When Art Becomes Therapy: An Immersive Experience in Berlin

One of my favorite things about living in Berlin is the ridiculous amount of kooky events available at any given time. In the last month I’ve attended a Kundalini Active Meditation (where you literally “shake” your body whilst standing for a solid 15 minutes in a room full of strangers), danced from music from all over the world (Karnival de Kulturen) while ending at a open air rave in the middle of one of my favorite parks (Hasenheide), and attended an immersive art/dance performance/therapy session by the Mexican American artist Jazmin Medrano. 

Because I’ve lived in Berlin for three years now, nothing really shocks me anymore. Once I went to the infamous Berghain club alone and was approached by a normal enough looking man wearing only tennis shoes and a leather harness on his chest. “I can massage your feet if you want,” he offered. “No thanks, I don’t feel like taking off my shoes,” I replied truthfully.

It’s best to enter these kinds of trippy events with a happy go lucky, zero fucks given attitude. Expect nothing, assume nothing, and relish in the absurdity. I mean, after all, we are all just giants hunks of meaty stardust swirling through a galaxy beyond our comprehension. Might as well live a little while we’re here, right? 

The Immersive Experience 

I enter the room with an open mind (though no matter how open my mind is, there’s always a layer of skepticism that is hard to shake.) On the floor is a blank canvas (also known as a giant piece of white paper taped to the ground, you know the kind that a kindergarten teacher would tear off of the roll before a group project.)  Around each of the canvas’ walls lie a pile of pastels varying in color. There were 15 or so plastic garden chairs surrounding the canvas, in each seat was a white slip of paper. 

“Was this part of the exhibit? One can never be sure.”

I made a point not to take my phone out or “pretend” to be busy as I wanted to make sure my aura was completely open and my insecurities weren’t building a giant “stranger danger” wall. It must have worked because a nice couple nestled in next to me and we hit it off right away. Usually, I am reluctant to discuss anything too ‘woo woo” with strangers, but I found myself opening up to them immediately. Perhaps it was the minimalist space that inspired my openness, perhaps it was the boredom. Who knows, but before I knew it I was describing my kooky Kundalini experience in detail. They seemed genuinely interested. 

A few minutes later, the theater lights come on and light up the canvas. The crowd hushes waiting to be entertained. Before Jazmin comes out, however, a few painful minutes pass. What were we supposed to look at? Each other? Awkward! 

I must confess, I find pleasure in uncomfortable situations. It’s how I get my kicks. The more uncomfortable a situation, the funnier I think it is. Not because I am making a mockery of the situation, or even hiding behind some insecurity shield, but because I love watching others squirm. Growth is a result of being uncomfortable. After accidentally making eye contact with the person sitting across from me, I quickly averted my eyes so as not to send myself down a rabbit hole of existential crisis. The transformation begins.

Jazmin comes out. She’s now wearing a black unitard, a stark difference than the flouncy floral sundress she arrived in. Her stern face suggests to the audience that she means business. This wasn’t a comedy show, after all. If she cracked a smile, she would have given us a scapegoat to laugh away our awkwardness instead of facing it head-on. 

She asks us to write down something we want to release, perhaps a bad habit, memory, or trauma. She assures us that no one will see it, that they will just go into a clay pot. I think for a few seconds. My first instinct is to write down “money”, after all, I’m a freelance writer. Money is a necessary evil, something I need to exist but that drains my existence, but I don’t. Instead, the monster pops into my head. I don’t use his name, his name is irrelevant. Instead, I scribble down “her abuser.”  I throw my paper into the pot circling around. 

She ceremoniously lights the papers on fire and they quickly collapse under the heat, transforming into ash. She tells us that once she is done, the collective energy in the room (along with the traumas she just toasted) would be reflected on her canvas. Hence the “immersive” part of the performance. 

“Maybe I should become a meme lord and start creating relatable memes for my fellow suffering millennials.”

She lays down on her back, takes a piece of charcoal in each hand, and uses wide brushstrokes to make “mostly” symmetrical shapes and figure eights. As she’s drawing she’s also commenting on the many plights of being a modern human; things like “you should treat yourself more kindly, the same way you would treat a newborn.” This particular simile evoked some weird imagery in my head, me nurturing a tiny version of myself. She also made some comments about letting go of the conditioning you’ve inherited (fuck the rules!), that all humans have dark shadows and traumas that we try to cover up or distract ourselves from, thus making us weaker and sicker, and that we over-consume but have no release (goddamn you, Instagram). Creation, she says, is release. For the most part, I vibe with the things she’s saying and enjoy the sound of the charcoal scraping the paper. “Maybe I should become a meme lord and start creating relatable memes for my fellow suffering millennials. That counts as creation, right?” I think jokingly. 

For the next 45 minutes, she continues to fill the canvas with more color and more figure 8’s. Afterward, she takes the clay pot (and our traumas’ ashes) and smashes them into the artwork. I smile satisfyingly at the gesture since I didn’t see it coming. Our traumas have transformed from painful darkness into a work of art. 

After the performance is over she asks the audience if they have any questions. 

“Was the water pipe part of the performance?” someone asks. 

“No,” she answers, “that was the sound of the toilet flushing.”

“Is this a product, or is it trash?” 

“Well that depends on who buys it”, she laughs before confirming the truth, “product.”

Wait, but if she really is painting the collective energy of the audience, shouldn’t we ask for a commission? 

She thanks the audience for participating and then confesses that it was the first time she used so much color. She explains that she usually expresses more anger in the performance, sometimes even blackening the whole canvas before the hour is over. “This time I was picking up a much softer energy,” she says. I wouldn’t disagree. The crowd seemed calm and, for the most part, open-minded. But my skeptical side wondered if the beautiful summer weather hadn’t been more of an influence on the finished piece than the energies she was supposedly picking up.

Things I loved about it: 

I loved the way she channeled a more innocent, younger version of herself whilst lying on her tummy and scribbling fervently. This site instantly transported me back to my youth when coloring in the lines was the only problem I had. I also loved the way she contorted her body on to the giant canvas as she filled the canvas. 

Things I didn’t: 

It felt more like I was witnessing the artist’s personal therapy session rather than experiencing any catharsis myself. However, I also acknowledge that this conclusion likely has to do with my gnawing skeptic nature I mentioned earlier. 

The truth is, I loved the couple I sat next to, loved the conversation I had with the artist afterward, and loved the buzzing feeling I had when it was finally time to bike home. I left feeling inspired. Inspired to explore my own shadows, working through them instead of resisting their incessant pull. Inspired to release my traumas creatively instead of clinging to them for dear life, hoping that they eventually collapse under the weight. Inspired to balance my own male and female energy so that I can be a pillar of support for those who need it most. 

Go check out her upcoming work if you get the chance. Requirements? An open mind and a radiating aura oh and 15eur for entry.

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Text: Nicole Paulus

Nicole Paulus is a millennial expat from the States. When she’s not dancing at Kater, drinking beers at Tempelhof, or eating shawarma at Maroush, she’s busy running her own digital marketing company Nico New Media. You can read about her adventures on her blog.



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