A Performance Series

30 DAYS OF NEW LIFE BERLIN

Two male cartographers who wish to remain anonymous have arrived from the USA to participate in The New Life Berlin Festival. As the title of their work suggests, the cartographers, who like to be known as A and B are here for 30 days. Their purpose is to carry out an urban exploration to map the arts and culture of the city.

Any visitor to Berlin cannot help but be struck by the cranes that silhouette the horizon. Germany’s capital is a building site, in which galleries and alternative spaces have flourished, even more since the Wall came down. A and B are aware of this shifting landscape. Whilst cartographers of the past sought to conquer the globe, these cultural nomads are using travel, observation, questioning and report-writing strategies to plot the galleries of Berlin. They work with performance, participatory actions and interventions to gather information, using spatial and cognitive decision making and engaging in dialogue with those they come into contact with.

On a scorching hot day I found myself shadowing cartographers A and B while they mapped a number of galleries punctuating the area. The day began at Galerie Schuster, Heidestrasse 46, next door to The Haunch of Venison Gallery and not far from The Hamburger Bahnhof Gallery of Contemporary Art. Cartographers A and B were wearing t-shirts and shorts, their American accents and strolling demeanor creating a persona of visitor or tourist.

The cartographers’ game-plan for 30 Days of New Life Berlin includes covert attention to the spatial and curatorial qualities of each gallery they map. They photograph the hanging of work and the architectural construction of the gallery, and can be seen surveying ceilings and the hidden surfaces and structures of art works. Attention is paid to lighting: I was surprised to be told that many of the city’s galleries use strip-lighting. Each gallery is evaluated for it’s openness to the cartographer’s questions and visitor information. A and B variously adopt roles as performer, detective, evaluator, researcher, and distributor of information.

We continued to Infernoesque Projektraum, situated in an industrial building at Heidestrasse 46-52, and then on to Zern, a gallery where Andreas Gefeller’s show Supervisions investigates the layering of the unnoticed inner workings of buildings and urban landscapes, photographed from above. Then, nearby, a cobbled walkway and a row of six inter-connected, converted warehouses: Hallen am Wasser (“Halls on the Water”), a complex of galleries whose exteriors are cloaked in a grey fabric facade, which houses painting, sculpture and installations. As A and B continued their rituals of observing the spatial and curatorial qualities of each gallery, I felt a heightened engagement with my surroundings. As we returned to the massive Armadillo like glass shell of Hauptbahnhof, Berlin’s Central Station made up of 9,000 interwoven sections, I was acutely aware of having been both participant and spectator in this work.

A and B engaged in another mapping strategy later that day, giving what they said was a performance involving the audience and participants of New Life Berlin Festival at The New Life Berlin Shop in Choriner Strasse. Participants were asked to highlight their favourite cultural locations on a large walled map of Berlin. As they made their marks the purpose of the paper map was altered; from a tool for mapping routes from one place to another, it became an interactive, layered alternative urban and cultural narrative.

The research outcomes accumulated by A and B can be seen on the Wooloo website http://www.wooloo.org/30days and includes three links leading to images, gallery listings and a Google locator map. Its topography can be seen as setting up interconnections between different gallery locations, looking beyond the surface, as if interrogating the gallery substratum of the city. Beyond this, the 30 Days link gauges the ease of cultural integration for the ‘outsider’ who might be a tourist, foreigner or stranger. These strategies raise an awareness of the limitations of cultural language,and question the notion of truth and the hierarchy of art speak,- the self-serving industry chatter that conforms to a system not made clear to outsiders.

The cartographers’ construction of social and cultural maps creates an alternative dialogue and narrative, permitting visitors to the website (and Berlin) to position themselves both as outsiders looking in (and insiders looking out). But is the listing of gallery information and thumbnail images enough to actively engage an online audience? My own live participation enabled an entry point that most other visitors to the 30 Days of New Life Berlin could not have. At the same time, this online information invites its audience to undertake their own mapping and exploration of the galleries in Berlin, and has the potential to radically alter online cultural and social mapping.

Ann Rapstoff

Ann Rapstoff creates performances, interventions and events. She is co-curator of ArtWash. www.annrapstoff.co.uk, www.artwash.co.uk.

Please only reproduce this text with permission from the author and opendialogues@gmail.com

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