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Speziale! A collective interview on the occasion of the public art exhibition Die Balkone II in Prenzlauer Berg, Berlin.

  • Apr 30 2021
  • The Participants of Die Balkone 2

A balcony is a curious space, existing in a permeable border between the public and the private, disregarding the clear-cut border between the constraints of the nuclear family and the porousness of the streets. In the times of pandemic, the luxury of this architectural appendix has for some become a much needed respite from anxiety-inducing enclosed spaces. For the second time, the exhibition project Die Balkone, curated by Övül Ö. Durmusoglu and Joanna Warsza, invited members of the artistic community in Prenzlauer Berg to activate their windows and balconies with gestures of life, art, connection, or isolation, right in the centre of a gentrified terrain shaped around the needs of the nuclear family. 

From the 30th of April until May the 2nd, the Balkone will thus cope in its own ways with the aggressive influence that the pandemic has had on the public sphere.

Before the exhibition’s official opening, the participants generously answered our questions, ranging from intimate to more structural and everything in between. 




What are the big monuments, like Ernst Thalmann, from previous eras in public space good for?

Sam Durant & Ana Prvački: The massive Thälmann sculpture was one of the few that remained from the GDR era, as per the local inhabitants’ wishes. Today it not only marks the suppressed East German past, but gains new uses, such as being a demanding architecture for skaters. Could it also contain one’s grievances and sorrows? Will it listen and take it all? A practice of complaining to a tree, a bench or a monument is also a proposal of its different use, a model of descaling, and an introduction of a grain of vulnerability to still too male-gendered public space. 

What is the most interesting appendix to a building in the history of literature?  

Tom McCarthy & Eva Stenram: In Kafka’s “The Burrow” (“Der Bau”), the creature-narrator constructs an elaborate underground burrow to keep him / herself safe inside, then – in order to see that s / he is safe – moves outside into the dangerous open air, to watch it from the exterior vantage point. Thus they themselves become the building’s extension.


"We think "a democratic balcony" ought to be on the ground and not be afraid of its rowdy spectators."


Balconies have a strong historical political connotation. How should a democratic balcony look today?

Stine Marie Jacobsen & Teobaldo Lagos Preller: We thought about balconies. They connect the intimate with the public and the private. As we don't have a balcony but a studio window in eye height with spectators, we can talk about a “parterre". Parterre could sound like you want to tear someone or something apart, but it means to be "on the ground". At Shakespeare's time, a parterre was the standing-area right in front of the stage, normally filled with rowdy spectators. We think "a democratic balcony" ought to be on the ground and not be afraid of its rowdy spectators.

What is the most urgent issue facing homeless people in Berlin today? 

Antonia Low: Hopefully, all homeless people in Berlin have been offered vaccinations against Covid-19 by now. The most obvious issue: A place to stay with your belongings, which offers privacy. A structure that helps keep your own dignity. Our society is like a chain – only as strong as its weakest link.

What have you seen on your facade? 

Tommy Støckel: We have tourists stopping to photograph our unrenovated house because it looks like the “old Berlin” that they were expecting to find here. Graffiti artists are regularly using the facade as their canvas and I find it very difficult to ignore their work when I have to show art in my window – so I try to respond to their work.

How can art history break out of its disciplinary bounds and become more accessible? 

Sarah Alberti & Grischa Meyer: Taking as our starting point the exhibition “The Finitude of Freedom”, held in 1990 in Berlin, we examine a slice of Berlin art history from different perspectives, with the help of a private apartment and in connection with the Prenzlauer Berg district. The aim is to make specifics of place and time accessible by means of historical facts and archival materials, at original locations and, ideally, through interviews with the people involved. Die Balkone 2, too, will become part of art history and in 30 years’ time will hopefully be appraised by the next generation as an artistic and curatorial reaction to the coronavirus pandemic.

Why is luck a question of perspective?

Olaf Grawert & Gábor Kocsis: Talking about luck is not an easy task these days. We all see and experience the consequences of the global crisis that has left us living in a state of emergency since last year. But above all, we got to feel them. Unlike the global crises we have experienced before — from financial to migration and climate crisis — the pandemic affects all of us. Truly, globally and simultaneously. We feel it, and that may be exceptional. 

Which allowed us to wonder, what do we learn and take from this collective moment? Globally and locally. In this place and moment. Although we are better off than people elsewhere, we still can feel what moves the world. 

Because in this moment, the outside view — the status and image that is projected onto us and that we are living in — becomes relative. Luck is found in the little things. 

So, take the chance for a different perspective, and pass on a lucky message. Fortune cookies were once used for sending messages to one-another. Their origin and history are unclear: It came from Japan to the USA, where the fortune cookie that we know today was developed during the crisis of the 1920s.

And although the messages have changed over the course of history, one thing remains the same: we feel happy about the small messages that wish, foresee and promise us luck in our everyday lives. Perhaps even more so today than a year ago, whether in Prenzlauer Berg or elsewhere. 

What is the film you would screen from inside out?

discoteca flaming star: We actually do show a film. It's neither inside out nor from the outside in. A rear screen closes completely our loggia towards the Gleimstraße, just as one closes the eye with the eyelid. In the dullness of this material one will find a Violent Silent Movie Without Camera

What do you communicate in the public space? 

Olaf Nicolai: -( !? x :  ..?  X!

What are the signs sent from private balconies? 

Jan Peter Hammer: I am sending a sign of a black ball on a red background on a flag. This flag is reminiscent of a Liverpool-based shipping company founded in 1817. The Black Ball Line was the first scheduled weekly trans-Atlantic packet shipping service. It functions as an allegory for cultural misreadings and the slippery meaning of sings, words and images, from balconies, and elsewhere… 

Is a balcony a place of mourning? 

Susanne Sachsse & Marc Siegel: Within the privatized space of the apartment, the balcony takes on a public function. It can be a place of mourning and a place of celebration, a place of intimacy and a place of exhibitionism.


"But now as then, self-organised spaces are crucial for collectively rethinking the distribution of work between genders, of how to love and live together."


Can we learn from women*/FLINTA* how to organize public spaces better? 

Kollektiv x-embassy: Between the 1980s, 1990s and today, the relationship between privatised and public spaces has changed massively in post-socialist Berlin. But now as then, self-organised spaces are crucial for collectively rethinking the distribution of work between genders, of how to love and live together. Today, speaking from our perspective, we say that if there is a public it is plural. Overlapping "publics" exist in a relation of tension and flux with one another. They move between privatised and state-controlled spaces both on- and offline. They move because for many, including for FLINTA*, these spaces can be unsafe. Asymmetric distributions of access and power could begin to be addressed by ending economisation, stopping surveillance, and abolishing the police—easing the everyday work of caring for spaces and the life in them.

What issues do women face in conflicts of Berlin today?

Sonja Lau: For some time, I am researching the patriarchal aspects of law and jurisdiction, with a focus on the violence of bureaucracy and language used therein. It would be wrong, I m afraid, to conceive of this as something regional – Berlin, Prenzlauer Berg – but yes, for #DieBalkone I am offering to "scratch on the surface” quite site-specifically.   

What do you hear from your window?

Kamila Metwaly & Max Schneider: Rain dropping. 

Who will keep public spaces public?

Matylda Krzykowski: It will be a person assigned the role at birth who behaves in ways associated with fairies; they will be seen as mythical urban planners. Within contemporary culture, reports will vary as to their social status. In village communities these people may not be disparaged and will be highly respected, while in larger, more Westernised towns they may face some tension, especially from private investors, due to the former attitude introduced by 20th century privatisation.  

These people generally design public build society. Their duty is the transformation of unused (public) space into places that are state of mind, into a paradise within the city. Public spaces as scenery: melancholy and moral, introspective and persistent. Such individuals will be amateurs that have a diminutive human form and magic powers. These people will traditionally be considered good luck, and many will conduct daily neighbourhood tasks to learn to make relational design decisions. 

Anthropologist Mary Myth will explain in late 2021 that in the former public space culture, "the idea of public space, a (wo)man made space, was as ludicrous as suggesting that one can choose one's faith.” 

How can we learn to communicate better from our balconies?

Christoph Draeger & Heidrun Holzfeind: We don’t have a street balcony, so we just use our windows to display a short text, a song title by Leonard Cohen. As our contribution, we decided to hang loudspeakers from the windows and play songs that make us cry, hoping with the late Albert Ayler that “Music Is the Healing Force Of The Universe”… Visitors and passersbys can request (and also add) a specific song on our list by SMS or just yell up, and so engage in a conversation.

Why are most of the streets named after men?

Pınar Öğrenci: In Berlin, around 25% streets are named after individual people and 88% of them are named after men and only 11% after women. Why? I am bringing back Ella Kay, an anti-facist resistance fighter after whom Wintzstrasse where I live was onced named after...

What can an art exhibition do in these frustrating times? 

Joanna Warsza & Florian Malzacher: Lift the spirits, send signals to each other, help overcome the isolation, be a social glue, give form to changes we go through….


"Artistic interventions that go public have special currency in times when there is something at stake, when artists seek to address an audience beyond the usual art crowd."


Is a window a screen, a barrier or a connector?

Salwa AleryaniI recently reread Georges Perec’s An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris and I can’t help but think of it here. Looking inside out: a parked black/white/blue car, birds chirping, a person in blue smoking, the sound of a basketball bouncing, a baby pushed in a carriage, a one way street sign. Looking outside into a nearby window: a hanging plant with yellow flowers, a crumpled pillow, a person standing up, the sound of a song playing, an orange and blue shirt hanging. As I lean on the sill, a neighbor gives me the thumbs up, I turn to this screen to type, the breeze is still cooler than the sun, I close the window.

Have public artistic interventions gained increased currency in these times? 

Eva Scharrer ft. Ayşe ErkmenArtistic interventions that go public have special currency in times when there is something at stake, when artists seek to address an audience beyond the usual art crowd. In times when museums and cultural institutions are closed, this is even more the case. Art is substantial. It is not just a commodity to fill elitist desires and private collections - it is and should always be a part of the public sphere. Die Balkone, using the semi-public realm, shows just a fraction of how many cultural producers are at work alone in this neighborhood.

How can public space (remain) a space dedicated to change? 

Joanna Kusiak/Deutsche Wohnen & Co Enteignen: When assembling our political vocabulary, we’re often drawn to the utopian language. But the most powerful words cannot be only utopian, they must also be practical. Words need to become tools with which we can practically change the world. There is such a word within a German constitution: Vergesellschaftung [socialization]. 

When writing the German Constitution in 1949, progressive legislators conceptualized socialization (as included in Art.15) as a legal door that could allow Germany to radically transform its economy. Today, Berlin’s grassroots initiative Deutsche Wohnen & Co. enteignen proposes to use Art. 15 to expropriate housing corporations drive our rents up through financial speculation. Socialization can help to manage Berlin’s housing in a democratic, equitable and ecologically sustainable way. Yes public space is a place to exercise change! 


"But the most powerful words cannot be only utopian, they must also be practical."


Will Berlin survive gentrification? 

Markus Miessen & Lena Mahr: Of course “Berlin” can survive gentrification. The question is how and who will survive it, and where? Processes of gentrification are always situational and territorial. Most urban centres are affected and unfortunately it affects most of their inhabitants in a lasting manner.

Think as neighborhoods as commons. Know your neighbours. Build communities. Strengthen local relationships and collaborations.

Build local timebanks. Foster local exchange. Introduce local currencies.

Any form of participation and change takes time and effort. Whereas the pandemic continues to demonstrate how overrated urban living is and how different models of living and co-working is possible outside of urban centres, new models need to be developed as to how decentralization and archipelago-like mid-size clusters can become sustainable as part of the socio-ecological transition. Think about the 15-minute city and super-localism.


What object of speculation can offer access to a window?

Michelle-Marie Letelier: Copper and wind.


"New models need to be developed as to how decentralization and archipelago-like mid-size clusters can become sustainable as part of the socio-ecological transition."


What is a lockdown movie?

Matthias Daenschel: Sitting at home, having too much time, getting bored, playing with toys with my boys and all of a sudden you have an idea which grows and grows. My lockdown movie “A history of the world in 10.000 bricks” was created in many afternoon and evening sessions between Christmas 2020 and Easter 2021. This film shows 10.000 years of human history in 21 scenes, at least 10.000 bricks and 5.000 single stop motion frames. It tells the story of buildings and monuments, of construction and deconstruction, of evolution and revolution.

Does public space (still) offer a possibility for a stimulating debate? Has the balcony become an autonomous Zone? A dangerous Zone? A comfort Zone? Or is it just a window to the world? 

Müller Dreimalklingeln & Joke Lanz: See and be Seen! Open your eyes, ears, wash your brains. Tape recorder 1 is Adam, 2 is eve, 3 is a Virus .

What is your favourite collaborative activity in the public space?

Knut Eckstein: Public space offers opportunity to search unknown ground – to broaden horizon within restrictions. You get questions you didn’t ask before, you even didn’t see them before. Collaborative work in public space adds a plus in difference from the same starting point to all participants. Own borders are pushed and the outcome will be visible to a bigger public.

It’s like taking part in a political demonstration – maybe it is one – you add power to the single voice. Normally your singularity is pronounced but the future is in sharing and in re-using.

How are the fabrics carriers of narration?

Christina Dimitriadis: Let's take the bedsheets as an example. We spend most of our lives on bed sheets. There we are born, we sleep, we love, we dream, we die. There we begin and end.

How can social desires reshape public spaces?

Matheus Rocha Pitta: Desire can turn lethal under the constraint of symmetrization: it will end, as it already happened, distributing dissatisfaction in equal parts, rather than pleasure – which, despite all attempts by economists, porn stars and life coaches, has no measure. For that purpose once existed a Police of Desire, to make sure first and foremost, that everyone has a desire. In the brief period it operated, in the failed Paraguayan revolution of September 1971, the cops would simply stop people in the streets and ask: What do you want? Most of the Asuncion people could not answer it, even the very educated ones (they were the most terrified), so the city became as empty as western movie set. Everyone was home except by the gray sphinxes – the members  of the Polizia del Deseo got this nickname because of their coat of arms, with 2 wings (for freedom) and 6 tits (for necessity). It operated only for 23 days and apparently it ended after someone finally answered.  


What is suddenly very precious that before appeared self-evident? 

Jeremiah Day & Alisa Margolis: Our rental contract.

Which kind of route do you take us on?

Heinz Havemeister: Ich plane mit Andrea Pichl im Prenzlauer Berg einen Rundgang entlang einer Route von 15 Punkten/Wohnungen, wo einige Protagonist*innen der alternativen Kunst- und Politszene lebten und arbeiteten. Hinterhöfe, Wohnungen, Ateliers waren in der DDR Orte für subversive Lesungen, unangemeldete Punkkonzerte und eigenverantwortliche Ausstellungen.


Can collaborative practice revolutionize the use of public spaces? 

Cam-Anh Luong & Hatef Soltani & Dachil Sado & Ulf Aminde & Krishan Rajapakshe & D’Andrade: I thought about that question yesterday. Our whole audio work is the answer for it. But If all collaborators have the same access and similar resources, what kind of revolution would we talk about ? And how do we think about engendered bodies? Yes nice question, how would it look like if the femmes* would Prenzlauer Berg take over?

I heard much of the time some of the gentrification practices defined as innovation or revolutionary practices. But who will benefit at the end ? Because access to public space is a class matter.

Collaboration does not pretend to be a revolution, but leaves signs about significant lives. We cannot carry out a revolution in our hands, but we can invite you, come walk with me, let's make the revolution by following in the footsteps.

Is the so-called art world disintegrating? 

Nasan Tur: Disintegrating is a common act to keep power and privileges and yes of course it’s existing also in the art world. 

But we are part of the art world too. So it's up to each of us how we mold the world we are acting in. In that sense we have to be aware of our responsibility as cultural producers to be critical, to be active, to show and act in solidarity for equality, freedom and access. 

What signal do you send?

Markus Uhr (Note di Sguardi): The project Note di Sguardi (Notes of the Gaze) shows temporary glimpses of the world seen through the lenses of artists. With posters installed in public space in a number of European cities (this year, in Berlin, Bologna and Cervia), it connects artists from specific neighborhoods. My poster shows something I saw when on an artist residency in Buenos Aires, from a time when we were still traveling.

What is your bourgeois tribute to Beuys? 

Antje Stahl & Felix-Emeric Tota: Joseph Beuys started planting 7000 trees in the greater district of Kassel back in 1982 when documenta 7 took place and the Green party that he himself co-founded had just drawn the attention of a few voters in Germany. He called his project “Stadtverwaldung statt Stadtverwaltung” which is not only a funny way to criticize the bureaucratic political system but also quite visionary for our current idea of what a great sustainable city should look like. Less cars and traffic, and more plants and parks, for sure. Some even request a new form of cohabitation between animals and people and imagine kids playing peacefully with foxes, for example, or wild pigs joining us for a barbecue in what once used to be a parking lot. 

Since Joseph Beuys’ birthday is coming up (by Mid May he would have turned 100 years old), we decided to pay homage to this legacy. “Plant to go” consists of a “Bauchladen”, a belly-shop or vendor’s tray, hanging down from our balcony (made by S.T.I.F.F. design with recycled wood) that offers a wide range of seeds of flowers, vegetables, herbs and trees ready to be picked up, to be planted and grown wherever the passersby have taken them. We called this “a quasi bourgois hommage” out of a sense of self-irony: The individual who cares for flowers or apple trees on her balcony or in his garden sadly enough often lacks political power and impact.

What is an act of grieving? 

Isabella Sedeka: An act of grieving can be a socially ritualized action by the bereaved or even strangers as part of a grieving process. It can be the lighting of a candle, the laying of flowers, giving a eulogy, wearing black or white clothes, the flag at half-mast. But it can also be an individual and personal act that makes sense only for the bereaved. Like dancing naked on the beach, because the bereaved knows that would have pleased the dead friend much more and it is much more personal. The act itself creates awareness, honors the dead and helps the bereaved deal with death.

"There is a deep desire to communicate intimately in public space. We need contents on flags that are ambivalent as there are paintings to create a flow that fires people's imagination."


Which kind of flags do we need in public space?

Monika Jarecka: Flags were used outside of military or naval context only with the rise of the nationalist movements by the end of the 18th century. From that time on they serve as means of communication, representing a particular entity. Showing a certain flag with its symbol or colour pattern in public space implies to express one's social affiliation to a group of a society.

But there is a desire to show other contents in these times of closed private spaces and where the museums and other cultural spaces are closed, too. There is a deep desire to communicate intimately in public space. We need contents on flags that are ambivalent as there are paintings to create a flow that fires people´s imagination.


How can balconies and windows represent alternatives to the institutional hegemony of exhibition making?

Anne Duk Hee Jordan & Pauline Doutreluingne: The pandemic brought this community life even stronger together and all different ecosystems became more fertile. We want to share the early harvest of this year and came up with the idea of an early farmers’ market. Along with the saying Nur Der Früh Gevögelte Vögelt Früh Genug, the market will offer all kinds of self-produced farm products early in the morning between 8 am and 11 am, on May 1 and 2, 2021. 

Come to Bergstrasse 26.


What signals do you send? 

LAGE EGAL & Irène Hug: The signal (SENSATION & REFLECTION) — in the form of general enlightenment and in particular words — must be discovered. Then the sign has to be read and what follows is an understanding to be initiated or thoughts to be developed. At first glimpse it looks like a commercial display placed between others, although it does not aim to attract the interest of a consumer, but to the main sources of all the ideas we have, mentioned by the philosopher John Locke.  Moreover, when one shouts LAGE in the Prenzlauer Berg district or somewhere else in Berlin, the echoing signal that comes back sounds very much like EGAL. 

Is East Berlin still there? 

Andrea Pichl: Of course! Why not! Many, many artists, musicians and writers, who also were working in Prenzlauer Berg during GDR-time still live and work here! Just listen and look around. 

What is Our Time? 

David RychTwo synchronized clocks, ticking side by side, and eventually falling out of synch was a powerful artwork made by Félix González-Torres during the AIDS crisis, when his partner Ross Laycock was diagnosed with AIDS. This artwork was a gesture “to act right now,” it was a declaration of love, a tribute to generosity and cruelty of time, a form of militant mourning. The last version of the work was made in 1991 to be widely reproduced. In my work I propose a tribute to Félix González-Torres, tracing a link to our times, marked again by an illness, a particular flow of time, and the sheer feeling of interdependency. Here minutes are not registered, the clocks show the progression from one day to another, pointing to the chronological limbo many may feel at the present.

What should we hope for the urban art of the future?

Harry Sachs & Ini Dill / Daniel Drabek: Urban Art should actively voice hidden layers of our city fabric, be solidary in bringing urgent topics to surface, that are not part of the city’s mainstream agenda.

Through artistic forms urban practices should be involved into urban conflicts and could draw a future image to mobilise our neighborhoods and address our political discourse.

How can we learn tactics of proximities from the bookstore window? 

Uslar und Rai/Sophia Tabatadze: Books are what accompanies us at home, in my coloring book I registered my home observations during the lockdown, strange combinations that took place in the household with the kid, toy lizards, drawing materials on the kitchen table and so on... so instead of cleaning up I looked at the proximity of these combinations and started drawing them on A4 papers… and here it looks to the world from a shop window.

What should we tell each other from our windows?

Raul Walch: I want to know everything. Tell me how you feel. How are you and your loved ones? What is bothering you today and how are you managing through this pandemic. If you want, we can talk about the weather, but we'd rather talk about the climate. If I can't hear you, shout over to me. Shout as loud as you can, from window to window, from balcony to balcony, from private through public to private – tell me that you missed me. 

Which peace sign do you send?

Christine Würmell: The assembled peace sign from the recent past of an ideological divided world is to remind and to empower contemporary struggles for peace in a plural world.

What is missing the most in public spaces?

Dolores Zinny & Juan Maidagan: Public space is an insufficient category since its definition is constantly changing, according to changes in its ownership, its function, and in the historical, political, and civic context of the location of the place that we momentarily define as public. 

There is no absolute public space: meaning, function, and needs vary according to communities, neighborhoods, towns, cities, and countries. What is missing from Public is turning to Private.

Die Balkone 2 - Scratching the Surface runs from Friday Apr 30, 2021 until Sun, May 2, 2021 in Prenzlauer Berg, Berlin.


Sarah Alberti & Grischa Meyer, Salwa Aleryani, Arts of the Working Class, Kader Attia, Yael Bartana & Saskia Wendland, Adam Broomberg, Timur Celik, Matthias Daenschel, Jeremiah Day & Alisa Margolis, Christina Dimitriadis, discoteca flaming star, Christoph Draeger & Heidrun Holzfeind, Sam Durant & Ana Prvački, Övül Ö. Durmusoglu & Jörn Schafaff ft. Rirkrit Tiravanija, Knut Eckstein, Theo Eshetu, Olaf Grawert & Gábor Kocsis, Jan Peter Hammer, Heinz Havemeister, Hannah Hurtzig & Hasan Aksaygin, Stine Marie Jacobsen & Teobaldo Lagos Preller, Monika Jarecka, Anne Duk Hee Jordan & Pauline Doutreluingne, Christoph Keller, Joanna Kusiak and Deutsche Wohnen & Co Enteignen, Matylda Krzykowski, Sonja Lau, Michelle-Marie Letelier, Antonia Low & Tommy Støckel, Cam-Anh Luong & Hatef Soltani & Dachil Sado & Ulf Aminde & Krishan Rajapakshe & D’Andrade, Kamila Metwaly & Max Schneider, Markus Miessen & Lena Mahr, Tom McCarthy & Eva Stenram, Müller Dreimalklingeln & Joke Lanz, Olaf Nicolai, Pınar Öğrenci, LAGE EGAL & Irène Hug, Andrea Pichl, Prater Galerie/x-embassy, Matheus Rocha Pitta, David Rych, Harry Sachs & Ini Dill / Daniel Drabek, Susanne Sachsse & Marc Siegel, Eva Scharrer ft. Ayşe Erkmen, Isabella Sedeka, Antje Stahl & Felix-Emeric Tota, Nasan Tur, Markus Uhr (Note di Sguardi), Uslar und Rai/Sophia Tabatadze, Raul Walch, Joanna Warsza & Florian Malzacher, Christine Würmell, Dolores Zinny & Juan Maidagan and all unexpected.





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