Upon visiting the newly-opened Guggenheim Lab on Saturday, I was somewhat taken aback at the scale of the attacks on the project compared to the bare-bones reality. It was as if Berlin’s media had used a scud missile to eradicate an ant-hill. The path up to the structure (and it is just that, a roof set atop some stilts) was plastered with bi-lingual fireside homilies in bright colours, pondering such vacuous non-sequiturs as “Why don’t we smile at each other more often?” or “Why are we always in a hurry?”.
Once there, one was somewhat surprised to see groups of mature adults engaged in what appeared to be occupational therapy with some very expensive bits of kit (laser cutters et al). I think I even saw some pipe-cleaners in action. There is a lending library and some community garden project. Some chap (an “emerging talent”, according to the website) was earnestly pontificating about the nature of creativity via a Skype conference. In English. Sample dialogue: “Well, we usually create in static terms, such as paintings or sculpture, but you know, we are surrounded by moving things such as bicycles.”
There are workshops, there are lectures and films, but all in all, the level seems disappointingly low, and the content rarely raises its head above the homily-studded urban/suburban mom-pop parapet. This is at odds with the Labs lofty claims to “create forward-thinking solutions for urban life.” Engaging, innovative ideas appear sparse on the ground, cutting off the oxygen required for”controversial” debate. And there is some ugly witch-hunt rhetoric on the website, with claims that “ridding the city of prostitutes” will somehow improve urban lifestyles, claims stemming from workshop participants that the Lab thoughtlessly chose to reproduce. This isn’t even a Band-Aid on urbanity’s festering wounds, this is smug middle-class paddling pool positivism at its worst. I’m sure Maria Nicanor, the curator, has read her Richard Sennett. Why none of the programming reflects this is another matter.
Blog entry and photos by Jeni Fulton in Berlin; Tuesday, Jun. 19, 2012.