One of the fundamental themes in Andrea Luka Zimmerman’s films is the experience of place and how it can inform human interactions. She interrogates places in flux, undergoing change or becoming voids; they are linked to phenomena like globalisation, eviction or demolition. This is caught up with her personal experiences of moving from place to place and between different social spaces and identities: Zimmerman grew up on a large council estate in Munich, left school at 16, and moved to London in 1991, where she gained a PhD. Perhaps her artworks help her process the unfolding of her life. However, her exploration into specific places is also a way that she can deeply engage with particular hardships of others. Her portrayal of vulnerable or marginalised lives cannot be disentangled from social commentary and political stances. Indeed, Zimmerman defines herself as an artist and filmmaker, but also as a cultural activist.
‘Common Ground’ certainly showcases the importance of place in the artist’s practice. At the centre of the exhibition is Zimmerman’s film ‘Estate, a Reverie’ (2015). It tracks the drawn out closure of the Haggerston Estate in East London, where Zimmerman lived for 18 years; this work was made over the final 7 years of her time there. The film concentrates on people who lived on the estate, their interactions with their surroundings and each other, and the complex uncertainties, improvisations and freedoms that made up their lives in the face of neglect and change. Zimmerman achieves moving and yet understated portrayals of these people by combining documentary styles with prolonged studies of individuals shot from unusual or close-up angles, which echo the humour that many of the people used as a survival mechanism. The impressive length of this work (83 minutes) emphasises the artist’s deep engagement and dedication pertaining to her subjects, but also asks of the audience substantial connection and involvement.
Initially the audience is lulled into a false sense of security by being offered armchairs to sit on when watching the film. These chairs are contained within a carpeted area indicative of a vast sitting room, creating the effect of intimacy. The audience is seemingly invited into the lives and personal spaces of others, and, like the exhibition title states, given common ground; the ‘wall’ surrounding this space is constructed from giant photographic portraits of those that featured in the film. However, alongside this feeling of intimacy and opportunity to engage with others’ lives is the sense of unease, as the audience sits in comfortable chairs while those on screen lose their homes.
Other artworks in this exhibition surround ‘Estate, a Reverie’ like satellites. They are also mostly filmic pieces or relate to ‘Estate, a Reverie’, like ‘Ghana Must Go’, a bag from the film. Therefore we are given different snapshots into the lives of others and perceive them not as straightforward, neatly parcelled documentaries, but as collages of lived experiences grounded in a strong sense of place.