Days by Ellinor Aurora Aasgaard & Zayne Armstrong

This project started by looking to the form of the ‘soap opera’ as an example of how media can be instrumental in alternative community building. In searching for ways to develop a stronger base in Berlin for collaborative projects, we are drawing on the US soap Days of Our Lives as a kind of template for an open-ended experimental serial drama series, Days.

In its ability to triumph in blurring the line between on-screen and off-screen, Days of Our Lives (DooL) has been a source of inspiration for Days. Airing every weekday since 1965, DooL’s regularity has allowed its audience to develop strong relationships with its characters, and due to its long run, the actors often have full careers on the show. Soaps create many-layered communities, in that they are both a representation of a fictive community, and simultaneously a ‘real’ community for the cast and crew, creating an inadvertent ‘docudrama’. Not only does the show’s cast often marry off screen as well as on, but also some actors started on the show as children and have died of old age while still playing on the show. The actors’ deaths motivate corresponding funerals on the show for their characters, where the cast of actors and characters as well as the shows audience can partake in this mourning. 

In a time where you can watch whatever you want, whenever you want, our aim is to prioritise continuity of production over continuity of content; the regularity of Days’s production should support the livelihoods of its cast and crew, and the show’s relationship with its Berlin audience. Depending on finances, we hope the show might increase in its regularity, and broaden its audience, reaching beyond our initially local social context. 

We will not do a remake of DooL, but rather substitute its Hollywood ‘anywhere, anytime’ world with the specificities of contemporary Berlin, more in keeping with UK soaps like EastEnders and Coronation Street in their efforts to represent ‘reality’. So, rather than high-drama, crime, and sci-fi, we are focusing on the initial sentiment of DooL, to depict everyday life situations, personal relationships, emotional and moral conflicts. Rather than heroes saving the world, Days’s scale of drama leans towards the decision of whether or not to have a cup of coffee. The writing of the show is tasked with how the thinking-through of the every-day can indicate larger social, political and cultural shifts. 

The drama is located in the on-the-ground experiences of people in Berlin who are dealing with a range of familiar issues, as well as those issues we can only understand from the outside; what are the building blocks of the city’s transformations, and how are Berliners dealing with socio political changes?

While we will favour original scripting that addresses contemporary experiences, we maintain DooL as a resource to fall back on, and Days starts with an adaptation of DooL’s three main families, so that its family of doctors are translated into the art world König family; the Irish bar and restaurant owners become the Turkish-German property developing Hasir family; the Italian organized crime family are reimagined as the slew of start-ups lead by Scandinavian and North American tech entrepreneurs who are infiltrating the city, a la Google. 

In the three-episode pilot season we see Vikram, a Canadian conceptual artist arriving to Berlin for the summer, in order to follow a tenuous lead about gallery representation and to reconnect with his distant Turkish family. Vikram navigates staying with his relative Yildiz, a Turkish-German real-estate agent whose love-life is in flux. As Vikram starts a job at a tech start-up that sells ‘power transformers’, we meet his host of carefully selected expat co-workers whose lives are a complex network of aspiration and exploitation. Vikram hopes to get attention from the manager of the König gallery are quashed when he realises that the gallerist’s personal crises overshadow her interest in his artwork, as she offers him an internship at the gallery. 

Quickly, the sexy image of Berlin lifestyle that Vikram arrived with is swallowed by the quicksand known to the city’s newcomers: faced with visa issues, severely grey winters, social alienation, unemployment, housing shortages, EU politics, etc., can our Canadian see out the year in Berlin? While Vikram is the mouthpiece for part of our experiences in Berlin, he is based on two real people, and there are aspects of his story that we cannot write. The city’s diverse cultural landscape must be mirrored in our pool of contributing script writers, and we are therefore setting up a diverse writing team, where the ideas for the show can be collaboratively developed, where the multiple languages and cultures of the show can be properly considered. 

Rather than establishing too-distinctive an aesthetic, we favour an experimental collaboration-specific formal approach. We’re excited by the prospect of combining the cliché flatness of a US soap opera’s low-budget aesthetic, with the stark severe weightiness of the quotidian local to the so-called Berliner Schule’s understated aesthetic, resulting in a show that explores the unspectacular, and common-place, to the point of absurdity. And, given that this is a serial project that runs all year round, we will also represent the severe seasonality of Berlin: winter is a funeral (depressive/dark/introverted), and summer is a party (vibrant/hyperactive/extroverted). 

By producing the series one episode at a time, and premiering each episode prior to commencing the production of the following episode, we invite audience feedback as a major consideration for how the show evolves. Each premiere will be hosted at a cinema-venue in Berlin with a bar, giving the social aspect of the screening a concerted context. After which we seek to broaden the audience with online hosting platforms, festivals and exhibition contexts, if not TV broadcast. 

While artist-filmmakers are those who we will most readily engage to collaborate on the series in creative roles, we will also seek out ‘professional’ film-making practitioners as well as novices. For example, we will cast professional actors to play some of the main recurring characters, but also work with non-actors alike. 

We’re applying for media and cultural funding, and we’re very keen for help in developing these and other funding prospects. In the hopes that Days can be self-sustaining, we are looking for alternatives to one-off investment- and funding-dependant production models, i.e. collaborations with film and art schools and investing in technical equipment that can be rented when the series is not using them. We’re also considering the model local to soap opera: how could the show be funded by advertisements?

Read more about Days here:

ELLINOR AURORA AASGAARD (NO, 1991) is an artist, who did a BA in Fine Arts at the Malmö Art Academy in Sweden. She mainly works in an artist duo under the name Aurora Sander. The installations produced by the duo are caught in between form and function, art and design, discourse and disgust. For instance: a mobile sculpture serving you social lubrication, or high heeled shoes with built in brushes for an easy clean and seats reserved for magazine covers. Aurora Sander reacts to the intrinsic structures of the art world, of socialization, distribution and value creation. Their artistic strategies are closely linked to design, theater, and fashion; fields that art is struggling to keep at bay. Aurora Sander's strategy is one of confusion, fusion, fiction and friction, making objects and creating characters that belong in the art world, but have no idea how they got there. Their work has been exhibited at several galleries and institutions, among them: Norsk Billedhoggerforening (NO), UKS (NO), Passerelle Centre d’art contemporain (FR), 7th International Moscow Biennial (RU), Yamamoto Gendai (JP), Overgaden Institute of Contemporary Art (DK), Nicolai Wallner (DK), Camden Arts Centre (UK), Hebbel am Ufer (DE) and Sandy Brown (DE). 

ZAYNE ARMSTRONG (US/UK, 1986) is an artist-filmmaker. He has a BFA in ‘4D Fine Art’ from Central Saint Martins, London, and was on the MFA at Piet Zwart Institute, Rotterdam. Many of his projects engage the circumstances that constitute communities, both in how the films are produced and in scripted on-screen narratives; Transient, 2020 (120mins~); Tumbler,2020 (20mins~); Boss, 2018 (25min); Various Mountains, 2018 (35min); Ken, 2017-18 (36min); Pentelikon, 2014 (12mins); Set #31, 2012 (45min). His work has been exhibited internationally, in the UK at Tate Modern, 176 Zabludowicz Collection, Auto-Italia; X-Initiative, NY; OSLO10, Ausstellungsraum Klingental, and Villa Renata, in Basel; Ve.sch, Vienna; Mark-Morgen Perez Garage, Buenos-Aires; in Stuttgart at Hermes und der Pfau and SeenThrough; in Berlin at Import Projects, Next-Visit, The Oracle. He ran a project space for performance in London 2007-09; was part of the collaborative practice S/Z 2007-2013; and was part of the virtual character ‘Agatha Valkyrie Ice’ for their curatorial residency at OSLO10, Basel 2015-2017. He also works with various artists and filmmakers on editing, light, script writing, and production (Lene Berg, Simon Dybbroe Møller, Wu Tsang, Bruce LaBruce, Shu Lea Chaeng, Kerstin Cmelka, Ulrike Zimmermann, etc.).

Production: Lene Berg (NKFS)

Stage of development: research and development