Features » Art


Art to the rescue

The "Art goes Heiligendamm" G8 exhibition deals with irony, utopia and overcoming borders. By Irene Grüter

There's not a soul in sight in front of the train station this Whitsun Monday in Rostock. Even before the onslaught the city looks battered. The first person appears after ten minutes but has heard nothing about a G8 exhibition. Onto the market square, and even the tourist guide with the minibus knows nothing. The Europa shops are already displaying souvenirs for summit tourists, cups and T-shirts with "G8 Heiligendamm 2007" written on them in blood red. As if the event is history before it's even begun.

Andreas Liebmann/Verena Stenke, Powerpuppen und Mitspieler, 2006 (Performance). © Andreas Liebmann and Verena Stenke

At the docks a big wheel turns, stands sell fish rolls and underwear, and wait for passers-by. No one has heard of "Art goes Heiligendamm". For the uninitiated, this "artistic intervention" in the city of Rostock, set to take place between May 24th and June 9th, is not easy to find. The core of the exhibition lies in a somewhat remote dockland area, where a sort of parallel world is evolving. Between two warehouses, beer benches, speakers and a mobile kitchen wait for visitors to descend. Drilling and hammering fills the air as the go-ahead to use the area was not given until the last moment. Kitted out in an orange construction-worker jacket, Adrienne Goehler, former cultural senator for Berlin, one-time curator for the Capital Cultural Fund and the brains behind the initiative, walks past pushing a cart load of wood shavings. Then she starts rolling out the red carpet for the local TV team. Here too, in the counter world to the G8 summit, media presence dominates.

The carpet leads up to the back wall of the dock warehouse, which has been dressed up to look like a Classical temple. A parody of the luxury Kempinski Hotel, where the G8 leaders will soon be staying, explains Axel Timm, member of the Berlin architectural project Raumlabor. The planned installation, a provisional "Congress Centre" will serve a practical purpose: bunks with a sea view have been set up between the board partitions for tired demonstrators in need of some shut-eye. A sauna is being built the water, a freight container doubles as swimming pool and a overgrown patch of grassland has been declared a golf course. Only the fence, which is to go up round the park, still has to go up. "This will be a place of retreat, people can relax at the fence and do all the things that are forbidden at the real one," says Axel Timm. An artistic intervention that provides an R&R sanctuary? Is making the world a better place meant to be fun? "It has to be," says Axel Timm, "otherwise you don't get through to people."

Osama Dawod, I need a right, 2004 (Photography). © Osama Dawod

Of course there will be plenty of debates, films will be screened in the evening, there are talks and panel discussions. The curator Adrienne Goehler sees the project as a place to reflect on the content which so often gets lost in the media reporting on the G8. "I'm interested in the interface of art and social movement." The happening will not get off the ground until the summit starts. Until then there is the art exhibition in one of the two warehouses.

Brightly-coloured tubular stuffed cloth sacks hang from the ceilings and lie as cushions on the floor, forming an inscription that means 'Allah', according to the catalogue. 'Stitching the Wound' is the name of the work by Indonesian artist Arahmaiani, but in this context it seems more playful than painful. More than 50 artists have contributed works on the theme of globalisation. Many deal with borders and overcoming them. In 'Love Sum Game,' a video by Eytan Heller, an Israeli and a Palestinian hit a tennis ball back and forth over a high wall without ever seeing each other. Francis Zeischegg has erected a strip of fencing used for containing animals in the courtyard, and fitted it with a wooden ladder that invites one to climb over it. Beside it hundreds of plastic bags rustle in the wind, which Dodi Reifenberg has knotted together into a sort of a wire fence.

Judith Siegmund, Berufung - Job - Maloche? Arbeiten Herstellen Handeln (Video installation). © Judith Siegmund

A conspicuous number of the works adopt a documentary position. You can snuggle up in an audio bubble chair and listen to migration stories, or visit the nearby Petri church to look at portraits of anti-globalisation activists from around the world. Advertising columns throughout the city have been plastered with posters showing child labourers in India, Mexican refugees at the US border, slums in Bangladesh. Information, documentation, irony, utopia, consumer critique – although the exhibition is serious in content and intent, as a whole it is a smorgasbord that leaves one feeling mildly uneasy. It is partly the conventionality of the artistic approaches, partly the overkill, but mostly it's the educational intentions of the project that kills any polarising potential it might have. Art is increasingly taking on the function of documentation, says Adrienne Goehler.

But is that enough in a society that is not suffering from a lack of information, but from an inability to take action? "Art goes Heiligendamm" seems to be the result of art being assigned a political task that society has failed to accomplish. One thing that the exhibition doesn't touch on is the feeling of powerlessness which follows discussions that become an alibi for action.

Kroko, Reiter, 2006 (Performance | Photography).
© kroko

Cue Heiligendamm. "Molli" the cute little steam train takes her passengers to the next parallel world. She chugs past the control points and spits out the people at a little train station, renovated in birthday cake style. A sunny woodland area leads down to the beach with a view of the coastline at the spa town, veiled in mist. A helicopter circles over dilapidated villas, only one corner of the town has been renovated. A hermetic aura surrounds the luxury hotel with its pseudo-Grecian columned front, which looks almost like a White House parody. Out front, two wicker beach chairs have been pulled up picaresquely close to the sea. Sitting in them cocktail-drinking couples in evening dress toast each other's health. "You're having a great time," the camera assistant yells at the actors, over the din of the helicopter. Laughing spasmodically, they try to stay upright in the seats which are slowly sinking into the water.

The onlookers laugh too, but eventually tire of watching the filming and continue on their promenade along the pier. Someone has managed to write "No G8" on the life buoys. In water-soluble chalk.


This article originally appeared in die tageszeitung on 31 May, 2007.

Irene Grüter is a freelance cultural critic.

Translation: lp. - let's talk european