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  • The faces behind Berlin street art duo Various & Gould


The faces behind Berlin street art duo Various & Gould

Street art duo Various & Gould have been inseparable since university. Together, with their large pop-art-esque murals and paste-ups, they have climbed the ladder of success, both on the streets and in galleries.

Photo: Makar Artemev

Exactly 20 years ago, two young artists met at the entrance test for the Kunsthochschule Berlin-Weißensee, and pretty much instantaneously, their eponymous street art collective was born. “We were both accepted in the visual communication department but hadn’t started studying yet, so it was a summer of freedom, when we first went out to create street art,” Gould, who hails from Düsseldorf, says.

Both he and Various, a born-and-bred Berliner, had already been somewhat active in the street art scene before joining forces, and although they began their work by doing illegal paste-ups and collages together – their style is colourful, pop-art-esque – their main goal as a pairing quickly shifted to being able to work as artists. By 2008, two years before graduating, they were already presenting their first solo exhibition, entitled Time Machine, at the now-defunct Brooklynite Gallery in New York City.

Photo: Various & Gould

“Commissioned work came very early; people just found us. For example, someone saw us putting up our own art and approached us to commission a piece,” explains Various, sitting in their joint atelier. “We want to participate and give to the city. At the beginning, for me, it was about finding and claiming my own space in Berlin,” she continues. Gould adds: “We tried out a lot of mediums and techniques until we found a [style]. We had the power to act and then it was like ‘Oh, I have a microphone, what do I say now?’”

The duo usually draw inspiration from social issues and everyday life, topics they read about and discuss with their friends. Their *St. Nimmerlein screen-printed poster series, which has been popping up across town since 2010 but is also exhibited in galleries across Germany, depicts 10 fictional saints that are modelled on the Fourteen Holy Helpers and based on modern societal issues, such as globalisation, gentrification and climate change. There is the LGBTQ* patron ‘Sant_a Diversita’; ‘Santa Pharma’, a nurse; ‘St. Cargo’, a patron for refugees; and ‘St. Redundus’, a bearded man with a plastic bag from the Agentur für Arbeit and a crow on his head – all highlighting marginalised groups and overlooked occupations.

*St. Nimmerlein: Sankt Nimmerlein roughly translates to “Saint Never” and is colloquially used to refer to a date that will never happen, the Sankt-Nimmerleins-Tag, or “Saint Never Day”.

Ten years ago, the pair started painting murals. “It took us some time to find ways to translate our collage style and halftone dots into large paintings. Unlike our posters, you always need a commissioner and a budget for a mural,” explains Various.

Photo: Various & Gould

They also do public interventions, like their ongoing series Monumental Shadows – rethinking colonial heritage, which examines colonial traces in today’s public spaces. The project was initiated by the duo in 2021 and created in collaboration with curator Lynhan Balatbat-Helbock and artists of SAVVY Contemporary. During the initial stages, they wrapped the Bismarck Monument in Tiergarten in colourful paper mache and then removed the cast from its pedestal. “The project was only possible as a collective effort by a large, diverse team. Dealing with colonialism is a very serious topic full of violence and pain and with continuities right up to the present day. As society, there is still a lot of work to be done,” says Gould.

Photo: Various & Gould

Both artists say that they’re rather quiet and introverted, but that doesn’t interfere with their partnership. “We work well as a duo, it would be easier to count the hours we don’t spend working together!” Various says, laughing. “It doesn’t work if you focus on your ego. As a duo you give things to the group, you compromise. Community and collaboration is important in our circles anyway, a lot of artists go out together and offer their backs to each other,” she says. “We often say one plus one equals three,” adds Gould.

We want to participate and give to the city.

The pair made news last year when their biggest creation to date, the 350-square-metre mural ‘Face Time’ on Moritzplatz, was in danger of being painted over by an advertising agency on the occasion of the 2023 Berlin Marathon. Various and Gould created the dadaist patchwork mural in 2015, and although they were offered financial compensation or another wall to recreate the piece on, they decided to fight for it.

“We published press announcements and videos on our social media and we got such a wave of support! We are so grateful for that. In the end, the agency backed down, probably due to public pressure, and the mural stayed.” Various and Gould of course know that transience is part of being a street artist, but they’re proud not to have stood by while an agency destroyed art for the sake of commercial gain.

Participants take part in The Berlin Marathon below Various & Goulds’ ‘Face Time’ mural. Photo: Various & Gould.

The duo have achieved what few are able to do: to make a living doing what they truly love. “Keeping our authenticity while living from our art is not always easy, though,” Various admits. “We definitely had to learn to say no.” And what does the future hold for Various & Gould? “First of all, we have to find a new studio. Our current studio building was sold unexpectedly,” says Gould. “We are very happy that cultural manager Noah Anderson has joined the Monumental Shadows team.

Together with him, we are searching for other artists and initiatives to continue the project in other cities and countries. This is one of our big plans for the future,” Various continues. “For the first time, we are applying for residencies. We are in talks to do murals and public art, always looking out for new spaces. Another adventure is going back to the roots; we are applying for residencies in India, where my grandfather came from. We just have too many ideas!”