Week 5, in which I enjoyed art and political confrontation

I write for a living, so my reluctance to write for myself is infuriating and typical. Like the chef who doesn’t want to come home and cook dinner. Or the professional dancer who wants to snack on chips in front of the television. (They do that, right? It’s not just me, right?)

Thankfully, this #2015if experiment is more about the experience than the blogging about it.

It was quite a week. I’ll skip the temptation to focus on the negative. (“I’m fine,” says the American.) Instead, I’ll say that, yes, you betcha, I did make time for the “museum” challenge.

The weather was pleasant enough on Wednesday that I hopped on my bike and rode across town to Mitte to check out an exhibit at KOW. I’d never been there before but, as I’d done in these other weeks, I’d flipped through the local city magazine (the Zitty) to find something new.

The notice in the Zitty was brief: “Have a Crush. Queer Art.” And then a blurb about an installation of about 50 works by Barbara Hammer, a groundbreaking feminist and lesbian filmmaker and multimedia artist. Since – humble pie confession – I’d never heard of her work before, I decided it was a must-see event.

So off I went.

Athina, 2010

The weather was chill but unseasonably warm for January in Berlin. No rush, I pedaled slowly across town, enjoying the first time that I’d been on my bike in weeks. From Friedrichshain across Karl-Marx-Allee and onwards up Rosa-Luxemburg-Str. – there’s no cycling through Berlin without a history lesson.

On a side street, I spied a corner gallery that I decided to stop for: galerie gerken. Corner location with big windows and both sculptures and paintings. I parked the bike and — on a tip from a staffwoman off to pick up her lunch – gave a heavy shove to the glass door to get in.

Athina (2010) by Jens Jensen
Athina (2010) by Jens Jensen

Of the two artists featured, I quite liked the work of painter Jens Jensen, a German abstract painter who works in glops of big color. “Jensen works the paint onto the surface as though he were icing a cake,” wrote David Evison in 2006. Yes, a canvas cake in raspberry, strawberry, and lemon. I took my time to stand in front of each to “see” what the artist wanted me to see, but delighted in simply making up my own mind.

He called this one “Athina.” I see fire and ice, and I am satisfied.

The Male Gaze, 1983

KOW is inside a squat gray building that is almost an affront to the senses. It looks unfinished, held in a perpetual state of construction. Perhaps that’s the point, but it’s probably why I’ve passed it by without notice year after year, even passing under it for an event hosted by MICT in the backyard at one point. I didn’t recognize that until I was actually in the backyard again, climbing the exterior concrete stairs to the KOW entrance.

The interiors are as deliberately nondescript as the exteriors. Solid and angular, it’s nevertheless open and airy. It felt like I was walking into someone’s ultra-hip workplace. And it was that really because the entry floor is one part art books and comfortable reading area and one part office. I felt as if I was intruding.

Precipitous gray-painted wood stairs lead down to a gray, concrete interior exhibition space. Barbara Hammer’s work seemed dwarfed by the expanse.

Confession: I was underwhelmed by the selection of her works on display at KOW. Some piqued my interest in the backstory and some — like The Male Gaze (1983), which I snagged on a postcard on the way out of the KOW some 90 minutes later — seemed to stand on their own merit.

The Male Gaze (1983) by Barbara Hammer
The Male Gaze (1983) by Barbara Hammer

On the back of the postcard was an announcement that the artist herself will hold a lecture and screening of her work on Saturday the 7th. I’ll be there for that backstory, and dragging along some interested others as I tend to do.

Kalandia Kustom Kar Kommandos, 2014

I was more taken by the video installation in the building’s basement. It was through a dark curtain and down another set of stairs to a cavernous labyrinth of walls and screens that flickered in the dark.

Tobias Zielony is a photographer and videographer who, like Hammer, is interested in capturing and questioning the dominant political discourse. I especially liked Der Brief (2013):

In 2013, in conjunction with his work on the project JENNY JENNY in Berlin. DER BRIEF (THE LETTER) shows two prostitutes in conversation. On the soundtrack accompanying the images, they talk about a colleague who aroused such passion in a john that he started threatening her, forcing her to change places of work. His love letter authenticates the story.

And Kalandia Kustom Kar Kommandos / Dream Lover (2014), which I’ve inserted below. [Nope! See video on KOW.]

KALANDIA KUSTOM KAR KOMMANDOS is Zielony’s most recent film and the first one that involved staging. The exhibition at KOW is its public debut. It reprises Kenneth Anger’s “Kustom Kar Kommandos” (1965) in a very different setting. Anger’s short, a precursor of the music video genre – the Paris Sisters’ “Dream Lover” (1964) plays in the background – turns a hot vintage car into a fetish bristling with homoerotic energy. Two strapping lads groom the no less strapping automobile as though it were the body of their desire. Zielony shot his variation on the theme near the Kalandia checkpoint, a high-volume border crossing in the wall between Ramallah and Jerusalem. Day after day, it is a flashpoint for the manifold problems and phenomena of the Israeli-Palestine conflict. International journalists report from here on a regular basis, a refugee camp is close by, but it is also where the members of the local VW Beetle club drive on evening jaunts in their vintage rides, which they turn into dream machines with homemade extras. Zielony arranges his Anger remake in a nearby car wash; it stars two young Palestinians lathering and primping a red Beetle. Accompanied by the soothing notes of “Dream Lover”, “Kalandia Kustom Kar Kommandos” is a multifaceted allegory.

Week 6, 2015

So that was week 5 … or, at least, the pleasurable part of it. Urgh. (Again, I’m fine!)

Here’s what I pulled from the bag this week:


I promise to be a bit more forthcoming with the report this time.

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