During his two-month residency at SomoS, Chicago-based Chinese photographer Teiko Ang Zheng has focused on visual and written storytelling, subjectively documenting inhabitants of Berlin and the city itself within a queer and digitalized narrative. Referred to by the artist as “encounters,” the bank of impressions and engagements with people has generated a subjective and honest narrative of life in Berlin, a city with an attracting aura that links it to an influx of queer migrants.
“25” is the title of Zheng’s solo photography exhibition, reflecting on the implications of this sphere at the juncture between queer identity and a search for belonging in the context of increased global mobility. 25 stands for not only the age of Zheng, but also for an age when many feel prepared and comfortable enough to leave their city in search of something else. People leave for a reason, yet they also arrive for a reason. With queer dating apps as a basis, yet not a restriction, to Zheng’s modes of encountering, its algorithms meant that he was connected with people around his age. In this sense, Zheng could not deny the intertwinement of his self in the narrative portrait of queer migration amongst the aura of Berlin that he has been subjectively gathering. Rather, he puts himself also under the spotlight, as reflected in the diary-like texts that accompany each work. Furthermore, his landscape photography, impressionistic representations of parks and cruising spaces, describes the setting of this story and adds physicality to the digitalized notions surrounding the soft portraits. Meanwhile botanic still lifes punctuate Zheng’s visual and written narrative, becoming appendages of the everyday.
Zheng has sought inspiration from Christopher Isherwood’s novel The Berlin Stories, set between 1930 and 1933 during the coming to power of Hitler as the author himself travelled to Berlin. Detailing the encounters between various characters, the novel ventures through themes of power, money and sex work. Yet it was in 1976, when Isherwood published his memoir Christopher and His Kind, that new light was cast on The Berlin Stories. In fact, Isherwood not only outed himself as homosexual, but also revealed that he had changed the gender of many characters so as to conceal their true identity and sexuality and thereby protect them from discrimination. Nevertheless, for Zheng, although fascinating, his main interest lies not in the uncovering of the queerness of many of the novel’s characters decades after its publication, but rather in the implication that The Berlin Stories has created its own life. That is, the story embarks on its own trajectory through history, legend and reinterpretation which is distinct from its written fictionalization. This is an approach to storytelling which informs the semi-documentative, semi-autobiographical and relentlessly personal 25. While seemingly just a number, 25 therefore reveals itself as an embodiment of the personal, global and independent qualities of visual and written storytelling through a queer lens in Berlin.