With Berlin Gallery Weekend upon us, many people are getting in the artistic spirit. One art project that will particularly be attracting the masses is Berlin Art Bang at The Haus. This collective experience is not only temporary, but the entire abandoned building will be demolished along with the artwork at the end of May: “it was created to be destroyed”. With only two months available to view this exciting project, everyday so far has seen visitors queuing for up to two hours to get inside. I didn’t know much about the project, but I was certainly intrigued, so I set out to see what all the fuss was about.
My day started relatively early – I thought I would be smart and arrive as the doors first opened to avoid a long “schlange”. This is Berlin, no one will be up at 10am to see art — or so I thought. On arrival, I knew how foolish I had been as it was obvious that of lot of other people had had the same idea. So I joined the queue along with the rest of the people that also apparently have no prior engagement on a midweek morning. Quickly realising the wait would still likely take up to two hours, I mentally scolded myself for forgetting to bring a book with me to pass the time. Crawling slowly at a snail’s pace, it felt like queuing for the Bürgeramt all over again, except that what waited at the finish line was sure to be far more exciting.
When I eventually got to the entrance of The Haus, two hours later with fingers and toes numb from the cold, I was seriously hoping the exhibition would be worth the wait. As soon as I entered, I could tell it was bound to be amazing. Every inch of wall, ceiling and floor in the stairwell of the former bank had been painted and graffitied over. Vibrant colour, bold patterns and expressive characters completely surrounded me. It was overwhelming. Climbing up the stairs, slowly absorbing the first explosion of creativity that assaulted my eyes, I decided to start from the top of the five-storey building and work my way down.
Firstly, each floor presented two long corridors, every inch of which had been painted by different artists in their individual styles; sometimes geometric, trippy or graphic. 165 chosen artists were given a room and were let loose, free to do with it whatever they could imagine. Even the toilets had been transformed! It felt like I had left the real world and entered wonderland; there was so much creativity oozing from every corner of the building, and walking through it all felt like crashing down the rabbit hole into the imagination of each artist.
It was amazing to see such a variety of unique concepts:
an empty room with walls, floor, ceiling, windows, radiators, doors, everything covered in monochromatic patterns
a room with street art on the walls and crispy, brown autumn leaves carpeting the floor, invoking a wonderful natural aroma
a toilet with huge, hot pink, furry letters emerging from the walls and sink
a room with an underwater scene, painted coral on the walls, a bed of sand and a full-size mermaid bursting through the ceiling
a room where visitors put on 3D glasses to view multi-dimensional art
a room with one large wall bearing a steamy, intimate and explicit erotic painting
a toilet with the words “real eyes realize real lies” repeated over and over again on every available surface
a room with UV light illuminating blacklight painted monsters from movies
a room with the cables torn from the walls and piled in bundles in the middle of the floor
to name but a few.
There were so many spectacular pieces, so I will highlight my favourites. One room that caught my attention has been converted into a shop, with large “sale” posters on the walls. On first glance, it appears to be a normal scene, however on closer inspection of the sale posters and everyday goods on the shelves, it becomes clear that the artist and musician Urzula Amen has a very strong message to portray. For starters, the list of things on offer include “brain damager for 3,30 EUR, diabetes trigger for 1,70 EUR and immune system destroyer for just 2,20 EUR”. On the shelves, every item of food or household product has a sticker on it, similar to the pictures you see on cigarette packets, warning buyers of the shocking effects sugar, artificial ingredients and chemicals can have on users as well as the environment. It was done well, and the important message came through strongly.
In another part of the building, a few of my friends that make up the collective Drink and Draw, a weekly life-drawing class, were assigned four rooms that they transformed into an exciting journey. Starting in the first room, visitors enter a dark forest installation with a tall signpost in the middle. Walking deeper into the “forest”, it gets darker and darker until it is pitch black, due to the second room being filled with black material strips hanging thickly from the ceiling. It was impossible to see anything, so you had to feel your way through to the third room, which brings you out of the forest and into a blacklit, geometric set. Finally, a tiny opening framed with blacklit neon flowers leads you into the final room and most beautiful interactive wonderland! A starry night sky completes the magical nighttime scene, with illuminated artwork and flowers adorning gnarly branches whose shapes were made visible only by blacklit patterns intricately painted across them.
Finally, my absolute favourite room was a green delight. 400kg of moss has been cemented to the walls, floor, ceiling and homely furniture using 200kg of yogurt. On one of the walls, different coloured moss is used to spell out the words “the earth we all have in common”. With sunlight peeking through the open windows, the natural scene bathed in the warmth of the light seems to be an inviting appreciation of the earth. However one feature jars the perfection: a white table with a dusty macbook atop and a white chair emerging from the moss sit directly in the spotlight in the middle of the room. And so the illusion is broken. Artist Señor Schnu aims to point out the flaws of society – the hipster type that brags about being eco-conscious and vegan, when in actual fact it is more about superficial appearances and trends than ecologically rooted values and ideals. For example, many of these people will shop at the Bio-Markt because it is located conveniently (whilst judging others for not), but would not make the effort to go out of the way to maintain the lifestyle. While the smell of the yogurt rotting in the installation becomes more and more apparent, as does the hypocrisy of this society.
Overall, the Berlin Art Bang is a fantastic, immersive and enlightening experience. The artists worked solidly for three months to complete the transformation of this abandoned building on death row, and the result is spectacular. The factor that I admire the most about the organisers is that they forbid photography inside The Haus. This way, visitors are forced to see the artwork through their own eyes rather than a camera lens, and are able to focus completely on experiencing and absorbing their surroundings rather than taking an edgy photo for likes on social media. The Haus will remain standing and open until the end of May, so I definitely recommend visiting!
Follow these links to see a video with interviews and a dance project where you can have a sneak peek inside The Haus!