On 02 October 2021 Contemporary HUM hosted the panel discussion On Civicness and participation in public life through art practice in Berlin which will be published on HUM soon. The conversation explored how the idea of ‘civicness’ is tied to social responsibility within a global community, from the perspective of three artists from Aotearoa: Glasgow-based Cat Auburn; Berlin-based Ruth Buchanan; and Warsaw-based Daniel Malone.

It was great to see some familiar faces at the discussion and meet new ones from the vibrant Berlin art scene! We thoroughly enjoyed catching up with some of the German-based artists and curators from Aotearoa who were present, including Henry Davidson; Juliet Carpenter; Michael Stevenson (read our publication on his exhibition at KW in Berlin here); Bob van der Wal; Henry Babbage (who wrote this piece for HUM on artist Alex Chalmers); Matthew Cowan; Joshua Rutter; and Stephanie O'Connor (who photographed the event for us) amongst others.

While in Berlin we took the opportunity to catch up with several artists from Aotearoa New Zealand and learn about their latest projects. Scroll down to find out more. 

October 3, 2021
Studio visit with Sam Rountree Williams

Originally from Kirikiriroa Hamilton, Sam Rountree Williams is a painter who has been based in Berlin for the past seven years, after attending the Dusseldorf Art Academy (2009 - 2010) and Turps Art School in London (2012 - 2013).

Sam greeted us at the door of his Kreuzberg studio, a large building containing multiple floors of individual studios, its walls decorated with scrap metal sculptures. After leading us to the top floor, to the studio he shares with one other artist, Sam talked us through his current body of work: large-scale canvasses stretched over wooden frames, most of which are decorated with brightly-painted cockle shells hand collected from the Baltic Sea. Devil figures feature amongst more abstract forms — clouds, horizon lines, landforms, and maps.

During our conversation, Sam noted connections between his work and graffiti art, Philip Guston, 'kitschy shell art', and children's drawings (we also learned he supports his studio practice by teaching in kindergartens across the city). 

Earlier this year, Sam made the journey back to Aotearoa New Zealand, travelling with work for the show Dreamers (at Robert Heald Gallery in Te Whanganui-a-Tara Wellington, 4 - 27 March 2021). Such an exhibition, Sam said, is harder to present in Berlin — a city more known for experimental performances or large-scale, sculpture-focused exhibits than shows dedicated to painting. 

October 4, 2021
Meeting with Joshua Rutter

Joshua Rutter's artistic practice flits between dance, choreography, performance art, music, contemporary art, theatre, and installation, a hybrid he says is "absolutely standard" in Berlin, a city he has called home since 2014, and where he studied toward an MA in Solo/Dance/Authorship (SODA) at Hochschulübergreifendes Zentrum Tanz.

We met Joshua for a quick coffee in Neukölln, where he talked to us about some of his current artistic interests — situations, physical systems, and information — and his recent projects including a series of urban walks based on a score of choreography, performed in collaboration with Sabine Zahn among others.

In 2019 was Fremdgehen, a mapping exercise performed around Anhalter Bahnhof, which saw four participatory duets (one performer and one member of the public) 'investigate' different surfaces and spaces of the under-utilised and overlooked part of the city. And in 2021 was Into Dwelling, a choreographic study and series of public performances carried out in Alexanderplatz which explored ideas of 'inhabiting' and 'lingering' in public spaces.  

Joshua also showed us This is Dave (2020), a video he has produced with long-time collaborator, fellow New Zealand artist and Berlin resident Dave Hall, in which they push, punch, hold, twist, balance, and shake various objects to see what happens. 

"The shaking montage seems to be a crowd-favourite," he told us. "I start to wonder if an expanded live version would make for a good performance."

HUM featured Joshua's work in Alexa Wilson's essay Movements of Outsiders: Nomadic New Zealand Dance Artists during the Pandemic, published in February 2021.

Studio visit with Matthew Cowan

Later that afternoon, HUM's Editor Pauline Autet visited Matthew Cowan, a multi-disciplinary artist, based in Berlin and Helsinki. He is currently working on his PhD at the Academy of Fine Arts, Uniarts Helsinki, where he also teaches.

Working between photographs, videos, installations and performances, Matthew's work deals with traditional European folklore and explores the 'inherent strangeness of long-established folk customs in a contemporary world'.

One of Matthew's recent projects includes Wildness Makes This World (2019-21), a limited edition LP produced in collaboration with Laitakaupungin orkesteri (LKO) from Seinäjoki in Finland, which combined field recordings made by Matthew in Berlin with experimental soundscapes produced by LKO using various acoustic instruments. The soundscape was also part of the Wildness Makes This World exhibition at Kunsthalle Seinäjoki from 10 December 2020 - 06 March 2021.

Matthew just exhibited in the group show Rituale der Gegenwart (Rituals of the Present) at Künstlerhaus Sootbörn in Hamburg (27 August - 5 September 2021) and is currently working on an e-book related to his 2019 exhibition The Scream of the Strawbear at Kunsthalle Giessen in Germany, which will include HUM's commissioned publication by Tessa Laird.

Studio visit with Ben Cauchi

A photographer originally from Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland, Ben Cauchi graduated from Massey University in Te Whanganui-a-Tara Wellington in 2000 and has since become recognised for using very early photographic techniques: the wet-collodion photographic process, producing ambrotypes and tintypes; and one-off positives on glass or metal. 

In 2012 Ben was awarded the Creative New Zealand Berlin Visual Artists Residency at the Künstlerhaus Bethanien in Berlin and has since been based in the city, where he continues to develop his unique practice that examines the nature of photography, the passage of time, and the psychological dimensions of viewing. 

Conveniently for HUM's Editor Pauline Autet, Ben's current studio is located nearby Matthew's making her visit possible that same day. Ben spoke of the challenges involved in finding a studio space within the city, his current setup houses a large-format camera and includes a small darkroom.

It's here that he continues his research into alchemy and is currently experimenting with new forms out of focus in the frame. Ben exhibited recent works in Metaphysica at Robert Heald Gallery in Te Whanganui-a-Tara Wellington this year (1 - 24 April 2021), and also curated Solar Flare, an exhibition with artists Roger Ackling and Chris McCaw at Robert Heald (1 - 22 May 2021). Like Ben, the artists in Solar Flare use sunlight as a drawing tool, producing a physical form from its energy — a process that has captured Ben's interest for more than a decade.

It was a fascinating exploration through Ben's unique setups and a memorable experience viewing his intriguing photographs up close. 

Other exhibitions

We also took the chance to visit a few other exhibitions while in the city including Alexandra Bircken's site-specific installation Fair Game at KINDL Zentrum für zeitgenössische Kunst (an imposing former brewery in Neukölln); Alicja Kwade's poetic sculptures and multi-media installations in In Abwesenheit (In Absence) at the Berlinische Galerie; and the group exhibition Illiberal Arts at Haus der Kulturen der Welt which included work from Karrabing Film Collective, a grassroots Indigenous-based media group from Australia. 

We think it is safe to say it was an inspiring few days!