Article categories: Issue 63
July 31st, 2009

I had long anticipated a return to Berlin. Fresh out of the music conservatorium in Perth, I had arrived there previously in 1990 after several months touring Europe, and experienced a city in rapid change. These were the days of squatting flats, no telephones, playing in bands, the underground only stopping at some stops, 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 was a different city that I experienced.

Phonebook Installation, Cat Hope

Phonebook Installation, Cat Hope

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, relating concepts for works that would fit into the ‘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 out over quiet Finowstrasse in Friedrichsheim. Passers-by peer in every now and then, and sometimes come in for a chat to see what’s happening.

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. To act as a complement to formal presentations in the huge auditorium there were artist’s talks in the smaller rooms of the Academia de Kunste. 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. Jean Jacques Perrey was an interesting choice for a keynote speaker, but fitted nicely with the theme of the main exhibition, Smile Machines. 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.

Video is big in Berlin right now, and this was reflected in the festival. The Akademie de Kunste was filled to the rafters 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, and 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, was an incredible film installation completely driven by the immersive surround sound.

Tesla (once know as Podeweil) was another partner with Transmediale. Tesla was characterised by open studios, which was a refreshing alternative to viewing the finished works at the Akademie. A large range 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 introduced established artists to emerging artists, alongside local supports. Curated under nightly themes, the program included bands and electronic music, a truly eclectic collection of acts that somehow sat nicely together. Highlights were the ‘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, farcical … 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 called 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. [1]

It had to be a fast transition from observing to creating, as 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 exhibit 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 equipment and the state of sound art.

I was determined to make work that somehow reflected the time I had already spent in 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 and yet failed, to hunt them down. But in the process I discovered a huge second hand market for books of all languages in Berlin. Within no time I had piles of books in the gallery and started working on an installation that involved placing mobile phones inside books. Referencing audio books and podcasting, you could dial the phones to hear their ringtones read you the contents I had removed from the books they sat hidden inside. The books sat 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.

The three artists in Transit Lounge took part in some advertised artists’ talks which were a great way to get in touch with how we were influencing each others’ work. The opening night went well. It was a great turnout and despite some initial concerns, the work of the three artists sat nicely together without interference. Sumugan 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) is not that different wherever you are. When I returned to Berlin three 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 new work, the three weeks were packed with events of all descriptions.  Hopefully, Transit Lounge will some day happen in Australia, and we can welcome Berliners as they had welcomed me.

Cat Hope
Cat Hope is a composer who writes acoustic and electronic works for dance, theatre and film, winning the Pandora’s Box Best Film Score Award in 2002. Cat is also a performance and video artist whose works in these genres have a sound focus. She recently traveled to Berlin to take part in the residency program Transit Lounge, a partner project of Transmediale, the annual digital technologies festival.


[1] You can listen and purchase these pressings at

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