Judith Crispin is a composer, poet and artist. She completed a PhD in music at the Australian National University and postdoctoral studies at Paris-Sorbonne and the Humboldt Universität, Berlin. Judith has written and edited a number of scholarly books and articles on music, poetry, philosophy and art. She has won international prizes for music, exhibited artworks across Australia and Europe, and published poetry in Australian and German journals. Judith is currently the director of Manning Clark House in Canberra.



‘Märchen’ (fairytales) is a series of eight hybrid artworks comprised of digital and analog photographs, digital painting, drawing, and original poems inked by hand using squirrel hair brushes. These images from Teutonic fairytales are inspired by the Cold War experiences of Irene, my 82-year-old Berlin neighbour. Irene lives alone in a little flat in Moabit, Berlin, and for almost three years she visited me every week. Over cups of tea, or stollen and schnapps, Irene would tell me stories of her life—the horrors and sadness of a divided city, the weight of national guilt … and the fairytales her mother told her as a child.

When I returned to Australia last year, I began to write out Irene’s stories—tales where lovers and mythological creatures tangle together in the pine forests of post-unification Germany. Tales of Berlin, where Gunther Grass repeats his parrot-like warnings, and the orchestra plays ‘Ode to Joy’ as bulldozers dismantle the wall. Irene’s apartment is a vision of a woman turned inside out. Orchids as grotesque as they are fantastic, huge palms, cabinets of Eastern European liquor, the silhouette of her lover, shrouded in cigarette smoke and, always, music—Chinese opera or jazz. Sometimes the creatures of Irene’s stories wear antlers, sometimes uniforms. Because there are places in Europe, old places, where the myths have grown so potent they cannot be left behind with childhood.