Transit Lounge and Transmediale :: Cat Hope

February 2006, Berlin Germany

I had long anticipated a return to Berlin. Fresh out of the music conservatorium in Perth, I had arrived there in 1990 after several months touring Europe, and experienced a city in rapid change. These were days of squatting flats, no telephones, playing in bands, the underground only stopping at some stops, finding good condition furnishings on the street and living in a neighbourhood that was more multicultural than any place I’d ever been. This wasn’t the first time I had been back, but it was the first time as an artist rather than a touring musician. And this is a different city, it feels very different.

I was one of the first of a series of artists from Australia invited by architects Katie Hepworth and Miriam Mlecek to be part of their Berlin residency project, Transit Lounge, in February 2005. This project sets out to bring Australian artists to work in Berlin, with a view to one day sending Berlin artists to Australia. I shared the three-week residency period with two other Australian artists; Sumugan Sivanesan and Stephanie Carrick. We had all been chatting online for some months, putting up ideas and concepts for works that would fit in a ‘transit lounge’ theme. Transit Lounge provides artists with a gallery space to work in, and a flat to sleep in. The gallery space was once a bakery and its large windows look over quiet Finowstrasse in Freidrichseim. Passers-by peer in every now and then, and sometimes come in for a chat to see what’s happening.

Acclimatisation: It was 33 degrees in Perth when I left late January, and on arrival it was –9 in Berlin. I learnt a few hard lessons about negotiating frozen sidewalks and what constitutes warm clothes. The priority of sleep was overwhelmed by the excitement of the city. Set Up: Got my laptop and the sound card plugged in. The Internet is on most of the time. Local cafe: situated. Bar; check. Nice table, blank minidisks, DV tapes, mobile phones from the last Metaphonica project1 just in case. Claimed a space. Looking onto the street. Headphones on. Start: Not so fast. Transmediale, for which Transit Lounge is a partner project, is on. I spent the first 5 or so days at the Akadmie der Kunste by day and Club Transmediale by night.

Transmediale now calls itself a “festival for art and digital culture’ rather than the‘media art festival’ it had been know as previously. It was like the perfect meeting place between the sprawling ISEA and super efficient Ars Electronica. The concept of the ‘salon’ is alive and well in this city, and to complement to formal presentations in the huge auditorium there were artist’s talks in smaller rooms of the Academia deKunste. Under the theme Reality Addict there was a mixture of exciting artworks new and old, and the more interesting panel themes included mistakology, media addicts and transgressions. John Jacques Perrey was an interesting choice for a keynote speaker, but fitted nicely with the theme of the main exhibition, Smile Machines. 1

Personally, I’m no fan of humour in art, but this exhibition covered a lot of ground under a varied definition of humour and its relationship to art and technology; from Nam Jun Paik to Jean Pierre Gauthier and a lot of video on monitors. Video is big in Berlin right now, and this was reflected in the festival. The Akademie de Kunste was filled to the seams with installations, video screens of all types and sizes, sound works, market and interactive projects. The highlights of the Festival were many; for me it was hearing Janet Cardiff and Paul Demarinis present overviews of their work,following Shu Lea Cheang’s remarkable stories and running off to the Berlinale Film Festival to see Mathew Barney talk after showing his new film, Drawing Restraint 9. Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller’s, Berlin Files exhibited at the DAAD gallery,an incredible film installation completely driven by the immersive surround sound.Tesla (once know as Podeweil) was another partner with Transmediale. Here it was open studios, a refreshing alternative to the finished works at the Akademie. A largerange of international sound, video and new media artists were present to chat to visitors about their work and ideas.

Club Transmediale hosted the live music program for the festival at Maria am Ostebahnhof on the river. This was an adventurous program that presented renowned artists to artists soon to be renown alongside local supports. Curated under nightly themes, there were bands to laptops, a truly eclectic collection of acts that sat nicely together. Highlights were ‘proto-doom/hardrockmantra project’ Al Naayfish at ‘The Metal Gravitron’ night and Norwegian jazz/pop singer Hanne Hukkelberg who featured at a night entitled ‘The Clown, The Magician and the Uncanny Joy’. Transmediale had something for every type of artist; DIY, formal, technical,philosophical, online, offline, pharsical… it was a monster of an event. Apart form the Transit Lounge residency, my involvement at Transmediale constituted a contribution to a vinyl-making project; 33.99. This temporary, instant and one of a kind record label cut 99 recordings live to 7” vinyl during the festival. I managed to get hold of some gear and make 5 minutes of bass noise live to the machine.2

It had to be a fast transition from observing to creating; 3 weeks is a short time to produce work, and for the first time I realised how difficult this change over can be. The transit lounge artists and organisers decided to show at the end of the residency period and went about organising support for that – difficult when you are still not sure what your work will be. A highlight of this process however was visiting the Technical University in Berlin, and chatting to the technicians there about gear and the state of sound art. If I had some earth to dig into I could have used some underground speakers left behind by Bill Fontana’s 1983 Entfernte Züge project, but sadly – though there seemed to be a lot of digging going on around the place – there was no dirt I had access to.

I was determined to make work that somehow reflected the time I had already spent n Berlin all those years ago. This was proving a real challenge, until I discovered books. I had left behind some important books when I left Berlin last time, and had tried yet failed to hunt them down. But in the process I discovered a huge 2nd hand market for books of all languages in Berlin. Within no time I had piles of books in the gallery 2 and started working with an installation that involved placing mobile phones inside books. Referencing audio books and podcasting, you could dial the phones to hear their ring tones read you the contents I had removed from the books they sat hidden inside, amongst many others in a bookshelf we built inside the gallery. There were English, Italian, Australian and German books cut out and read, as well as some classic archival material from downloadable interviews with John Cage and William Burroughs, two experts in cut ups and mix ups.

The three artists in Transit Lounge took part in some advertised artists talks which were a great way to get in touch about how we were influencing each others work. The opening night went well; a great turnout and despite some initial concerns, the work of the three artists sat nicely together without interference. Sumu created a sound installation in the toilet cubicle as well as a listening dome; Stephanie presented a video installation featuring work she had been doing with Google earth and footage of the local area. My installation went on ringing as people went through the bookshelf to find which book was speaking.

I left the day after the opening for a whirlwind tour of Bratislava and Banska Bystrica in Slovakia with artist Michal Murin. This featured an artist talk at The Academy of Art in Banska Bystrica’ s university and spent a lot of time talking about art and how life for artists in universities (Michal and I are both currently university lecturers) it’s not that different wherever you are. When I returned to Berlin 3 days later to get my flight back to Australia, Katie and Miriam were already beginning their own residency period, the bookshelf was still there with a few books on it but it felt like it was time to go home.

On reflection, it was an incredibly productive, informative and enriching time. From creating new networks in two European countries to showing and seeing work, the three weeks were packed with events all descriptions. Hopefully, Transit Lounge will some day happen in Australia, and we can welcome Berliners as they had welcomed me.


[2] You can listen and purchase these pressings at

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