New project for the façade of the Temporäre Kunsthalle Berlin.
Echo, a black and white photo installation by Berlin based artist Bettina Pousttchi is the second work to appear on the exterior of the Temporäre Kunsthalle Berlin. Images eerily manipulated by digital processing entirely cover the four outer walls of the building and evoke memories of the former Palace of the Republic.
No attempt has been made at a scale or true-to-life reconstruction of the socialistic magnificent building which, in GDR times, was both the People’s Chamber and a public arts and leisure center. For Echo the artist pieced the palace façade together from archive pictures, reducing it to its essential structural components and introducing further elements as irritants. Digitally generated lines, for instance, disturb the mimetic presentation of the façade. They call to mind surveillance or early TV images, or a furtive view through the slats of a lowered blind. The two clocks on the long sides of the installation, replacing the GDR insignia, likewise establish an unexpected narrative plane and put one in mind of clocks at public places like airports, civil buildings, rail stations, and stadiums.
Appearing on Schlossplatz - site of architectural simulations of historic buildings such as the old Stadtschloss on more than one occasion in the past - only a few months after the last remnants of the Palace of the Republic were removed, Echo creates an eerie feeling of déjà vu. It directly references the changes taking place in the urban landscape, the individual faculty of memory, and also the suggestive role photography has to play. Thus the Palace, which the installation resurrects and reinterprets both playfully and discreetly at this historically and politically significant site, draws attention to the issue of the public handling of the past. The artist here takes up themes of earlier video installations and photo series, like Landing and Take Off, in which she explored the ambivalence of public images in relation to forms of representation and its inherent power structures.
Excerpt from an interview with Bettina Pousttchi
Angela Rosenberg: The Palace of the Republic has hardly disappeared, and suddenly it’s there again - like a mirage - on Schlossplatz. Is it really the Palace’
Bettina Pousttchi: The photo installation on Schlossplatz is not an identical reconstruction of the Palace of the Republic, but instead a project dealing with memory and one which I grasp more as an echo - hence, the title.
AR: Did the Palace of the Republic have a special meaning for you’
BP: I experienced the Palace of the Republic in a phase in which its significance for society had fundamentally changed, like that of Tempelhof Airport, which I photographed in 2005 for the series ‘Take Off’. The Palace was an important part of German history and, for me, a symbol of overcoming the division of Berlin and Germany.
AR: Many of your earlier works play with a distinct ambivalence and resist being interpreted in an unambiguous way. You seem to continue this approach with ‘Echo’ through the ironic treatment of a detail of the Palace of the Republic, the national coat of arms.
BP: The GDR’s national coat of arms was turned into a clock, or rather two clocks, displaying different times. Its shape was modeled on the wreath of the UN logo. What crystallizes in the motif of the clock, for me, are questions related to temporality and history, and the role of photography as a conveying medium.
AR: The Palace of the Republic distinguished itself in that, as the seat of the Volkskammer [People’s Chamber], it was one of the instruments exercising hermetic power. Yet at the same time it was open to visitors and thus signaled permeability.
BP: The unique character of this building certainly consisted in its twofold function as a representational structure of the state apparatus and as a multi-purpose hall for social entertainment in the sense of Cedric Price’s ‘Fun Palace’. On the one hand, sessions of the Volkskammer and party conferences of the SED were held there, on the other, the Palace offered cultural events and leisure-time entertainment as they couldn’t be found elsewhere in the GDR at the time - from a bowling alley and disco, to elegant restaurants, all the way to a large concert hall where international musicians performed. ‘Echo’ deals with both the architecture of the Palace and its ambivalent function against the backdrop of German history.
AR: In you earlier pieces, for example, ‘Double Empire’, the grid of windows on façade appears as a structural feature. The grid is actually the opposite of a dynamic composition and is often associated with the rationalistic appearance of modern architectures of power. The Venetian blind effect in your new work again intensifies the raster.
BP: For this work, I did research in many picture archives and looked at hundred of photos of the Palace in all phases, from its construction to its demolition. I wanted to understand how the Palace was recorded in various mediums, for that is how it will be remembered today and in the future. ‘Echo’ refers precisely to this collective image memory. By inserting the black-and-white horizontal lines, the new image is revealed as constructed and the subjectivity of my position as a photographer is emphasized. What is behind this is the question of what ‘reality’ is, whether and how it can be depicted and how we perceive reality.