Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Kunst und Gentrifizierung in Berlin

Poster for the 1980 show, by Andy Baird of Artpolice

I participated in an art show this June, “The Real Estate Show Extended,” Berlin edition. The title refers to our famous/notorious exhibition in New York City in 1980, when the BeeGees were still big. We took over a building to mount a show of art protesting the exploitation of artists and the eviction of tenants in Lower East Side social housing – the early stages of what has become a global problem – gentrification.
This show-in-occupation was remembered and reprised in NYC itself in 2014 in four galleries and at the place that came out of the original Real Estate Show, ABC No Rio. The Cuchifritos project space in the old Essex Market also held a part of the extended RES show – a Free Speech center, where passersby and community members were informed about the impending plans to develop the enormous parcel of vacant land where the 1980 RES took place.
A curator from Berlin, Matthias Mayer, saw the show there and invited Becky Howland to mount a version of it in Berlin. We helped him produce a show of documentation from the original RES, and participated in the “RES Extended” alongside Berlin artists.
It was great to see old comrades again – Becky, Peter Moennig, and Joseph Nechvatal. We are all still making art, and despite our separate life courses, we all recognize that our project of 37 years ago was prescient. Gentrification has turned out to be the way Big Capital rolls now, destroying big city neighborhoods and reconstructing them as rich folks' quarters. It's a major problem for working class people and artists.
I made two “zines” for this show – collages, actually, in the form of newspapers. Each one hung on a cafe reading stick (Zeitungsstock). One concerned the events at the Free Speech center and the giant development proposed in '14, and now a-building. The second concerned gentrification itself, and the erasure of bohemia in both Berlin and New York.

Panel with Becky Howland (NYC), Peter Mönnig (Cologne), Alan Moore (Madrid), Joseph Nechvatal (Paris). Moderated by Howard McCalebb (Dada Post, Berlin). Photo by Anne Fatoyinbo

I want to describe these zines in later posts. But first I'll talk a little about the show itself. The documentary part opened in a small art space in Kolonie-Wedding, a district well to the north of Berlin's Mitte (Spor Klübü project space). The housing is fine old stock, and full of working class families, including many of Turkish descent. The neighborhood was sehr gemuetlich – quiet, children playing, folks lounging out front of cafes – it was hard to realize how rapidly it was being transformed. In Berlin the landlords' scheme is to upgrade the infrastructure in an old building, needed or not, and then raise the rent through the roof. I stayed in an AirBnB apartment not far from the first show venue where this had happened. The room was great, light-filled with a balcony, and three very nice young roommates. The person who let the room had moved out with her boyfriend for the time I would be there. They needed my money to make their rent.
In this case, AirBnB buffers gentrification, giving young people a strategy to manage high rents.
I met Fred Dewey at the opening of that show. He's from Los Angeles. There and in Berlin, Fred organized neighborhood councils. He wrote a book about that, and his other adventures. Now he's into Hannah Arendt's political philosophy, leading a reading group this summer. We sat down for a conversation in his apartment near Templehof. (A report on that will also be coming along here soon.) Later we went for a walk to the vast disused airfield. Development plans there were halted by a community referendum. No political party supported that, but it went through. For the moment, Templehof is a vast public commons, with a small community garden area, places to picnic grill, and numerous runners, bikers and kiters.
The second show of the RESx-B included a large number of Berlin artists, and was held at a space called Kunst Punkt in Mitte. I hung around there for days during the install, but not many conversations happened. Everyone was just working on their piece, the way artists do when preparing for a show.
The opening was mobbed, however. And the talk the next day, with the three of us “veterans” on stage, was also well-attended.
For my part, I had to make a relevant noise. I began the panel talk with a kind of performance. I asked how many knew who Andrej Holm was? Not very many, maybe 5 or 10 raised hands. This matters because Andrej Holm was appointed as Berlin's housing minister under the new red-green-red coalition government elected last year. A concerted defamation campaign against him caused the government to dismiss him. Soon after he was fired from his university position at Humboldt as well.
In reponse to that action, students of the sociology faculty occupied their part of the university. “Holm bleibt!” they cried – “Holm stays.” (#HolmBleibt will fill you in on their action and manifestos.) And so did I, in the art gallery, while banging on a beer bottle with a stick of wood. The point? You need laws to protect tenants and neighborhoods. Holm was fired because he would help to draft them, and see that they were enforced rather than exceptioned and looking the other way.
Andrej Holm is Germany's expert on gentrification. His case study is Berlin. He is also a member of our SqEK network of squatting researchers, so he has learned from that movement and its strategies of self-organization.
Then I held up a poster from the Köpenicker Strasse squat's street festival, a “festival of counterculture.” I had passed by there on my way to the gallery. The streets all around the Köpi, as it is known were full of police vans, waiting. These events often end with a riot – although when I passed by the music was just beginning on the blocked-off street, and kids were playing with their parents.
I said that in order to preserve housing and communities and cultural spaces you need law. That would have been Andrej's job. But you also need “anti-law” – disobedience, contest and disorder. The punk culture which impels, animates and preserves squats like the Köpi is something Berlin is famous for. It not only animates the milieu of bohemia, it is a concrete path for working class kids who didn't go to art school or music academy to enter into a kind of artistic life. It is also a solidarity experience for many marginalized and dysfunctional people, folks with mental problems, addicts, or just young misfit toys in the capitalist playing field.
Andrej Holm in a photo from the publication Taz.de

Afterwards I had an argument about this from a fellow who insisted the punks needed to be dealt with because they took property and did not follow rules. Well, the property is not being used, and not following the rules is kind of the point of punk culture. Anyhow, punks have their own rules which are in effect as strict as “straight” society. And social solidarity for society's outcasts means they aren't sitting around public parks and skulking on streetcorners.
But the place is so dirty, a terrible eyesore! With the Wagenplatz nearby, there are mounds of garbage. Could it be that the city is deliberately not picking this stuff up? Imagine if, instead of repressing them, and feeding the aggressive self-defensive side of the punk culture the city cooperated with these places. They are not as chaotic as they appear. There is a plenum, an assembly, which runs the place through open meetings. There are lawyers who protect them, or they wouldn't still be there. These places and these people would act differently if they didn't always have to defend themselves so strongly.
Finally, I showed the back cover of Erick/a Lyle's most recent issue of SCAM zine with an image by Barry McGee. What is more, sez me, important artists have come out of the squatter punk subculture. And that's not to mention innumerable musicians, like the Clash – although this is rarely a part of the official biographies of those who promote them.
On my last day in town I waited on the street to meet Matthias on a lonely stretch of Frankfurter Allee, in the shadow of the Plattenbau housing complexes built by the East German government. There, right next to the Stasi museum, the artists' coalition he works with is scheduled to receive some run-down buildings to develop as artists' studios.
I had it all planned out for him by the time he arrived, whether he wanted to hear it or not. They should open a cafe in the part with the nicest door, and next to it a bookstore and women's center. The cafe should be run by a politically-minded workers' co-op. That way, if they succeed, they might be able to spin off another business into the neighborhood. The bookstore, similarly constituted, can provide venues for poets and writers. Artists in the building should be required to do at least some hours of collective labor regularly so they have to interact with the community. Included in that can be sittting in the bookstore, a semi-social activity, or working in the cafe. Both of these projects would be open to the public and would materially enrich the neighborhood's cultural resources which are bleak-to-nonexistent.
Of course there are all sorts of regulations you have to observe for every different activity... the more money the less freedom.
We'll see.

"The Real Estate Show" Documentation of the original show from 1980 from ABC No Rio's Archive, organized by Becky Howland & Matthias Mayer
May 27-June 27, 2017 at Spor Klübü project space, Kolonie Wedding, Berlin

The Real Estate Show Extended / Berlin @ Kunstpunkt Berlin – June 3-24, 2017
Schlegelstr. 6, 10115 Berlin – Opening hours: Wed-Sat, 14:00-18:00


"The Real Estate Show Extended -- Changes on the Fly" has not yet been reviewed... this is an artist's site:

A fine review for Studio Int'l online, "Lower East Side: The Real Estate Show Redux," by Natasha Kurchanova

Nice blurb on Fred Dewey's book "School of Public Life"

SqEK network's biggest conference, in Barcelona in 2015, has the best developed website


Hunh! Here's a video about the Spanish PAH with Andrej pacing around up front...

Die Köpi (auch Køpi) ist ein 1990 besetztes und 1991 legalisiertes Haus in der Köpenicker Straße 137"... I did not know it was legalized.

A traveler's recent experience in a Wagenplatz (2015); by "leetheperm":

SCAM, Twenty-Fifth Anniversary Issue, Erick Lyle (Editor)

Yes, the Stasi Museum. Yow!

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