Berlin SONAR: Past, present, future
Letter to the Editor | Wednesday, April 25, 2018
“Berlin SONAR: Past, Present, Future” is the celebratory culmination of a course predicated on the belief that one must immerse oneself in a city’s geographic, historic and architectonic to glean a robust appreciation for the city.
According to German art historian Karl Scheffler, “Berlin is a city condemned always to become, never to be.” Indeed, through our week stay, we would discover this fact: Berlin is always energized, awake and innovative.
As our class of 16 entered the Berlin airport, these thoughts resonated in our minds. Some of us have been here before, some have never been in Europe, and some have never traveled outside of the United States. But no matter. In our class with visiting professor and prolific artist Dr. Matthias Pabsch, we were charged with an interesting yet arduous task: seek to define the Berlin experience.
But how can we define such an experience from only a week of exploration? In the past months, we studied how Berlin architecture has played a pivotal role in the city’s formation and evolution. And quite an evolution it has been. Berlin has been a symbol of artistic expression and construction for centuries. There are great architects like Karl Friedrich Schinkel, who seems to encapsulate the Berlin artistic spirit as an artist and self-taught architect. Berlin was home to the beginnings of modernist thought through Peter Behrens and Bauhaus, which rejuvenated Germany following the war. The emergence of the great Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, the tragic rise of Nazi architecture and destruction, the oppressive contrast of east and west and now the current state of Berlin thought, cosmopolitan and increasingly gentrified, all conspire to present a city with more diverse art and architecture than can be possibly reckoned with.
We traveled to East and West Berlin, witnessing the contrasts of low and high class, utilitarianism and avant-garde. Our class toured the Parliamentary and Chancellery government buildings, where we considered how art commemorates, reflects and shapes the German political landscape. Our trek took us to public museums like the historic Alt Museum on the Spree River Island and the Hamburger Bahnhof Museum of Contemporary Art, located in a reappropriated train station. We were also privileged to visit private art exhibitions. One exhibition, interestingly enough, was located in a former Nazi bunker. Our class experience was quite unconventional: exhibitions by day, techno clubs by night. And yet this life can be put more simply as speculation and contemplation by day, liberation and participation by night.
As we sat on the trams going from place to place, exhibition to exhibition, as we danced in the pounding lights and fog at underground techno clubs, we looked at Berlin and noticed a striking similarity among so many contrasting thought processes: Art was everywhere, and it was equally diverse and individual. We realized that the Berlin experience is the individual’s experience. You can create as you please, and spectate when you tire. You can take from Berlin as much as you want to take, and imprint on it as much as you desire to. In turn, Berlin with its buildings, sculptures, music and its very history leaves a unique impression upon you.
As you will see at our exhibition in the Snite Museum of Art’s Conference Room on Wednesday at 5 p.m., each artist went to the same place but returned with a different experience. No one art project can speak to the entirety of the Berlin experience, but we invite you to consider our collection of works, to immerse yourself in our inspired artifacts of Berlin’s impression, and catch a glimpse of the Berlin spirit.
The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.