For the last 20 years, British-German collective Gob Squad has left its mark on the city’s stage – and Somerset native Sean Patten has been part of it from the start.
It started with a performance to get them free Glastonbury tickets. The year was 1994 and together with his coursemates at Nottingham Trent University and some German exchange students from Gießen, Sean Patten co-founded a quirky performance art collective: Gob Squad.
Following a string of shows in the UK, 1999 saw the majority of the group relocate to Berlin to take up the post of artists-in-residency at the now-defunct Podewil Centre for Contemporary Art. “Any- one arriving in Berlin after 1992 was basically told: you’ve already missed the good years. The party’s over,” Sean reminisces. “But there were still so many gaps and unrenovated buildings in the city where all kinds of things could happen.” It was in these urban open spaces that Gob Squad’s creative juices started flowing, rapidly thrusting them into festival line-ups and renowned stages the world over. The group’s first studio was in an old perfume shop on Mitte’s Torstraße. “We moved in after our Podewil residency finished in 2002. Eventually, they chucked us out about six years ago. We were one of the last art ateliers left on Torstraße. They wanted to triple the rent and now it’s a fashion boutique,” Patten chuckles. Nowadays, the collective has moved office to Wrangelkiez. “It’s a nice area to be in. It’s not too hipsterfied,” Patten says, smirking. “Not yet.”
Rising rents aren’t the only challenge for Sean and Squad, though. Britain’s impending exit from the EU has been a constant source of worry: “Once a week we have a group meeting and talk about the Brexit news. The bureaucracy of touring is going to be a pain in the arse,” Patten stresses. But there is a strong emotional aspect too. “Gob Squad was formed out of that European ideal of freedom of movement. Groups like us wouldn’t have had such an easy beginning or maybe wouldn’t have happened at all.” This emotional bond to the European project has even inspired the group to stage a one-night performance in Kreuzberg’s HAU on the eve of Britain’s scheduled divorce from the Union, entitled: I Love You, Goodbye (The Brexit Edition). Patten explains: “We’re trying to find a way to look at belonging and identity that isn’t to do with national flags. Our idea is cooking national dishes. For me, the idea of the tea-towel of a county or village is the most inane form of belonging-based politics. Can you join the dots between a tea-towel of Somerset and ultra-right wing nationalism? Maybe.”
But post-Brexit performance, the future for the group seems secure. Patten, along with fellow collective member Simon Will, has already pocketed an eagled passport. Does he now identify as deutsch? “I’ve always had some stereotypical characteristics: thoroughness, perfectionism, punctuality. But when I feel most British or German, it has to do with food. In our Brexit project at HAU, I’m going to teach people about real cheddar cheese.”