Student Worker: Christian Mendonca

Hi! My name is Christian Mendonca, and I’m one of the new student workers at Deutsches Haus for the summer. I will be a sophomore this fall at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts studying Dramatic Writing (screen/playwriting) and at CAS studying European Studies as a double major. I’m an incredible fan of theater, film, and television. Their innate ability to permeate ideas and connect with audiences is, to me, almost like magic. The European Studies came in to play when I read the works of Brecht, Ibsen, and other European playwrights. I knew that I had to go back to the roots of theater to really perfect my craft. Also, who doesn’t like a good German, French, or Italian film? Interestingly enough, I’m not only a worker, but also a student at Deutsches Haus for the summer. As a beginner, I’m anxious to begin this journey, which will open a variety of new doors for me not just linguistically, but academically, professionally, and creatively. This spring I plan on studying abroad in Berlin to continue honing my language skills and to get to experience the lifestyle and culture that most of my colleagues grew up with.

Gustav Deutsch

Gustav Deutsch is key figure in contemporary Austrian avant-garde cinema, and has established himself as one of the greatest practitioners of experimental found-footage filmmaking. In such acclaimed works as the feature-length World Mirror Cinema (2005) and his multi-part Film ist. series (1998-2009), Deutsch and his partner in life and art Hanna Schimek have mined the world’s film archives to create visually and rhythmically masterful collages showcasing the astounding beauty and mind-boggling range of moving images created since the advent of the cinema.

Deutsch has worked almost exclusively in this mode since 1990, but with his new project, Shirley – Visions of Reality, his preoccupation with ‘found’ material and his fascination with the history and phenomenology of image-making takes a distinctly new form. A quasi-narrative film inspired by Edward Hopper, it tells the story of a young woman’s experiences in mid-century America by means of a succession of precise, painstaking reconstructions of particular Hopper paintings, created by means of specially fabricated sets and props. The result is a unique work, uncannily poised on the brink between two-dimensionality and three-dimensionality that draws a link between multiple forms of popular visual art: painting, cinema, and the pre-cinematographic forms that historically bridged both mediums.

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In your found footage series Film ist. you examine the nature of montage and cutting. However, in your current feature film Shirley your “found object” is Edward Hopper. What fascination does he hold for you?

There are two things about Hopper that fascinated me, which weren’t clear to me at the beginning: firstly, as an avid cinema-goer he was strongly influenced by film. He clearly references film noir by the way he uses lighting and frames his subjects, and he also had a strong influence on filmmakers through his paintings. When Alfred Hitchcock shot Psycho, he was clearly guided by Hopper’s House by the Railroad. Even today, filmmakers like Jim Jarmusch and Wim Wenders refer to him. Secondly, Hopper is considered a realist painter, which is not something I found to be true upon closer analysis of his paintings. Hopper does not portray reality but stages it. The staging and assembling of reality is also the nature of film.

You have not only stepped away from found footage material to painting, you have also moved from essayist, experimental works to fictional narration. What brought you to fiction?

There were the paintings. Albeit, just the paintings and not the context.

In my previous work, I established a connection between the images of diverse films. Through montage, I managed to create meaning contexts by attempting to unearth something that was not the original intention of the filmmakers.

I wanted to narrate new stories, and this is also true for Shirley – Visions of Reality. I tell “other” stories with Hopper’s pictures as well. By means of a character, which for Edward Hopper is usually a woman, I intended to narrate thirty years of American history, the same time period that coincides with the creation of the pictures: through the reflection of this woman and through her eyes. That way, I can introduce elements that are not shown in the pictures. What is fascinating about Hopper is that his protagonists experience or observe something that they do not share with us, because it is not depicted. Many of the pictured women look out of the window, observe something, react to something and we do not know what it is, and this is of course something I can invent. I can introduce it through sound or the woman’s inner monologue.

What did the screenplay for this film look like?

In my oeuvre, I am again and again concerned with the reflection of the history of cinema and film. The tableau vivant is a precursor of cinematography. It was a popular social past time to re-enact famous paintings, and film in its early stages also assumed this form of entertainment. My main idea was to “vivify” the pictures. I wanted to imagine what happened shortly before and after the moment that remains frozen in Hopper’s painting. At the beginning my thoughts turned to the sequence of moves the woman would do – does she sit down or enter the room? Very early on, my idea was to work with a dancer, rather than an actress, because this work is much more about gestures and movements. Only later did I start contemplating her character. What is her profession? What are her interests? I started to think out thirty years of this woman’s life. I was merely interested in these thirty years of her professional and private life, not her earlier experiences. The professions of my protagonists – there is also a principal male character – should reflect the theme: the discussion, reflection and staging of reality. This is why my protagonist is an actress and her life partner a photojournalist.

But this woman is not only an actress concerned with getting parts, in these thirty years she is also politically minded and involved?

I wanted a strong female character, who acts uncompromisingly, and who takes an approach supported by the idea that one is not born into a given destiny but that life can be created as it unfolds, even in these times, and as a woman. Regarding her profession, it was important to me that she would achieve this not on her own but within a group. In theatre, back then, there was the Group Theatre, inspired by Konstantin Stanislavski, who also developed “method acting”. These methods require the actors to live together in closely- knit communities, rather than only meet up on stage and during rehearsals. 

My protagonist also takes this approach and for a time does not live with her partner but with the group. Her partner supports her fully, his job as a photojournalist enables him to be more compromising, he has a steady income and, during the time when she is unemployed and the Group Theatre dissolves, he is able to take her in. Among the 13 Hopper paintings, there are a few that didn’t allow me to define Shirley as an actress – she then works as a secretary at her partner’s newspaper or as an usherette at the cinema. Her periods of unemployment coincide with the Depression of the 1930s, the crisis of which saw her out of work as an actress, but her political convictions also stopped her from pursuing certain trends followed by her Group Theatre colleagues, such as going to Hollywood.

How did you find your actress Stephanie Cumming?

For a while now she has worked as a dancer and choreographer with the Company Liquid Loft here in Vienna. But I also noticed her when I saw Mara Mattuschka’s films, which emerged on the basis of dance pieces choreographed by Chris Haring and Stephanie. Stephanie caught my eye not only as a dancer, but also as an actress. She is very active in Mara’s projects, sometimes also androgynous, while in my film she portrays a feminine, calm and reserved character. To my delight Stephanie said yes without hesitation.

You are known for your meticulous and precise work method. With your rigorous standards, how did you approach such elements as color, light and space? What strategies did you use?

Let’s start with color, since painting is our starting point here. In 2005 I began to work on the project with Hanna Schimek, my companion in life and art.

We both have our own projects, sometimes we work together on projects. In this case, I have asked her to be the artist, not just for everything that needs to be done painting wise, but also for the design of the overall color scheme and to help me pursue the question of why Hopper’s colors have such a fascinating effect. On a trip to the US, we went to the museums with the original paintings, from which we were able to determine the colors by using color charts. With the help of Hanna’s color guide, we then worked on the set. She determined the colors, which changed with the light, and when we watched the digitally shot images on screen, they had changed again. We were constantly discussing colors and color charts and this went on throughout the color correction and color grading processes. I wanted to transfer that which defines Hopper’s work, this fascinating play of cold and warm, light and shadow, onto the big screen.

Surely the transformation of space from painting to film was also a challenge for you as an architect?

Space is a play with the possible. In Office at Night, for example, Hopper uses an angle, which approximates that of a CCTV camera. In order to recreate what he painted, we had to tilt all the furniture to such an extent that the tilt left everything flying off the table. Of course, Hopper’s preoccupation with spaces was of great interest to me as an architect: How is it possible to recreate these rooms three dimensionally? I had to build several models in order to even come close.

Did many of Hopper’s subversive spatial arrangements only become apparent during the building phase?

Yes. The dimensions he worked with are unbelievable. Often his beds are three meters long. Then there are armchairs so narrow that it is almost impossible to sit in them. It was important to consider which elements were to be played on, what targets were viable. Things that are not used can be built so they look like they function but don’t. And everything is anamorphic, no furniture is placed at a right angle, no space is orthogonal.

What was the challenge regarding the lighting?

Lighting plays a major part, not unlike the characters, requiring as much attention as the mise-en-scène of actors or the color design of the set. The lighting design took up as much time as the shoot, about one to one and a half days. Jerzy Palacz, the cinematographer, and Dominik Danner, the gaffer, worked on the realization of Hopper’s world of light and shadows, ever since we shot the teaser. They were also obsessive in their endeavor to recreate the painted light in Hopper’s pictures as accurately as possible. With some pictures we were stretching the limits of possibility and we were frequently faced with questions such as: What should or shouldn’t we allow? Will our protagonist throw a shadow if she stands in front of the window or not? How can we make it look real, even if it is not in the Hopper painting? Evidently, our work has to be credible in a cinematic sense as well, like a Hopper painting has to work as a painting.

Are there only long shots in the film?

No. At least one moment in each episode is an exact match of the Hopper painting. We were not allowed to move the camera position, not even by three centimeters, because otherwise things would have looked out of place. But we were able to zoom in and out, change the shot size, and as far as possible, even pan. Despite his limited scope for maneuver, Jerzy Palacz got the most out of what was available…

… thus pushing cinema to its limits?

We were limited. We could neither walk around with a hand-held camera, nor do a shot reverse shot. We were always in the position of the spectator. It is very much like Hopper to assume a voyeuristic and observant position.

In all departments of this project, it wasn’t about taking liberties but putting time into detail and working with what is available. The challenge is of course to avoid boredom and create suspense in a subtle way. How this works, we can judge now, after watching 90 minutes on the big screen.

Sources:
www.shirley-visions-of-reality.com - Interview with Karin Schiefer

Student Worker: Thomas Baldwin

Hi. My name is Thomas Baldwin, working at Deutsches Haus this summer. I graduated from NYU College of Arts and Sciences this May in Art History and German. I have been studying German since high school, where I even had the opportunity to participate in an exchange program with a school in Germany. 

I knew that I wanted to study both art history and German while at NYU, but it wasn’t until my sophomore year when I visited Berlin that my interests both collided. I became very interested in the Berlin Dada and the art and culture of the Weimar Republic. I revisited my experiences in Berlin my senior year when I decided to research a painting by Hannah Höch for a research paper.
 
I’ve enjoyed discovering vestiges of German culture in NYC during my years at NYU. From visiting exhibitions at the Neue Galerie to discovering beer gardens from Hoboken to Astoria, New York has plenty to offer. I’ve even found a currywurst place in the East Village almost as good as my favorite stands in Berlin. 
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Intern: Theresa

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Hello! My name is Theresa and I’m the 2014 Summer Language Program intern. I’m a junior at NYU studying Art History and German Language and Literature. I’m from the New York City area, though I spent the last two years (my freshman and sophomore years of college) in the Berkshires of Western Massachusetts.

I started speaking German mostly by chance: I’d taken Spanish in high school and at my former college continued with that; unhappy with the professor, I switched to German after the first week. Since then, it has been a joy to immerse myself in German language and culture, familiarizing myself especially with the literary canon. I’m quite pleased with the happy accident of haven taken up German, especially in conjunction with my Art History major: in the seminars, where we discuss works and movements in more depth, there is a large focus on German writers and thinkers.
I have not yet had the chance to travel to Germany - though I once spent three weeks in Vienna - but am looking forward to spending my final semester as an undergrad at NYU Berlin. Interning at Deutsches Haus offers me an opportunity to familiarize myself better with everyday conversational German as well as German culture before studying abroad. I’m looking forward to my stay here!

Professor Mark Ebers

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You were the DAAD Visiting Scholar at New York University for two months this spring. How did you experience the visiting scholarship? Was it a productive time for you and were you able to advance your research at New York University?

It was a great privilege to receive the DAAD Visiting Scholarship at NYU, and I am most grateful for the time I could spend at NYU and Deutsches Haus, in particular. NYU’s Management & Organization department was so kind to invite me to attend their research seminars and brown bag presentations. Top U.S. researchers presented and discussed their research, ranging from topics such as the drivers of diversification, legitimation practices in forensic laboratories, characteristics of great innovators, to patent appropriation strategies and patent infringement lawsuits, among others. It was a wonderful opportunity to discuss cutting-edge research and to witness how the audience of scholars advances thought through discussion. I received inspiration for my own research and could forge and deepen relations with colleagues in my field. I also relished the time I could spend on my own research, preparing conference papers on goal-setting and goal-attainment in post-merger integration processes, the role of trust in project collaborations, and the organization-level institutional drivers fostering the intention of organization members to become entrepreneurs.

You held a very interesting lecture at Deutsches Haus at NYU about personal connections and the power of social capital. Do you think Germans and Americans forge connections differently? How about everyday interactions?

I observe two main differences between German and U.S. ways of forging connections. For one, there are more opportunities for engaging in a conversation with someone new in the U.S., as there is a comparatively greater openness and friendliness when making first contact. Second, at least in professional contexts in the U.S., the “what-do-you-do” and “what-is-your-project” questions regularly pop up early in the conversation, sometimes leading to an animated extended conversation and at other times ending the conversation abruptly (if the interests do not match).

When were you in New York for the first time? What were your impressions then?

It must have been in the early 1990s. We stayed with friends who lived in a building on Tompkins Square when squatters were still occupying the square and many houses in the neighborhood were empty shells, boarded up, and used as drug dens. Gentrification has progressed tremendously in lower Manhattan and Brooklyn, with all its pros and cons.

How do you experience New York today? What has changed since your first trip?

New York has not changed its core DNA over the 25 odd years I have visited the city. The subway is still crowded, unbelievably noisy, and out of date technologically; the restaurants are noisy too, often over-priced, and over-rated. The art scene (theater, music, museums, galleries, and more) is overwhelming and unmatched in its variety and quality. Yet the main thing that has changed for me is that over time I could make many more friends in New York City, who I love to see and be with as often as possible.

What was your experience at Deutsches Haus at NYU?

I enjoyed the excellent programs offered by Deutsches Haus very much. I remember the Berlin-New York hair salon event as well as the “Stammtisch” particularly fondly. Deutsches Haus does an outstanding job of catering to extant expectations of what Germany represents (e.g. offering Kasperltheater, an Easter egg hunt, or the Stammtisch) and at the same time introducing representatives of the vibrant German cultural scene to a New York audience, be it through film screenings, readings, or discussions of current topics of general interest.

You’ve received professorships, fellowships and visiting scholarships from universities in Israel, Scotland, Italy, the U.S. and The Netherlands. Which place was your favorite place to live in and why? Which place are you the most curious about and which would you like to revisit?

I have fond memories of all of the cities I had the privilege to spend some time in. They all have something special. Glasgow surprised and fascinated me by how it turned its Merchant City of banks and trading houses into aesthetically outstanding bars, restaurants, and boutiques. Jerusalem, with its history, sites, and multicultural population is in a class of its own. In fact, I shall return again this year, as a New York friend invited me and my wife for his son’s Bar Mitzvah, which they decided to celebrate in Jerusalem. Milan surprised me as a wonderful mix of Italian and Austrian cultural heritages. New York City is like a second home to me, as I visit regularly and often see my New York friends, either in the city or abroad.

During your travels and lengthy stays in other countries, what do you miss most about Germany?

Since I always return to Germany, I know that will just have to wait a little before I can enjoy whatever I miss again. I believe the “thing” about home that cannot be matched is that it provides a sense of security and familiar order.

What are you currently working on? And what are your plans for the future? Do you plan to return to the United States?

Since term at university started immediately after my return form New York City, I have not had much time to work on my research. Yet just these days I could return to the conference papers I worked on in New York City. Since I shall attend a conference in Philadelphia in the first days of August, I’ll take the opportunity and spend some time again in New York City afterwards; I look forward to visiting Deutsches Haus again on that occasion. 

Bernd Rittersporn

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1. How did you come to Deutsches Haus? When did you have the idea of organizing a German-language book club?

I first came to Deutsches Haus in the fall of 1999. After spending some time in Germany and Austria, I was painfully aware that my college German had not adequately prepared me for everyday life kinds of things like buying food or understanding answers when I asked for directions. Feeling a need to improve my skills, I went to Deutsches Haus, took the placement test, and started at a relatively fundamental level. I have been coming back ever since.

The idea of forming a German-language book club was not mine. A former director of the Language Program, Kathrin Jonas, came up with the idea after some advanced students complained when no higher-level courses were offered for the summer semester. She asked me if I would be interested in organizing a literature group and I said I’d give it a try.

2. What is your personal background? How did you come to learn German?

I took German at Columbia University. I was studying Anthropology and creative writing, but I had to satisfy a language requirement. I had already taken French and Spanish in high school and was told I could continue with one of these languages, but I didn’t see any point in it because I had no idea how to speak or read either of them. I thought that since my Grandfather had come from Austria, I might try learning German. I had a really difficult time with it. Nevertheless, it made more sense to me than other foreign languages had, and I tried to keep up with it after leaving school.

3. Tell us a little bit about the book club. How often do you meet? What books do you discuss?

We meet on Fridays between 6:00 and 7:30 pm, but our schedule is always erratic because we have to plan around holidays and the other events that take place at Deutsches Haus on Friday evenings. For this reason, we may meet for several weeks in a row and then not get back together for two or three weeks. Members are given the exact dates before the beginning of each session. We try to schedule 5-7 meetings over the course of each 10-week semester at DH.

We tend to focus on the works of contemporary German writers. Most of the material we read falls into the category of so-called serious literature, but we do make forays into the realm of popular fiction from time to time.

4. And who are the members?

Originally, the Buchclub was solely for Deutsches Haus students. We didn’t have a fixed schedule and simply took a vote at the end of each meeting to decide when we’d like to do it again. It eventually became necessary to establish some guidelines and come up with a timetable. We also found it necessary to open the group up to people who were not Deutsches Haus students. At the moment, the group still has registered Deutsches Haus students and former students in its membership, but the majority is people from the outside who are nevertheless interested in reading and speaking German. Many of them are intermediate speakers, but some of the members are fluent, and we even have a few native speakers. This is very helpful, because we often confront “Redewendungen” (idioms) that don’t make any immediate sense to us. It’s great having people who can shed light on the meanings.

The group seems to be evenly divided between men and women, and most of the participants are middle aged. We do have a few younger members and would like to attract more.

5. How are the books chosen?

In the beginning, Kathrin Jonas chose the books for us. This system was quickly replaced by a dysfunctional democracy. We spent more time debating which books we should read than we did reading. I finally seized the initiative and made it known that I was going to choose the books. There was some resistance to this idea, but now things run smoothly. Most of my choices have gone over well. Not everybody likes every book, but discussions go better when members have differing opinions, and everybody is welcome to express their dislike for a book so long as they can explain why.

6. How do the meetings work?

Participants read a predetermined number of pages at home and then we talk about it when we meet. Members are asked to save noteworthy passages and to read them aloud during the meeting. I encourage this because I want people to actually feel the language in their mouths and throats, and calling attention to particular extracts from the text stimulates discussion.

7. What was your favorite story or book to speak about in the book club and why?

My primary functions in the Buchclub are to choose the book, promote registration, and to act as a moderator during the meetings themselves. I sometimes have to pose a lot of questions to get the conversation moving, but my goal is to hold meetings where I don’t have to say anything. When the participants stop trying to talk to me, and start talking with each other, I know things are going well.

Not surprisingly, the books that everybody enjoys are the ones that inspire the liveliest discussions. Das Parfum by Patrick Süskind may have been the greatest success in this sense. This is the story of an 18th Century serial killer, but it has less to do with the various murders than it does with the main character’s unbelievably acute sense of smell and how it affects his life. Although the book is not regarded as a great work of literature, it is entertaining, thought provoking, and the language is interesting. All the participants were more than eager to discuss it, and I barely had to say anything.

8. What are you reading right now? Do you have any great recommendations for contemporary German authors?

We are presently reading Alice, a collection of short stories by Judith Hermann. She is not a very prolific writer, but I have thoroughly enjoyed everything she has written, and would recommend her to anyone who is interested in reading short German fiction. In a similar vein, I would recommend anything by Jenny Erpenbeck. She is my favorite writer at the moment.

9. What makes Deutsches Haus unique?

I don’t know of any better place to learn German. Everything I know about the language stems from what I learned here. 

Deutsches Haus also has a wonderful cultural program that serves as a platform for cross-pollination between the German-speaking world and America. Throughout the year, there are any number of readings, lectures, art exhibits, and film screenings that are open to the public. These events are sometimes held in German and other times in English. Four German-language authors are invited to Deutsches Haus as writers-in-residence, and they not only give public readings, but also visit the “Meet the Author” course during their stay.

10. How long have you lived in New York? What’s your favorite spot in this city?

I have lived here most of my life. I was born in a small town in New Hampshire, but my parents moved to Manhattan when I was a small child. As for a favorite spot, I am very fond of the Greenway along the Hudson River and have spent a lot of time riding my bike there over the past few years. The scenery overlooking the water is beautiful and one can ride or walk from one end of Manhattan to the other without having to contend with automobile traffic and noise. It is in my opinion a “must see” part of New York City. But if I moved somewhere else, the one place I’d really miss is Deutsches Haus.

Bernd Cailloux

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(© Jürgen Bauer)

When were you in New York for the first time? What were your impressions then?

That was a long time ago, in 1972… I was in my mid-twenties and left tidy Hamburg for my first big journey to New York City, of all places. Everything there was too big, too tall, too foreign, simply too much – after three days I skipped town and drove to Provincetown. From there I took a Greyhound bus across the United States to the West Coast – back then, this was the hip trip to take.

How do you experience New York today? What has changed since your first trip? (What do you like about the city? What do you find strange? What bothers you?)

I experience the city as a feast for sore eyes and ears - this singular sound, the ambient noise of this city gives me the sensation of being in a particularly productive space. I like the architecture, especially the older buildings and skyscrapers – often times with a cherry on top: a chapel or a little house, a garden with a hint of the ancient, a small forest… I also like the people. The theory of the melting pot holds truer than ever. It’s interesting to look at individuals - a sampling of the world. Individuality as a mass phenomenon – let’s see where all of this leads. I’ve been to this city on numerous occasions – once, even for a long cold winter – and always felt the simultaneous sense of being repulsed and fascinated in equal measures; torn between love and hate. There is much to like, but also a lot that remains incomprehensible, e.g. the contradiction of private wealth and public poverty, or the omnipotence of advertising, the repellent television, etc… (Outdoor advertising was banned in São Paulo in 2006.) I would love to know what people here think about this phenomenon… a small NSA data vacuum cleaner might be useful for that. Basically, this five part question could only be answered in a 200 page book.

Tell us a bit about your daily routine. When do you find the peace and quiet to write? Do you even need this to write?

My daily routine is a secret. I’ll admit this much: I work until 4pm, then I go shopping and later I read the New York Times – I’m a New Yorker. That’s how it is.

Is the writing process a different one, here in New York, than it would be in Berlin?

Not necessarily. Though I am writing in the U.S., the alphabet still has 26 letters. Once a manuscript has been completed after years and years of work and numerous revisions, I usually cannot remember where, how and when I wrote this or that excerpt.

You take long walks in New York City. What have you come across? What has stood out to you? How does a walk in New York City differ from a walk in Berlin?

When I take a walk, I let myself drift… and lose myself in a sort of world fair of large and small things. I walk for miles and miles and miles… and notice all sorts of details. Riding a bicycle would be too fast a mode of transportation for this act of perception. Whoever rode a bicycle in Manhattan in the 70s and 80s was suicidal. Hardly anyone did. It’s a great gain, that this is now a possibility in this city. I also appreciate the attempt to win back nature - the greening of New York with the High Line and the community gardens on the corner of Bleeker Street and LaGuardia Place for example. But my favorite park is the dust-grey and ancient Golden Swan Park on the corner of Sixth Avenue and West Fourth Street. It measures about 80 or 90 square meters (860 or 960 square feet), with two benches, nine little trees… a park for two people on a wild corner. The difference? Ten million people have a more dramatic impact than three… The New Yorkers seem content with the City Life in the world’s largest shopping arcade and the biggest selection of a corresponding entertainment program… Everything moves faster here in New York, than it does back home. I usually don’t take as many walks in Berlin, as I do here. Back home I exercise twice a week. New York is exercise! The outcome: I sleep like a log and feel a sensation that I had almost forgotten about - the wonderful sensation of being hungry.

You experienced Berlin before and after the fall of the Wall. To what extent has the city and its inhabitants changed? How do you experience Berlin today?

The Wall is gone; the former double halves that made up this city are on the way of becoming a metropolis. Now over a million formerly subsidized West Berliners, over a million East Berliners who are well-versed in socialism, and a million New Berliners since 1992 will have to work it out… There are even some parallels to New York: certain neighborhoods hardly changed, others are unrecognizable. Both cities attract the younger generation, who flock there because they have something to prove. “If you can make it there…” Luckily, Berlin hasn’t come so far (yet) as to push out the artists from the city, as it has happened in the East Village for example. (I read “All art must go” in the East Villager). Quite on the contrary, this wild urban mix of Berlin actually attracts artists to the city - including artists from the United States.

How did you come to write? At which point did you know you wanted to become a writer?

This almost sounds like a PR gag and I am certainly not trying to ingratiate myself, but the truth is, that I started writing in New York for one simple reason: I didn’t have anyone I could speak to… so I started writing in a journal, taking down notes of what I experienced.

What inspires you? How did you find your voice?

Writers are generally known as people who have issues with writing - but once you get going, that’s it!

Could you tell us a little bit about what you are working on now? Is it difficult to live in New York and to write a novel based in São Paulo? Would it be easier to write this story in Brazil? Or is the place one writes in irrelevant?

I am indeed working on something, which is partly based in Brazil and will hopefully become a novel. It’s about a man who is starting a new life in a foreign country and lives under the pretension, that he can remain his old self… For this work it’s good to be in the middle of nowhere, like in a house in the plain country or in a solitary mill surrounded by vineyards. Areas that offer up fewer distractions can facilitate the act of writing. Therefore New York simply is not boring enough…

Heike Steinweg

Tell us a little bit about yourself and about your project.

First of all, I would like to thank Deutsches Haus at NYU. I feel honored to have been invited to exhibit my author portraits, which I’ve worked on since 2007, in this particular space. In my newest project, entitled The Last Line, I asked international authors living or working in Berlin to meditate on the last lines of writing from their books. Alongside stirring anecdotes, their responses offer a compelling glimpse into the artists’ creative processes.

Where do you draw your inspiration from as a photographer?

This is a very good question, and not easily answered! Maybe it’s better to answer another question - “What makes me tick?” Certainly my curiosity (specifically my curiosity about people) lies at the heart of this matter. I can even give you a specific example: I was at a reading by lê thi diem thúy [the Vietnamese-American poet] and she said the following sentence “I insist on silence.” This sentence moved me deeply and became the motivation behind my portrait of her: There she stands, her body is wide awake and alert, but her eyes are closed. This contradiction immediately creates a sense of tension within the image.

When did you discover your fascination with authors?

My love for literature gave me the idea of photographing authors for my project. Berlin is home to the wonderful International Literature Festival, which is modeled on the PEN World Voices Festival. There is an open and cozy atmosphere and it was very easy for me to start a conversation with authors and take my first portraits for the project.

What sets them apart from your other subjects?

Writers tend to be exceptional characters. They are people who are used to working alone and are not willing to immediately reveal themselves to somebody else, but if you succeed in making a first gentle approach and building up trust between you, then you will produce portraits that show the inner essence of these individuals.

Please talk a little bit about how these portraits come about.

I try to inspire in the authors a deep inner concentration that is connected with their personal character. I like that the quiet nature of my portraits vacillates between inner disquiet and a dreamy sense of concentration. Maybe, I can describe my artistic vision as a process in which I explore the threshold between what is visible and what is perceivable.

Furthermore, my portraits (and other images, as well) attempt to create an emotional blank canvas, which the viewer can project his or her own emotions onto. I want the viewer to have the opportunity to meet him- or herself in my images.

How do you go about making the subject of your portrait feel comfortable?

Well, that’s going to be my little secret! But one thing is for sure, I like to laugh with the authors. In order to create a beautiful very serious portrait, it is of the utmost importance to have laughed quite a lot beforehand. In order for this exhibition to not be too somber I try to include some wonderful laughing portraits: Nicole Krauss, Katja Petrowskaja – aren’t they simply captivating?

Do you collaborate with the authors on the surroundings of the image?

Absolutely! Writers are known for their ability to have great ideas. For example, Aris Fioretos proposed the watch store, where I ended up taking his portrait. The enormous dial of a clock was displayed on the shop window. The last sentence was like a gift. It came to him about a third of the way into the text, and he knew it would stand at the end of the book. He has worked on this book for the last couple of years, and the distance to the last sentence is growing shorter. He needs a little more time to arrive at the end. In this portrait the visual and the contextual coalesced beautifully.

What made you decide to incorporate the last line of writing from the books of the authors? Do you want there to be a sort of dialogue between the image and the written word? How did this idea come about?

A portrait always captures a specific moment in time: I am mirrored in the person I am photographing and that person is mirrored in myself, which is to say that in a portrait the photographer is also visible. In addition to the portraits I wanted to ask the authors a personal question about their creative process. People tend to focus on the beginnings of things, but what does it mean to finish a novel after years of intense work? The authors really responded to this idea and gave incredibly personal and interesting answers.

Can you imagine, that Nathan Englander worked on a story for years and years, drafting and redrafting, until, finally, he had the idea of writing it backwards. He began at the end and worked his way to the front, which gave him the distance he needed to see the story clearly again. In this particular case, the first sentence he wrote actually turned into the last sentence. I find this story so unbelievable!

Do you have a favorite portrait or an image, which incorporates your favorite story?

Each encounter is singular and a gift. I like to remember all of my portrait sessions and the stories behind them. My encounter with Jonathan Safran Foer, for example! In 2013 I decided to move to New York for two months in order to work on my author photographs. My first shoot was with Jonathan. I was very excited, and we met in the very laid-back atmosphere of his agent Nicole Aragi’s apartment. He was very nice and open to all of my ideas. It was wonderful! I had thought very carefully about the settings of the photographs and finally we took the last image (which is included in the exhibition) behind the pane of glass. Jonathan has this deep, pensive gaze while the chaos of New York City life is mirrored in the windows around him. This is how one imagines the author: as a quiet observer of the world surrounding him or her. In reality, of course, writers aren’t quiet, but incredibly vivacious personalities. To me, there is also the allegory of Plato’s Cave reflected in the image: We are not capable of recognizing the world itself, but only its shadow. I think this is one of my strongest images.

Clearly, you are an avid reader: What are you reading right now?

Currently I am reading the fantastic debut novel of Anthony Marra, called A Constellation of Vital Phenomena (2013, Hogarth). It is a novel set during the war in Chechnya and it examines how a war can break people emotionally and destroy a society. Last year I had the pleasure of taking a portrait of Anthony for the Suhrkamp Verlag in San Francisco.

The natural light in your images is so beautiful – did you ever consider using artificial light?

Thank you for saying that. Yes, light is the first thing I look for. Photography means painting with light. I always search for the light that will make my subjects shine. The light determines the atmosphere of an image. Of course this is also possible with artificial light, but this is a much more complicated and time-intensive process.

Do you still shoot film or have you made the transition to digital?

I’ve made the switch to digital and feel okay. But I do sometimes wonder: What will happen to my archive in ten, twenty, sixty years? Will my files still be readable and accessible at that point?

How do you determine whether to use black and white or color for your photographs?

I love shooting in color, especially when the content of the image is monochromatic. But there are certainly images that call for black and white. Usually it is a question of composition or for example, the utmost concentration visible in the face of Jonathan Lethem.

What project would you like to pursue next? What is your dream project?

I definitely want to continue working on this project and publish a book with the images. I would also like to seek out authors in in their home countries. That’s the wonderful thing about being a photographer – being able to combine travel with work.

But there is another project that I am very excited about. I am part of a female choir and we are planning on traveling to the country Georgia in the fall for a musical exchange with a Georgian women’s choir. My idea is to take portraits of the women of the Georgian choir in their homes - in their kitchens to be precise. The kitchen is such an important living space and this idea has already influenced my current work. I’ve photographed three authors in their kitchen.

“My dream project”… This is such a nice American question! I’m very German in my approach. If I had said ten years ago, that my dream was to have a solo show in New York City, people would have thought I was crazy! My approach is more subtle: I like to throw a little stone into the water and see how the circles spread; where new encounters begin etc. But of course, one should always remember to throw the little stone!

What are your impressions of New York City? What are your impressions of Berlin?

I already mentioned that I lived in New York City for two months in 2013. I love this city. It’s such a lively place. People here are so talkative and open and enthusiastic! This correlates to my own character. I’m from Cologne and people from the Rhineland are known to be more humorous and talkative than their Berlin counterparts. That said, I love Berlin and live there with my family. Berlin and New York are cosmopolitan and culturally exciting cities.

Interns

My name is Katrin and I am the new intern in the Cultural Department at Deutsches Haus at NYU. I am about to finish my Master`s degree in European Literatures and Cultures at the University of Freiburg. Before finishing my studies I wanted to gain practical knowledge in the promotion of German culture, preferably in an English speaking country. Located in the cultural capital New York, Deutsches Haus at NYU seems to me to be the perfect place to widen my cultural horizon.

This is my third time visiting New York. In retrospect, being on top of the former World Trade Center in 1999 was probably one of the most impressive things I experienced during my first visit to New York. My second trip to New York was characterized by many visits to museums, which I`m planning to do again during my present stay.

I was welcomed with warmth here at Deutsches Haus and I am very much looking forward to many exciting and inspiring events!

Hugh O’Rourke

Could you tell us a bit about the exhibition Berlin Becoming

Berlin Becoming, is a show that celebrates Berlin’s effect on NYU students who have traveled and studied abroad with the NYU program, it is the third annual exhibition that the 80WSE Gallery and Deutsches Haus have worked on together.

What was your inspiration and how did you make your selection of artists?
I have never been to Berlin but have always hoped to go. The urban design of Berlin contributes in so many ways to why it has become a magnet for artists and that is something I’ve really wanted to experience firsthand. It is a cultural epitome at the moment, and everyone who has been talks about how much creative energy is felt by just being there.

Are you familiar with Berlin? What is your impression of the city?

We selected the artist for this year’s show a little bit differently than in years past. We wanted to have a wider breath of work and allow more artists to be involved so that it had an organic feeling that captured some of the energy that people felt about the city and their experience.

Where are you from? When did you move to New York and why?

I grew up just outside New York City in Westchester County. I received my BFA from Ithaca College in Ithaca, NY, and then earned an MA from NYU. I have been living in Brooklyn and working there or in Manhattan ever since, so I’ve been lucky to have gotten a well-rounded New York experience that isn’t just based solely on the city as an environment.

Could you speak about John Logan Criley’s Wish Upon a Satellite, which won the $1000 NYU Berlin Culture Brewery Prize 2014? What sets this work apart?

Logan’s piece felt to me to be based in ideas of communication. The television, the satellite dish, and the mouth, to point out a few details within the overall sculpture, are all methods used to communicate, and Logan managed to entwine these in a such a decisive way that it also connected with the idea of expanding conversation between New York and Berlin. The idea of communication really came across clearly in both the sculpture and as a stand-alone image, which we used for the poster and advertisement to represent the entire show in general.

You work at 80WSE, NYU’s Washington Square Park Gallery. Could you explain your work at the gallery? What was the most exciting project you worked on at 80WSE?

Currently, I’m working as the NYU Gallery Manager, but I’ve been working with 80wse Gallery for the past four years in varying roles and it has given me a lot of different art experiences — curating and installing along with countless opportunities to meet all types of artists and converse and be involved directly with them and their specific ideas. This has had a direct impact on my own art making practice and my thinking about art in general. I have a lot of respect for curators. Curating seems like an obvious role within a gallery, but it is actually something much more nuanced then people imagine. Negotiating the space, along with the artists and artwork featured, in a way that in the end, allows everyone to feel that their ideas were correctly represented can be much more difficult then it may initially seem. Often times negotiating has to happen because of basic limitations within the architecture of a space, and this is where you can really see someone be creative when forced to reconfigure a show or an idea in a short amount of time dealing and responding directly with their restrictions.

You received your M.A. in Studio Art from NYU. How was your experience at the school and what would your advice be to students wanting to pursue this degree?

I try to confer to most of the artists just starting out that showing and being an artist in most cases is not a quick ascension, being in exhibitions and garnering recognition isn’t like getting shot out of a cannon, it is much more like climbing a ladder. If I could give anyone advice about being involved in the arts as a profession, I would say it is one of the hardest fields to be involved in but also one of the most rewarding. It has to be something you really love, because there are so many people who want the same things, and you really have to stick it out and be willing to work hard, learn, and be humble.

What’s next for you? What would a dream project look like?

I have lots of dream projects. I would really love to curate a show of my peers in a unique non gallery environment or have a show of my own art work in a large open space. Being a full-time artist and curator is also a luxury I’ll have to keep dreaming about for now.

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