Postcard from Berlin - Artist in Residence #1 

Issue no4
Aug - Sep 2019
Ziektebeelden

This summer we have invited artists to write a letter or a postcard from their temporary residencies all around the world. Today Graham Kelly looks back on his residency at AIR Berlin at the Alexanderplatz in Berlin.

Dear Reader,

It has been almost a year since I returned from a four-month residency at AIR Berlin Alexanderplatz, supported by the Mondriaan Fund.

I travelled there with the intention to examine the physical infrastructure of the flourishing digital image industry in the rapidly changing city. I wanted to visit the buildings that housed the many 3D animation and visual effects studios that contribute to the bolstering of its economy and the raising of its rents. I planned to link the city’s complex past with its present form.

Superficially, the virtual environment consists only of vectors and surfaces, in that only what is visible is all that exists. This may have been the case in the earliest iterations of computer-generated imagery, but digital space is now a complex interweaving of strata that intersect with the social and political structures of our tangible surroundings.

A player can buy property, clothing (or skins) and weapons with real money in online games. Virtual objects and bodies strive to adhere to the rules of physics of the tangible environment as they fall and fragment. Recent elections and referendums have been heavily influenced through the algorithmic selection and concealment of (mis)information. The boundaries between virtual and tangible spaces are becoming increasingly blurred.

During the residency, I discovered two objects in the special effects archive of Berlin’s Deutsche Kinemathek Museum of Film and Television. One was a cast of the skull of the original armature for the stop-motion model of King Kong (Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack, 1933). The other was a silicone mask constructed for Kevin Bacon’s computer-generated invisible character in Hollow Man (Paul Verhoeven, 2000). It struck me that these two objects encapsulated a dichotomy of surface and content in the cinematic image.

The internal object (King Kong skull) props up the problematic ideology of the original film and its subsequent sequels and remakes. It is physical matter pulled into the image environment. The external object (Hollow Man mask) provides a means of physically manifesting a computer-generated (CG) effect. It draws the CG image out into the real world by acting as its host or container.

These objects respectively embody the bones and skin that constitute and animate the cultural cinematic entity. The abstract flesh and blood that flows between them is impossible to pin down. Moving images hang from their (subjective) cultural and political pasts and are constrained by their physical boundaries (screens). Everything in between remains in a state of flux.

Likewise, the buildings that house the digital image production studios in Berlin both support and constrain the flesh and blood of the image space. Flows of ideologies constantly stream through their stone and steel structures. Each new commercial inhabitant of the city, from a range of industries, assert their brands and slogans (often in English) on the surfaces of their buildings. The cityscape looks more and more like the wallpaper image of a cluttered desktop.

It takes the human body around ten years to regenerate an entire bone, while non-injured skin tissue will regenerate in two weeks. The estimated average lifespan of an iPhone is four years and three months.

Graham Kelly, 2019

With thanks to AIR Berlin Alexanderplatz, Deutsche Kinemathek Museum of Film and Television, and the Mondriaan Fund

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Magazine
Metropolis M Magazine for contemporary art No 4 — 2019