It all started with paper, painting and collage, soon evolved into screen-printing and continued with murals and performances. Since they met and started collaborating, the artist duo Various & Gould has been spreading their playful, yet socially-engaged art across streets, galleries and, most important, people.
Various and Gould’s creative explorations
Colours, shapes, patchworked faces – if you live in Berlin/Kreuzberg you have surely seen their art while walking around in your Kiez. Unless you know them personally, you won’t ever recognise them for anything but their artworks. Their faces never appear on pictures, as they’ve deliberately chosen to be associated with and represented only by their art. Soon after they met, 10 years ago, they applied for the art school Weissensee Kunsthochschule and found each other in the same classroom. This was the beginning of their shared artistic journey, which has unfolded naturally and has taken their creative explorations further beyond what they would have imagined.
Their shared passion for street art, along with the continuos exchange of inputs and feedbacks between each other, has made them develop their own, special language that exceeds words and revolves around the formula 1+1=3. What happens in Various and Gould’s case is indeed some sort of “Aufhebung” (as intended by Hegel), which simultaneously means changing, preserving and further advancing and proves how the collaboration between two artists can make them achieve something far better than what they’d achieve by working individually.
“When one is lost or stuck, the other one fill in. Both of us are capable of every technique, we are constanty swapping tools. What we really like about collaborating is that yes, we talk a lot about the works, concepts and how we want to do it, but often find out, later on, that we totally misunderstood each other. We get somewhere else than planned and it’s always different than what we’d do on our own. Every time these “happy accidents” lead to new, unexpected creations.”
The Beauty of Diversity
Just about a month ago, the façade of a building between Mitte and Kreuzberg became a canvas for them to honour diversity with their “Face Time Mural”. This work is part of one of their ongoing series, Face Time, which is based on the idea of mixing different people’s facial features to create new patch-worked identities. “It’s a very actual topic and we try to create characters that don’t exist in the media – characters that should be mixed in every possible way, without boundaries. It’s about the importance of questioning beauty ideals and valuing a person for his/her uniqueness rather than how pretty he/she is. These faces tell stories and seem more real to us than the ones we see on TV and in the media.”
“People are still struggling with the acceptance of the idea that yes, we are all diverse, but at the same time we are all the same, we are all equal. Everyone needs to get in touch with this concept, now more than ever. We want our art to be a starting point to initiate dialogue and to raise awareness.” The choice of themes for their works is not casual, and all their series are more or less related to each other. With the project “Identity“, started in 2011, they’ve already showed their engagement in the matters of diversity, migration, origin and identity.
By rearranging pieces of portraits of well-known personalities with a migration background (such as Barack Obama, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Lucy Liu, Salma Hayek, Zinédine Zidane, Fatih Akin) and adding words that evoke certain images and stereotypes, they offer the viewers a different perspective on otherwise seemingly established assumptions and preconceptions.
The workshops: introducing art as a game
If you take a look at the workshops they’ve held, you’ll realise how fundamental the communicative aspect of art is for Various & Gould. They told me about some of their experiences and particularly stressed how inspiring and enriching it’s been for them to introduce children, adolescents and young adults to art – and to their own creativity as well. “Some think they are not creative, and when they find themselves in front of a blank canvas, they feel overwhelmed and don’t know what to do with it. By introducing art as a game, we’ve tried to help them find a way to acknowledge the opposite and discover their innate creative potential.”
On top of this, most of their workshops are related to their current projects and enables them to encourage young minds to explore relevant and difficult topics in a playful way. “What is important about art is that it questions reality – things are not always the way they look, from the way we are taught and we are told by our society and the environment in which we grow up. Being in close contact with the next generation has given us hope in the kids and has made us less worried about the future”.
What do Marina Abramović, Antony Hegarty, Edward Snowden and Malala Yousafzai have in common? They are pioneers on controversial social issues and have been fighting for freedom, for their ideas, for equality, acceptance and justice. They’ve devoted their lives to a higher cause, to humanity’s cause. Yet, because their mission is not in line with the system, they’ve faced hostility and in some cases even persecution. In earlier times, innocent people regarded as witches were persecuted and burnt because they were considered a threat to the sovereign power. These were the premises for the series “Wanted Witches – Witches Wanted” – the portraits of 13 living, non-conformist people who reacted to injustices and turned them into their own life’s mission.
I was invited to experience some “witchcraft” and come into direct contact with one of the portraits, that of Malala. Thanks to the special colour they used, I could ignite a match on the actual artwork and light on a candle right beside the image. This enlightening project even reached the streets in form of a #WitchHunt, in which participants were searching these portrait-posters all over the city and getting to know more about the personalities portrayed. Needless to say, when meaningful messages are conveyed through art and even introduced as a game, they hardly fail to reach out.
The broken windows theory
The last project they’ve been working on follows the same stream of thought as the previous ones, even if approached from a different side. With reference to the controversial “broken windows theory“, according to which a broken window is the indication of the downfall and rise of criminality in a neighbourhood, the aim of this upcoming series is to drive attention to the abusive and recurrent no-tolerance strategies implemented in the US to deal with this issue.
Once more, their work deals with current themes that are not easy to be confronted with but are necessary to be aware of. I asked them whether they consider themselves “activists”. They pointed out they are not, and added: “We try to approach current issues as artists. Yes, we want to raise questions, but in a way that doesn’t make people feel forced to face problems and uncomfortable truths. Our art stands as nothing more than an invitation to think. It appeals to people’s intuitive reactions that further lead to constructive conversation and increased awareness.”
Questioning, communicating, learning and sharing – for starters, this is what we need to make a positive change happen. Various & Gould’s work represent an exemplary case of how art can be one of the most powerful trigger for cultural and societal improvement.