‘Berlin One City’ is the latest exhibition of the Netherland artist Birgit Stigter in which she’s combining architecture, photography and special techniques to create mixed media art works. Showcasing at the historical Kaisersaal at Potsdamer Platz, Stigter presents a new kind of historical-beauty-meets-modern-day-Berlin in her collection, inspired by the movie “Himmel über Berlin”. We had a few questions and walked with her through the universe of a powerful woman and her inspiring art.
Tell us more about your personal mind space and the way you process ideas for a new project?
Berlin is like a history book, full of unique and interesting stories. The challenge is to focus on useful information without being inundated by excess contextual information. With each new project, I use a combination of history books, media and conversations with experts to clarify my ideas. I start with an idea in mind, but I don’t always know where I’ll end up. I like to take risks and let the story show itself. Sometimes a photo tells me the story afterwards (e.g., The Bösebrücke).
How important is your cultural background for your work and yourself?
I grew up in a country where freedom, open-mindedness and curiosity are cultural values. Although everyone lives close together, we give a lot of space to each other, especially when it comes to being allowed to express ourselves. This freedom is fundamental to my work. Additionally, I have been influenced by the landscape. Water is a crucial component to daily life in the Netherlands, whether as the cause of disastrous events, such as the 1953 North Sea Flood, or as a source of leisure, such as sailing and swimming. Water is a theme that is often woven into my work, such as with the bridges portrayed in my current exhibition. These aspects of home are part of me and I take them wherever I go, like luggage.
Although everyone lives close together, we give a lot of space to each other, especially when it comes to being allowed to express ourselves
How do you perceive the city today ?
Berlin is an ever-changing urban environment, full of life, fresh start-ups, new ingenious ideas and architectural interpretations and a social culture to match it. Roughly ten years ago, I travelled back and forth to visit Berlin, to familiarise myself with the people, and to learn what the city had gone through over the years. Now having lived and worked here for five years, I see that it has become a more vibrant city and is drawing more people and business. You can see this with the increase in investment opportunities and real estate prices. In many ways it still retains some of that distinct island feeling–not so much from the rather dark days of the cold war, but as an open-minded oasis in the middle of a somewhat conservative Germany. This is a place where almost anything is accepted and one has the chance to reveal who they really are. In my eyes at least Berlin is the centre of Europe for cultural diversity, the arts and the future, much like what Brussels is to politics.
Some of the art is inspired by Wim Wenders ‘Himmel über Berlin’ What triggered you to make this series in black and white, (as Berlin can be so colourful)?
For me, black / white is also color. It consists of shades of gray tones. Nowadays we ́re so overloaded with colored images, and at such an unprecedented speed, that we forget to appreciate what more subtle black and white images are like, which adds a certain stillness and focus to the work. Black and white photos are like a poem to me. You pay more attention to the words in order to figure out the deeper meaning behind the artist’s choice. In other words, you see more when you take the time to understand and appreciate what you ́re looking at.
Is there something about the city, which you don’t like at all?
Berlin no longer has an old center like London or Paris. You have different districts in this city and these are very different from each other. Each with their own character. If I am not allowed to do something in a city, I will go somewhere else. Because of the different sides that this city has, it also makes the city more exciting. It is also always going on here, by the Berliners and by the people from outside who come here for the many events, clubs, street parties, theaters, openings. A city that was previously divided is now one.
Could you elaborate the needle technique, which you were using as part of the mixed media artworks?
The needle technique has become an important part of my work. The concrete and direct image that you see with my photos can be depicted more abstractly or surrealistically with the needle drawings. This way I can add elements that cannot be photographed. I utilise the same material, the needle, to scratch into the outer layer of the photo, without actually losing the quality of the picture taken neither damaging it. The surface of the photo changes, when you scratch onto the photo it´s definitive and there’s no way back, so I cannot afford any mistakes, perhaps this also embodies my perfectionist personality side. The closest analogy for comparison sake one could make would be a sculptor carving his/her way through stone.
The methodology and approach of this distinct style of modifying photo ́s old fashionably, attract me massively, not to mention the sheer precision and concentration required to begin with.
We see many bridges in your art, what’s your personal relation or symbolism to them?
Really, individual people networking and laying contact with others, being open to varying ideas and interpretations, and possess the ability to persuade/convince, (in my eyes entrepreneurial people, in this context, and metaphorically seen, the constructors of these bridges).
I have always lived near the water and perhaps as a child, I was unconsciously influenced by the bridges that surrounded me. Perhaps this relatable childhood train of thought has caused my long-term fascination for old steel constructions from 1900 with studs as connecting elements. The bridge is undoubtedly a symbol of connection, (to get from one side to the other).
You seem to be very much inspired by the history of the city as well. Can you explain what ́s fascinating you?
30 years ago, when the wall fell in 89, the whole world was surprised. Due to the wide abundance of books and films that have thoroughly covered this historic era, it has always been a great source of information, especially on the inspiring artistic endeavors. Back when the wall fell, I lived in the Netherlands, so in a way, it also had a significant impact on us. Everyone was hit by total surprise and even though I did not live in Berlin at the time, you could easily imagine the dismay, confusion and relief. Once I went to live in Berlin, only then did I really start to dive into its history, by meeting locals who had experienced everything. It was no longer a story from a history book, but a shared story told by individuals in person. For instance, a former soldier I had met that stood on the Bornholmer Brücke, the Bösebrücke, in November 89, when it was reopened, shared in great detail that he felt at the time, this ethos is hard to spot in any fact-based source. Precisely these are the moments when a subject catches you, and wraps you in it.
Last, but not least: If you could change only one thing, to make the world a better place, what would it be?
Curiosity is a leading factor, (that people really come into contact with each other). Look each other up in real life, not just via digital means e.g. Facebook and Instagram. Listening to each other and being open so that a connection can be made. People from your immediate environment and also from countries with different cultures. Berlin was a split city, it is now a melting pot, with many differences, but it is One City. △