing concert, including their opener Yarah Bravo, and the festival atmosphere was really great as well between the food, booths, and music. A big thank you goes to my friends at Kunstkreis Gräfelfing for being so considerate in thinking of me and making sure I have a fantastic, fulfilling time here in Europe.

For my last weekend in Germany I was invited by Marcus to go hiking in the Alps. Seeing them is something I've wanted to do since before I arrived, and it was the perfect opportunity to wave goodbye to the land which has hosted me for the past 2 months. The perfect weather, exercise, and wonderful conversation made for a great morning and afternoon. We had lunch on the top of Wallberg, overlooking the Tegernsee and nearby towns and villages. Philipp and Marcus have become fast friends. While it is sad to leave while we're still getting to know each other well, I am sure it won't be a final goodbye. There are so many great people I have met here that a return trip with Krista is surely in the future, and they know that they will always have a place to stay in America if they ever find themselves there.

The last couple of days have been mostly about tying up loose ends. Packing is much easier for a return trip. I completed my drawing goal yesterday and am very excited to see what turns they take once I get back into a working studio. I will always feel like the drawings started here will have some connection to this land. Some intrinsically do, and perhaps the others only in my memory. Regardless, the time I have spent here has been educational and inspirational in many ways. I'm no stranger to long stretches of work and focus, and it is transitional times like this where I can put into perspective the goals I set for myself and measure my progress. Now returning to Minnesota, I'm sure by the time I've set foot back on American soil I will have fresh goals in mind that will keep me busy through the next year. Even with a grand European adventure in my rear-view, I can't help but be excited for every day of the future.

Friday, July 4, 2014

July 4, 2014 - Catching up

Last post was about two weeks ago, so I guess there is a lot to catch up on. Now is a good time, because the opening for the show was last night. We'll get to that later.

The area around Gräfelfing is quite nice and easily accessible. I visited the Starnberger See a while back during a short holiday. There were many people enjoying a day off, so it was a bit crowded with families and an open-air bazaar. It's nice to have the time to go out alone and blend in with the publc. Since being here, language has not seemed like so much of a barrier as it is an identifier. When around the public I might pick up words and subjects here and there, but the speed and layers of conversations turn it into something like white noise, just pushing me further into my own head as I try to sort/tune it out. When I hear someone speaking English with a clear non-German accent I become immediately aware of how easily identified I am as a foreigner. It doesn't bother me so much, but I now know that casual conversation does not interest me as much as getting to know someone and having meaningful discussion. Incidentally, being a foreigner is equally conducive and hindering to this depending on who I am speaking with.

With the intent to discuss this further, I joined a group on for expatriates living in Munich. We met at a bar and I had a great time meeting with a small group of fellow non-Germans; Fabio from Italy, Bee from Croatia, Jose from Spain, Dionne from Hong Kong, and Samo from ???. Most of our discussions had to do with the differences we saw between countries and cultures. I really enjoy these conversations because of the range of perspectives I get to hear and then assimilate into my own. The variety of opinions are always so intriguing to me. The question I most frequently hear is "what is the biggest difference between America and Germany?" It's hard to know how to respond to that question. I think some people assume to get an answer like language or the metric system - a quick and easily identified difference that doesn't require explanation - but to me it is much more complicated than that. Sitting in the bar surrounded by others who are experiencing culture outside of their own, I entered into deep conversation about the world, Europe vs. America, first vs. third world, military interventionism, etc... It was a great time and I wish I could've stayed out longer. Another night perhaps.

I've still been heading into Munich regularly, getting pretty used to the public transportation here. I made the requisite trip to the Altes Pinakothek. There's only so much of classical paintings that I can take; I feel like I could jog through the entire museum and feel like I got everything I wanted out of it. Although there aren't specific works that grab me and make me interested enough to look at for more than a couple minutes, I feel it is important to still view the collection of works in person in order to see the breadth of subject matter (or lack thereof) and put the period in perspective to the trajectory that art has taken over the course of history. However, there's only so much I can take of figurative paintings of wealthy ladies, wealthy lady with child, crucified jesus, baby jesus, baby jesus, pietà, pietà, pietà... It gets old after only a few rooms. My relief was found mostly in the scattered works by Bosch and Dürer.

I left after a couple hours and met up with Philipp and Marcus to play some hacky sack. After a short while we were joined by a guy from Canada, Adrian. My experience is that something about the nature of the game brings people together. There is no competition in the sport, only encouragement. For the same reason I asked to play with them a few weeks ago, Adrian came up and joined our circle. The bigger the group gets, the more exciting it becomes. Passing gets easier but the hacks more challenging. It's just plain fun, and a good workout too. Philipp presented me with a gift as well, a hacky sack he made in the German colors. I'm honored, because now it's an even better souvenir than I could've hoped.

The world cup has been in full swing and I've enjoyed watching as many games as I can. Philipp invited me to his apartment to watch the Germany vs. USA game which was quite nice, and since Germany won I didn't have to worry about getting locked in and jumped. But for the most part, the convenience of having a TV in my room where I can sit with a beer and work on some drawings has been ideal. Going out is expensive, but I hope to do it for a game at least one more time. Because I've been feeling the impending pressure of my last year of school, my drawings (the only work I can do while here) have been on my mind a lot. Watching the world cup is my time to sit still, relax, and work out my ideas on paper. Something tells me that soccer is somehow affecting this inspiration.

I've had the chance for a few days to assist with the Schule der Phantasie, an after-school art program in Gräfelfing. Taking part in the H2Oh! exhibition, they were making work to be shown in their school and alongside the other artists. My first day we went with the younger children to the Würmtal where they worked and played in the water while we took photos that would be displayed. The following day I spent with the older group working on paintings, photos, and stories. They decided to use one of my photos for their advertising card, which I got a lot of compliments on. It was a lot of fun and I am very happy to assist with so many aspects of this show, and working with kids is always fulfilling for me.

The last week has been pretty much consumed by the installation of the show. I assisted installing at least half of the work, and did pretty much all of the heavy lifting that was needed. It feels good to be active and working with deadlines again, the slowness of the previous month was making me a little antsy. I've learned that I just plain love hard work, and that the lack of it can be frustrating for me. I don't mind long hours as long as I'm accomplishing something and remember to eat and drink water every once in a while. A journalist had come to document and write an article that would be featured in the Süddeutsche Zeitung, a newspaper for southern Germany that includes circulation throughout Europe and even New York, and added a picture of me. She later wrote to Bettina, my host and director of Kunstkreis Gräfelfing, asking if she might write a small piece about myself. I'm giving a short presentation of my work to KKG soon which she will attend, so I'd better brush up and put together something good.

The show looks fantastic and the work is quite impressive. We had a great turnout for the opening, about 325 people over the course of 3 hours. It went very quickly, spread between two locations, but I had a chance to visit with many people and always had a glass of wine in hand - a critical combination for any successful gallery opening. The next few weeks are going to be filled with gallery sitting, talking with visitors about the work and hopefully selling it off the walls. I'll continue drawing as much as possible, trying to meet my own production goals before I return to Minneapolis on the 22nd. :)

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

June 17, 2014 - Munich

The last ten days have been much busier as I have finally found a bit of stride in my daily routine. Work for Kunstkreis Gräfelfing has remained a slow, but I am helping whenever I can. My main task for the past week has been to construct the price and insurance list for the work in the show. It's fairly straightforward computer-work, but it has been nice to familiarize myself with the exhibition that will be going up in the beginning of July. We're distributing flyers and posting banners around town, as well as mailing many hundreds out to people around Germany and the world, getting the word out for the event. The kunstverein has a good reputation for putting on ambitious and exciting shows, so I'm interested to see the turnout.

When I'm not working for the kunstverein I am splitting my time between the bustle of Munich and relaxing in Gräfelfing, thinking and making future plans, reading, sketching, visiting with my hosts, and cuddling with Manu's cats, Feta and Meep-Meep. I keep finding great places to eat with the help of Irmi, Bettina, as well the internet community. The world cup has been fun to watch, and I can't deny that my interest in the sport has increased because of my location. In the future I plan to go into Munich during a game in which Germany plays, maybe the one against the US. I've heard it gets a little crazy, and I can't wait to see it firsthand.

I found out quickly where the touristy spots in Munich are and luckily it's not really too close to where I want to spend my time. The city is fairly sprawling, but I've tried to spend as much time walking as possible, electing not to take the train because of what I might miss in between stops. The museums are just north of the city center, but are huddled together near a few universities, making them easily accessible on a schedule. I've hit most of the places that I'm most interested in, such as a conversation with Matthew Barney at the Haus der Kunst, Pinakothek der Moderne, Museum Brandhorst, Lenbachhaus, and a few scattered galleries through the city. With all the things and places I've been to in the last month I've been able to refine the efficiency of my eye, now able to quickly peruse a gallery of work and identify what I like and don't like, but more importantly why I feel that way. I've been taking as many pictures as possible of the work that interests me, at least in the places where they allow it.

Although the city doesn't seem nearly as old as some of the places I've visited on this trip, I can still find the history. The architecture is sometimes an odd mix of modern and classic styles often sitting right beside each other,  magnifying the contrast. New buildings like Museum Brandhorst are signs of a progressive side of the German art scene, whereas a historical site like Königsplatz still carry all the weight of a community that refuses to completely dispose of its past (and rightfully so). Few places blend modernity and history as seamlessly as the 1972 Olympic stadium and park. It seems to me that the German culture ascribes more to the proverb "those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it" than the American culture does. The psychologist in me regularly contemplates the effect this has on those who grow up here. My impression, at least of the general social psyche, is that they balance it very well with their ambitions for the future. I respect that a lot.

One of my missions while here has been to find a hackey sack in the colors of the German flag. For a country that is so soccer obsessed, this has proven astoundingly difficult. I did however meet a couple guys outside the Pinakothek der Moderne who were playing and decided to ask if I could join. They were totally new to the sport, playing with a brand new bag stuffed full of beads. I did my best to show them a little bit and we got to know each other. In the couple hours we spent playing in the sun I managed not only to show them a few things but also not get burnt to a crisp. Win-win. They showed me a great place to get dinner and then left to study. Marcus and Phillipp are nice and interesting physics students who I'm sure to see a few more times before I leave.

With just over a month left in Europe I am excited to look back on what I've already seen and done. It's hard not to looking forward too much to my return home to see Krista and the rest of my family, to the point where it gets difficult and emotional, but there is so much left to to here that I'm sure it will go by quickly. The one thing for sure is that I'm enjoying my time here and making the most of it. Before I know it I'll be back in the thick of school and stressed out about making a good show of my final year. With less than 12 months before my final graduation it's impossible to not be looking ahead, but I've gotten used to the regular flow of inspiration. The only difficulty now is filtering out the crap and concentrating on the few good, meaningful ideas. At least, I hope they are.