David Osthoff is an artist and world citizen. David and I get to know each other in Cuba, as participants of the senseLAB program at the Instituto Superior de Arte in Havana. David has studied in Spain and Vienna and will spend the next six months working in Cuba.
Happiness... For me, happiness starts with waking up in the morning and looking up to the ceiling of your room, slowly starting to think, maybe still feeling the dreams you just had... I guess, you should just realize where you are and what you have and how much luck you actually have to be as healthy as you are and to have those conditions around you, to be able to leave in peace. There are always things you can complain about it, but I always try to re-focus on this knowledge, that I am experiencing this abundance, that I am healthy and able to be where I want to be.
For me, happiness comes with gratitude. Of course, sometimes you put things in doubt, but then you mostly realize that it is depending on such things as the weather. I realized when being in Europe, that this lack of sun, when you have a lot of grey and rainy days, really make me unhappy. Maybe I feel it more, because I grew up in South America.
Of course, happiness is influenced or created by the conditions, the people around me, the field in which I move. And of course, by love. Love is a core issue. Love, not only with someone, but the love of life, I think. Loving and being thankful makes me happy.
That's a really interesting question, because in German we have the word “Heimat”... In English it would be “homeland”, but the meaning is not the same. My parents moved to Ecuador when I was twelve and home, homeland, became something completely different. I think, I lost the connection to the place that is actually my home. But then, a couple of years ago, I started to think a lot about it, and suddenly home became the place where you are in this moment. And where you feel well. Of course, I have my living basis in Vienna, but now I am here in Cuba... and my home is here now. After one month of staying here I already feel home.
Of course, home is related to the things that happen around you, people you know, things you do, how you actually feel in the space that you are in. But I think I learned to feel at home without needing much things. There is a saying in Spanish, meaning you should go with just few luggage, not to carry so much with you. And some people are really collectors, who like to have a home full of stuff, but I decided to leave that behind.
Home is, I think, inside. But home has also this dimension of protection, somewhere you feel safe. And of course, when you go to a place where you don't know anyone, where you are the new foreigner, you feel in a way exposed to the world, to the heaviness of reality. And it is a challenge to be home then, also in situations where not everything is nice.
For me, the thing that mostly shaped my life was that my parents took me from that really safe home in the south of Germany, in the Black Forest, with a beautiful house and a nearly idealistic surrounding – and brought us to a place, which was then completely chaotic. The whole situation in Ecuador in that time was really rough. There was this craziness there, and we would just.. fall in place. We had no idea how to communicate, because we didn't knew the language, people looked at us of course as strangers. Getting used to live in a place like this and to change the whole perspective of what reality is – being a child - shapes you forever. It not only brings you a reality close that there is poverty in the world, aggression, criminality, also danger. Things we never had experienced before. I think it is like waking up, it is just opening your horizon and it will never ever be the same again. All the people we left behind were so much doubting about the decision, but they also realized that we had done this step that they will never do. It opened for me the world, and I am very grateful for that.I hope that maybe my sons, or let's say my grandsons, can have this change with me and will be able to think from that point of view. I think, this experience also changed my perception of home.
I also worked as a photographer in crisis areas. One of them was in Colombia, in an area where guerilla and all that things were happening. There, I saw and experienced things which show the worst and craziest things that humans are capable of. And this caused me a big pain, seeing how humans can create the worst and at the same time the most beautiful things. Living in this scissor-like contrast made me doubt a lot, I needed to start again to see the beauty in the world. That also was a deep cut.
I moved around a lot, I was living five years in Spain. When I was 18, still a child, I had no idea what to do. Actually I just came out of school with no orientation at all what I wanted to do, maybe becoming a chef, maybe doing art... It was my mother's proposal that I would join my sister when she went to Spain to study there for half a year, because she needed someone who was 18 to be with here.
The cooking schools were all full, so I just started with art – I started with print art and later stepped into photography, graphic design. Lastly, I stayed five years on this island. It was a rough cut for me – being in I in Spain, thousands of kilometres away from my mother, who stayed in Ecuador. The first days and months were a huge challenge for me. Of course, I fell in love and I had a long relationship there and it also helped me to settle. I changed so rapidly, that when I came back to Ecuador after one year, people wouldn't recognize me. I really became from a boy to a man in that time.
Basically, my mother made this decision for me. And it is a tough decision to send you children away, though you know that they will be safe. Knowing, that they will change. It is similar to the situation when we arrived in Ecuador, because we were so unhappy the first months, we really wanted to go back. And my mother said, yes, maybe in half a year we go back – But still, having your children unhappy and deciding to stay and wait, knowing, that this change will happen in us – because then we found friends, we learned the language and everything was great – I think these character of my mother in this case, but of my parents in general, by making those difficult decisions lead to big changes in my life.
I think, I am completely living my dream. I am so, so lucky to say that, because I am lucky to do what I love to do, art, and to travel. Merging this two things in work – and work not being something that you do for someone else, but something you do for yourself – being free to do this and to live from it by seeing the world. Due to the languages I know and the culture that I feel close to, I can get deep into things, but I am also able to look from my perspective as an artist, as an observer.
It has been my dream for a long time not only to stay in a place and to work there, but to look at the world and to get deep into the culture, the differences, all the layers and colours, not just to scratch the surface. So I feel really happy to be able to stay here in Cuba for so long, to work and to travel... though my relationship makes me a bit challenge, but she will be here soon (David smiles).
David's question: If you would go to a foreign country and you could only take three things with you – which ones would you chose?
Cuba overwhelmed me with chaos, noise and heat, followed by warmth, friendship and incredible freedom and creativity which grow within and over all restrictions. I experienced the beautiful
night view on old Havana thanks to David...