And Berlin Will Always Need You at Martin Gropius Bau, Berlin

Chiharu Shiota Installation

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And Berlin Will Always Need You is an exhibition about contemporary art & crafts made in Berlin which aims to show at this time artists’ practices in Berlin. The show is held at the historical Gropius Bau, taking its past as the former museum for decorative arts and educational institution presents a series of existing and newly commissioned works that engage with traditional crafts and handmade processes as methods of production, aesthetics, and materiality. On view till the 16th of June.

Says the text provided during the opening, “When Dorothy Iannone serenaded her friend Mary Harding in 1977, she sang an avowal to the city of Berlin, a place she had moved to only a year before with the DAAD Artists-in-Berlin programme and where she has lived ever since.” Her line “And Berlin will always need you”, forms the title of the exhibition.

The Gropius Bau was —  apart from being the decorative arts museum — a place where archaeological and ethnological collections were hosted. The museum first opened in 1881 and it was designed by architects Heino Schmieden and Martin Gropius – Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius uncle. The Gropius Bau was the first institution of its kind in Germany to operate both as a decorative arts museum as well as an educational institution, which previously had been founded in 1867. This innovative combination corresponded to the industrial revolution time where under the concept that decorative arts collections were thought to function as a model for contemporary crafts and industrial design, with the intention to guarantee high-quality standards while remaining competitive on the international market. Berlin, today a remarkable place for creative activity, served then as a geographical hub for textile production and discussions on the changing conditions of craft production in relation to mass production.

Interpretation, authorship, labour, control, and power structures form a walking path throughout And Berlin Will Always Need You. Art, Craft, and Concept Made in Berlin. The exhibition expands perceptions of art and craft in the building ground-floor spaces where it is displayed, multiple aspects ranging from the ornamental and decorative, which is reminiscent of visual motifs found in Eastern religions and Byzantine mosaics, to the history of design in Modernism and the twentieth century, involving craftsmanship from Berlin to South America.

All the artists featured in the show are based in Berlin, although coming from diverse origins. The oldest ones were established in the city around the eighties when Berlin began to stand out as artistic metropolis and effervescent centre of creativity. The Berlin artistic community has never stopped to grown ever since, leading to the establishment of the German capital as a reference in the global contemporary art scene.

Settle in West Berlin since 1976, the most veteran artist in the display is the previously mentioned Dorothy Iannone (1933, Boston, USA).

Born at the range of the end of the 1950s- starting of the 1960s are Simon Wachsmuth who presents a 2-channel video piece featuring dance and ceramics, Alice Creischer, Andreas Siekmann & the Brukman workers which show their textile pieces consisting of ten sewn suits and nineteen digital drawings on paper, while Theo Eshetu’s The Phi Phenomenon video installation is composed of 12-screens.

Established in Berlin between mid 1990s (the wall felt in 1989) and first decade of 21st century, the biggest number of artists featured are born between end of the 1960s and end of 1970s: Nevin Aladağ, Leonor Antunes, Julieta Aranda, Willem de Rooij, Olaf Holzapfel, Antje Majewski & Olivier Guesselé-Garai, Willem de Rooij, Katarina Šević, Chiharu Shiota, and Haegue Yang.

As the starting point, Chiharu Shiota has conceived a spider’s web-like installation for the atrium.

Olaf Holzapfel presents his large-scale, abstract works crocheted from hand-spun natural fibres and made in a self-managed factory in Buenos Aires.

Julieta Aranda has built her Ghost Nets.

Katharina Ševíc work consists of a series of objects made on precious crafted wood (ongoing project).

Leonor Antunes shows her hand-crafted suspended rattan rope, wood, and leather sculptures.

Antje Majewski has an installation consisting of films showing different African hand-crafted traditions, sculptures and objects resulting from those crafts productions.

Willem de Rooij pattern works play with perspective and colour gradient. They consist in tapestry, unbleached linen warp, using 10 different acrylic fill and a different mixture of silver- and gold coloured metal threads, on a wooden stretcher.

Nevin Aladağ has set up a folding screen composed of found, patterned carpets.

Haegue Yang presents in an entire room installation his sculptural works, made of artificial straw, powder-coated steel stand and metal grid, casters, plastic raffia string, brass, and copper plated bells.

Belonging to the youngest generations, born in the 1980s are Haris Epaminonda with an installation inspired in Apollo and Mariechen Danz, with a performance registered in video during the Viva Arte Viva central exhibition at the past 57th Venice Biennale.

The exhibition as a whole, as an amalgamation, shows a wide variety of artistic practices that can be found in Berlin today and highlights both industrial and increasingly apparent digital fields, while raising questions associated with meaningful interpretation, modes of (capitalist) production, ownership and collaboration.

Text: María Muñoz
Photos: Courtesy Gropious Bau excepting the main image Chiharu Shiota and Dorothy Iannone paintings, María Muñoz

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