Rachel Marsden » What lies beyond the imagined?

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Allan and Eunice at Ugees

My series Allan and Eunice is currently showing at Ugees Espresso in West End, Brisbane.

I’ve become smitten by this cafe all over again and excited to be showing there.  It’s been on my to-do list since I was at TAFE and started going there to see the shows of other artists. That was a long time ago.

The fifteen images are on display until the 2nd August and framed prints are on sale for the special price of $88 for the duration of the show. Ugees also does most excellent coffee.

Greta was kind enough to take a couple snaps today for you to have a peek.



Sunday Update

“A great photograph is one that fully expresses what one feels, in the deepest sense, about what is being photographed.”  

– Ansel Adams


Happy Sunday everyone!  I hope you all had a great weekend.  It’s been a busy week for me and I have a couple of things to share with you.

Sky Drawings

The Sky Drawings series is now online so I guess this means it’s time for a little backstory:

This series was shot throughout 2012 in Berlin.  2012 was a busy year for me.  I’m not going to lie, setting up a business in a foreign country where you don’t speak the language is hard.  I didn’t have much time for anything other than working and hustling to get by.  The working title for this series was ‘Waiting’ as many days I felt like merely an observer of life, not necessarily a participant.  I was ‘waiting’ to live again.  Creating these images gave me a reprieve from the grind and a sense of connection to the present moment. It was lovely to sit and watch the jetstreams move across the sky from my windows.  It gave me a sense of wonder at other people’s lives, at the realization that time was passing and to observe the beauty of the streams themselves as they intersected and dispersed.

From the very start I clearly envisaged the images as being very high contrast – white lines on dark backgrounds – what pleasantly surprised me about the images is how much they look like dramatic paintings.  I was also surprised to discover I could see the planes in several of the final images where they’d originally been invisible to the naked eye.

In the end I opted to call them ‘Sky Drawings’ as it seemed much more fitting to the pen and wash look of the final images.

It is my hope that these images evoke that same sense of wonder and peace in the viewer that I experienced in capturing them.

View the gallery here.

Free Postcards

Finally, if you missed the blog post on Friday, I’m writing and sending out postcards this week.  I still have a couple left so drop me a line with your postal address if you’d like mail from Berlin!

Phew!  That’s about everything I think.  Have a great week everybody!


UPDATE: POSTCARDS ARE ALL GONE -THANKS! I’ll let you know when I’m sending them again!


I’m in the mood for writing some postcards and I have fifteen left from the Devices series.  I’d love to send you one.  I’ll be writing little slices of life in Berlin on the back of each.

If you’d like one drop me a line with your postal address by emailing rachel (at) rachel-marsden.com or use the contact form above.  First in, best dressed.


Greta / July


“I’m awaiting a lover. I have to be rend and pulled apart and live according to the demons and the imagination in me. I’m restless. Things are calling me away. My hair is being pulled by the stars again.”
― Anaïs Nin


Greta left Berlin last month.  Before she left she shaved her head. Myself and some close friends filmed it.  Ilja Lochmann put it all together.


Click through to vimeo or full screen it to get a better look.

Song:- Emma Louise’s cover of ‘Tessellate’ by Alt-J, for Triple J’s Like A Version.

The Blood Tattoo

A short little essay on art and courage.

It was just another day in grade three and the teacher was waiting patiently for someone to put up their hand. As usual I was one of the first to raise mine. I gave the answer: “seventy-six”. The teacher looked at me strangely. “No, the correct answer is seventy-seven.” A few students giggled, one of the boys guffawed and the boy sitting next to me whispered smugly, “haha, not so smart after all”. I felt relieved, I knew very well the answer was seventy-seven but I would no longer be the ‘smarty-pants’ in the class. To ensure this I put two or three wrong answers in the written math test that the boy next to me would mark when we swapped books. Ah, sweet childhood angst.

This seemingly small decision in grade three was how I found myself circa twenty years later lying flat on a black wooden table in Galerie Wagner + Partner in Berlin with Natascha Stellmach poised over my bare stomach, her tattoo gun in hand. Certainly a different kind of therapy. No, not therapy, this was art.

Natascha Stellmach’s exhibition and happening entitled ‘I Don’t Have A Gun’ explores “courage, surrender and renewal after burnout”. Every Friday for the shows duration Stellmach invited people to have a word tattooed on them with her gun. They were inkless tattoos, blood tattoos, not designed to be permanent. The concept was one of catharsis and letting go. In discussion with the artist a word is chosen that represents something you wish to be rid of. As the tattoo heals it signifies what this word represents leaving your life.

I had my hesitations about having the tattoo done. It could look to others like I was self-harming or, the usual fear, that I was weird. My vague idea was that the tattoo would have something to do with my need to please others and fit in so the whole point was to stop worrying what others might think. Plus, having no tattoos, I was curious to know what it felt like.

With Natascha and the help of a thesaurus we discussed a suitable word that would embody my need to please and be liked. ‘Assuage’ was what we decided upon.

It immediately struck me as a word that was both beautiful and meaningful. It means ‘to lessen the intensity of something, to satisfy, to appease or to pacify and calm’. It’s the habit of making yourself smaller, not appearing disagreeable and avoiding speaking your mind in public. It’s being overly self-conscious. It’s a way of hiding. It is not serving me.

The problem with acting within your idea of how others want you to be is that you come to embody your own smallness. It’s a self-built cage.

I chose my stomach as the place for my tattoo as it is where I hold my fear. I couldn’t help giggling nervously once I was on the table. What if it was more painful than anticipated and I had to stop halfway through? I would end up with ‘ASS’ written across my stomach! What if it never healed properly? The horror!

Fortunately, it wasn’t a particularly painful experience, more like having an annoying buzzy bee slowly crawl across your stomach. Natascha was like a gracious doctor or shaman specializing in demon exorcisims. I was given antiseptic and care instructions and told to reflect on the word over the coming weeks as it healed.

It’s been four weeks now and only a shadowy ghost of the word remains. I think it will vanish completely within the week. Like most change, it’s slow and you don’t really notice it until much later. I’m sure my twenty year habit hasn’t magically evaporated with the disappearance of the tattoo but what I have is gained more self-awareness and a shift in my decision making process away from fear based choices and towards courageous ones.

I am grateful to Natascha and her gun. Through the experience of her art I am reminded that the opposite of playing small is to act boldly.



<– Image from day one, courtesy of Natascha Stellmach.

You can see more images from Stellmach’s ‘I Don’t Have A Gun’ art happening and other interesting works on the gallery’s website.

Long Grass

I found this image of my dad while scanning the negatives taken at my Ma’s place earlier this year.

Every day on his way home from work my dad would drop by to say hello. I was alone at my grandparent’s old place so it was good to have someone to chat to and I appreciated the daily ritual.

On this particular day I’d been attempting to mow the lawn for the first time in several weeks. It was the end of Summer and had been raining incessantly. The grass loved it. The push-mower didn’t. After the mower stalled one too many times, probably from chopping up some decaying and soggy chokos, I gave up. I decided it was more interesting to take photographs of the mower stuck in the grass. That was when Dad arrived and I took this image.

It was Dad who first inspired my love for photography. He has always been a passionate hobby photographer.  When my parents bought me my first camera at the age of 10, Dad taught me how to use it, how to compose a decent image and helped me earn my ‘Photography badge’ in Brownies.

Dad would put on slideshows of his images when we were younger (and he sometimes still does).  The images he’d show were usually holidays, birthdays, flowers and the various parrots, kookaburras or wallabies that would visit our garden and stay still long enough for him to fetch his camera. As a child I found slideshow nights really exciting. We’d turn off every light in the house. My parents live in the country so the house would become pitch black. It seemed to me that the darkness amplified all the sounds of the night world – wild dogs barking, the mopokes, the crickets and the unidentified scufflings.

Back then Dad shot all his images on transparency film. When he turned on the projector it would always smell like burnt dust until it warmed up. Every image change was punctuated by the clunky sound of the old projector switching frames. It would jam up at least once every slideshow and we’d have to sit in the complete darkness or protecting our eyes from the glaring bright white-ness until Dad fixed it.

While we waited I loved to watch the floating dust that illuminated like stars in the projector’s beam. It was a tiny, lazy, swirling universe in our living room. Eventually an image of someone blowing out candles or a bird-of-paradise would reappear on the screen and the universe would be forgotten.

Thinking on these connections in my past I realize this fascination with the beauty in everyday things is part of what drives my recent photography.  My images seek the sublime in the smallest of details that surround me – shadows, contrails, water-drops, floating dust or even long, un-mown grass.

Sübkültür Presentation

“Many people in our society now go around the streets and in the buses and so forth playing radios with earphones on and they don’t hear the world around them. They hear only what they have chosen to hear. I can’t understand why they cut themselves off from that rich experience which is free. I think this is the beginning of music, and I think that the end of music may very well be in those record collections.”  -John Cage, 1984


On Tuesday 13th August I was invited by Sübkültür to give a presentation of my ‘Devices’ series at Forum Phoinix  in Bayreuth, Germany.  Sübkültür is a weekly clubhouse for literature, art, cultural politics and entertainment:

“We are a team that organizes cultural events of all sorts once a week. Concerts, performances, discussions, screenings etc. One focus is to have a stage for local artists and culture apart from the Wagner cult but we also invite artists, performers and writers from abroad.”

As an aside, my poor German pronunciation skills make Bayreuth very hard to differentiate from Beirut so most people I mentioned it to thought I was going to Lebanon. No, Bay-root, Buy-ruth, Bea-reoy!! Anyway, it’s three and a half hours from Berlin and it’s a pretty German city most famous for Wagner.

The presentation was part of their exhibition ‘Open Faces’ which explores the way artists present and reinterpret the classical motif of the face with new media and technologies.

Anja Zeilinger kindly hosted the evening and discussion around my work. The bulk of the discussion was around questions about the future as we become more and more connected, the role of music in day-to-day life, how we use the devices for emotional reasons rather than the ones they were intended and how the poses documented will change over time as computers advance, become smaller, more wearable or who knows what is next (Google probably).

The images were captured in 2009 and even in that short time things have changed. Many people describe feeling naked if they go out without their phone.  We are tethered to them.  It’s like they are becoming an additional body-part that gives us instant access to knowledge (or humorous cat videos) and links us to millions of other people, but mostly our own tribe.  Pulling out your phone when you’re bored is the new norm.  Sit on the train and count how many people are staring into a screen around you, who have earphones in.

Maybe I am naïve, but I believe the issues around this technology are still worth discussing simply because it has become so ubiquitous and taken for granted.  Like John Cage, I’m trying to be unfamiliar with the familiar.

Why do we record so much of what we do? As someone who loves music concerts, I loathe the proliferation of phones, cameras and even iPads that concert-goers use to record their favourite musician. We are here to experience the music and these recordings get in the way of that. What is the point of recording things for the future if we’re always looking for the next thing anyway?  Or do some people only record things to gain status points amongst friends?  Obviously, as a photographer, I’m pro capturing and sharing experiences as a way of connecting but at what point is it too much?

Even a few days ago, at the Russian War Memorial in Berlin, I watched tourists lift their cameras to simultaneously look at the memorial and capture an image of it before immediately turning to the next thing, experiencing the world through the screen of a camera.  This fast and shallow consumption fascinates me.

With all this connection I wonder will our social construct over time become more like a hive mind at the expense of individuality and would that be a bad thing?

I still have more questions than answers.

Photos from the evening courtesy of Cristoph Dobbitsch

Head On Portrait Prize – Documentation

I posted news about this previously on my other photography blog but am sharing the documentation here for posterity. Earlier this year my portrait of my dear friend Edgar was a finalist in the Head On National Portrait Prize in Australia. There were over 2500 entrants and 40 finalists.  The list of finalists includes some of my favourite Australian talent and the images themselves are incredible and diverse.

I once made a joke that you know you’ve made it as an artist when your art appears on a banner outside an important institute. Well, according to that theory, it seems I have ‘made it’ as the image of Edgar was the banner image outside the NSW State Library, where the exhibition was held.  ‘Making it’ isn’t quite like I thought it would be, so I guess my theory was a little off and it’s still nose to the grindstone here.  But I like it that way.

Many thanks to Liz Bolster for capturing these images for me.

Josephine Ulrick and Win Schubert Photography Award 2013

Secret Acts of Kindness, 2011

I’m delighted to announce that my image ‘Secret Acts of Kindness’ has been selected as a finalist in the Josephine Ulrick and Win Schubert Photography Award 2013.  It will be on display at the Arts Centre Gold Coast from the 6th April until the 19th May.

From the website:

“Now in its 13th year, The Josephine Ulrick and Win Schubert Photography Award is considered one of the most important annual surveys of contemporary Australian photographic practice. This highly anticipated award, with a total $30,000 in prizes and acquisitions, is a highlight of Gold Coast City Gallery’s exhibition program. From close to 300 entries, this year’s guest judge acclaimed New Zealand photographer Anne Noble has selected 65 finalists for display.”

My work will be hanging amongst many other talented artists, you can see the full list here.

This is the first time this work will be shown publicly.   The inspiration came from listening to Dharma talks by Gil Fronsdal from the Insight Meditation Center, a center for the study and practice of Buddhist teachings.

From my accompanying artist statement:

In Buddhism generosity is seen not as a duty but rather as something that liberates your own heart.  There is a softening and releasing of personal limitations such as greed, hate and delusion when we practice generosity towards others.  Secret acts of kindness – acts done without any recognition to the doer, can be some of the most liberating forms of generosity.  This image is part of an ongoing series where Buddhist precepts are translated into images using the simplest of forms.  In this instance it’s paper sculpture, words and water.  The water trickles over the mountain of words, softening it, diffusing the words and transforming it.





Polaroids: Autumn in Kaulsdorf

Kaulsdorf is the first place I lived when I moved to Berlin in September 2009.  It’s a small village outside the city. There are two lakes near my old home and I used to regularly go for long walks around them.   My four months in Kaulsdorf were an amazing time for me.  I often joke that I didn’t really come alive until I was 26 – the time that I moved to Kaulsdorf.  A five and a half year relationship was dying a slow and painful death but at the same time I was just discovering what the world had to offer outside of Australia, finding my independence and exploring my creativity.  I lived in a single room in an attic.  When it got colder the landlord would leave coal outside my door everyday to light the fire.  It was there that I saw real snow for the first time (apart from once when I was a baby apparently).  My sister recently sent over some of my Polaroids I’d had in storage and I found these amongst them.   They were taken around the lakes and Kaulsdorf fields when Autumn was starting to show itself.  I remember the air had a beautiful cold bite to it.

LensCulture FotoFest Paris – Portfolio Review

Following up from my ArtStart post I thought I’d share my experience at the Lens Culture FotoFest Paris portfolio review particularly as it was one of the most rewarding parts of my grant year. What it is is three days of intense review sessions with gallerists, publishers, editors and other industry professionals offering you advice, feedback and, if it’s a good fit, opportunities. There were 163 photographers in attendance and 52 international experts. Photographers were allocated approximately 12 review sessions that last 20 minutes each (I ended up with 14). These reviews are for mid-career photographers ready to exhibit and show work internationally. I was one of only a very small handful of photographers under 30 in attendance.

My biggest goals for this event were to meet the reviewers, make a good impression and get feedback and advice on my work and career. As I still considered myself on the level of ’emerging’ I saw it as a way to make initial connections with people that can then grow over time.

Having fourteen people give you advice on two projects can give you an incredibly broad perspective on your artistic practice. I took note where reviewers were repeating the same things about where my work was working or not working. I presented two completely different bodies of work and the advice I received helped me clarify the direction I need to take my work, how to deepen it and where I need to be taking more risks. It was reassuring that the work I loved most of the two received the most positive feedback (and some touching emotional responses) so I feel confident continuing in that direction knowing it’s going to make a connection with people.

I found most of the reviewers to be sensitive, creative and engaged but also very honest with their criticism. Considering they meet with 14 different people every day I was impressed at their attentiveness. One pair were so enthusiastic that I caught them red-handed on a break seeking out more photographs to look at. Their enthusiasm was quite inspiring. Of course, as in everything, there are going to be reviewers you don’t click with, everyone has their own agendas and loves.

Here is my advice for anyone considering participation in a portfolio review:

  1.  Have a clear goal for what you want to get out of it. Do you want an exhibition? A book? Representation? Or simply advice and feedback? A clear goal will strengthen your presentation and help your reviewers to give direct guidance and advice. Even if they can’t help you directly with your show/ book/ whatever, they may know someone who can.
  2. Bring one or two cohesive bodies of work – a series or book dummy that is ready to be exhibited or published. You may also want to bring work in progress to show what you are working on next.
  3. Research your reviewers – know who they are, what they like and how they might be able to help you and vice-versa. Tailor your presentation and any questions you might have accordingly.
  4. Presentation is everything. Have your work presented immaculately. Make it easy for them to look at. You sit at a small table facing each other so you don’t want anything too clumsy. I had one body of work presented as 30x40cm prints in mylar sleeves in a black portfolio box. The second project was a series of Polaroids presented in a small hand-made journal with text written in pencil. Other photographers had larger works and would stand to present them or used a laptop, though most reviewers prefer to see something printed rather than digitally.
  5. Be able to speak clearly and concisely about your work. This is essential. You have twenty minutes to make your pitch so you want to make every word count. Speaking about my work was never my strong point, I can get quite nervous, so for the first few meetings I had an introduction memorized that I could start with. By the end of the three days my introduction was refined even further as I learnt what parts of my talk clicked and what didn’t.
  6. Be prepared for criticism, not everyone is going to love what you do. Put your ego aside and listen to what they say. You don’t have to agree with them but an outsiders view on your work is always going to give you something to learn from even if it is negative or you disagree.
  7. Have something to leave behind – business cards or postcards seemed to be the main currency. I chose to leave reviewers with a small personalized envelope with their name printed on it that contained a business card, my bio and information about the two projects I was presenting. 

 There are a lot of portfolio reviews around the globe but LensCulture is one of the biggest. You can find more information about it here.  Special mention must go to Joachim Froese for his help and guidance in preparing for the Paris review.


Tacheles closed yesterday, the artists moved out and I learned a new turn of phrase: ‘it was a victim of it’s own success’.

Berlin is changing very quickly.

ArtStart year in review

The ArtStart program is a one year career development program for Australian creatives transitioning from their studies to a professional career in their chosen industry. ArtStart provides funding for this year of activities. I was fortunate to receive one of these grants. I thought I would share what I gained from it here for others also interested in the grant or even for those starting their visual arts career.

One of the best things about this grant is that they require you to write down your long term and short term goals for your arts practice. My grant application came to serve as a business plan for how I would create a sustainable arts practice. I have written business plans before but never one as detailed as this.

In my ArtStart year I undertook a one year program of career development activities based in Berlin. You specify what activities you will undertake.  For me, these activities included studio rental, creation of a portfolio of work, participation in the Paris Lens Culture FotoFest portfolio review, purchase of a new camera, attendance at exhibitions and fairs. I received valuable mentorship from Joachim Froese as well as business coaching sessions from Mark McGuinness. I enhanced my artistic skills with a screenprinting workshop and I networked with many industry professionals in Berlin, around Europe and in the USA.


  • Mentorship with Joachim Froese: Joachim Froese is an established photographic artist whose work I have admired for a long time. He was also a lecturer and much cherished advisor through my university studies. As a German/Australian he divides his time between Berlin and Brisbane so this enabled us to meet in person for mentorship sessions. Through our regular meetings he very generously provided me with information on how to prepare and present my work at the portfolio review, advised me on long term career strategies, how to price my work, how to be professional, what realistic expectations I should have and so on. He has been a constant support through the development of my career for which I am very grateful.
  • Business coaching from Mark McGuinness: Mark McGuinness runs Lateral Action. An online resource for creatives to help them increase their productivity so they can make work that matters. I first got hooked to Lateral Action with the article: Tyler Durden’s 8 Rules of Innovation.  Through our coaching sessions he taught me a broad range of personalized skills applicable to the day to day business of my art practice and how to build a strong presence online. He provided me with tailored solutions for time management, how not to freak out about things, how to routinize my work so that I am creating new artwork consistently while also taking care of the business side. Two sessions were focused on branding and identity helping me to better speak about my art and present it.
  • Lens Culture FotoFest Paris – this three day portfolio review is without doubt the best thing I did as part of my ArtStart year.  Presenting your work to 12+ different reviewers within three days is a fast-track way towards growth as a photo-media artist. The feedback I received at the FotoFest was completely invaluable for helping me understand how I need to add depth to my work and what direction to take it in. I received a lot of valuable advice on how to produce my first artist book, Things You Thought You Needed, a collaboration with writer Tammi-Louise Gleeson which is currently in production. The portfolio review is for mid-career artists and I was one of the youngest ones there.  It was very intense and you have to be able to handle criticism but it’s also a great way to meet industry professionals from across the globe.
  • Screenprinting workshop at Mother Drucker studio – I’ve previously written about this here.
  • C/o-Berlin membership, art fairs and exhibitions – it can’t be argued that Berlin is one of the cultural capitals of the world which is one of the reasons I moved here. Having access to a broad range of cultural activities and exhibitions is essential for informing your artistic practice. So many artists who have come before have had their ‘Berlin years’ which proved very formative at the start of their careers. Marian Drew and Nick Cave are just two which come immediately to mind. 
  • Deciding on my career approach – one thing that slowed me down in the first half of the ArtStart year was my indecision on which path to follow. Do I take the traditional route which the majority of my peers seem to be taking where they wait to be discovered by galleries or do I take the indy route and embrace the internet as a way to communicate with my audience and share my work? My fear was that having my own voice on the internet would deter the interest of ‘serious’ institutions, galleries and collectors and I happen to love a lot of these places, the dialogues they create and really respect the people behind them. In the end I realized that my fears are so far unfounded and a happy medium is possible and, in fact, probably necessary, as the art industry changes over time and artists need to take more responsibility for their work. Plus, I enjoy blogging and see my online presence as an integral part of my artistic practice – It’s a way to make and share more art.

What I gained 

The knowledge, skills and opportunities I gained as a result of the ArtStart grant have been invaluable in furthering my artistic practice and aiding me in my long term goal of creating a sustainable artistic practice. The last 18 months have been the most prolific to date in terms of new work production although that wasn’t part of the ArtStart program. I’m looking forward to sharing these new projects soon. I experimented a lot in the last year to refine the direction I wish to take in my work.  From this, I feel my work has really matured as has my attitude to creating it.

Advice for applicants

Start writing your application early.  Ask other artists, teachers and/ or gallerists for advice, especially people who have already received the grant or call the Australia Council if you have specific questions. Be realistic and professional when planning your activities – this grant is a great boost and your chance to build your arts career. Really consider the long term benefits that this year of activities could provide you with.  Consider it the same way you would a small business loan. Although you don’t have to pay it back you still want to treat it as an investment for which you should see a return.

When you get the grant really go for it.  Be professional and consistent in your activities and you can really create something wonderful. The grant isn’t just about spending the money you are given, the plan you write is the most valuable thing you can do for your career so really do what you say you are going to do and then some more and you will be successful. Be sure to budget properly as you don’t want to get caught out with unexpected expenses coming out of your own pocket. Stay in contact with the program officer if you have any questions or need to change something.

More info on the ArtStart program can be found here

Last Polaroids in the Camera

23rd August 2012, original Polaroid on expired stock

Polaroid production ceased in February 2008 – a sad time as I have completed a number of projects in the medium.  I love so many things about Polaroids, particularly the 600 film – their instancy, how there’s only one of them, their size – how they can be held in your hands (so intimate), their transcience – how they fade over time, their fuzzyness – how they look like dreams, and their volatility (please don’t shake them too hard).  I have five unused shots left in my Polaroid camera.  The film expired a long time ago, meaning that the images come out a little greeny-brown, but I don’t mind that as the images will be just for me.  If I don’t use them soon, nothing will come out on them but brown muck.

My sister is visiting me in Berlin at the moment.  It definitely felt like a Polaroid moment as she was sitting on my kitchen bench after an afternoon of good chats.

What I’ll use the last five shots for, I’m not sure yet…