Famed vampire hangout KaterHolzig plays host to BERLINPIECES Berlin Graphic Days this month. The first of (hopefully) many annual graphic-design festivals brings together international artists, screen printers, illustrators and other such craftsmen for a combination market, party, and showcase. Patrons will find a palette almost as varied and zany as the prints themselves.
The fact that KaterHolzig looks like a graphic print come to life helps foster the appropriate mood. Every square inch of the converted old factory bears murals, sculptures, graffiti, and other remarkable tattoos of a thousand artistic hands passing through over the years. On the third floor, BGD visitors move amidst rows of evenly spaced table stations placed within a gigantic, rambling treehouse. On stage in back, Plateau Repas cheerleads the lackadaisical crowd with their electronic mix of robot voices and 8-bit video game bleeps. Beers clink. Cigarette smoke clings. I feel like a hipster just being in the room, Someone to hand me a knitted sweater and square specs so I can fit in with my fellow 20-somethings.
The hopeless mess on KaterHolzig’s walls, floor, and ceiling ought not to be confused with the carefully constructed mess that these prints exhibit. What we shoppers are looking at is the jumble of thoughts that constantly cloud our worried minds, pressed into reality one color at a time by an artist who’s just talented (and crazy) enough to get it all down. As we shop, we’re looking for those thoughts that trouble us most, or rear up most often. Laying our cash down is a way of taking control of those thoughts by turning them into art. Finding release shouldn’t be hard given the magnitude of pieces available: paintings, drawings, construction paper graphics, computer-generated fantasias, bags, pillows, hoodies, comic books, picture books, regular books; all printed in triplicate and scaled from poster to postcard size.
As far as the designers are concerned, however, the true art of graphic design lies not in the picture, but in the making- a process that must be as confusing as it is cathartic. “Our prints are mostly about the experience,” a young guy named Damien tells me. He’s a designer with the French collective Palefroi. “We find something new to print on, take some colors we haven’t used together yet, and experiment.” Some of Palefroi’s prints start out as paintings, but just as many others are pen drawings or treated photo collages or done up on the computer.
As I sift through the scatter of posters on their table, a green mountain-scape catches my eye, taking me back to my visit of America’s Grand Teton National Park. Unlike my memory, however, these peaks are crawling with wolves and blood-red imps, though I can’t tell who’s chasing whom. I stand captivated as Palefroi hijacks my serene memories to infuse their own grim twist. Have they then polluted my beautiful memory, or enhanced it? Either way the artists have forced themselves into my head and placed a little charm down in the green grass.
It’s impossible to overstate how literally BGD takes the phrase “a little bit of everything”. A few tables away from Palefroi, Ekaterina Koroleva’s collection features beautiful, haute drawings of women with curly hair and bright red lipstick, among much else. Further on, Das Beet offers a hideous white trash caricature riding a lawnmower and pushing his vegetarian agenda silently onto the crowd. One monster-themed table sells kits that guide users in how to make their own paper zombie figurines, while the next table over features nothing but nutcracker prints; their austere faces loveable but decidedly not Christmassy.
There’s not much the graphic designers haven’t laid their art onto, all in the quest to turn the everyday into something worth having. Pillows, handbags, mittens, buttons- the artists asks “What does the eye expect to see here? What would it like to see instead?” For proof of concept I turn to various tomes along the bar- catalogues of design for furniture, home, and life. The pages show chaise lounges made of teddy bears, plastic lawn furniture augmented with pressed cardboard backs and arm rests, wicker shoes, that sort of thing. “What is a chair?” the designer asks. “What isn’t a chair?” Then they make something in between those two answers.
All up and down the aisles we patrons search to find whatever despicable, indescribable, unspoken whimsy swims through our heads. As we shop, we consider what ownership of such an item will say about us to our peers. Perhaps we’ll buy a poster to glue haphazardly on the wall, or lots of little postcards to string up in the bathroom. Maybe we’ll frame a beautiful collage above the couch. “I don’t really care what you do with them, as long as I get to keep making them” Damien says. Quite right. In the world of graphic design, the artist becomes the customer by making art, and we become artists by buying it.
Originally published by INDI Berlin Magazine