Prairie Artsters was on a December hiatus because I was (and am at this very moment of writing) in the city of Berlin. A city that’s clearly changing, with a steady influx of immigration and cranes in the sky, nearly 20 years after the fall of the wall Berlin still remains one of the most affordable European cities to live in—and draws those who wish to pursue their artistic abilities without having to make a lot of money to survive.
While here, I caught up with ex-Edmontonian visual artist Claire McLarney—who, at this point last year was mounting her main room solo exhibition, Acts of Violence, at Harcourt House Gallery and working full time as a prepator for the Art Gallery of Alberta. Travelling and visiting Berlin this past summer, she decided to stay on to live and create here. Though she had to give up an increasingly promising existence, McLarney admits that otherwise she has felt no lingering attachment to the city she grew up in and the place where she completed her BFA.
Over beers and cigarettes in East Berlin, McLarney shares, “The day I got here my body responded to the city. This place just feels alive. After I left, I immediately missed Berlin.”
Working in documented transient states where the art produced exists only for short periods of time, McLarney feels she can work and live here more freely than before. She continues, “I don’t want to diss Edmonton, because there are a lot of opportunities there right now, but maybe that’s bullshit since everyone’s getting kicked out of their homes ... but Berlin is just a lot more open. Everyone is out on the streets and you never see the flickering of any televisions in any windows. People who come here want to actually do things, not just chase money.”
That approach to art and to life, about engaging and responding to your surroundings, was something she did not feel in Edmonton, or more fairly, perhaps did not have the time to feel between working full-time and personal distractions. The fact that McLarney has also been comfortably living off 500 Euros a month makes the priority of devoting more time to making art than to making rent a far greater possibility.
“I can do my work here and not get stared at or questioned,” McLarney states, acknowledging that she shouldn’t care if people stop and stare, but also pointing out that she has found Berliners to be more laid back and willing to have art be part of their daily lives. Art making and exhibition is far less alienated by the general population and in the media. There are also far more contemporary international exhibitions—at any given time, there are shows like the newly commissioned Jeff Wall prints and Roman Signor that are currently exhibiting in town along with emerging artists and acclaimed permanent collections.
Continues McLarney, “Every artist I know needs to make art or else they feel fucked up. It’s not like they always know what they’re doing, but they also don’t always need to be making objects. Art is about finding a way to respond to the world.”
First published in Vue Weekly, 2008. January 10 - 16, 2008.