Michelle O'Brien

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An Ode to Berlin


I moved to you 5 years ago this month, and how that time has flown. I never knew love for a place before living in you, and now I’m head over heels. You can be a harsh bitch who kicks me when I’m down and you provide both immense challenges and endless frustrations. But your magic, rough charm and raw beauty continue to take my breath away every single day. You and your inhabitants fill my heart with endless inspiration and make my soul sing. As dysfunctional as our relationship is, you’ve changed my life completely by giving me the tools to discover myself, and for that I’m eternally grateful. No matter where the future takes me, you are now my home and always will be.

Winter Sun #berlin

Atelier Reflections

“In a festival context, participants have the opportunity to come away exhausted, but somehow changed, tired and with hangovers, but possibly with renewed hope and dreams.” — the incredible Robyn Archer

… plus some of my other reflections after spending 7 intensive days with 41 festival managers at the Atelier for Festival Managers 2014. Read more here.

Lichtgrenze Berlin: The power of public art

There are times when art can say what words cannot.

9th November 2014. 25 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall. 25 years of Freedom. To commemorate, Berlin presents its largest ever public art installation: Lichtgrenze by brothers Christopher & Marc Bauder, produced flawlessly by my past employer from transmediale festival, Kulturprojekte Berlin. Stretching 15 kilometres across the city, Lichtgrenze traces the path of the Berlin Wall with 8000 white helium balloons, released into Berlin’s skies after three days on the evening of 9th November, the day the Wall fell 25 years ago.

In my mind this cultural project represents everything public art should be. Ephemeral, reflective, fragile, inviting and transformational. It offers an open invitation for people young and old to join together in common spirit, contemplation and serendipitous exchange. Walking this pilgrimage over the course of this weekend, along with tens of thousands of other Berliners and Berliners-at-heart, was an experience I’ll never forget and an inspiring reminder of why I do the work I do.

Labour of love in Berlin: An ongoing research project

 

This month I was awarded a Master of Arts (Creative Media) with Distinction from University of Brighton, based on the research topic A creative calling: Migrant creatives and the labour of love in Berlin. My thesis studies foreign creative labourers living and working in Berlin, as indicative of labourers in creative cities around the world. The dissertation explores the meanings of Berlin to migrant creative labourers and the ways in which ‘labour of love’ influences work- and lifestyles in a global creative city. A huge thank you to the 200+ Berlin-based migrant creative labourers who completed my research survey with such passionate and insightful responses. Without you this project would not have been possible. I plan to continue and expand on this research very soon – labour practices in the creative industries are an important and under-examined topic. More info on the thesis and findings can be found in the abstract below.

Abstract

A creative calling: Migrant creatives and the labour of love in Berlin is a study of foreign creative labourers living and working in Berlin, as indicative of labourers in creative cities around the world. The central research questions of this dissertation, “What is the meaning of Berlin to migrant creative labourers?” and “How does ‘labour of love’ influence workstyles in a global creative city?” are addressed through analysis of survey data from over 200 migrant creatives in Berlin.

The dissertation uses the theoretical framework of social constructionism and a combined research approach of qualitative and quantitative data analysis to examine themes including the socio-spatial work-styles of migrant creatives, negotiations of mobility, relations to place, creative city as ‘base’ and how ‘labour of love’ influences their work-styles and lives.

Firstly representations of Berlin as a creative city are examined, drawing on Maile & Griffiths’ psychosocial imaginary of Berlin (2012) and its representation as a global creative city. New mobility patterns are analysed as well as motivations for migration beyond traditional notions of nationhood (Saunders, 2010; Wang, 2004).

Literature surrounding relations to place and creative locales is reviewed, including Castells’ Network Society (1996), Sassen’s studies of creative subculture territorialisation (2004, 2001) and Lange’s work on the socio-spatial strategies of culturepreneurs (2006a, 2006b). Evolving workstyles of creative labourers are analysed (Cohen, 2012), the ‘labour of love’ theory is discussed in relation to exploitative creative labour practices (Menger, 1999) and McRobbie’s writings on creative labourer as personification of increasingly inescapable work structures (2010) are applied. An analysis of survey data places Berlin’s migrant creatives in the context of new forms of migration and mobility patterns across borders; history and representations of Berlin as a creative city; blurry lines between paid and unpaid labour; and negotiations of socio-spatial workstyles whilst pursuing a ‘labour of love’.

What emerges is a web of personalised and individualised navigations through working life at the forefront of new creative labour praxis. Findings reveal migrant creatives to be highly educated, multi-skilled and entrepreneurial, and drawn to creative cities like Berlin by existential motivations including the search for a more fulfilling, ‘creative’ life. However, romanticised representations of working as a creative labourer in Berlin often differ from the practical and financial realities of working life in the global creative city.

The creative ‘labour of love’ is revealed as a site of struggle, comprised of under-employment and under-payment, high levels of competition for poorly paid jobs, exploitative working conditions, inadequate support networks or financial safety nets and limited cultural integration. In negotiating such challenges, migrant creatives often using the creative city as ‘base’ or anchorage point while continuing to work internationally. While Berlin remains ‘Mecca’ for an international creative class, questions remain on how rewarding or sustainable the creative ‘labour of love’ is in the global creative city. Final discussion includes implications of the study in the wider field as well as ideas for further research.

Read the full thesis here

 Image: 25-metre high mural ‘Die Umarmung’ (2009) painted by Madrid’s Boa Mistura urban art collective on the side of the East Side Hotel, Friedrichshain. Photograph: Matthias Haker Photography (2010), reproduced with permission from the artist.

 

 

 


A very Buddhist Christmas from Kep, Cambodia.

Recently I was interviewed by arts & culture website IGNITE ME on what it’s like to manage arts festivals, and how to get a ‘foot in the door’ of this competitive industry.
The interview is now online so please have a read, and feel free to leave a comment.

Winter view — Graefekiez, Berlin

The two Australian festivals I worked on this year – Underbelly Arts and ISEA2013 – have both been nominated for BEST ARTS PROGRAM OF 2013 in the Sydney Music Art & Culture [SMAC] Awards. Please go forth and vote, and a huge congratulations to the kick-ass teams that made both these festivals happen <3


If you’re an expat working in Berlin’s creative industries, I’d be very grateful if you could spare 5 minutes to fill out my thesis questionnaire.

The research topic is “Arm aber Sexy: The dreams and realities of expat creatives living (and trying to make a living) in Berlin”. Your input would be very valuable to my research, and will hopefully also offer you insight into your own experiences working and living in Berlin.

Thank you for your time! Michelle O’Brien

I was happy to give approval for this photo I took at Art Hack Day Berlin to be used on the cover of the 2013 Annual Report for transmediale festival for digital art and culture, Berlin.

Nice to see one of my photos, taken under Granville Street Bridge Vancouver, used on the cover of Thoughtless Music‘s latest Dirt Thief EP.


Come join the exciting Cambodian festival I’m working on! We’re seeking creatives, curators and volunteers for Our City Festival, taking place across Siem Reap, Battambang and Phnom Penh in January 2014.

The sleep of the beloved, by Paul Schneggenburger.

“That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold
Bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.”
— William Shakespeare (1609)

More photos from Autumn/Fall/Herbst in Berlin

Trip to Oslo booked to visit my favourite Dane. And for only €29 return. Double win!

This prickly article is actually quite entertaining.

“By 2010, Californians were serving eight-euro huevos rancheros to Parisians wearing Aztec-printed pants, while Danes dressed in shapeless black sacks sipped lychee Bionade. Spaniards cooked enormous paellas at the streetside markets, and enterprising Brits did vintage arbitrage, buying eighties silk jumpers in the flea markets of the Turkish and Arab neighborhoods in the south, then selling them at a premium in the hipster and tourist neighborhoods in the north. Last November, the New York Times Magazine published an account of an Australian in Berlin who had to leave because he was just having too much fun to get anything done.”

Just received this special email:

“Hello Michelle,
It a pleasure for me to see your pictures, especially the ones of Berlin. Winter & autumn seems to stay cold and windy. To be honest, they remind me with melancholy of the short time I lived in Kreuzberg. I miss so much this time of freedom and exploration. What a special city, no? So, I just wanted to write to you this email, only for sharing my emotions about Berlin. If one day, you pass by Brussels, it will be my pleasure to show you my city.
Mlle Bérénice Dartois”

Is it wrong that Google is one of my favourite poets? – via Google Poetics

Can’t believe it – I won my case against the King of Bureaucracy aka the German Pension Fund. The €5000+ bill that randomly arrived in my letterbox 18 months ago has been completely cancelled AND they are paying all my lawyer fees. Miracles happen!

Tomorrow night at Boiler Room!

If you’re in Berlin next weekend, join us at Supermarkt for our WORKAROUND Conference on new forms of work, alternative models of self-employment and the evolution of freelancing.

“The last desperate fart of a dying corpse” — Thom Yorke on Spotify‘s role in the music industry.


Berlin, it’s so great to be back. Happy Reunification Day.