“Bridge/The Map Is Not the Territory”

Arbeitsgemeinschaft Fleetinsel

It is difficult to talk about “territory” today: as a concept, it serves as a negative criterion, or a background against which urban life and social development can be displayed. The recent exhibition “Bridge/The Map Is Not the Territory” was an attempt to renavigate this nonterritory. The curators, Ute Meta Bauer and Cathy Skene, with the sponsorship of several gallery owners (Galerie Jürgen Becker, Elke Dröscher, Galerie Dörrie Priess, Helga Maria Klosterfelde, and Produzentengalerie) and two art publishers (Sautter + Lackmann and Joachim Lührs Kunstantiquariat), developed a multileveled project that took a number of approaches. First, for this virtual territory a real one was chosen: a private square that arose in the course of recent redevelopment in Hamburg. Adjacent to the historical building that is inhabited by the show’s sponsors and a number of artists—and which is also bordered on one side by a hotel and on the other by a half-empty office complex—is a square that suggests an urban vacuum. This open space served as a blank page for the participating artists.

The title of the project mirrored its division into two parts. “Bridge” referred to aesthetic positions that have influenced the discourse of urbanism over the last twenty-five years. This half of the show included a video program featuring works by Dan Graham and Gordon Matta-Clark. In a more recent video piece by Till Krause, Hamburg’s escape routes and underground garages (rather than its public thoroughfares) serve as scenes for the urban stroll.

“Bridge” also suggested a connection to the 1989 exhibition “Hamburg Project,” for which over forty artists were invited to realize works dealing with everyday reality in the city. General Idea’s AIDS sculpture based on Robert Indiana’s LOVE logo was shown in both exhibitions, as were other pieces from the earlier show. Over the years a mantel of graffiti—evidence of public controversy—has covered the AIDS sculpture. Two commissioned works also tied “Bridge” to the present. One was a video by Fareed Armaly that documented the project through interviews with the show’s participants. The other was a map that functioned as a reader, offering a topography of the current discourse of urbanism. Edited by architect and artist Yvonne P. Doderer, it included texts by Monique Wittig, Donna Haraway, and Jennifer Toth.

The works in the project’s second half, “The map is not the territory,” dealt directly with the supposed territory of Hamburg. Among these were a flea market by Annette Wehrmann and a “moonwalk” by Micaela Melián. Melián’s piece, which took the form of the square, had the facades of the surrounding houses painted on its walls. Children who played in it served to enliven the lifeless area. Matthias Ring and Franzeska Leoni’s Cargo Box, 1997—an empty glass case—functioned more indirectly as a metaphor for the square’s desolation, and that of cities in general. This piece echoed the “cargo cult” in the former Melanesia at the turn of the century. At that time, the islanders were confronted with an incessant delivery of products, as ships and airplanes provided colonial lords with goods—the origin and production of which were unknown, but through which the colonials laid claim to what they saw to be their rightful legacy. What ensued was an imitation of the colonial structure, as the islanders set up quays and landing strips, constructed warehouses, hoisted national flags, and held military parades, complete with fake rifles. The “cargo cult” hoped to acquire riches through structural imitation, and Cargo Box was set up in a similarly mimetic fashion: by generating emptiness it reflected the many deserted office buildings in the urban landscape.

The difficulty with an ambitious project like “Bridge/The map is not the territory” is that when a geographic area is transformed into the territory of discourse, the term “border” becomes superfluous. The topography of the discursive landscape generated here ran from gender to the “broken windows” theory, from the flea market to a novel that arose parallel to the project, from art-historical excursus to the citation of Pacific cults. Paradoxically, however, this heterogeneous topography produced a new imaginary border, one that was of a purely psychophysical nature.

Wolf Jahn

Translated from the German by Diana Reese.