Monday, 12:12am
21 September 2009

Berlin snapshots

holly wales
Visual culture

Vernacular moments from a city of artists and outsiders

I find it hugely refreshing not to understand most of the things I look at, writes Holly Wales.

Today, everything demands to be read, and in Berlin more than ever, where even pavements have been tagged and everyone has put a sign in their window - the jumbled letters and mysterious punctuation become more like images. You can read into them whatever you wish, assessing them on their colour, size, and shape with regard for little else except personal taste. There is also something liberating in the unconscious rejection of a written instruction.


These strange vernacular moments were one of the first things which drew me to living in a non-English speaking city. But they have also ended up teaching me how to embrace being an outsider.


In this northern European city, which seems to be ever-more responsible for taking care of artists (and outsiders) the world over, people write whatever they want to say, wherever they please. It has one of the biggest problems with graffiti I've ever seen – only this morning I awoke to find my freshly painted mint-green house (the only clean one in the block) had been daubed with more mysterious German (or were they Turkish?) words in thick black spray paint. I still marvel at every lamp-post, swathed and weighed down by 1000s of pieces of paper and adhesive tape advertising cheap women and free gigs, which no one ever seems to take down.


There is so much to read here, and at the same time absolutely nothing. I can study the intricate details of every typeface, print process or application of paint, without any preconception of how and when its use is appropriate. My curiosity is not driven by necessity, but by gratuitously indulging my visual interests.


Holly Wales is an illustrator who divides her time between London and Berlin.

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