“Emotope: A Project of Büro Berlin”

Various Indoor And Outdoor Locations Throughout Berlin

For several years now the projects organized by Büro Berlin have been a staple of the Berlin art scene. The goal of their work is to make art more independent of established institutions (i.e., galleries. museums). Sites and situations are sought out that connect artwork with social, historical, and economic experience. “Emotope,” 1987, their most recent project, was organized by Raimund Kummer and Fritz Rahmann (two artists/administrators of Büro Berlin) together with the Künstlerhaus Bethanien. They and ten other international artists created ten projects at various locations throughout Berlin. The neologism “Emotope,” which suggests a cross between “emotion” and “topos,” alludes to the regeneration of art through new ways and new opportunities of experiencing it, for artists and viewers alike. Because art belongs to the ecology of life, changes in the sphere of art are never intrinsic to it alone. The historical concept of “art for art's sake” must be seen against the background of its 19th-century bourgeois origins and its current social context. Today, the era of the autonomy of art is nearing its ultimate demise. Needed are “crossover” forms that connect art with the contradictory experiences of our perception and interpretation of reality.

The New York artist Kiki Smith created an installation for “Emotope” in a police administrative building under construction in Berlin-Spandau, placing a small bronze sculpture with a barometer inside it in a half-finished room whose windows look out on the site of Spandau prison. She took two X-rays of the sculpture to reveal the barometer inside and attached them to the windows. On entering this room, a viewer would have first noticed the figure, which looks like a “Bambino adulto” (adult child), and then the X-rays before being drawn to the view through the windows. There, in Spandau prison, Hitler's chief deputy Rudolf Hess had been kept under guard by members of the Allied forces as the last prisoner of war from the Nazi regime until his recent suicide. While this installation was on display the building was torn down, leaving only a mountain of rubble surrounded by a tall wall with watchtowers, where soldiers still stand guard. By expressing her subjective response to this place within a historical context, Smith mediates reality as the conjunction of fact and feeling.

Many artists are currently bringing literature back into the visual arts in order to find new contexts for their art. The contributions of Stephan Huber, Bogomir Ecker, Fritz Rahmann, and Ulrich Horndash to the “Emotope” project were in the form of books and brochures. Mike Schäfer presented a theatrical monologue, Brugers Wandel (Bruger's transformation), in which a film projection and the simulation of a moonrise were combined with a literary text. Geneviève Cadieux also related her work to literature, making huge enlargements of a drawing by Antoine de Saint Exupéry (from his novel The Little Prince) and a photograph by Ernest James Bellocq, in both of which the faces were scratched out, and hanging them in the Staatsbibliothek Preussischer Kulturbesitz.

Other artists created works that dealt with sociocultural connections and transformations. Andras Medve's installation, presented in a bank lobby, consisted of a large photograph of a “dog” made out of gold bars that he had briefly set up in a bank vault. At a reception, Res Ingold presented Ingold Airlines, a perfect simulation of a service corporation. Raimund Kummer chose a church as the site for his sculpture made of an enormous, zinc-coated steel beam resting on three large porcelain electrical insulators (the kind used on high-tension wires). Here, technology and spirituality were united in a relationship that both eluded and encouraged interpretation.

“Emotope” demonstrated that one of the primary concerns of today's art production is the complexity of perception. As a contextual phenomenon, it counteracts the overly easy assimilation of art by the public as well as the “you see what you see” attitude perpetuated by certain sectors of the art world.

Wolfgang Max Faust

Translated from the German by Leslie Strickland.