"There is tenderness only in the coarsest demand: that no-one shall go hungry any more" – Theodor Adorno, Minima Moralia (1974: 156)
I was invited this past Sunday by one of the directors of the Skulpturenpark Berlin to an opening of a new exhibition at the park. The park remains one of Berlin’s iconic ‘void’ spaces, a relic of an earlier Cold War geography. The park is located on an urban wasteland that was formally part of the no-man’s land military zone within the Berlin Wall. There are over 5 hectares of open space offering a ‘playground’ for a wide range of site-specific practices. Set up in 2006, the organisers of the park have explored the practice of sculpture as, in their words, a “process that has the potential to reveal and critique the social, historical, and structural contexts provided by the site.”
The latest show is part of the “Wunderland” exhibition series which draws attention to the creeping re-development of the area around the park. The first in a series of exhibitions, Block, is by two French artists, Arnaud Elfort (from the Survival Group) and Eden Morfaux. They have constructed a monolithic one-story black block that faces a proposed luxury condominium complex across the street. While the work draws superficial comparisons to some of Rachel Whiteread’s work, the large black block also comprises a host of artifactual devices that are often attached to public objects as a way of discouraging people from sitting, leaning or even lying on them. Elfort and Morfaux refer to these devices as “anti-sites” and they are part and parcel of a widespread form of urban revanchism which has increasingly come to govern the regulation of ‘public’ space. If Block works to expose this logic, it does so in a way that taps into a well-established genealogy of politicized site-specific work. And yet, as Matthias Einhoff, one of the directors of the park, noted at the opening, perhaps such work may also offer a way of contesting broader economic processes such as gentrification. Like Matthias, I wonder whether it can also speak to or even operationalize a “new coalition” (Lütticken, 2009: 22) between different sets of practices be they academic, artistic, and activist? Given the extent to which re-development has pumped the oxygen out of the famous Berliner ‘Luft’, one can only hope so.