ESSAYS Mousse 13
by Luca Cerizza
In an episode of his film Caro Diario (Dear Diary), Nanni Moretti rides a Vespa through the outskirts of Rome. Passing through the neighborhood of Spinaceto, he realizes that the notoriety of the area is basically unwarranted. So, when he finally meets a passer-by, he remarks enthusiastically: “Well, Spinaceto, I thought it was much worse! It is not that bad at all!”. Everyone knows that Berlin is as much vast (according to the tourist guides, four times larger than Paris) as it is scarcely populated. Even Günter Grass writes: “Berlin appears dispersed”. Clearly, the constant immigration of “creatives” from the rest of Germany and abroad hasn’t radically changed the results of the statistics, but it has definitely contributed to diversifying the linguistic and cultural landscape, making Berlin, as is well known, one of the capitals of the art world. Most of the art community is concentrated in a few areas, and especially in Mitte, Prenzlauer Berg, and Kreuzberg; but the situation changes all the time, and we may say that the artistic geography is also “dispersed”. Rents have increased in Mitte and some of the galleries have moved elsewhere; some others have opened in the last months, redrawing the artistic map of the city. The flow is especially bound to a “re-conquest” of the city center, all round Potsdamer Platz, to be clear. Some galleries have opened or moved there, but other intestine migrations are also taking place. Years ago, many left the increasingly expensive and tourist-crowded Mitte for Prenzlauer Berg or Friedrichshain; now the direction is to the north of Prenzlauer Berg, where Wedding is located. Several artists have found a studio over there, and galleries like Guido Baudach and Max Hetzler have occupied beautiful and huge industrial spaces. Between the late 19th and the early 20th century, Wedding was one of the centers of industrialization of Berlin, at that time among the most advanced cities worldwide. Close to the border with Mitte, there is an AEG plant designed by Peter Behrens between 1909 and 1913, definitely one of the most significant examples of the cultural and economic politics practiced by the German Work Federation. Moving northwards, we can find some remarkable examples of the German Rationalism: the Council Housing blocks designed by Mies van der Rohe (1926-1927) and by Paul Mebes, Paul Emmerich, and Bruno Taut (1929-1931) symbolize a new culture of living (neue Wohnkultur) that was spreading in Berlin during those years. In other words, in the years before and during the WWII, Wedding was the heart of the industrial, proletarian, “Red” Berlin. And because of this, as Mike Davis recounts in an essay from Dead Cities (The New Press, 2002), the Allies decided to massively bomb the area, in the attempt to weaken the resistance and the morale of the inhabitants who, according to their forecasts, would have immediately revolted against Hitler. In order to better measure the impact of bombings on the solid constructions of Berlin, the Americans built exact replicas of whole Wedding buildings in the desert at the south-west of Salt Lake City. It is hard to believe, but this “German Village” bears the signature of Erich Mendelsohn, one of the most celebrated architects of the Expressionist and then Rationalist Berlin at the start of the twentieth century. Despite the violence of bombings, the workers did not revolt against the authority; and despite the devastations of WWII, much is still visible of this architectural past, as is proved by the above-mentioned examples. In short, very much like Spinaceto, Wedding is not that bad at all. It has preserved its working class and multi-ethnic soul: and beside the large Turkish community, a creative one has appeared in recent times. Artists like Saâdane Afif and Monica Bonvicini have their studios here, and many others are about to move, attracted by the low rents and by the closeness to Mitte e Prenzlauer Berg.
In a former industrial complex in Wedding is also the new studio of Bojan Sarčević. If you missed to visit the contemporary art center Le Crédac in Ivry, maybe you had the chance to see his solo show at the MAMbo in Bononia, at the turn of 2007 and 2008. On both the occasions, Sarčević exhibited a new cycle of works where he extended further the already wide range of media explored (sculpture, collage, film, and video-installation). The works from this series can be described as small rationalist-style pavilions, inside of which animation short films with an elusive music accompaniment are projected. The modernist-flavored animations consist of refined assemblages resembling kind of abstract urban conglomerations or ghost towns, something not too different from the utopian invisible cities recounted by Italo Calvino. When visiting his studio, I saw some of the materials that featured in the animations lying on the floor: deprived of movement, these shapes had become silent, fragile, and somehow grim. With these works, Sarčević opened new directions in his investigation of the many possibilities of sculpture. They’re like Chinese boxes: the museum contains the minimalist pavilion created by the artist, that in its turn contains an architecture in motion, in a continuous interrogation of contexts. Because a comprehensive definition for them does not yet exist, we can consider them as hybrids of architecture, sculpture, installation, and cinema; as expanded forms that exceed the limitations of category, and are therefore literally “excessive”.
Corners of houses brutally removed and then replaced in different contexts (an installation); stray dogs roaming in a Gothic church in Amsterdam (a film); Turkish musicians playing pop and rock songs with traditional instruments (a video installation); details of the architecture of mosques and Gothic churches, reshaped and moved into the gallery space (sculpture pieces). Years ago, talking with Bojan of a possible common denominator for his diverse and even contradictory works, I ventured the conjecture that they were all about adaptation. By “adaptation” I was meaning a possibility of transmigration of forms and styles, humans or animals, to a different geographic, social, and cultural context. Bojan answered: “Too easy”. And maybe he was right. But, even though his latest works, rich in references to architectural Modernism, seem to be more oriented towards an increasing formalism and a stylistic homogeneity, I’m still convinced they’re animated by a subtle interrogation of the possibilities and the forms of adaptation. In a perfect synthesis of formalism and political concern (yes, he is among the few who consider it possible), Sarčević’s work is about the meaning of being exiles or, literally, “out of place”.
Originally published on Mousse 13 (March 2008)