by Noushin Afzali // June 4, 2021
If you have ever frequented Weserhalle—an art space located on one of Neukölln’s most popular streets—you have likely stopped in bewilderment and wondered what has happened to the gallery in the last few weeks. Through the window, it appears that the gallery has been transformed into a commercial real estate showroom, with a minimalist corporate decor. “Make your Apartment into an Art Flat” is printed in large letters on the white desk located at the back of the room. A poster is stuck on the exterior wall asking if you were affected by the rent cap, with the promise of making a 40% profit above government regulations by transforming your flat into an art object. Using art to bypass the rent freeze in Berlin and generate profit? At this point, you are either in a state of complete disbelief or utter disgust and indignation.
‘Da Silva Brokers Art House’ is the newest multimedia art installation by artist Anton Steenbock, presented at Weserhalle. The exhibition offers a critical look at the housing situation in Berlin by turning artworks into commodity capital in order to bypass the rent freeze (Mietpreisbremse). The overturning of the rent cap by Germany’s constitutional court in Karlsruhe in April 2021 recently left Berlin’s tenants faced with an uncertain and frightening future. Berlin’s rent cap meant that rents for 90% of Berlin’s apartments were frozen for five years at their June 2019 level. New rents could not go above that level, and as of November 2020, any existing rents that were still above that level had to be reduced. With its revocation, the housing situation in the capital seems more unstable than ever. The rent freeze is supposed to protect the tenant’s right to affordable housing. However, several real estate companies and start-ups offer landlords ways to circumvent it and generate more profit on their property.
By holding a mirror to the current state of affairs, ‘Da Silva Brokers Art house’ playfully draws attention to capitalist modes of production in a profit-driven society. DSBAH is part of the long-term project initiated by Steenbock in 2010 as ‘Da Silva Brokers.’ A fictitious real estate agency, Da Silva Brokers has caused controversy and widely distributed propaganda with its fake architecture campaigns and showrooms worldwide, including at the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics in Brazil. In the middle of the exhibition space, stands life-sized cardboard of Antonio da Silva, the fictional CEO of the Da Silva Brokers. His image appears time and again in both the real space of the exhibition and also its online presence, including on various websites and Instagram accounts. By placing this person in the forefront of attention, Steenbock humorously brings to light the destructive nature of an economy that has no other intention than to create surplus.
With its three opening dates, the exhibition acts as a collective show displaying works and performances by fictional artists such as Alejandro Bonito, Arne Brom and Pit Vulkano. The first opening by Bonito consisted of an installation based on found 3D models that are arranged in elaborate compositions on digital prints. The exhibition room is transformed into a sterile and austere real estate office, with a sofa, a table and a vase. A picture replica of the room is hung up on the wall with the deliberate difference of the objects floating in the air, a metaphor for the fleeting nature of our modernity. Brom’s installation, comprised of cleaning instruments, is a parody of the corporate world’s misuse of the arts to generate profit. A series of photos featuring cloud patterns, taken by Vulkano, decorate the walls of the gallery, intensifying the corporate aesthetic.
Parallel to the exhibition, a digital component has been launched by Steenbock that is made up of an extensive advertising campaign in digital and public space. By incorporating various artistic media and make-believe performances, Steenbock blurs the lines between reality and fiction, in order to create a more politically and socially aware urban space. Steenbock’s various bodies of work can be understood as a cosmology of related conceptual thematics, each exploring variations on issues like public space, capitalism, consumerism, and political and social awareness.