VIDEOART AT MIDNIGHT AT BAW GARTEN | NEUE NATIONALGALERIE
For the first time, Videoart at Midnight will present artists’ films and videos in the open-air cinema at ›BAW Garten‹, the Berlin Art Week festival hub at Neue Nationalgalerie.
Selected works by emerging and established artists will be screened over four evenings. Works on view delve into the focal topics of this year’s ›BAW Garden‹ including social upheaval, the future of the museum, nature, sustainability, the climate crisis, alternative notions of collecting, and communication—topics that are being explored in other Berlin institutions and exhibitions as well.
On the one hand, the programme demonstrates Videoart at Midnight’s long-standing commitment to artists’ film and video in Berlin. Yet the programme also touches on exhibitions held concurrently with Berlin Art Week, highlighting Videoart at Midnight’s connections with various partner institutions in the city. Erik Bünger, for example, is simultaneously showing at HilbertRaum in Kreuzberg, while Annika Kahrs and Sven Johne have major solo shows at the Schering Stiftung and Fluentum in Dahlem, respectively. Tang Han, Rob Cross, and Yalda Afsah were participants in the BPA// Berlin program for artists, initiated and run by Simon Denny, Angela Bulloch, and Willem de Rooij.
Curated by Olaf Stüber
NATURE SEE YOU – WED 13 SEP
Erik Bünger – Nature See You, 2020, 19:14 min
In November 2015, at the eve of the UN climate change conference in Paris, a video was uploaded on the internet, in which Koko, a gorilla trained in the use of American Sign Language, addresses world leaders directly. She chastises humanity and calls for immediate action to save herself and the nature she is part of. In his video essay Nature See You, Erik Bünger invites a sign language avatar to comment on Koko’s use of words. The avatar tries again and again to reformulate the impossible position which Koko finds herself in, as a spokesperson for nature: to communicate her message to us she has to use words. But in order for this message to remain true to nature Koko has to remain wordless.
Erik Bünger’s works are currently also shown in When Words Fail at HilbertRaum, 8 SEP – 17 SEP 2023
Annika Kahrs – Playing to the birds, 2013, 14 min
Performer: Lion Hinnrichs
In the baroque-styled hall of Jenisch Haus in Hamburg, the pianist Lion Hinrichs plays Franz Liszt’s Legends No. 1: Francis of Assisi’s Sermon to the Birds (1863) to an audience of domesticated songbirds – an inverse dawn chorus, so to speak. Liszt’s composition uses trills and high notes to conjure the sound of an entire flock of birds. While Liszt tried to musically imitate the ‘language’ of birds for the human ear with his virtuoso staccatos, here, birds listen to a human interpretation of their language. This audience does not hold still in reverent silence and concentration before the performance begins nor does it comply with its intended end. Rather, it amplifies the conversation it conducted during the piano concert, cheerfully twittering on in the gallery where it has taken its place. Various forms of sonic communication are played back on, cross and overlap each other. With affectionate irony, Annika Kahrs takes the songbirds out of their role as musical protagonists and turns them into listeners to a musical performance of their own mode of communication. Playing to the Birds inquires into mechanisms of communication, translation and interpretation.
Also see Annika Kahrs’s solo exhibition Gravity’s Tune at Schering Stiftung , 14 SEP—27 NOV 2023
Simon Faithfull – Explaining Taxonomy to a Bird, 2023, 36:00 min
Berlin’s Naturkunde Museum seems like an almost infinite library of life on this planet. The millions of specimens form a kind of cathedral of Taxonomy – an attempt to name, to categorize, and to “box” all the entangled diversity of life on planet Earth. Explaining Taxonomy to a Bird was a lecture-performance (and now short film) developed during a 6-month residency within the Museum’s collections – specifically the museum’s 200,000 dead birds. The lecture-film, shot within the museum’s historic bird collection, seeks to destabilize some of science’s bombastic certainties, and to question human‘s need to designate themselves as a separate category – apart from all the other species they share this planet with.
Explaining Taxonomy to a Bird was premiered at the artist run space Changing Room on 31 AUG 2023
LAST REMNANTS OF NATURE – THU 14 SEP
Tang Han – Ginkgo and Other Times, 2023, 15:00 min
Humans live on the same planet with ginkgo—a living fossil that has been around for 200 million years. However, ginkgo may be nothing more than a street tree, integrated in the city; as urban planners often choose it because of its prominent ability to adapt to various climates and resist pollution and pests. Through the exploration of the ginkgo tree and inspiration from ecological ethics in nature writing and Ancient Chinese folk tales, this film critically examines shifting human greed, the interconnectedness between humans and nonhumans, and con- templates the continuity of life and the temporality of the ginkgo in relation to that of other existences. Trees act as witnesses, conveying different dimensions of the story through the different cycles of life.
Tang Han was participant of BPA// Berlin program for artists in 2021-22
Rob Crosse – Old Growth, 2021, 8:30 min
Old Growth observes the automated climate-controlled systems required to maintain a Camelia tree at Pillnitz Castle in Dresden. The tree was planted in its current location in 1801, and has been protected ever since, initially by intricate wooden and glass structures that were erected each winter, and dismantled each spring. In 1992 however, these structures were replaced with a permanent glass house, mounted on tracks that enable it to be moved towards and away from the tree whenever needed. According to legend, the tree is the last surviving specimen brought from Japan to Europe by Swedish botanist Karl Peter Thunberg following a trip to Japan in 1779. Rob Crosse approaches his film through and with the motion of the glass house that keeps this Camelia tree alive, addressing questions of belonging, care, strangeness and perpetuity.
Rob Crosse was participant of BPA// Berlin program for artists in 2019-20
Yalda Afsah – SSRC, 2022, 20:00 min
A group of men is fixing their eyes onto the sky. High above, a swarm of pigeons is moving in an unrecognizable formation, when suddenly individual birds drop in mid-air, spinning backwards with their wings extended and tumbling down in a circular motion before resuming their ordinary flight path. Yalda Afsah’s short film SSRC slowly dissects this aerial choreography, revealing its nature as a form of animal training and gradually zooming into the at times almost intimate details of this interspecies relationship. Focusing on the specific social context of the Los Angeles-based „Secret Society Roller Club“ and its members’ identification with and through the animals, Afsah’s film negotiates positions of co-dependency and care, domestication and dominance – calling into question the ambivalence reflected in the symbol of the soaring bird free in its flight, yet simultaneously bound to human will.
Yalda Afsah was participant of BPA// Berlin program for artists in 2018
TO AN UNCERTAIN LAND – SAT 16 SEP
Pınar Öğrenci – Inventory, 2021, 15:56 min
Inventory is Pınar Öğrenci’s new version of a film originally shot in Munich in 1975 by Yugoslavian Black Wave director Želimir Žilnik. Her film is set in the East German city of Chemnitz and deals with the anti-racist conflicts of the people living in that city. In contrast to the original version of Inventory, in which guest worker migrants from the European South descend the stairs of their apartment building, in Öğrenci’s remake migrants, mainly from the Middle East and Asia, climb the stairs. Germany is described not as a temporary, but as a permanent home for immigrants.
Pınar Öğrenci’s film Aşît/The Avalanche, 2022, was recently shown at IBB–Videoraum of Berlinische Galerie
Bani Abidi – The Song, 2022, 22:35 min
If the past is a foreign country, the future is an equally strange, uncertain land. Exiled from a place of memory, people often try their best to recreate it in the present, to keep the anxiety of the future at bay. The desire is especially profound for the refugee or asylum seeker who has been violently uprooted from their homeland and has lost everything they held dear or kept near. In Bani Abidi’s video The Song an elderly man of middle Eastern appearance arrives at what seems to be his officially designated new abode. He sets down his solitary suitcase, opens a welcome pack of German food (which he will later replace with items he likes rather more) and unlocks the door to his balcony. Air and street noise come rushing in – as do recollections of equivalent moments in the world he has left behind. We watch as he plays with the lid of a whistling kettle, as if tuning this unfamiliar contraption, and look on as he experimentally opens and closes windows, adjusting the acoustics of airflow, as if pressing or releasing the valves of a building-sized musical instrument. Days pass, with repeated trips to the world outside, and repeated climbs back up the stairs to the apartment, with sundry purchases (an electric toothbrush, plastic bottles, a whisk) that he fashions into makeshift kinetic objects (prepared by the artist, Rie Nakajima). Their low-key, repetitive sounds echo those from other rooms he has known (the whirr of an overhead fan, perhaps, or the hum of a generator). Symbols of comfort and consolation, this growing family of objects surround him like the resonant appendages of a one-man-band and cheerfully offer the back-up rhythm and accompaniment that allow him to give voice to his own unique, highly personal song.
Bani Abidi’s screening at Videoart at Midnight on 15 SEP 2023 was selected as ›Berlin Art Week Featured 2003‹
Simone Zaugg – Minenspiel, 2019, 12:50
There is no end – only transition. This was Simone Zaugg’s credo as she accompanied the final year of German coal mining in Ibbenbüren when, in 2018, the deepest, most northern and last remaining mine was closed forever. In a respectful exchange, in collaboration and dialogue with the region’s people, an irrevocable, drastic and, despite the definite end, future-oriented moment was documented, staged and recorded on film. Through performative actions in the spatial context of the mine, the mood of the imminent shutdown that the artist researched in conversations was translated into complex images and interpreted cinematically. Minenspiel is an artistic, cinematic document that allows the audience to look into the depths of the mine and the world of coal miners, while still letting thoughts roam free. The work is not only about the closure of a mine and the disappearance of an entire occupational group. It is also about creating a memory, a meeting and a perspective on the interplay between tradition and vision, work and standstill, farewell and departure, demise and the future.
Simone Zaugg is co-curator of the artist run project space Kurt-Kurt, Berlin
THE BREATH LEAVES ITS TRACES – SUN 17 SEP
Isaac Chong Wai Neue Wache, 2015, 10:52 min
In Neue Wache we see Isaac Chong Wai from behind, standing in front of a window of the Maxim Gorki Theater, his gaze turned to the back of the Neue Wache, where the famous sculpture Mother with Dead Son, 1937-1938, is exhibited. Slowly, his breath fogs up the cold window, obscuring the view of the opposite. The breath leaves its traces on the window; what we see is only the after-effect of the breath. People come and go, but we wish to hold on to the past – while our breath floats away and we only see its ephemeral traces on the window, hiding vague memories, manifested as a monument.
The Neue Wache was originally built as a guardhouse for the troop of the crown prince of Prussia. Since 1931, the building has been a memorial site for war. Throughout history, the building was used to commemorate different victims with respect to different political perspectives, from the Kingdom of Prussia, to Weimar Republic, to Nazi Germany (Third Reich), to GDR, and to the Reunification of Germany.
Also see Isaac Chong Wai’s Screening (together with Sena Başöz) within the exhibition Instances of Erasure at Platform Berlin powered by Zilberman 15 SEP – 11 OCT 2023
Nina Fischer & Maroan el Sani – KLUB 2000 – Rom, Paris, Marzahn, 1998, 11:00 min
Klub 2000 is a reaction to the end of the spirit of optimism in Berlin-Mitte, which began to emerge as early as 1998 as a result of gentrification and progressive redevelopment measures. Bored by the abundance of bars, clubs, and trendy hangouts, and in search of an escape from the “Mitte” that has become a comfort zone, a young couple sets out for the outskirts of Marzahn. Once there – surrounded by multi-story prefab buildings and sausage stands – the initial enthusiasm to open a new club here quickly falls by the wayside. Despite their attempts at self-enthusiasm, the atmosphere of the large housing estate doesn’t live up to their expectations, and their vision of moving to the periphery gradually turns out to be a soap bubble. Perhaps it would be better to return to “Mitte” after all.
Since 2014, Nina Fischer is Professor for Experimental Film and Media Art at the University of the Arts, Berlin
Sven Johne – Tears of the Eyewitness, 2009, 20:20 min
Tears of the Eyewitness puts its focus on the construction of history and memory. We see an actor, around forty years old, meet a motivation coach in his early twenties, who has experienced the fall of the wall only through images and narrations. The English-speaking coach, knows the fall of the Wall only from pictures and stories. Recalling the dramatic events in Germany in 1989, he forcefully tries to conjure up the actor’s personal images of that time in order to evoke “real feelings” in him. A strange interplay develops between the artificial and the candidly felt emotions, between the memory influenced by media and by personal experience.
Also see Sven Johne’s solo exhibition Das sowjetische Hauptquartier at Fluentum, 13 SEP – 16 DEC, 2023 and his participation at the exhibition SchlagLicht at Stiftung KUNSTFORUM 13 SEP – 10 DEC 2