Galerie Otto Schweins

A dead man, a soldier, is lying on the floor. He’s on his back, his legs outstretched. A brown branch that appears to originate from an unusual plant is boring its way through his head. It’s like an old horror film: brutal, but also harmless and artificial. Both man and tree are made of the cheap foam material used in the building trade for sealing joints. They’ve been spray painted: the man green, the tree dark brown.

On a monitor sitting on the floor in a far corner of the room behind the corpse a video is playing. There are buildings set in a green landscape. They are under construction—or have they already been destroyed? The camera moves slowly across the walls, showing stairs, unglazed window openings, doorways without doors. The buildings look unreal, like stage sets. No commentary, no music accompanies the images; now and then one hears the rustling of leaves or the chirping of birds. The images provide no clue as to what has taken place.

Two large photographs: One shows a wall with a round opening in front of which stands an unmade bed—as if it had been suddenly abandoned. The other is of a window with threadbare curtains, no sign of life—again, a sense of abandonment. In the next space hang six more photographs, showing the same houses as in the video, deserted in a green landscape, a ghost town. But what is going on here? The buildings in the photographs look harmless, normal, just a bit run down and shabby. Nothing intimates danger, much less threat. And yet . . .

These are houses, an entire town in fact, that the British army built in Ruhleben, on the outskirts of Berlin, as a practice site for military occupation. They built a community for approximately 5,000 inhabitants with its own freeway exit, supermarket, church—everything that belongs in a real town—in order to simulate house-to-house combat. The state and city police of Berlin still train there. Andree Korpys and Markus Löffler illegally entered this area, which is completely off-limits to the public. These photographs (all, like the video, titled Ruhleben, 1999) were taken illegally. The exhibition itself therefore constitutes a conspiratorial action.

Although Korpys and Löffler have long been following the traces of violence, what interests them isn’t the violent act itself so much as the site in which it occurs. For example, as in the current exhibition, a town where battles have been rehearsed. Or, previously, a bank that was robbed; the Federal Administration building in Karlsruhe, against which RAF (Red Army Faction) terrorists planned an attack; apartments in which assassinations and robberies have been conceived. Soberly compiled documentation is mixed in their work with invented reports and photographs, blurring the boundary between the real and the imagined. And yet such stories reveal much of the reality of violence. Violent acts are conceived and executed in places just like any other. These houses used only for combat training are carefully numbered, built according to blueprint, bureaucratically maintained. Korpys and Löffler once spoke of their interest in an “aesthetic of violence.” It is a banal aesthetic they bring to light, but like the banality of evil, of which Hannah Arendt once spoke, it is not free of horror.

Noemi Smolik

Translated from German by Diana Reese.