You Are Magic – Thinking about seamless transmissions and the ashes of history

This text is about stars, birds, and getting lost in nature while sensing multiple timelines at once. How analogue and digital worlds collide, connect, and co-create all things magical and profane.

We see bubbles of air under a thin layer of ice, all coloured in different shades of blue with a spot of light wandering to the right side of he image.
Digital Photo of the swamp.
Photo: Nina Berfelde

I sat in a garden, around the summer solstice of 2020, after I had listened to a New Moon Meditation on my Smartphone. Looking up to the first crescent of the Moon above, asking her, how I could start paying more attention to magic. The moment I had finished the question in my head, a Barn Owl flew right above my head, very close, I could hear her feathers rustling while she was silently gliding through the night sky. Heading towards the silvery beams of the midsummer New Moon. Owls represent wisdom, transformation, intuitive development, and trusting the mystery. They are also seen as symbols of death and darkness, of course. All that is beyond the sphere of visibility, must be dark. Birds cross thresholds.

I knew I was pregnant only a couple of weeks into pregnancy, when I saw a grey Swan fledgeling sitting all by itself on a muddy roadside ditch. I was driving on a forgotten road through the North Eastern rural lands of former East Germany; the pavement had been eroding here since the Prussians had built it. Neither the Nazis, nor Socialism had renovated this route, despite using it extensively for different means. And there he was, sitting, alert- eyed, but not moving. I drove very slowly, hoping not to disturb this forlorn bird, which was huge, but still a Baby. The bird was grey, the day was grey, the fields and the leafless trees were grey. Driving through the land of my forefathers on a cold November day. The following July, during a Heatwave, my son was born.

We see a close up shot of the WERRA1 camera model, the lens facing the viewer, showing only parts of the camera body.
Analogue camera
Photo: Nina Berfelde

“You are magic!”

Yesterday I had an Astrology reading, via Zoom. To be clear, I am a sceptic. I was raised an Atheist and take everything coming from the so-called ‘esoteric’ field with a big chunk of salt. However, I come to realise, almost on a daily basis, that everything human beings consider scientific knowledge has its limitations and never entirely explains or covers what I experience and sense. My natal chart has two prominent “bird star” features. Altair, the Eagle, and Corvus, the Raven. I was seeking advice regarding the best ways to work my astrological signature in order to make money and art without compromising one or the other. A common theme, I guess. Of course, there was more going on during that hour, but this text is not about Astrology or my natal chart. This particular astrologer has had a great impact on me, as she is a trained journalist and an amazing researcher. Her work is an artform of itself, she has been doing queer and decolonial readings way before it was fashionable. Her work is almost excessive in connecting ancient knowledge, archetypes, dismissed historical facts, and knowledge that has been buried by churches, politics, or ‘enlightened’ capitalism.

“You should do Ghost Busting! Seriously, go and help the stuck spirits to leave, sprinkle a bit of salt, smudge some sage for the performance – but essentially help the Ghosts to find their way out. You are a surrealist.” This woman was sitting in Australia, not far from Sydney, where I once had been covered in cockatoos. She could not have been much further away, planetary distance-wise. And yet, during our hour-long conversation, she constantly picked up on my vibe, thoughts, family lines, trauma experiences, and gifts. And this clearly not just by looking at my natal chart. She channelled projects I already had in mind, and she implicitly reminded me of my first video artwork after I had left my job and burnt down all professional bridges a few years ago. I had been wandering through a forest in January 2018 and discovered air under ice. I recorded video and sound with my Smartphone, did some very rudimentary editing and had it exhibited a couple of months later in a gallery. A first for me, after years of dealing with narcissistic energy vampires and self-exploiting work in the film industry. This one had been so easy!

Photo: Nina Berfelde

Looking for a spiritual connection to the lands, reaching out for the roots of my family, I have been wandering the woods between Berlin and the Baltic Sea for years. My maternal grandfather was born on a farm in North Brandenburg that had belonged to his ancestors since the 17th Century. But there is more: I am looking for women who were abused, ostracised, or killed, for magic that has been extinct, for the spirits of the forests and the lakes. Something along German Indigenous history, the stories of melted glaciers, the rivers, the moss. Not the politically motivated selections or new-age eclecticism and appropriation, but the leftovers from historical ashes. And for their connections through multiple time lines.

Today I walked through swamp lands and photographed dead trees with an analogue camera that used to be produced in the GDR, after the uprising on June 17th in 1953. It is entirely mechanic, doesn’t have a battery or even a proper viewfinder. Guessing distance for focus and sensing the intensity of the sunlight to set the aperture. No electricity, no digital data, no screen. As I had never worked with this camera model, I grabbed my Smartphone to double check on YouTube how to insert the B&W 35mm film correctly, before starting to take photos. I haven’t been this excited to have a film developed in years. And the marsh lands carried the songs of the dead and the living. We are magic.

Nina Berfelde was born in the GDR in 1982. She is a Cultural Anthropologist and multidisciplinary visual artist. Currently her images are created with a variety of camera models, using analogue and digital techniques and post production tools. Field recordings and mixing of sounds are integral parts of her video works, too. Sitting under trees, walking for hours, waiting for the lands to open up a conversation as well as linking her sensations to multilinear time lines – synchronicity and the non-palpable are inherent for her work.

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