Amber Cronin, The Mill: Berlin

Amber Cronin, Artistic Director of The Mill Adelaide, has been spending much of 2016 exploring arts practices in Indonesia and through her travels in Europe as well as visiting The Mill’s partner organisation ilDance in Sweden. We asked her to tell us a little about her adventures so far, and what she was going to be bringing home to us…

A friend gave me a book to read while I was travelling through Europe this summer, a quote stuck with me… “Is not an event in fact more significant and noteworthy the greater the number of fortuities necessary to bring it about?”  This is certainly true of The Mill and sometimes its time away from your projects (like i am lucky enough to have now) that helps you to see just how much of yourself you’ve poured into them and appreciate all that has transpired to make them so.

The Mill came about from a need for space, yes. But it came about because Erin and I both witnessed this in relation to our own practices- visual, musical, dance and movement based work, and more specifically: Adelaide based works of ourselves, friends and networks, and each decided to do something about it on our home turf, in Adelaide.

For us it seemed like space was one of the biggest limitations in the development of creative work for our peers, particularly in dance. This had and still has many layers: How work is created in space, the development space itself, the space art work takes up, our studio spaces- where we were working from, our sacred spaces, our hidden spaces, our private spaces, performance spaces, public spaces. Spaces for people.

For Erin and I, The Mill as a project has been life changing and (we like to think that) it has been for others too. For us The Mill has been a space that made what we do exist in real space and time. For us it was creating a lifestyle that we loved and committing our energy to that in a tactile, tangible way: ultimately we built it for other people. Yes, it has allowed us to create across the globe, it has been a platform from which we have developed, grown, expanded our own stories, but really we built it so that others could do this same from their space, and they have developed, outgrown, moved away and come back- The Mill sitting in the midst of it, like the family you know you can always come home to.

When i asked residents to tell me what it was like for them (and validate that i hadn't created it all in my head) they told me that having a space like this inspires them to get up in the morning, that its a space to be yourself- but be a professional- a space where those two things can intersect. They tell me about the community, the encouragement, the accountability and the friendships born from the space. Some tell me about the relationships spawned (and babies!) which are now embedded in their lives. For most their responses are rarely framed around the space physically, and rather what a space has been for them in terms of new social, professional and personal 

Here are some residents words (to prove i didn't make this up): “Although I have been a practicing artist for quite a while, having a studio at The Mill has given me a lot of stability in being able to focus on my arts practice and my small tintype portrait business.  One of greatest benefits of The Mill is its diversity.  Many ‘Artist Run Initiatives’ which offer similar support and stability tend to have a very narrow focus—supporting mostly visual artists.  The diversity of The Mill, where we work alongside shoemakers, furniture makers, illustrators, writers, designers, curators, etc, as well as those within the ‘traditional’ visual arts disciplines, helps to foster collaborative relationships that wouldn’t seem possible elsewhere.  This diversity brings opportunities for networking and developing our practice.  It makes for a micro-community where we develop a strong sense of place.” 

“The Mill is somewhere i can always turn with my artistic expression and be guaranteed a ear that will listen, a supportive group who propel each other to achieve…and that is why i need The Mill, because they help everyone there to achieve, and we do.”  

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The physical space we created to overcome physical limitations quickly gave way to a space which became more than bricks and mortar, it is an emotionally charged space. It gave way to Erin and I holding space for people, and it gave way to people holding space for themselves. 

Last night i attended an arts event here in Berlin. It was in an arts space in the basement of an apartment, entry through the Hof- one of those venues that couldn't exist anywhere else. The space featured a gallery, small bar and a stage upon which the audience silently drank up a collection of performances, music, poetry, some harp playing and opera singing and then danced into the night.

When i talk about The Mill people tell me its not about the physical space, but it is. Like this venue, without the physical space we would have nothing to unite under- last night couldn't have happened if someone hadn’t created the physical space for these people to come together. To create a community, with the intention to be a safe space for creation. A community that filled the physical space with traces of itself, the space that stands as an archive, it was the context for that culmination of people and their art to exist and be shared.

I was struck by how a place like this could exist and under one roof unite an otherwise disparate audience, we were there together to witness these people so wholeheartedly being true versions of themselves and it struck me that spaces such as this venue and The Mill become a physical echo of the people which inhabit and activate them. Events like these remind me how art is all about the creation of little worlds, and spaces like this providing framework for these small worlds to be shared.

One of my favourite parts of running The Mill’s space has been watching artists move in and transform their space. To create their own studio or office in a physical way, putting themselves into the space; watching the shell of a space becoming an extension of their practice and a part of the artist themselves. They transform the space so that it becomes a context that they can exist in, a frame in which they fit perfectly. 

In a way, the most powerful things about The Mill (and other collective working art spaces) is that it allows people to a chance for the creation of these little worlds. Within their little world people can have feelings about things that are sometimes extreme, dangerous or just something that doesn’t fit into their lives anywhere else. It gives them a platform to explore this in their art and share it, thereby opening these little worlds with other residents and allowing a platform for the work to exist in the world.

In German Language, I have been considering the word: Heimat, the definition denotes the relationship of a human being toward a certain spatial social unit. Home, or space that is reminiscent of our homeland. I think that this language concept perfectly summarises what a space like this is for creative people, the way that space can become an extension of ourselves physically and spatially realised.

For me, Art itself is a way of framing the world, of taking one portion of the world that exists and framing it as an idea. Everyone in our space at The Mill comes together, united as a community- framed within the context of the physical space. A space which is an archive of all the artists that have been there, and will be home to the artists that will come in the future. It is about the physical space, the physical space is a frame which offers us a space to exist truly as ourselves. 

Sometimes real life is not objective, and existing as an artist in our bedrooms, garages, kitchen tables: we can never get the complete picture. Life is chaotic and continuous, events and things that happen to us are engulfed in the flux of everyday. To have a space which is totally and completely dedicated to your craft is something i think many 9-5ers take for granted. As an added layer, i think that the interest that we have in art is because its not like real life, its encircled; it has a confine; and why shouldn't the space in which we create it have a confine too?

Back to my opening statement, The Mill was born off the back of a number of fortuities, stars aligned to make this reality, the journey that i walk which is now possible for me. Erin and I didn't know each other before we decided to work together, our meeting was by chance, and it bought me back to Adelaide. For the project to exist Erin and I have relied on each other, friends, peers, advisors, loans, grants, ideas, pasta, laughter, family, events, partnerships and we have never had a road map or known which direction we were headed in. We never knew when we were ripping up floors and building a space that it was going to create this ripple effect and change our lives in the ways it did, but thats true of all big life experiences. You just keep taking the opportunities that present themselves. The space was created by a number of fortuities, yes- but it is the result of the imprint of every person since who has left their mark on the space. Its their space. All the people who have had studios or joined our community and a space where it was okay to be exposed, to take risks, change your mind, and learn.