Annika Eriksson

In Annika Eriksson’s recent exhibition “Wir sind wieder da” (We’re Back), a digitized 16-mm film loop showed a nocturnal scene of a group of punks casually conversing and drinking beer in a vacant lot filled with makeshift furniture: abandoned couches, wooden pallets, a grocery cart. The set is artificially lit, and puffs from an off-camera smoke machine periodically turn the image a deep blue as they waft over the scene, distorting the depth of field and conferring an oddly painterly and immobile quality upon the tableau. Projected on a large screen mounted on a metal scaffold, the film faced a small monitor (on another scaffold opposite) showing a short video loop of the same empty lot, now lit by daylight and emptied of all vestiges of its nocturnal life.

With her many photographic, filmic, and video depictions of ordinary people and the public spaces they inhabit, Eriksson has been associated with the socially engaged, project-oriented work that emerged in the early 1990s. But with this piece (also titled Wir sind wieder da, 2010), it becomes clear that Eriksson has always carefully staged her projects in pursuit of a much broader conceptual framework than the straightforward representation of her subjects. Take the punks, for example: They have been instructed to loiter as they usually do, while the camera remains stationary at a more-than-respectful distance that denies the viewer any possible sense of intimacy. Except for a few snippets here and there, the conversation between the punks is mostly inaudible to the distant camera, so visual details like gestures, clothing, and their playful interactions with their dogs are the only consolation in the thwarted attempt to read this as social documentary. On the other hand, punks represent a global phenomenon that spans several generations and encompasses a slippery range of ideological affiliations. In Berlin they are particularly visible given the city’s abundance of dead urban spaces. Here they are denotative of the contested nature of land and real estate development following German reunification—still largely unresolved today—with many of them inhabiting squats dotted throughout Kreuzberg (once a Western ghetto surrounded on three sides by the Wall) and the neighborhoods of the former East. A particularly emblematic haunt is Alexanderplatz: the center of what was East Berlin, and a perpetual site of redevelopment. It is a gathering place as well for several diverse subcultures (some more marginal than others) such as skaters, electro dancers, suburban teenagers from the Eastern periphery, and Gypsies; and the setting of Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s epic fifteen-hour television series Berlin Alexanderplatz (1980), a portrait of the city’s “alleys and courtyards and the people who populate them,” in the words of documentarian Hans-Dieter Hartl.

With its three long takes shown out of sequence and divided by segments of a clip filmed by a subway passenger traveling through stations shut down in GDR times, Eriksson’s own portrait of the city utilizes a nonnarrative structure and a near-static image (a technical ruse achieved by slowing the film down to 90 percent of its original speed) to depict the peculiar historical limbo of Berlin, where rapid gentrification has failed to fully exorcise the traces of past failed utopias. Represented through the anachronism of punk culture is a hopeful yet somewhat wistful suggestion that sites of resistance and creativity do indeed persist despite the threat of their imminent erasure.

Michèle Faguet