As the curator of the trailblazing exhibition “Africa Remix” (2004), Simon Njami has fundamentally changed our perception of contemporary African art. The author and curator, who lives in Paris, created a “labyrinth of perceptions” at the Deutsche Bank KunstHalle. “Xenopolis” explores myriad facts of cities. An idea propounded by Roland Barthes was the point of departure for the project. The French philosopher postulated that the city speaks to its residents, than it can be read like a discursive text, has its own distinct language. For their part, the residents communicate with their city and change its language.
“Xenopolis” follows this dialogue. In times of global migration, the exhibition addresses issues around belonging, home, and the notion of “foreignness”. For Njami, the metropolis is a “free zone” in a liminal state between placelessness and rootedness. This not only causes problems, but also creates opportunities. If we accept that we are all outsiders in a sense, we can develop hybrid identities and spaces that are no longer filled with fear or hate. The exhibition begins in the urban space right in front of the KunstHalle with a sound installation by Jan-Peter E.R. Sonntag. During a stay in Mexico City, Sonntag listened to the “organillos,” who played old revolutionary songs in parks on their out-of-tune barrel organs. Sonntag made a special connection when he discovered the insignia of a Berlin barrel organ building dynasty: “Harmonipan – Frati & Co, Schönhauser Allee 73”. At the end of the 19th century, when the company delivered instruments to Mexico, more than 3,000 organ grinders moved through the German capital. Now Sonntag’s video work “Sunday in the Park” is being shown at the KunstHalle, while revolutionary sounds he distorted digitally can be heard outside on Unter den Linden boulevard – like a polyphonic echo or a swansong to revolutionary utopias, they return to their place of origin Berlin. Mwangi Hutter calls his installation, which begins the show at the KunstHalle, “Proximity of Imperfect Figures”. A sea of black arms surrounds two white arms. Since the end of the 1990s, the Nairobi-born artist Ingrid Mwangi and the German Robert Hutter have appeared as the artist personality “Mwangi Hutter. In their performances and projects, they repeatedly investigate the duality between “me” and the “other”. In Mwangi’s work, the body is a setting for racist projections and simultaneously a medium of encounter. For “Xenopolis,” used casts of their own arms to create an architecture of body parts that also speaks of community and ostracism. Loris Cecchini’s transparent campers fuse ideas about the city and movement, about nomadic space. The Italian artist puts different plants and objects in these vehicles-cum-hothouses for every exhibition. The works are akin to surreal architectural models that challenge our perception of reality. They not only reverse inside and outside, nature and civilization, but also address the fact that private space is becoming increasingly public, and that art, science, and technology are becoming increasingly interconnected. In his video installation, the Ethiopian Theo Eshetu deals with the German Academic Exchange Program scholarship that enabled him to come to Berlin. “Kiss the Moment” is diary, homage, and essay at once. 18 monitors form a gigantic “window grille”. An associative city trip unfolds: parks, dance performances, burlesque shows, architectures, love stories. In his work, Berlin can look romantic like the setting for an opera, dramatic like a Fritz Lang movie, or oriental like the tiles in the zoo aquarium. The work intuitively finds diverse connections between the cultures that meet in Berlin. The photographic series “Blikkiesdorp” by the Swiss artist Laurence Bonvin leads to the vicinity of the South African metropolis Cape Town. Hundreds of tin huts were built in a desert-like landscape. In this area, where there is no sewer system, social fringe groups were resettled prior to the World Cup in 2010. The photographer captures both the reduced, artificial beauty of the shiny silver containers under blue skies and the terror of this place, which does not offer any possibilities to find work or any chances to grow crops to make a living. Bonvin conveys the desolation and violence of the camp, whose only purpose is to isolate groups on the periphery of society. The exhibition ends with the video work “Long Sorrow” (2005) by the Albanian artist Anri Sala. The title stems from the nickname the populace gave to what is purported to be Europe’s longing high-rise building in the Märkisches Viertel of Berlin. The free-jazz musician Jemeel Moondoc seems to be suspended in front of a window on the top floor of the housing block playing the sax. His sounds react to the environment, to movements, car noise, church bells, addressing all kinds of inexpressible emotions. With “Long Sorrow” Sala creates an artistic vision for a state of limbo between identities, cultures, and places – for cities that like Berlin are continually re-remembered, re-conceived, and re-experienced. An intervention by D. Gonçalo Bom incorporates the ArtCafé of the KunstHalle.
STADT/BILD (Image of a City) is a cooperation of Berlinische Galerie, Deutsche Bank KunstHalle, KW Institute for Contemporary Art and Nationalgalerie – Staatliche Museen zu Berlin. Opening within the Berlin Art Week. Initiated and funded by the Governing Mayor of Berlin, Senate Chancellery – Cultural Affairs.
07.10.2015, 7 p.m.
Simon Njami in conversation with Laurence Bonvin, Theo Eshetu, Mwangi Hutter, and Jan-Peter E.R. Sonntag
04.11.2015, 7 p.m.
See, smell, taste, hear, and touch the city! In cooperation with the Alfred Herrhausen Society