Short Essays & Speeches

The Breath of a House is the Sound of Voices Within

A Hair is a Thread is a Line is a Threat

Essay by Linnéa Bake

On the poetics of resistance in the works of Moshtari Hilal, Vasilisa Palianina, and Alketa Ramaj by Linnéa Bake

Hairs 

On the opening night of the exhibition The Breath of a House is the Sound of Voices Within, I attended Moshtari Hilal’s reading of an excerpt from her book Hässlichkeit (Ugliness), in which the following scene is described: the women of the family, mothers, aunts and their daughters, the sisters and nieces, have gathered in a room in the apartment, collectively concentrated on removing hairs from various parts of their bodies. When the door opens, and an amused uncle peeks into the room, trouser legs are quickly rolled down, tweezers and threads removed from sight. In Hässlichkeit (2023), Moshtari Hilal describes an ongoing fight against one’s own body, discussing ugliness in personal and introspective terms and exposing therein the politicized cultural history of beauty standards as gendered and/or racialized norms that we are subjected to, and which, consequently, we subject ourselves to. From the origins of cosmetic surgery (namely, rhinoplasty, the nose job) and its connection to antisemitic and racist prejudice to the establishment of beauty salons in Kabul as part of the US invasion and an example of an imperialist expression of soft power, Hilal delves into the darker chapters of a historiography of Western scientists’ mission to single out and exclude what is considered non-normative. Body hair sits at the root of this history of pseudo-evolutionary-biological reasoning designed to manifest systems of power, which Hilal traces as far back as scientists in the nineteenth century, counting hairs one by one in service of their argument. Presenting research for the book in vitrines alongside drawings and sculptural work in her installation titled Plastic and Perfection (2023–24), hairs stubbornly sprout up everywhere: from the smooth white surface of a self-portrait porcelain bust to the paper strewn with countless fine pencil lines depicting the life-sized intimate embrace of a woman with her non-human counterpart. For German speakers, ugliness (Hässlichkeit) and hate (Hass) are etymologically connected, and Moshtari Hilal’s multidisciplinary body of work strikingly exposes the desire for beauty as the desire not to be hated: “The truth is, we don’t want to be more beautiful, we want to be perfectly human.” (Footnote 1) Against the myth of ugliness, its regimes, and uniforms, each pencil line in the solidary embrace with the hairy, “monstrous” other; each unplucked strand, each hair that has grown back from painfully itchy sharp stubble and stinging cuts on our skin may stand in as an actor of resistance. The hairy body becomes a resolutely inscribed one.

„Plastik und Perfektion (plastic and perfection)“, installation, Mosthari Hilal
„Plastik und Perfektion (plastic and perfection)“, installation, Mosthari Hilal

Threads

In 2020, the massive civil society protests that erupted against the repressive state in Belarus were nicknamed the Slipper Revolution and the Anti-Cockroach Revolution, in reference to a popular children’s poem originally published in 1923. (Footnote 2) It tells the story of an authoritarian yet fragile insect and his brief, chaotic reign of terror over all the other animals. To “get a beating” with a slipper, which in the poem marks the end of the dictatorial cockroach, evokes an image of female resoluteness, which has been popularized in Internet culture of recent years through memes that frame the woman with the slipper, typically a motherly (often Balkan) housewife, as a figure of domestic authority. Women were at the forefront of the Belarusian protests in 2020-2021. Risking imprisonment, abuse, rape, and torture as the government violently suppressed the movement, the women gathered weekly, holding flowers and flags, dressed in white. In the context of those moments of gathering, Vasilisa Palianina’s textile work And the One Who Believes in Me Will Live Forever (2020-21) was created in a process of collective embroidery, a ritual of female solidarity. Meticulously hand-stitched with black and red thread, among the many motifs, words, and phrases, women’s faces and limbs sprawling across the four-meter canvas, a group of insects populates the lower edge of this tableau vivant. Unlike the figure of the oppressive cockroach, these potato beetles appear as if silently chewing their way through the fabric, destabilizing its weave and foundation in an unnoticed act of sabotage. Vasilisa Palianina created the second work on display at Akademie der Künste three years later, in exile. Similarly embroidered, knitted and stitched, The Mother of Flowers (2023–24) seems to tell a darker continuation of the story; female creatures form a dancing chain around a flower-like pattern, evoking a sense of trauma and disorientation, beauty and monstrosity, violence and resilience. To repair and renew, to weave together, to patch, to heal: These are notions integral to how textile art is still oftentimes characterized – A medium notoriously undervalued within the hierarchies of Western art history, gendered as feminine and marginalized in its association with craft and domestic labor, similar to how the aforementioned image of the housewife with the slipper risks belittling her agency as a political subject by reducing her to a domestic one. Against this notion of textile art as a domestic practice of care or mending, Palianina’s works also show us the reverse sides of these embroideries, all the loose and entangled threads that get caught, intertwined, and twisted in loops, recognizing the complexity and disorder of our relationships, of political accountability and agency.

”And the One Who Believes in Me Will Live Forever”, 2020-21, Cotton, embroidery, print on textile, 400x180cm
”And the One Who Believes in Me Will Live Forever”, 2020-21, Cotton, embroidery, print on textile, 400x180cm

Lines

After having encountered Alketa Ramaj’s practice for the first time in the exhibition, faced with abstraction and strangely overwhelmed by the simplicity of the drawn line, I researched the Albanian artist’s practice and encountered an older installation in which she worked with color-absorbing sheets used for the removal of unwanted discolorations in clothes when doing laundry in the washing machine. Having absorbed the remnants of colored fabric dyes, the sheets were sorted by shade and pieced together in color-graded lines along the wall. I later found out that Ramaj made this work after becoming a mother and having to wash a lot of baby clothes. It is the encounter with the circumstances of one’s immediate existence that the artist, who works in a multidisciplinary way with photography, video, sculpture, painting, and drawing, has herself described as a form of resistance. (Footnote 3) Resistance against the undermining and discriminatory conditions that women and/or parenting artists may face in their professional lives. Or resistance against the very categorization of one’s practice; the contextualization used to imbue the work with a certain meaning by the viewer, the critic, the writer. Understanding this, perhaps we need to unlearn what we just learned about the artist – her origin and gender, her parenthood – and look at Ramaj’s Raw Gestures series (2023) for what they are: a network of lines and colors on paper that evoke the question of how the act of drawing itself connects the body, the gestures, and shapes. A mapping process that embodies the unpronounced experiences of its cartographer. The process of observation and contemplation, by which the artist describes the approach to her works, is shared with us as its viewers, inviting us to join a process of undoing the definitions that have been imposed on us, “a choice of which part of ourselves we want to claim or reclaim for ourselves.” (Footnote 4) Reflecting upon questions of resilience and solidarity, care and control, norms, and our refusal of them, the challenge posed to us here may lie in recognizing in the simple line the complexity of resistance, and of beauty.

Footnote 1: Hilal, M. (2023). Hässlichkeit. München: Hanser, p. 34 (English translation by the author).

Footnote 2: Chukovsky, K. (1923). Tarakanishche (“The Giant Cockroach”). St. Petersburg: Raduga Publishers (English translation by Miriam Morton, 1958).

Footnote 3: Demetja, A. (2022). Alketa Ramaj (statement written in conversation with the artist), Secondary Archive. Available at: https://secondaryarchive.org/artists/alketa-ramaj/ [Last accessed 17.03.2024].

Footnote 4: ibid.

Edited by Elise Misao Hunchuck

Raw Gestures, 2023 drawings (watercolour on paper), dimensions variable
Raw Gestures, 2023 drawings (watercolour on paper), dimensions variable

Linnéa Bake is a curator and writer based in Berlin. She is one of the co-founders and artistic directors of the non-profit art space soft power. Alongside her independent practice, she has previously held positions at the 11th Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art and the Berlin Artistic Research Grant Programme, among others. Her writing has been published by institutions and magazines such as Kunstverein Göttingen, Kunsthalle Düsseldorf and Manifesta 13, Texte zur Kunst, Spike Art Magazine, The Public Review and Nuda, as well as in the framework of exhibitions or artistic projects, exploring the potential of writing and publishing as curatorial forms.

Mehr über Linnéa Bake

The Voices Within the City Mimic the Voices of the Landscape (and the Other Way Around)

Essay by Olga Hohmann

Whoever sees John Hejduk’s Kreuzberg Tower for the first time and does not know that it is a noted historical architecture site (as part of the 1987 International BauAufstellung (IBA) Program) will likely be surprised. The complex consists of three buildings blending into their surroundings, mimicry-like, what used to be the periphery around the former Berlin Wall strip in Berlin Mitte. The color scheme is a muted greenish-grey – a bit like the Berlin sky, a bit like the Berlin Wall that no longer stands, a bit like the residential and industrial blocks that surround it. Right next to it is a multi-purpose hall from the 1980s, which, for a long time, served as a warehouse for freshly cut flowers. Despite the mundane appearance – at first glance – of the Hejduk houses, there is an animistic moment in them: you look at the buildings, and suddenly, they look back at you, winking, mischievously sticking out their tongues. 

John Hejduk gives the exhibition at the Akademie der Künste its title, The Breath of a House is the Sound of the Voices Within. The multiple voices within the individual, mixed with the polyphony of an urban or (as they say) the so-called ‘natural’ environment and all of its social/socio-political realities, are the subject of almost all the works. I think of Walt Whitman’s Song to Myself: “I am large, I contain multitudes.” The building on Hanseatenweg is itself a rather austere architectural monument designed by Werner Düttmann, who had a significant aesthetic influence on the West Berlin cityscape. In this case, it is inspired by secular monastery architecture where visitors are repeatedly led in a circle, as if in a cycle. Several gardens are enclosed within the building complex, some of which hold works of art for the exhibition. In The Breath of a House is the Sound of the Voices Within, the cyclical nature so prevalent in everyday monastic life, dominated by prayers of the hour, also plays a role, determined by the cycle of the seasons and the cycles found within a day, a month, a lifetime.

In Kristina Buch’s video works, voices from inside blur with voices from outside. Sentences interweave and interrupt each other: “drilling holes into your attitude, trying to change your altitude,” for example, or “failing to cross the Swiss Alps of the words.” It almost seems as if something is speaking in tongues in the form of independent ventriloquism. In social Sisyphean labor, for example, drawn human lower bodies go uphill and downhill simultaneously for minutes, as if on a fitness stepper. But the whole experience has a mythological feel to it. When I hear Kristina Buch’s sentences, in which past, present, and future intertwine, I think of voice traffic. The driven and impulsive language is counteracted by the contemplative movements. One camouflages the other – both hide behind each other, trying to take away their drastic nature – and, in so doing, become all the more urgent and frightening in the process. In other words, the urban is combined with the landscape, where both are shown in relation to each other and as a construct of the other: the dichotomy of nature and culture has long since become obsolete.

Like Jonah, so is the generation now emerging from the whale, 2020 10:05min, Kristina Buch & Robert Logan
Like Jonah, so is the generation now emerging from the whale, 2020 10:05min, Kristina Buch & Robert Logan

Camouflage also plays a role in Andrey Anro’s work. Organic elements emerge from a tangle of branches; anatomy and landscape are interwoven. In one of the paintings, a pile of (human) bones suddenly appears in a pile of twigs. Faces can be recognized in one place or another, for example, a green Pinocchio with a long nose. Anro creates an aesthetic link between military objects, i.e., weapons and uniforms, and the mythology of ghosts and fairy-tale figures. This simultaneity is inherent in camouflage, where uniforms are based on branches, moss, and undergrowth. It is an attempt to give people the opportunity to engage in mimicry, to blend into our surroundings and only appear at a second glance (like Hejduk’s Kreuzberg Tower). As humans, we need fashion for this, whereas in fauna, the bodies, i.e., the fur and feathers of the animals, have evolved to fulfill this purpose by themselves. We lie on the forest floor as quietly and silently as possible: we hold our breath and try not to blink. Once again, we human beings, who seem to have such particularly keen (self-)perception, are seen as inherently deficient, and it is precisely this that is fascinating: language arises where nothing else is sufficient.

Seeing at second glance is a form of perception that permeates the entire exhibition. Each individual work is so dense, complex, and multi-layered that you can only catch a flash of it as you pass by. It’s almost like walking through a forest during the blue hour of dusk and recognizing a whole fantastic world in every detail. I keep thinking of a poem by Christian Morgenstern, which I found both enchanting and uncanny as a child: „Der Flügelflagel gaustert durchs Wiruwaruwolz. Die rote Fingur plaustert und grausig gutzt der Golz“. Here, too, the all too concrete mixes with the dreamlike – or is it a nightmare?

„Burratino“, „Bonfire“, „Leshy“, Oil on linen, 2022-23, Andrey Anro
„Burratino“, „Bonfire“, „Leshy“, Oil on linen, 2022-23, Andrey Anro

The Korean artist and singer Sol-I So devotes herself to the uncanny, which slumbers in a most familiar, musical way. Archaic screams mingle with pop-cultural references: one does not seem to exclude the other in her work. Der Schrei/Das Schreiben, cri/écrire: The scream, in both German and French, is linguistically related to writing. Sol-I So’s voice inscribes itself into the listener’s consciousness. Lying on your back, your gaze directed upwards, towards the sky, that is, towards the ceiling designed by Düttmann. Listening to her voice, one feels like they are in an urban version of a forest clearing. The experience is as unsettling as it is meditative. An oral history, at once radically global and local. I learned that if you want to transmit information to a generation in the indefinite future, it is most appropriate to do it by singing or humming. Or, perhaps, by screaming? Individual sentences burn themselves into our consciousness here: “I never get bored.” There is something childlike in this sentence, hearing it while lying down. Listening is located in the space between activity and passivity, and here, too, the individual sentences are flashes that appear and disappear again.

Dante writes: “Midway upon the journey of our life, I found myself within a forest dark, for the straightforward pathway had been lost.” It is a sentence that appears in several works and lends concreteness to the indistinguishability between the personal and the universal, which all of the works seem to touch on. It is both wandering and confusing, where paths form anew and others disappear. I couldn’t help but wonder. I couldn’t help but wander. Connections and linearities are constantly woven anew, creating an infinite (spider) web that is simultaneously becoming and passing by. Contemporary but mythologically charged, Kristina Buch adds, 

“I am walking through a forest of seemingly logical tunnels and skyscrapers.” Always unfinished, always alive.

Edited by Elise Misao Hunchuck

wo is your home, 2023
Voice, percussion instruments, stage design, Sol-i So
wo is your home, 2023 Voice, percussion instruments, stage design, Sol-i So

Olga Hohmann writes essays, prose miniatures, and meandering texts intended to be read aloud. In an almost musical form, she combines more or less fictional narratives with found footage, which combine to form a rhythmic murmur. She recently performed at Kunsthalle Düsseldorf, Kunstverein Harburger Bahnhof, Deutsche Oper Berlin, Roter Salon Volksbühne Berlin, Archivio Conz, and was part of Mangrove Sunset at Martin Gropius Bau Berlin (2023). In 2020, she published her first book, What I (don’t) Remember, and in 2022, The Overview Effect was released in collaboration with Textem Verlag Hamburg. In 2023 she gave her prose debut with Korbinian Verlag Berlin: In deinem rechten Auge wohnt der Teufel. She is represented by Galerie Anton Janizewski Berlin.

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Two Screens Merge into One

Essay by Sinthujan Varatarajah

Two screens merge into one, and two people, sometimes four, mingle into one single body, which, before the eye notices it, quickly loses shape to blur out until it becomes a shadow almost indistinguishable from a stain. In her work, Me I See in You, Fumiko Kikuchi critically explores the many hardships, difficulties and isolation women migrant workers face in Germany’s care industry. Based on her own experience and those of other foreign women who work in this sector, Kikuchi draws a grim picture of a society and system in which care for the elderly is heavily institutionalised as well as outsourced to foreign women; where there is little time left for actual care; where humans are reduced to their bodily functions and statistical existences; where bureaucracy abstracts care and where non-European women workers are often culturally, emotionally and physically challenged by the conditions and expectations from labourers. In more than 4000 black-and-white illustrations, Kikuchi takes visitors on the journey of a woman who arrives in Germany, presumably from an exploited country, to care for elderly strangers here whose loneliness she is expected to heal with care and affection. Instead, it is her isolation that grows. The artist consciously decides against using digital illustration techniques as an ode to the physical labour she depicts; she makes sense of many women’s hands in this work. Kikuchi doesn’t just interrogate what’s present but, importantly, also the many absences connected to this exploitative industry ‒ the homes they leave behind and how these gaps only grow with time, only for these women to also become estranged from the places they were once familiar with. Almost ghostly, Kikuchi leaves us with the question of who will take care of these foreign care workers once the strength of their bodies runs out, once their hands can’t care for themselves anymore, once their feet can’t carry them and their solitude anymore.

”Me I See in You”, 2023 Analogue stop-motion animation, HD, sound, colour, 10 min loop, Fumiko Kikuchi
 
”Me I See in You”, 2023 Analogue stop-motion animation, HD, sound, colour, 10 min loop, Fumiko Kikuchi  

Migrant labourers also appear in the work of Mahsa Aleph, albeit metaphorically. In remnants: myth of house, the artist built what, depending on the eye and class positionality, can be seen as a home or a shed with two rooms. For this, Aleph used heavy materials that she partly collected from garbage dumps on the outskirts of Tehran and Berlin. The different materials directly refer to actual objects used by migrant labourers to build makeshift spaces for their everyday use – be it homes or prayer rooms – on the periphery of the Iranian capital. Aleph depicts how exploited classes live not only on the periphery of cities and society but also on the material leftovers of such cities and cultures. Migrant labourers are often forced to creatively reinterpret these throwaway materials and extend their supposed meaning and actual expiration date to survive. Migrant labourers’ so-called shadow existence, significant for the well-being and running of the neighbourhoods of the upper classes, materialises in makeshift buildings that are conditioned to be temporary in their presence and superficial in their foundation. They appear as quickly as they can disappear again, leaving little traces of their existence, meanings and histories.

„remnants: myth of house“, Mahsa Aleoph, 2024
„remnants: myth of house“, Mahsa Aleoph, 2024

In her work, Aleph attempts to counter this constructed invisibility and temporality by metaphorically and literally transporting the house or its materials and rebuilding it outside its context and actual purpose. She invites visitors, who, based on class, would most likely only view such buildings from the outside, if at all, to enter the house from two different sides and experience her interpretations of them. While in what appears to be the main room, visitors are greeted by pictures, pamphlets, a chair, a loudspeaker and forty worn wooden doors attached to the ceiling, building a protective layer that closes the inside of the home to the caprices of the sky, while also keeping the interior bright, the second entrance offers a very different experience and sight. Here, visitors are invited into a much darker room with holes in the wall through which viewers are meant to experience the spatial arrangements and confines of gender. We are reminded that the periphery, too, has its very own peripheries which condition its existence.

Edited by Wendy Wallis

சிந்துஜன் வரதராஜா (Sinthujan Varatharajah) is an independent researcher and essayist based in Berlin. The focus of their work is statelessness, mobility and geographies of power with a special focus on infrastructure, logistics and architecture. In 2020 Varatharajah participated in the 11th Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art with the exhibition “how to move an arch”. They are the co-curator of the Berlin-based multimedia event series “dissolving territories: cultural geographies of a new eelam” and a former Open City Fellow of the Open Society Foundations. வரதராஜா first book, “an alle orte, die hinter uns liegen”, was published by Hanser Verlag in Germany, Switzerland and Austria.

Mehr über Sinthujan Varatarajah

The House Shelters Day-dreaming, the House Protects the Dreamer

Essay by Laura Helena Wurth

“The house shelters day-dreaming, the house protects the dreamer, the house allows one to dream in peace.”[1]

This text, which presents two artistic positions that both deal with space in the broadest sense, begins with questions: What is a house? What is a home? What does a house that is a home consist of?

The French philosopher Gaston Bachelard, who wrote the quote above, answered this question by saying that a house belongs to those who dream ‒ that it creates the basic conditions for dreaming. It could be broken down into the following formula: without a house, there are no dreams.

The works by Mahsa Aleph and Alex Turgeon take different approaches to this subject.

Mahsa Aleph has built a house in the Akademie der Künste. A house that the building’s architect Werner Düttmann once called a “clear, unpathetic box”. But the house inside the box functions quite differently. It is a room made from scraps, corrugated sheet metal, doors no longer in use, and set pieces from leftover houses ‒ from materials that would otherwise be disposed of. They have now arrived in Berlin from Iran, and their very presence raises questions for the Berlin public about origin, spatial separation and freedom to travel. But also about what and whom a house should accommodate.

Architecture without content is nothing. Only its content gives it something to which it can refer, to which it can relate. In Aleph’s case, however, things are a little different. Here, the form is also the content. The individual components now constitute a space that clever installations have enabled. It asks who is looking at whom and what social implications spatial divisions have. This room has a kind of second space ‒ with peepholes through which you can look into the other, larger room. On the one hand, it is a room where women ‒ separated from men ‒ pray, but on the other, it is also a secret place ‒ a space where you can do things unobserved. Who is looking at whom, and what does that say about underlying power structures?

Bachelard also wrote this clever thought: “For our house is our corner of the world.”[2] A house is a whole cosmos, our own little world within the bigger world. Aleph has achieved this interlocking in a symbolic, but also in a very concrete sense in her work remnants: the myth of house. She has built a house within a house, bringing all the implications that a house in Tehran can have to Berlin, where everything is different yet the same.

„City of Angels“, Alex Turgeon, 2024
„City of Angels“, Alex Turgeon, 2024

In his video City of Angels, Alex Turgeon approached the subject very differently. He did not build an entire house but the model of a building, which he filmed and surveilled. We are talking about the Kreuzberg Tower, which the architect and theorist John Hejduk built in Berlin in 1987. Turgeon seems to identify the tower as the architect himself. In other words, a structure is an image of a person, his state of mind, and his being in the world. This only seems appropriate here since Hejduk used anthropomorphic forms in his iconic building.

A house as a self-portrait. It’s as if the house had swallowed the architect and turned him inside out again. But if the phrase “you are what you eat” is true, since the Kreuzberg Tower is part of a social housing project, one wonders whether it is possible to draw conclusions today about the state of its inhabitants from the state of the tower. And so, perhaps Turgeon’s work, which closely relates to Hejduk’s ideas and architectural poetry, should also be seen as an appeal for more people-friendly architecture, which we desperately need. It is an architecture that is not profit-driven but driven by the goal of giving the people living in it the opportunity to live a good life, whatever that means. After all, it is not possible to think of architecture and people independently. Because, again, without content, space is nothing.

The content of architecture always reflects the people who live in it, who spend time in it, who go about their daily lives, communicate with other people and shape the world through these connections. Although Mahsa Aleph and Alex Turgeon approach the topics quite differently, this is the point at which they intersect ‒ in the assumption that our built environment says something not only about the state of the built environment but about the state of the world. There is a lot of poetry in buildings. We just have to find it.

[1] Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space, translated from the original French (1958) by Maria Jola, Boston, 1964, p. 6.

[2] See note 1, p. 4.

Edited by Wendy Wallis

Laura Helena Wurth is an art critic and author. She studied cultural studies at Maastricht University in the Netherlands and Humboldt University in Berlin. As a freelance author, she works for FAZ, NZZ, ZEIT and Deutschlandfunk Kultur, among others. Since July 2023 she is editor of the Kompressor program on Deutschlandfunk Kultur.

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Scaping Loss: Reworking the Past

Essay by José Segebre

Landscape’s conceptual history is marked by misrecognition. Where many have historically romanticised the landscape as nature’s empty vastness, decolonial critique traces a direct line between such idealizations and the systematic subjugation of others. Contemporary revisions of the landscape tradition adapt this direly telling assessment to reflect a site’s history and relation to loss. Some artists featured in The Breath of the House is the Voices Within create landscapes of loss to refute idealisations of isolation.

Oleksandr Burlaka’s House with a Sea View maps loss in Zatoka. This Ukrainian coastal city has undergone multiple atrocities over the last century, haunted by Russia’s warmongering and continuous land annexations. The installation consists of an oversized reproduction of the isolated shore, overlaid with smaller images of calm interiors or everyday life – a disorderly heap of wood foreshadows the artist’s focus. A table parallel to the shoreline confronts us with dilapidated homes and ruined infrastructure: Burlaka collages photographs, archive material and an album with memories of the city. The beach house view delivers a landscape of leisure and privacy, whose desolation the artist couples with war. The vast emptiness of the beachscape does not romanticise isolation but attests to how geopolitics can shape a place.

House with a Sea View, 2023, Oleksandr Burlaka
House with a Sea View, 2023, Oleksandr Burlaka

The traces of political histories are easily misrecognised, and scaping renders these visible, palpable, and, in Covadonga Blasco’s installation, Unsightbare: Sound Thoughts on the Landscape of Klein Glienicke (2023), audible. The architect-artist installed two horizontal structures, inviting users to move a microphone along them, their unique movements eliciting distinct sounds. Although proportionately scaled down, these instruments correspond to long-since defunct infrastructures of separation and control: to the Berlin Wall and a garden fence parallel to the wall, enclosing a Prussian garden in Klein Glienicke. Blanco speaks to the arbitrariness of such separations while suggesting how their shared sounds can circumvent them. A soundscape of this former GDR enclave is part of the installation, emphasising the persistence of sound beyond political borders. Unsightbare explores how sonic experiences persist over time and place despite political and infrastructural interventions aiming to segregate and isolate.

Unsightbare: Sound Thoughts on the Landscape of Klein Glienicke, Covadonga Blasco
Unsightbare: Sound Thoughts on the Landscape of Klein Glienicke, Covadonga Blasco

Isolation is further demystified in Maissa Maatouk’s two-part cityscape titled Floating Lights. The artist portrays her hometown gone dark to speak of urban inequalities and their geopolitics, for the power shortages dimming Beirut result from decades of intermittent warfare and unrest. Part I (2022) shows footage of a drive through the dark city – mostly black images occasionally lit by passing cars. Filmed in 2023, Part 2 delivers a cartography of Beirut’s partially re-established lighting. Neon signs, streetlamps and car lights suggest power has returned, yet the images reveal discontinuities. The city’s uneven lighting is partially explained by how private and non-governmental investments have re-established Beirut’s public lighting, privileging some sections of the city over others. This unequal distribution of light recalls how war and military operations affect us unevenly. A part of the city can be under extreme circumstances while normality seems unbothered in the suburb next door. Maatouk speaks of sectarianism, describing Beirut as a fragmented city, one composed of multiple factions divided along the intersections of class, religion, and politics. The artist reveals these power imbalances by scaping the loss of light, suggesting how in the dark such divides are momentarily overcome.

These artistic practices I have subsumed under scaping subvert myths of isolation and emptiness in the landscape tradition. Whether as soundscapes, cityscapes, nightscapes or beachscapes, these artistic acts of scaping loss connote spatiotemporal overviews that in their aesthetic dimension rework historical traces, rendering the past open to re-interpretation. The desolate landscape and an unchanging past remain nothing but imperialist fantasies.

 

Edited by Elise Misao Hunchuck

Floating Lights Part I (2022) and Part II (2023), Maissa Maatouk
Floating Lights Part I (2022) and Part II (2023), Maissa Maatouk

A scholar and curator, José B. Segebre (any pronouns) received a PhD in Art (Aesthetics/Philosophy) from Hochschule für Gestaltung Offenbach (DE). Titled Aesthetics of Waiting: Queer, Feminist and Decolonial Perspectives, the project explores notions of unfreedom in contemporary art: waiting becomes a metaphor to describe how power temporizes and how aesthetic experience modulates hopes and expectations. José’s essays circulate in exhibition catalogues and academic journals, while also writing fiction in Spanish and enjoying collaborations. With François Pisapia they host Full Moon Screenings (2019–), a travelling series of experimental events waxing and waning around food and moving images. José has lectured and organized workshops in universities, museums and artist-run spaces in Europe and México, currently teaching art theory at New York University in Berlin and co-teaching with Tomke Braun at Kunsthochschule Kassel.

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Voicing, Sounding, Breathing

Essay Sula Textor

Entering the exhibition, I feel welcome as if I were at a friend’s house – its doors and windows wide open, breathing in a soft breeze and the voices of many, seemingly in conversation with themselves or one another, inviting me to join them and listen.

“the air is out of breath”

After lingering for a while, I follow the first voice I can make out. It speaks in a serene melody, modulating between lower, darker and lighter, higher tones. I turn the corner and join the semi-circle of listeners who gaze up at the projection of Aušra Kaziliūnaitė’s short film titled plants which grow in my sky. Her voice, carried by a stream of soothing sounds, accompanies images she has captured on camera while walking through wooded areas in different locations.

 

“Sometimes, when I wake up in the morning, I avoid opening my eyes. /

I walk through a dense forest, thicker than any I’ve ever actually been in. /

Everything that has ever grown, grows here. /

Everything that now grows, grows here.”

 

We see close-ups of fragile twigs moving in the wind, dried moss on fallen branches, lush green blades of grass, dense foliage and mushrooms sprouting from dark earth. We hear a poem in which the perception of natural surroundings is turned inside out, where bodily boundaries dissolve in the transgression of the conceptional dichotomies that oppose us as human individuals to nature as something that surrounds us. In her film, Aušra Kaziliūnaitė is searching for rituals of unnaming as a means to reconnect with nature, physically and metaphysically, with all that grows without and within. “Ritual doesn’t add names but lets them go.” Writing poetry might be such a ritual, as it is an attempt to “reveal, at least for a moment, what has no name.”

As the moving image shows the poet kneeling down in the snow, carefully placing dried branches coloured pink in a circle around her, I leave the semi-circle following the camera’s gaze up toward the snow-covered tops of tall fir trees and into the sky and wander on across the room toward another forest.

[1] English translation by Rimas Užgiris.

Film still from plants which grow in my sky, (2024), 14:11
Film still from plants which grow in my sky, (2024), 14:11
Film still from plants which grow in my sky, (2024), 4:34
Film still from plants which grow in my sky, (2024), 4:34

The four stanzas of a poem appearing on the wall hide behind photographs of a dark forest printed on semitransparent stripes of polyester fabric hanging from the ceiling like tree trunks. They overlap as I approach, catch my eye as I try to glimpse fragments of the poem: “inferno nightly sways” – darkness between trees – “shadows” – mossy floor and “mossy bark” – stones and dried leaves – “paw” – “fingertips” and “quick breathing”. As I come closer, drawn by a luring sensuality, the images blend into one another, and the woven fabric seems to touch, like skin to skin. I enter the forest, piercing through the textile layers, through the thicket – I shyly look down when I suddenly find myself face to face with some other wanderer, so close in this intimate space – until I have a clear view of the whole poem titled Inferno.[1]

 

In this image-poem installation, Anna Hetzer stages a view of the Serpentara forest in Olevano Romano, Italy, which is said to have inspired Gustave Doré’s illustrations of the Inferno in Dante’s Divine Comedy.

“Midway upon the journey of our life

I found myself within a forest dark,

For the straightforward pathway had been lost.

Ah me! how hard a thing it is to say

What was this forest savage, rough, and stern,

Which in the very thought renews the fear.

 

Anna Hetzter’s photographs enter and move through the forest, following the path of Dante and Virgil guided by the queer erotic imagery of Tee Corinne’s photographic work, whereas in the poem, it is images of Dante’s Inferno that hauntingly come to the poet, entering her room as shadows on a moonlit summer night. Images are reversed, and Inferno becomes a welcoming place as she dives deeper into the “selva oscura” of her body and her pleasure.

[1] English translation by Nicholas Grindell.

Anna Hetzter, photo, view of her Inferno installation, 2024
 
Anna Hetzter, photo, view of her Inferno installation, 2024  

I turn to walk away, slightly blushed, and follow the sound of another voice – a person squeaking, perhaps, or a bird cry – into the next room.

We tend to think of voice as the (ephemeral) trace of a bodily presence, as proof of its immediacy and authenticity. Yet when I now find myself face-to-face with the person producing the piercing sound I have been hearing, I have to look very closely to be sure that it is actually her body making the sounds. I focus on the muscles of the throat, of the face, and the movement of the skin as air is released or drawn in. I am looking at a recording of Irena Tomažin Zagoričnik performing Nina Dragičević’s sound poem G.O., from the series IF I DO SAY SO MYSELF, projected onto a white wall in the exhibition space. G.O. is composed of uncomfortable, mechanical sounds that I am not used to hearing and cannot seem to locate in any of the languages I know. When creating G.O., Nina Dragičević designed a special notation system, a variation on the International Phonetic Alphabet, to be able to actually write this piece as a poem and make it available to be interpreted and performed.

Nina Dragisevic, Auditory Poverty, 2024
Nina Dragisevic, Auditory Poverty, 2024

We also speak of voices in a metonymical sense, referring to political subjects and, by extension, individuals’ perspectives, their right to speak, to speak for themselves, to speak their minds, to raise their voice, to voice their needs and opinions, to make themselves heard. Yet we know all too well that some voices are more likely to be listened to than others. And that when somebody claims to be “giving a voice” to someone, this only underlines the intersectional lines of power that serve as a megaphone to some while limiting the audibility of others to the point where some do not realise that they have had a voice all along. “The voice is a signifier par excellence”, the artist writes in Auditory Poverty and its Discontents, the essay publication accompanying the series IF I DO SAY SO MYSELF. “It is burdened with social norms that are the basis for inclusion and exclusion.” The sounding designed in G.O. departs from interruption, disrupting those voices struggling to make themselves heard.

The soundings of G.O. echo in my ears as I walk on, becoming an interference in the murmur of voices around me, reminding me to listen where it would be easier not to, to take a deep breath in and create space for them to resonate.

What is a House?

Opening Speech by Kathrin Röggla

Liebe Stipendiat:innen, liebe Freund:innen, liebe Gäste, liebe Förderer

Guten Abend, ich bin Kathrin Röggla, Vizepräsidentin der Akademie der Künste, und ich freue mich, Sie hier zu begrüßen.

The Breath of a House is the Sound of Voices Within – Was ist überhaupt ein Haus? Ist es ein Gebäude, das um jeden Preis zusammenhalten muss, über eine stabile Statik verfügend, mit Vordereingang und Hintereingang?

Ist es ein Ort, durch den man gehen kann, von außen kommend? Ein Ort mit oben und unten, der irgendwo anfängt und irgendwo aufhört. Ein Ort, verbunden mit Treppen, mit Fenstern ausgestattet, die etwas zeigen, was draußen liegt. Ein Ort mit einem gewissen Lärmpegel. Dringen Geräusche aus einem Haus? Spricht es eine Sprache, ist es gar mehrsprachig? Verfügt es über eine Grammatik, die wir dann übernehmen? Ist es ein Ort, wo Menschen viel sein können oder wenig. Menschen, die durcheinanderreden, sich vielleicht aber gar nicht mal unterbrechen? Menschen, die sich nicht einig sind?

Was ist ein Haus? Ist es ein Ort mit Durchblicken, Fluchten, mit Steinanmutung, Holzanmutung, ein materieller Ort mit gewisser Porösität? Gebaut von Menschen, die dafür vermutlich auf die eine oder andere Weise bezahlt worden sind? Ist es der Ort, den man eben verlassen hat, weil es nicht mehr auszuhalten war in ihm oder wurde einem das Warten darauf, dass was geschieht in dieser kritischen Lage, einfach zu lange? Ein Ort, in dem bereits immer alles zu sehen ist, ein Ort, in dem Verantwortung zu übernehmen ist, obwohl bereits Durchbrüche entstanden sind, oder Fluchtachsen, a safe place, oder gar ein Gefängnis? Ist es der Ort, in dem man sitzt, um einmal keine Hasspostings zu lesen, oder gerade doch diese emotionalen Instagramposts, die von unsichtbaren Opfern sprechen oder von sichtbaren, und uns Opfer gegeneinanderstellen lassen? Ein Ort der Propaganda? Ist es der Ort, der unsere Sortierung durch Social Media Accounts infrage stellt? Atmen Medien eigentlich lauter als Häuser? Sind Häuser Orte der Antwort oder der Frage, dafür gemacht, dass wir uns begegnen können oder eher entkommen? Können Häuser die Blickrichtung ändern? Lassen sie etwas mit sich anfangen? Wehren sie sich?

Ich vermute, einige Antworten werden wir heute erhalten, auf andere müssen wir noch warten, und wiederum andere werden neue Fragen aufwerfen. Hier am Hanseatenweg der Akademie der Künste, das ist unser tiefstes Bedürfnis im Moment – das der JUNGEN AKADEMIE, das der gesamten Akademie – hier werden Gespräche offengehalten. Es sollen Räume entstehen, in denen Begegnungen möglich sind, wie es andernorts nicht mehr so leicht geschieht. Und das ist gar nicht so einfach in diesen Zeiten. Dieses offene Gespräch zwischen den unterschiedlichsten Formen, Blickwinkeln, Positionen in der Kunst jenseits der politischen Verwerfungen oder gerade inmitten dieser – es ist kein gleichgültiges Gespräch, sondern ein engagiertes, eines, das Verantwortung mit sich bringen kann. Ein zutiefst demokratisches Bedürfnis ist mit ihm verbunden, auch wenn Kunst nicht in dessen alleinigen Dienst geraten möchte. Die Lust, Dinge von einer Seite zu erfahren, wie ich sie noch nie gesehen habe, begleitet uns dabei, und ja, Affekte und Erfahrungsräume spielen neben Formen und Formaten eine große Rolle dabei – und wir lassen uns auch von Theorien bewegen.

Was ist ein Haus? Es gibt Häuser, die existieren eigentlich nur im Plural – so das der Kunst. Was ist ein Haus? Fliegt etwas über es hinweg?  Ein Flugzeug, ein Helikopter, eine Kampfmaschine, eine Drohne? Sind Häuser überhaupt zum Überfliegen da? Schreitet etwas durch sie durch, das nicht hierhergehört. Klappern die Türen jedes Mal, wenn jemand vorbeigeht? Ist es bereits besetzt… von Geistern?

Dieses Haus, in dem wir gerade jetzt stehen, ist mein Lieblingsgebäude der Akademie, es ist als atmendes Haus gebaut worden, es lässt zu, dass verschiedenste Positionen in ihm zu Wort kommen, aber auch, dass ihnen zugehört wird, dass man sich wiederfinden kann, wenn man sich verloren hat, und man sich verlieren kann, wenn man zu sehr aneinander hängt. Seine Geister sind freundlich und grüßen gelegentlich. Es gibt Tiere, die seinen Schutz suchen, Wesen, die von ihm angezogen werden. Es gibt Gespräche, die in der Luft liegen bleiben, es gibt Auseinandersetzungen, die nicht verschwinden wollen und sollen. Wir wollen, dass dieses Haus atmet.

Und jetzt darf ich hier eine große Ausstellung eröffnen, und mit ihr eine Reihe von Veranstaltungen – das Ergebnis einer unglaublich kommunikativen Arbeit, von vielen Begegnungen um dieses Haus und in ihm, von gemeinsam verbrachten Zeiten, im Gräsergarten, in dem Café, auf der Bühne, im Foyer, in den Durchgängen und Höfen, vor seinen Eingängen, in den Treppenhäusern und Ateliers. Es ist nicht auf den Nenner zu bringen, was hier geschieht, auf den Nenner bringe ich allenfalls nur meinen Dank für die unerschöpflichen Energien und den Einsatz des Teams der JUNGEN AKADEMIE: Marie Graftieaux & Raphael Bruning – unter der umsichtigen Leitung von Clara Hermann. Dank auch an die kuratorische Stipendiatin Tomke Braun für sehr viel Sorgfalt, Fürsorge und Kunstkenntnis.

Und hiermit gebe ich das Wort an Arnold Dreyblatt, unserem Vizedirektor der Sektion Bildende Kunst.

As The House Becomes a Body, Then Finally Our Own

Opening Speech by Arnold Dreyblatt

Two years ago, on March 12, 2022,  I was also asked to speak at the opening of the last work presentation by the Young Academy, entitled, „What Matters?“. Russia had just recently invaded the Ukraine on February 24th, and we had all just emerged from the restrictions and isolation of the pandemic.

In my speech on that day, I included a quote from Walter Benjamin, who wrote in 1940: „The state of emergency in which we live is not the exception but the rule.  We must attain to a conception of history which is in keeping with this insight.“

In these times of multiple violent conflicts, threats to democracy around the world, even dangers to our very existence on the planet, these prescient words, which at the time seemed to refer to a short-term conflict now appear retrospectively prophetic. This „state of emergency in which we live“ – has become a ceaseless accompaniment to our lives – even a permanent state-as we are bombarded with the horror of real-time international events then almost simultaneously with polarizing echoes in social media.
At times it seems as if the rapidly moving pace of external events have undermined our long-held assumptions about the capacity of artistic intervention to effect meaningful change. But even moreso then the significance of assembing here today in order to honor an exhibition
as a model for artistic and experiential individual and collective practice.

The title: The Breath of a House is the sound of voices within,
an excerpt from a text by the architect and artist John Heyduk might function for us as a container, both a provocation and an inspiration – a sign pointing to a dialog between PLACE, spatial awareness, body and language.

The outside and inside, both protection and resistance becomes a permeable space, energized by mutual support and an experiment in community. I like to think that this house, where we have created and worked together and where we gather today, is also a kind of container or vessel.

Constructed in the postwar period, when the horrors of the National Socialist era remained in active memory, this building proposes an optimistic, forward-looking open-use architecture. In 2010, former Academy President Klaus Staeck, wrote that architect of this building, Werner Düttmann „laid out this house like a secular monastery, with corridors and gardens and apartments, as a place of retreat. A kind of spiritual and architectural anti-event concept.“

We hope that for you, our guest artists in residence at the Young Academy,
this container might be considered as a kind of „Safe House“, defined in a dictionary „as a place where someone can stay and be protected.“ Indeed, during recent years, some of you have come here as an artistic refuge from war and possible political persecution.

John Hejduk also wrote in „Sentences on the house and other sentences“, from which our exhibition title derives: „A house carries its own weight, also the sorrows within.“

As members of the Academy, we hope that this residency period has been positively constructive for each of you in the further development of your creative practices. However, I would also like to emphasize not only what you have received but what you have given back to us: your temporary presence and critical positions have also contributed greatly to this very old and sometimes archaic institution.

The intervention of younger international artistic positions and formats though on-site production, interaction and exhibition is fundamental to opening up and critically challenging the Academy. As a group, you have represented an international presence which is considerably more global, diverse and certainly more interdisciplinary than that represented by the membership of the academy itself.

After having witnessed the exhibition for the first time yesterday, I found myself enveloped by the breadth of individual artistic strategies and exhibition formats. I learned that many you have had the opportunity to extend and expand your practices beyond your original mediums and conventions. The spaces vibrate with multi-directional cross-references in content – as well as in conceptual and formal correspondences.

I have sensed that many of the individual works reveal themselves gradually in depth and meaning, as contextual layers unraveled and expanded, often in reciprocal relational dialogue to neighboring installations in the spaces.

The artworks explore critical and contradictory states of knowledge and experience: gender and minority identities are mapped to memory images, architecture, landscape and ritual. They create spaces within spaces, as the house becomes a body, then finally our own.

I would like to acknowledge the contributions of head of the Young Akademy and curator Clara Hermann along with current curatorial fellow: Tomke Braun; as well as the entire support team of the academy for the successful realization and staging of this complex group exhibition.

And as a closing word:
I quote the French philosopher Gaston Bashelard, from his famous book, La Poétique de l’éspace.„, „The Poetics of Space“, wrote in 1957:

„…the house shelters daydreaming, the house protects the dreamer, the house allows one to dream in peace.“

I will now hand over the podium to Clara Hermann and Tomke Braun Thank you

Arnold Dreyblatt (b. New York City, 1953) is an American media artist and composer. He has been based in Berlin, Germany since 1984. Dreyblatt is the Vice-Director of the Visual Arts Section of the Akademie der Künste in Berlin. From 2009 to 2022 he was Professor of Media Art at the Muthesius Academy of Art and Design (Muthesius Kunsthochschule) in Kiel, Germany.

Photo: Jens Ziehe

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