Niels Post: Dresden

On Spam, Business Proposals © Niels Post Niels Post is not only a visual artist but also a curator and art blogger for www.trendbeheer. His preferred starting material is spam messages, computer-generated mails which nobody actually reads and yet which are ubiquitous. In 2013 he spent two months as Artist-in-Residence of the Goethe-Institut in Dresden.

Since 2011 the Goethe-Institut Netherlands has had an exchange programme for visual artists from Dresden and Rotterdam. Local partners include the Centrum Beeldende Kunst Rotterdam ands the Cultural Office of the City of Dresden. After Esmé Valk (2011) and Marielle Buitendijk (2012), it was my turn in 2013.

After a ten-hour train ride, laden with steamer trunk and bike, I arrived on 1 June at the Dresden-Neustadt railway station, just in time to witness the last days of the continuous rain that had been falling for two months. The River Elbe had flooded at various places, especially in the Old Town. Everywhere there were sandbags and other water barriers. Two days later, the sun came out. Although the highest water level had not been reached, many people still thought the time had come to enjoy a delicious beer in one of the local beer gardens.

Dresden-Neustadt – a sort of mini Berlin

The guest flat leased for me by the Goethe-Institut was situated in the middle of Dresden-Neustadt, the artist, student, pub and squatter quarter. A sort of mini Berlin, but without the hosts of tourists. Urban life is within reach, and at the same time you can be in the forest or on the Elbe within fifteen minutes. About twice a week there is an interesting exhibition opening; otherwise you have enough time for your own work.

Keeping commerce at a distance – the Bunte Republic of Neustadt

An absolute contrast to this kind of bureaucratic arbitrariness is the street festival held every year by the Bunte Republik Neustadt (literally: The Colourful Republic of Neustadt). In 1990, at the time of the turnaround, the local squatter and artist scene proclaimed the founding of the microstate of the Bunte Republik Neustadt. The Republic issued its own passports and currency, the Neustadtmark. A year later the first street festival was organized. The microstate existed only until 1993; the street festival still exists today. In the meantime the city of Dresden looks after the road closures, medical services and a certain degree of police supervision. Everything else is organized by the residents themselves. Only they and the local businesses get a sales or pub license; in this way commerce is to be kept at a distance. Those so minded can transform their balconies into stages, open a pub in the house entrance or hang 100-watt speakers out the window. This would be inconceivable in the Netherlands, where you need a permit for everything.

I counted at least fifty mini stages and balcony discos, sometimes only ten metres apart. There is plenty of partying, but the street festival also revolves around history and protest – this year above all against gentrification of the quarter and the tapping practices of the NSA. Here people don’t find so convincing the standard argument you hear in the Netherlands, that “If you’ve done nothing illegal, you have nothing to hide”. Germans have had sufficient experience of omniscient authorities and the possibilities of abuse. This, by the way, is also the reason that many German artists have no Facebook page. One of the high points of the festival is the BRN Museum, which presents the quarter’s marvellous tradition of stubbornness, individual initiative and pride. Many “top down” initiated city projects cannot compete.

Dresden has a very vibrant art Scene

Because of the situation at Geh8, my original plan of erecting a large sculpture in the abandoned area next to the building fell through. Fortunately, the flat that the Goethe-Institut had put at my disposal was large enough to be also used as a studio, and I was able to realize my ideas for wooden sculptures in the form of prototypes made of paper. I worked on two smaller sculptures of coloured paper and began with a series of drawings, which I continued to develop after my return to the Netherlands. For two other projects I worked on during my stay in Dresden the closing of Geh8 made no difference anyway: in order to write my report for Trendbeheer I needed only a computer having internet access, and for my interventions in public space the most important thing was to ride around a lot on a bike and look.

Dresden has a very vibrant art scene. There are studio buildings with project spaces (for example, C. Rockefeller – note the name), but also some smaller exhibition spaces (F 14, Bautzner 69, Stauffenbergallee 11), whose vitality and self-organizational form reminded me of various initiatives in Den Haag and Rotterdam. Also established festival such as the Ostrale, which presents international contemporary art once a year, and a big street art festival in Hellerau. And of course the Art Academy, which has its headquarters in one of the most important buildings in the Dresden city centre. Although I got around, I didn’t see everything by a long shot. A small selection from the wealth of possibilities can be found in my reports at Trendbeheer.

Good contacts in building a Network

On Spam, Business Proposals is an ongoing series presented in public space. In various cities, I affix short texts bearing business proposals that I have found in my spam filter to walls and windows of vacant shops. A Dresden version of On Spam Business Proposals was planned in any case, and since Prague is not far away I also realized a series of five works there. The train ride from Dresden to Prague, straight through “Saxon Switzerland”, a sandstone mountain chain of breathtaking beauty, is worth the journey at all events. I can recommend disembarking for a few days to go hiking. Karl May created here his Winnetou, and Caspar David Friedrich his Wanderer above the Sea of Fog.

The Goethe-Institut’s organization of my stay was very well done, from the first discussions in Rotterdam to the reception in Dresden. Once the worst flood problems were surmounted (all employees of the city of Dresden were working in flood relief), there was an initial meeting in the Galerie Raskolnikov (project space, pension and restaurant in one) with staff of the Goethe-Institut Dresden and the city of Dresden. Also in attendance were Mariana Smith and Susan Li O’Connor, two guest artists from Columbus, Ohio. Good contacts in building a network. During my time in Dresden, I did a lot with the two American artists.

An artist exchange could not be more direct

The Goethe-Institut laid down no stipulations for the residency and there was no obligation to make a final presentation. Instead, the fellowship provided many opportunities for production, reflection and networking. Even before my departure for Dresden I spoke with members of Geh8 when they were visiting in Rotterdam, and during my stay in Dresden I got to know Su-Ran Sichling, the next guest artist from Rotterdam. Such encounters ensure that the guest artists have direct contacts in the city of their residency, which makes it easier for them to find their way into a network, in turn facilitating quite practical matters such as looking for an art supplies shop.

The follow-up on the Dresden side was also uncomplicated. In 2014, through the mediation of the Dresden Cultural Office, Marielle Buitendijk and I travelled again to the city for an art fair, where we each had a our own stand. From 14 February to 29 March 2014, the Galerie Raskolnikov also showed the exhibition Spam and Order, with works by Su-Ran Sichling and me.

Contact with the people of Geh8 continues. They did not give up the fight with the Building Inspection authorities and in June 2014 were able to re-open with the Dresden edition of the Art Exchange Fitax500. Fitax500 is organized by the Rotterdam artist collective Tupajumi. Rotterdam art and Rotterdam artists were in on the re-opening. An exchange of works and ideas among artists could not be more direct.

Meanwhile, I’m standing again behind my sawing machine, working on the production of about 200 letters in Arial, one of the ten core fonts in the internet and the standard font of my spam works.
Niels Post

This article appeared under the title Standplaats Dresden
in February 2014 in the Dutch magazine
BK informatie – tijdschrift voor beeldend kunstenaars.

Translated from the German by Jonathan Uhlaner

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