…in which your host gets shady and brings da noize.
This week, Artipoeus is back in Berlin with a visit to ‘Permeiamo’ at Facade Gallery, Kunsthaus KuLe.
The thing I love about living in cities is the concentration of human life. A million or more people occupying the same geographical space, and each of them doing their own thing: walk down a subway platform and there’s a woman checking her make-up, there’s a man calming his baby, there are a couple of kids sharing headphones and singing along to a favorite song. And sure, there’s a homeless person begging for change, there’s a crazy person barking like a dog, there’s a drunk and a drug addict and a whore. But they’re part of this too, this humanity.
In cities, human life spills out of everything, it leaks out of subway cars and nightclubs and apartment buildings, when music or TVs or conversations get loud, and laughter tumbles onto the street. You get a glimpse into someone else’s life… the sounds of life: what’s so funny? …what movie are they watching? …what a beautiful voice that person has… that argument sounds like it’s getting kind of rough… should I call the cops?
Recently, while taking a walk down Auguststraße in Berlin’s Mitte on a warm sunny day, I was looking for a bit of shade, and I passed a building that looked… well, a little rough.
Like most streets in Berlin, Auguststraße is a mixture of high and low, and in this neighborhood it’s glossy and Berliner-cool facades of high-end galleries and boutiques, colored up here and there with graffiti and street art and posters for exhibitions in at more humble locations around town. In general, it’s a pretty well-to-do area and things are clean and proper, so this building seems like an anomaly… it seems like a squat.
One of Berlin’s ‘alt-bau’ (old buildings), it looks about 150 years old, thick walls and windows, filigree and detailing on the windowsills and doors. Everything is grey and peeling and in decay — there’s even a hole cut into the glass of the building’s front door with a basket fixed on the inside to catch the mail. Squatters!
And of course, those punk-ass squatters were making a lot of noise: having an argument… or playing music… or banging on pots and pans. The sounds of life from this building seemed to increase and change almost schizophrenically with every step I took: first there was a lot of banging around, then charming music, then a woman was explaining something in German, then a man was… singing? Or droning. Or moaning! I couldn’t tell. There must be a party, I thought. And then I looked up.
Hanging from the building’s eaves are a series of horns, speakers strung along the entire length of the building that blend into the crumbling facade. What I couldn’t see, but what must also be there, are motion sensors, because every step I took triggered a new sound loop. Waaaait a minute… Is this–? Did I stumble on some…. Art?!
When I looked around again, I noticed a telephone handset fixed to the building’s facade at street level. Well thatäs nothing short of an invitation, so I picked it up and this is what I learned:
It IS an art installation, and it’s called ‘Permeiamo’ — we persist, we pervade, by artists Georg Klein and Steffi Weismann. Sound loops connected to motion sensors trigger new clips with each new movement – sometimes voices, sometimes music, sometimes cacophony. Reversing the usual tendency in audio art to bring the outside indoors, Klein and Weismann are bringing the inside out, pushing the building’s interior life onto the street and the passersby, in a kind of meta sound art installation.
In fact, the building is Kunsthaus KuLe, short for Kultur and Leben or, in English, Arthouse Culture and Life. And shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall it was a squat, inhabited by punk-ass art school students that have since become an established nonprofit organization. Kunsthaus KuLe hosts residencies, performances, exhibitions and concerts. In recognition of their work, the collective was given financial support by the German government to renovate the building. A former Jewish bakery run by the same family until 1933, Kunsthaus Kule created living and creative spaces, performance spaces and a theater throughout the five floors of the building. But they chose to preserve the facade as they had first found it, using a special restoration technique so that building looks like it will, but will not actually, fall down.
And then they decided this facade would be the collective’s gallery space. Now called ‘Facade Gallery (oh, Germans! So literal!), it hosts installations and artworks by a rotating roster of visiting creatives from all over the world.
For Permeiamo, over the course of 8 interviews of artists who have lived in this building — including founders as well as current residents, I listened to the full context of the snippets of conversation I heard walking by. I could press a button and skip to a new interview, and piece together the history of this building, learning what it feels like from the inside, and what it means when life — and art — spill out onto the street. It made me wonder just how permeable those boundaries between personal and public life really are.
City life is totally in your face, 24 hours a day, and that invasion into your personal space and thoughts is part of the cost and part of the bonus of living in an urban environment. But that invasion can go both ways: by opening your windows when watching Lord of the Rings at high volume, for example, you virtually open your living room to anyone on the street and, by this, you invite speculation, engagement, observation and even gossip.
Some cities, like Paris or Oaxaca City in Mexico, are big fans of shutters. Aware that the neighbors are likely to snoop, the habitually shut the world out. Berliners, on the other hand, aren’t even fans of curtains, it seems: nobody believes their personal lives are interesting enough to make anyone want to look.
That said, we have a habit, we humans, of snooping. If we don’t do it in real life, we do it digitally. Even if we live in the countryside, we lurk on Instagram and stalk on Facebook, watching people who fascinate us, seeking out details of their personal lives and sharing ours. We read gossip magazines and we gossip among ourselves, about ourselves. And we do these things voluntarily, curious monkeys that we are, shutters or no shutters, curtains or not.
What I like so much about this installation (apart from the fact that is sneaks up on you, like Ninja art) is that it forces interior lives onto the public in a way that is not sought after, especially in our current age of celebrity presence and oversharing. But in that world of the celebrity mundane, you can just switch off your phone or your computer, you can unfollow on Facebook or just not buy that gossip magazine. In the real world, we can’t turn off urban life; you’re immersed in it just by being there, whether you want it or not. And what does that make you do? Stop and participate? Pretend it’s not happening? Start a blog? Call the cops?
I decided to cross the street and watch how other people reacted to the installation. It was fascinating watching people interact with the sound… or not. Some people didn’t even notice; some did but clearly, through their body language, decided it was none of their business and kept walking. Some discovered with delight that they were in the middle of an art installation. One guy on a bike actually got off and knocked on the door (although I think he was just visiting someone inside). Groups of tourists walked by and as a whole, made too much noise to notice the audio installation, but there was always one among them who did, one person hyper-aware of their surroundings and full of curiosity, lingering, longing to stay and learn more, to listen to the sounds of all that human life: it can be whispers or shouts, symphony or cacophony. It all depends on how you hear it.
Permeiamo is on exhibit until June 10 at Kunsthaus KuLe, located at Auguststraße 10 in Berlin.
You can find this installation and more on Glarify.com, the interactive global mapping tool that lets you locate artist studios, openings and exhibits around the world. Become part of your local art scene — everywhere you go! It’s free! Glarify is an official partner of Artipoeus. Glarify.com.
You can find Artipoeus on Soundcloud and iTunes, and you can see photos and read transcripts of this episode and more at Artipoeus.com. Artipoeus, pronounced like ‘octopus’, because art is everywhere.
From Susie Kahlich originally posted on Artipoeus