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Art

80s Berlin Subculture Celebrated in Melbourne Exhibition

"It was frenetic and anarchic and really creative" - Nick Cave.

Ingrid Kesa

Einstürzende Neubauten playing at festival Berlin Atonal, West Berlin, 1982, shot by Anno Dittmer. All images courtesy of RMIT Gallery

1980s Berlin has got to be up there with the coolest periods in history. The walled-in city was a breeding ground for creativity. Artists, activists, musicians, writers and filmmakers flocked. It’s where people like David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Nick Cave and Brian Eno made some of their (arguably) landmark work. It became a creative refuge for Germans and foreigners alike, a place where anything went, and work was circulated through zines, cassettes and DIY videos. It’s easy to look at this subculture through a romantic lens, but the mark it left is certain. The enduring influence of ‘80s Berlin is celebrated in Geniale Dilletanten (Brilliant Dilletantes), an international touring exhibition whose next stop is Melbourne’s RMIT Gallery.

Curated by the Goethe Institut, Geniale Dilletanten paints a picture of ‘80s Berlin (and wider Germany) through film, audio, interviews, photography, record covers, gig posters and other artefacts. The exhibition also focuses on seven German bands—including Einstürzende Neubauten; Die Tödliche Doris and Deutsch Amerikanische Freundschaft (D.A.F.)—who were part of a movement in music to use start using German, rather than English, band names and lyrics.

Die Tödliche Doris at Festival der Genialen Dilletanten at Tempodrom, Berlin, 1981

Nick Cave recalls arriving in Berlin in documentary Autoluminescent, saying, “We [The Birthday Party] were received with open arms into this community who reminded us of Melbourne. It was frenetic and anarchic and really creative.” The exhibition also explores the Melbourne that Cave speaks of and looks at what was happening locally from 1979-1989, such as the post-punk scene that was popping off in St. Kilda and Fitzroy.

The exhibition will be accompanied by a program of gigs, talks and films including a screening of the documentary B-Movie: Lust & Sound in West-Berlin; a floor talk with curator Mathilde Weh and musician Penny Ikinger about women in the arts; and live show by Berlin band Automat at the John Curtin Hotel with support from NZ’s Shocking Pinks. The launch event is on tonight, with German beer and 80s music selected by PBS' Tony Irvine. You can see the complete program here.

Alex Hacke, (aka Alexander von Borsig) playing with Kindy Citny (in the band Sprung au den Wolken) to a small audience in West Berlin, 1981

Einstürzende Neubauten, at Documenta 7 in Kassel, 1982

Blixa Bargeld, Metropol, Berlin, 1989

Claudia Skoda (Berlin fashion designer) with a floor collage designed for her by the artist Martin Kippenberger, West Berlin, 1984

Der Plan tour poster, 1987

Die Tödliche Doris, autograph card for a concert in Japan, 1987

Geniale Dilletanten runs from November 13-February 27, 2016 at RMIT Gallery. Find out more information here. Geniale Dilletanten will travel to Sydney next year and will show at Ambush Gallery from March 10-April 14, 2016.

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