Berlin Suite

Berlin Suite

1970 / 71
There are 2 print sizes in this work: imperial and double elephant

A joint work by Denis Masi and Ian Colverson

A set of 40 screen prints, and a book with 2 lithographic prints + an appendix of colour and b&w photographs

The idea of this work is to explore the notion of CITY as subject matter, and to demonstrate the results of processing and editing, which have helped the artists to finalise the selection of the 42 images which represent Masi’s and Colverson’s impressions and view of Berlin in 1970 and 1971.

The book is intended as a notational supplement to the group of 40 screen prints, autographic and photographic, which comprise this work titled the Berlin Suite. The visual coding applied in this work, derived from a library of some 600 photographs, is in direct relationship with a particular methodology of image processing. One of the purposes is to take full advantage of the definition and subsequent ramifications of the actions directed towards a particular aim, which is called process.

Text from the book

What is the Real Issue?  Art or Photography?  Or a Mixture of Both?
These same questions were asked before when, in the train of the Dada anti-art movement, photomontage sprang up in Berlin as a new and independent branch of the art scene. And it is just these questions which pass artists by, be they craftsmen, photographers or layout artists. The debate was and still is about something different. For it is not just a question of whether and how far we can still regard the use by artists of photographic material as “art”.

This is one of the central problems of art today, at least since Pop Art adopted images from the contemporary consumer scene and at the same time questioned them.

What counts as genuine? The “artistic conversion” by an individual who subjects the visual world to his inner being? Dada cast doubts over this definition. Can the photo – a mechanically produced image – be considered genuine? It has been clear for a long time that nothing is easier to manipulate than the photograph. It is an extremely cheap medium available to everyone.

Denis Masi and Ian Colverson have made three trips to Berlin, not always together, between October 1970 and April 1971. During random and later planned excursions through the city they both took numerous photos. Once home, in the UK they worked together to sort and select from these. It did not matter to them who had taken a particular photo. The photographic state was of no importance either – it could have been raw material, film, or in a transitional stage, a contact print, or even a screen print which had been made from raw material out of various transitional states or individual photos. Their aim was to create as genuine a picture of the city as possible, a Berlin Suite, in which the “objective” image which had been put through a subjective filter and translated into another medium, the screen print, would guarantee that the final result was as genuine as possible.

Because of the double selection there was some scepticism both about the objective element (the photo) and the subjective element (the artist).

In other words the photo alone was not enough and ‘art’ alone was not enough. The interplay of both is necessary before a level is reached where the distinctive roles of photographic accident and artistic taste are clear. The banal argument of the old saying that four eyes see more than two is meaningless in this case. What is important here is the dual interplay of objective and subjective elements, which takes effect both in the group work of the two artists and the transformation of one medium into another, photography to screen print.

What the young American and young Englishman have seen in Berlin, what they noticed and what they overlooked, is apparent in their photos and screen prints. They do not need any interpretation; their information is direct. They have these qualities in common with good photos. However, the artists also made their contribution: some of the apparently arbitrary details taken from the contact prints look like collages, and the process of selection reminds one of Pop Art prototypes: the blow-up of Marilyn Monroe taken from a set of selected and rejected contact prints by Richard Hamilton or the photo series by Andy Warhol. The Berlin Suite has this in common with what we call art.

Berlin has hardly been examined in such a subjective and objective way before either under the magnifying glass or by the lens.

Masi and Colverson show us a city which exists largely without a past and its present is representative of any city today: it has a sort of civilising emptiness.

One always experiences a certain amount of scepticism and doubt when faced with a concrete visual expression of this sort. Because of this the Berlin Suite is not asking the spectator to see the world in general and Berlin in particular from now with the eyes of Masi and Colverson; it is appealing to his personal, intellectual and visual experience.  It is left to him and him alone to decide how genuine he thinks the pictures are. In doing so he will be forced to concern himself with the key question of contemporary art.

Heinz Ohff
Berlin 1971

Exhibition provenance

Galerie Poll, Berlin, Germany, 1971
Bradford City Art Gallery, Cartwright Hall, Bradford, 1972