Tag Archives: Berlin

Political Beauty & the Fence of Melilla

“When you strike the word ‘beauty’ and the word ‘politics’ together, you create the spark for a revolution” Philipp Ruch

The memorial comemorating the victims of the Berlin Wall.

The ‘Zentrum für politische Schönheit‘(Centre for Political Beauty) or short ZPS is a Berlin-based association of artists and activists headed by theatre director Philipp Ruch. They describe themselves as an ‘assault troop’ (Sturmtruppe) who aims to establish “moral beauty, political poetry and human liberality.” Since 2010 the group has raised awareness for political matters and unfairness, such as the Srebrenica massacre of 1995. It does so through actions that dissolve the boundaries between art, theatre performance and activism. Floating in a politically charged space that is yet to be securely defined the ZPS’s actions are based on conceptual performances, internet-raised awareness and the public’s willingness to become an accomplice. All of it is translated into direct, often shocking and (thought)provoking action or ‘hyper realistic theatre plays.’

The Berlin memorial after the crosses have been taken down. Photo (c) Zentrum fuer Politische Schoenheit, 2014

1 November 2014, Berlin government district: around lunch time a handful of members of the ZPS armed with a drill and a wheelbarrow dismounted seven white crosses which are part of a memorial to commemorate the victims of the Berlin wall. A couple of days later the white crosses, shown in a video message published by the ZPS on YouTube, resurfaced at the boarders of the European Union. Meanwhile, the ZPS started an Indiegogo campaign to crowd-source the funding of a trip to the European outskirts. The centre hopes to transport busloads of people armed with bolt clippers to the outskirts of the EU to deconstruct the fence that separates the Spanish city of Melilla from Morocco. Leaving Berlin on the 7 November, the day of the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall, the trip is part of an action conceived of to raise awareness for European boarder politics and the mass of sub-Saharan refugees who in their attempt to travel to and cross the border get killed and injured.

African refugees pointing at one of the crosses (or a look-alike) of the Berlin memorial. Photo (c) Zentrum fuer Politische Schoenheit, 2014

However good the intentions, this kind of political art-activism employed by the ZPS is as radical as much as it is problematic. Firstly, how are they radical? The ZPS’s actions are original and profound. The ways in which the group operates seem to take art-activism one step further to where it has been previously residing; that is mostly in symbolism. Art-activists like Liberate Tate (with admittedly very different incentives for their activism) often engage in gestures of protest that remain inherently symbolic. For example, ‘License to spill’ (2010) saw the group staging an oil spill at the Tate Summer Party to raise awareness for the controversial and environmentally unethical conduct of the oil company BP, the primary sponsor of Tate.

Liberate Tate, “License to Spill”, 2010

In contrast, ZPS complements the symbolic removal and dislocation of the crosses with a direct call for action through its Indiegogo campaign. At the time of writing the campaign has raised around 21.700 Euro, enough to bring two busloads of people to the EU border. Through contributing their money, as well as through the possibility to go on the trip, the general public, you and me, can become an active and vital part of the action. An action which potentially shares responsibility between many and at the same time multiplies impact is, in principle, admirable.

A schematic drawing outlining the cruel mechanisms of the Melilla fence. (c) Zentrum fuer Politische Schoenheit

Nevertheless, there are several problems with the ZPS’s activity. As direct as the act of bringing people to the border and physically destroying the fence is, as much is this act a calculated theatre performance. I would be surprised for Philipp Ruch to be as naïve as to believe that this act will bring immediate improvement to the refugee’s situation let alone the associated policies. Secondly, the comparison that is made between the victims of the Berlin wall and the African refugees is quite simplistic and flawed. While in both cases people are suffering from a type of cage-like border constructed to restrict their freedom, there is a massive difference between forcefully separating a people that belongs together and separating two people with different cultural backgrounds from each other. Just because it says wall refugees on the package it doesn’t contain the same thing. No doubt in both cases human rights were and are violated, however the circumstances are very different. In this sense, the activism of the ZPS is too idealistic and it seems not completely thought through. Nevertheless, it is at least partly successful in the way in which it has already raised a lot of awareness for the issues of the European refugee policy. It remains to be seen how exactly the activism of the ZPS will play out this weekend and next week, and moreover, how the media will react. In any case, I will be following closely.

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ME Collectors Room – A Day in Berlin

Imagine you have a day in Berlin. For one reason or the other you want to stay away from the big sites. You may have been many times before, or maybe you just want to save yourself the queuing amongst crowds of tourists in front of the Pergamon Museum or the Bundestag.

Both of these reasons were holding true for me on my most recent visit to the German capital. Having been to and lived in Berlin before, as well as recently having been chewed through and spit out by one of the best techno festivals Germany has to offer, I was in the mood for taking it easy on my last day, before returning to the hustle and bustle of the big smoke, aka London.

Completely by accident, my friend and I came across a brilliant breakfast spot. Sucre et Sel, a French-style brasserie, just off Rosenthaler Platz, that offers a great value-for-money breakfast. When I ordered the Depardieu (€10), which promised to contain a mixed plate of original french cheeses and meat, an egg, bread and a croissant, I did not expect this:

"Le Depardieu"
“Le Depardieu”

Full and content I said good-bye to my friend and walked from Rosenthaler Platz via the Hackische Hoefe towards Oranienburger Strasse. Hidden in the side streets around this tourist strip, bursting with cocktail bars, are many of Berlin’s galleries and contemporary art venues, such as the KW Institute for Contemporary Art. However, this time I gave the former a miss in favour of it’s neighbour the ME Collector’s Room.

An exhibit part of the Wunderkammer Olbricht.
A little cupboard full of wondrous artifacts, part of the  Wunderkammer Olbricht.

On its website, the Collector’s Room is keen to distinguish itself from the concept of the traditional museum or gallery space. While the top floor holds the permanent exhibit of the Wunderkammer Olbricht, a bounty of all kinds of paraphernalia, the bottom floor provides a space for the changing display of themed exhibitions which showcase artworks from private collections.

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Taxidermy, old paintings, all part of the Wunderkammer.

On the day of my visit and still up to the 21 September, the Collectors Room is showing works from the Sandretto Re Rebaudengo Collection. Rebaudengo’s is one of the most important private collections of international contemporary art in Europe and has, for instance,  been exhibited at London’s Whitechapel Gallery in 2013.

Rebaudengo’s taste in art ranges from quirky to earnest, juxtaposing a keen interest in art that explores human emotion and psychology with a fascination with the quirky and whimsical. Stanze/Rooms is the focus with which the Collectors Room presents a selection of works that “recreate the idea of the stanza as the personal habitat of poetic reflection.” Hereby, the concept of room is understood as both physical and metaphorical as a place of withdrawal and reflection. A place to contain, to delimit a personal and mental, conceptual or actual space.

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Exhibition view of Stanze/Rooms

The visitor is introduced into the exhibition with last year’s Turner Prize winner Laure Prouvost’s video work Wantee (2013). Set in the house of the artist’s fictional grandfather, this assemblage of close shots of a muddy interior, crazy teapots and deranged furniture with the artist’s own voice recounting her grandfather in a continuous murmur, jointly explores the diverse concepts of room mentioned above.

Still from Laure Prouvost’s Wantee (2013) © The artist

In this vein, the exhibition continuous, each artwork on show presenting its own stance, or ‘stanza,’ on the concept. Maurizio Cattelan’s installation Bidibidobidiboo (1995) and Andrea Zitter’s A to Z 1994 Living Unit (1994) present actual 3D containers of space, Cattelan’s plexiglass cube one that acts as an insight into a satirical alternative universe in which squirrels commit suicide, and Zitter’s in the form of a piece of functional compact furniture/dwelling/suitcase hybrid.

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Maurizio Cattelan, Bidibidobidiboo (1995)
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Andrea Zittel, A to Z 1994 Living Unit (1994)

Actual rooms are juxtaposed with visual reproductions, such as the stills from Cindy Sherman’s films (1977-1980), and explorations of the room as metaphorical. The latter is explored in Sam Taylor-Wood’s work The Travesty of Mockery (1995). The two screen video installation shows a couple fighting, the mental restriction of the two sides of their argument reflected in their physical restriction to the left and the right screen respectively. Fixed by the diametre and reach of the camera shot, each of them is incapable of leaving their designated side.

Sam Taylor-Wood, The Travesty of Mockery (1995)

Undertaking the curatorial venture of gathering a themed selection of works from a private collection can sometimes generate an exhibition outcome that seems forced, one where the works seem to have been pressed into conceptual molds they don’t really fit. Thankfully, this is not the case with Stanza/Rooms. Here the idea of the room has been explored and thought through to the end, enabling the visitor to gain access to a variety of diverse works through their conceptual connection.

Should you make your way to Berlin this summer, I strongly recommend you visit the exhibition, and of course you will have to fuel your visit with a French breakfast at Sucre et Sel.

Stanze/Rooms Works from the Sandretto Re Rebaudengo Collection
02 May – 21 September 2014

me Collectors Room Berlin / Olbricht Foundation
Auguststrasse 68, 10117 Berlin, Germany

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Sunday 12pm-6pm
Admission Wunderkammer and exhibition:
Regular 7 Euro / reduced 4 Euro