Article by Andrea Ongaro // Apr. 18, 2013
A lot of cities in the world show a large degree of urban layering. Some others, having been destroyed and rebuilt, conserve less of this structural organization perhaps modelled over centuries. In cities where ancient and modern nucleuses are side by side, it’s easy to observe how cities have always been functionally built, to follow people’s movements. Today, for example, some cities seem to be built with cars in mind rather than people. That’s why it’s necessary to re-find a human dimension, to take back the public space and to use art to claim an expressive space within the city environment.
When an artist decides to paint a wall, automatically transferring a message, they create a new alternative space where there was only a simple surface before. A common wall becomes a spontaneously re-humanized cityscape. The exhibition “Between appropriation and interventions – realities / conditions / standards / positions / transformation”, at Kunstraum Kreuzberg/Bethanien, offers a deep reflection on the theme of intervention in urban spaces and goes far beyond the limits of city walls. Many works in the exhibition deal with urban space, revealing characteristic aspects that are usually taken for granted.
The places where we live influence our way of life and our way of life changes the places where we move. This is documented and becomes evident in the work of Larissa Fassler. The artist presents two maps of Kottbusser Tor, a place familiar to most Berliners, inspecting our perceptions of it. Intervening on the maps with written descriptions and glued cut-out images, the artist translates the map in a personal key that is less sterile and more human. Placing a stratification of activities on the map, she show us that places are made by people’s activities and not by buildings or streets.
The theme of appropriation and intervention inevitably includes political and social issues. Noel Jabboul presents photographic documentation of the little talked about wall that divides Isrealis and Palestinians. In The Abu Dis Wall (2004), the artist adopts different perspectives, cleverly combining the images so the viewer is never sure which side of the wall each picture is referring to. The artist asks: aren’t they both prisoners of the wall? The artist demonstrates how space perception is related to point of view.
Grazia Toderi offers a more inclusive point of view with the nocturnal piece Rosso (2007), that shows a city as we would see it from a landing airplane. With this video, the artist emphasizes the spectacle of what is man-made; the creation of gigantic urban networks. It’s an impressive show that awakens thoughts of history, development and sustainability. The viewer is led to wonder how it was possible to achieve such results, how much all of this could adapt to the surrounding environment and in which direction we will move in the future. The artwork provides a valuable and thoughtful experience.
The exhibition is strong because it features works that really deepen the title theme, approaching it from a variety of angles. This show takes on added meaning if we consider what’s been going on in Berlin in the last few years. Evictions, re-appropriations, occupations and dismantling are all a part of a reflection on the urban space that is happening very fast. As much as people try to intervene, it’s almost impossible to slow this phenomenon. This kind of process evolves over decades and the factors that effect it are many and diverse. The exhibition brings an appreciable contribution to the debate around the transformation and interpretation of our cities. It is an important issue, because we are talking about the environment we are living in and that we have shaped from time immemorial. It’s a discussion we can’t avoid.