Curation: Kate Matthews’ Berlin Doesn’t Love You

13 May-24 May 2019
PhotoSpace Gallery, Canberra
Curated by Millie Bull

Kate Matthews’ Berlin Doesn’t Love You speaks to a city in the grips of an image crisis. Berliners cling to the past as their city accelerates into the future. Nineties nostalgia has erupted in the wake of gentrification. But is this a good thing? What aspects of Berlin’s past ought be ‘preserved’?

Berlin is fluent in the language of street art. For decades, conversations have taken place on the city’s walls (and Wall). There is a democratic spirit to this anarchic expression. By enlivening public space with debate, street artists embed their critiques in the fabric of the city itself. Against a history of exclusion and division, street art has helped redefined Berlin as a haven for liberal expression; a playground for creative autonomy and inclusivity. It has been a vital mode of self expression, rebellion and conversation.

In the wake of the 2007 GFC, companies swarmed to Berlin for the cheap office spaces and even cheaper business permits, eager to maintain a foothold in the European market. Rich hipsters arrived in their thousands, willing to pay extortionate rent to live in grungy suburbs. Berliners revolted. This influx of money and development damaged their underground culture. Street artists, like JR and Blu, painted over their street art to protest rent inflation. Sticker movements, like Berlin Doesn’t Love You (which gives this series its name), exploded on the streets of Kreuzberg. 

What are Berliners nostalgic for? The poverty, unemployment and a crumbling government of the late 80s and early 90s? Or just the fun underground raves and techno scene? Gentrification is diminishing Berlin’s countercultural energy, but with such rapid rates of development, city councils are struggling to define the city’s emerging identity, let alone preserve its past. Despite a population boom, less people reside in Berlin today than before the First World War.  For a time, Berlin was an artistic utopia with huge expanses for the imagination. Is it possible to hold onto this sense of radical openness and possibility as urban density intensifies?

Living in Kreuzberg, Kate studied Berlin’s contradictions through her camera. Using photomontage, she combined photos of the city to ask pertinent questions about its conflicting identities.  Pasting her collages throughout her neighbourhood, Kate added her voice to the cacophony of street artists, engaging the city she loves in a language it understands. 

Since February, Kate’s pasteups have been weathered by rain and snow and graffitied over by other artists. Some have been stripped away. In April, someone drew a frame around one of the pasteups and wrote the word ‘erhaltet’ [preserve]. Her depictions of the city struck a nerve, and the city spoke back. The conversation about Berlin’s identity is far from over. Berlin Doesn’t Love You invites us to reconsider the streets as forums of debate, where, through the power of images and words, paper and paint, street artists fight for the things that matter to them most, inciting us to join to the conversation. 

Millie Bull, curator

Gentrification in Berlin lately doesn’t content itself with destroying creative spaces. Because it needs its artistic brand to remain attractive, it tends to artificially reanimate the creativity it has displaced, thus producing an “undead city”. This zombification is threatening to turn Berlin into a museal city of veneers, the “art scene” preserved as an amusement park for those who can afford the rising rents.

Lutz Henke, co-creator of the Kreuzberg murals, writing for The Guardian (December 2014)

Revolutionary events generally take place in the street. Doesn’t this show that the disorder of the streets engenders another kind of order? The urban space of the street is a place…where speech becomes writing…and by escaping the rules of institutions, inscribes itself on wall

Henri Lefebrve in The Urban Revolution (1970)

Check out more of Kate’s photography here:

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