UTOPIA STATION Sindelfingen
What preceded UTOPIA STATION in Sindelfingen and why we have invited you.
In the Sindelfingen Elementary School entrance hall on Gartenstrasse in Spring 2003, hung a map of Europe hand drawn by pupils with markings all over. Arrows pointed to where the map should go further (e.g. Russia, and the Black Sea), and intense scratches and layers of corrections/markings were in the area of the Balkans. Now this map is on display in the city gallery (ground floor, exhibition room on the north side), together with an interactive computer installation that is part of the communication process in the worldwide youth photo project 'IMAGINE - Your photos will open my eyes’.
A sheet covered with the print: “IMAGINE PEACE” is hanging next to the Sindelfingen students’ photos (ground floor, exhibition room, south side). This sheet comes from a performance by YOKO ONO of UTOPIA STATION at the VENICE BIENNALE in the summer of 2003. Here she had a central space covered with world maps where inspired visitors could use the ‘IMAGINE PEACE’ stamps laid out. And where did the visitors stamp their message? On the places they felt tied to! They acted no differently than the Sindelfingen pupils. When the pupils were asked why they had marked the map on the Balkans so vehemently over and over until the map was black and loose, they answered immediately full of childhood enthusiasm: “I come from there! I want it to be peaceful there!”
YOKO ONO, Artist and Patron of the Sindelfingen ‘IMAGINE’ project, showed in her Biennale performance once more, how life is reflected in art. Her original poster is printed with the words 'IMAGINE PEACE” - black on a white background, and hangs in the Sindelfingen UTOPIA STATION.
Other trailblazers for UTOPIA STATION Sindelfingen were our work ’1Site - 2 Places’, 2001/2 and also the photo (hanging in the stairwell to the first floor) taken by world renowned Photographer, DAVID DOUGLAS DUNCAN, on June 21, 1955: The ‘GHOSTS OF SINDELFINGEN’. It has a fascinating story. A Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Coupé was photographed racing around Schaffhauser Place in the old city of Sindelfingen at top speed, so fast that only a comet-like swoop of the car can be recognised in the photo. Duncan recounts, “Arthur Kessler believed I had gone crazy. I came into his Press Office in the huge Daimler Benz Factory, and said that I needed the fastest car with the best test driver and the Police should block the road.” He also needed a technician who could calculate the speed so the driver could reach the speed that would take the car over a stretch of 30 m within an exposure time of a half second. The factory management supported Duncan’s request and asked Wilfert, who had designed the 300 SL, and the mechanic, Hitzelberger, who worked by hand on the finishing touches of the car, to work with the Artist. Off they went to the heart of Sindelfingen.
This staged photo, the Sindelfingen Ghosts, is the only photo taken in Germany in Duncan’s book: “Yankee Nomad: A Photographic Odyssey”. In his later years, Duncan became Picasso’s personal photographer. Unfortunately there is no original of the photo in Sindelfingen. Therefore, we had to reconstruct it with great concentrated effort. After almost a half century, this photo of the car swoop in the static historic surroundings still creates a precarious tension.
In Sindelfingen, UTOPIA STATION meets a place where the sudden collision of history with the present, stands guard. So it is not surprising to meet an artist who grew up in Sindelfingen, in Venice 2003 at the first large Exhibition of the ‘Utopia Station-Family’. For Tino Sehgal (his father was employed by IBM for years) the memories of this town mean PRODUKTION! They are so overwhelming that he turned to the arts. He didn’t want to be part of the production that is based on the transformation of natural resources into supply goods, to which he also counts the materials for art. He wanted to create something that is done and immediately undone. This idea lead him to concentrate on work that could be presented through actions. Under the title: ‘PRODUKTION / DEPRODUKTION’, (visitors are met at the exhibition, therefore, not by a material work, but rather by a Gallery worker - instructed by Sehgal - who personally greets visitors with words and represents the work). He talks about Sehgal’s ‘Poster’ for the Sindelfingen UTOPIA STATION, a poster that doesn’t exist.
Deproduction doesn’t mean, as it is so often falsely interpreted, wanting ‘Nichts’ - nothing, but bringing the human encounter into focus, with straightforward archaic means, with simple sentences, mostly tautologically affected, that already lie in the air. Therefore, so many of Sehgal’s works begin with the words: “This is…”.
Similarly, Sehgal assured for an Italian style well being at the UTOPIA STATION in Venice. It was hot, women singing made everyone perk up their ears, and it sounded in every corner. The song was pleasing, and the words resonated with it. Then a man’s voice loudly interrupted (the French Philosopher Bruno Latour, who was upset because he wanted to begin his talk.): “Stop! This is not propaganda!“ First then did I realize that the women with the beautiful voices, dressed as guardians, were only singing one phrase over and over: “This is propaganda”. And what is propaganda? The Berlusconi-Italy today? The UTOPIA STATION Venice? Subliminally, the experience is written into our consciousness and blossoms.
Natascha Sadr Haghighian, familiar with the region, took part in the Venice Biennale as well. Her at first, seemingly, harmless and poetic poster pictures a swimming pool, in which quite a lot of garbage was discarded, with the inscription: ”PRESENT BUT NOT YET ACTIVE”. It is the result of a realization that came from a suffocating experience she had a couple of months before the opening of the Biennale, when she walked through the exhibition site. Every 2 years the international art scene meets there for a few months, and in between many Italian transients bunk down in the unused pavilions and gardens.
In the UTOPIA STATION Sindelfingen, Sadr Haghighian presents a trailer of a new work, ‘EMPIRE’. She got together with other film-makers through the lively debated book by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri: ‘EMPIRE - The New World Order’, to discuss the nearly impossible situation of understanding the monetary flows and their effects. “The much lighter understandable streams of material goods, e.g. raw goods, as a picture push themselves in front of a financially and politically motivated, immaterial structure. The discussion around the conflicts and crises of our time will be determined through false motives. This is clearly seen in the example of the War in Iraq. The real reasons for the war,” says Natascha, “are connected with the financial and political crisis, that have been growing ever since the 70’s. The video tries to correct a picture.” And begins very concretely with the story of wanting to buy a barrel of oil.
Sadr Haghighian studied at the Berlin University of the Arts under Katharina Sieverding. In1995, Sieverding showed her picture “Deutschland wird deutscher” ( Germany becomes more German) in Sindelfingen, now in the German Republic’s Art collection. It moved the minds of the people. “A self portrait on a knife throwers board” wrote Sybille Schurr on November 7, 1992 in the Sindelfingen newspaper about the Sieverding Exhibition in the Oberlichtsaal, “The art initiative KUNST+PROJEKTE embarks on a risky financial venture with this exhibition, and sponsors are lacking.”
What does UTOPIA STATION mean?
UTOPIA STATION is understood as an Artists’ group, travelling around the world and stopping with their ideas in different cities when interest and the need are there. The newness and unexpectedness that arise at every stop are integrated into the foundation and accompany the STATION further on. It is an international platform for a dialogue (a Meeting of Minds) that finds expression in many facetted methods: in Installations, Films, Productions, Performances, Lectures, Discussions, Meals, Posters, etc.
Every artist who was invited to UTOPIA STATION Venice was asked to make a poster with the theme Utopia. Up to now there are 159 pieces, of which 139 have been printed. They are elements/hieroglyphics, that tell of lives, with varying degrees of hidden messages. The poster edition is the starting point for the multilevel discussion with utopian ideas in a globalizing world.
Sindelfingen has opened a campus for UTOPIA STATION, together with all posters, and the regional artists, Tino Sehgal and Natascha Sadr Haghighian, who, as it has already been said, have received a unique platform for their presentation. Two other artists have been invited, Michael Beutler from Berlin, who stamps the UTOPIA STATION Campus Sindelfingen with his striking installation, and Ross Birrell from Glasgow, who sets the literary tradition of the travel-satire into definitive action.
On the ground floor of the city hall / gallery building, known for “absolute” Symmetry with a ‘White Cube’-Mentality, Michael Beutler has organized for the UTOPIA STATION Sindelfingen an unassuming entrance: ‘TAPEZIERTISCHFOYER’ (Wallpaper table foyer). A structure made of dozens of wallpapering tables orientates the visitor: Here the Info-Point bunk with Information material, there the gate entrance to the gallery, an open flow to the exhibitions rooms on the first floor, a wide pillar hides the message entrance. The whole structure has the character of being passed over, girded, wedged, and still well proportioned - the wood panels are elegant, filigreed strands with small leather cuffs. It brings association into play (which overshadows the blending inner architecture of the gallery) in front of a fine laying woven construction, with the at one time impressive entrance of the town hall (still well-preserved in the gallery office).
From the perspective that the city originated at one time as an artificial social structure and the life of the city was “organized” in the city hall, the fact that the gallery today is housed there, is of exceptional meaning. How the building was at one time structured and organized, was not to be found by Michael Beutler in the town archives. First a fire, then the gallery architect, J.P. Kleihues, cleared out the remaining traces of the historical building (a master carpenter still cries over the beautiful wooden stairs today!). An historical connection to this building is the only claim the Sindelfingeners have left: The “stone building in a new style” had an estimated cost of 28 000 Gulden in the middle of the 19 th century, but it over ran the estimate by 8 000, a considerable amount of money at this time. At the formal opening of the building in 1843/44, the Mayor Conz, justified the high price with the words: “if someone wants to charge us with having too frivolously built, then they should consider the importance of this building. With this building we will be serving many generations over centuries to come, and a building with such an important purpose, should look as important as it is.”
The first six UTOPIA STATION posters (found on the ground floor) show Beutler’s next attack - the installation of posters with the ‘MOLD FOR THE UTOPIA STATION SINDELFINGEN’. The posters were hung seemingly different from the advertisements on the adjacent Info-Point walls.
The Haus der Kunst, Munich, was displaying the posters from Venice as a prelude to their own UTOPIA STATION Munich 2004 at the same time. They had set up their installation in 3 rows one on top of the other as a continuous frieze, brought together as a colourful picture band. This collaborative mosaic takes the breathing room away from the single pieces.
Beutler went another route. He constructed a mold that is the rhythmic base for six posters, and is flexible to manage. It is a refined layout that preserves the qualities of the individual posters but at the same time displays them as a whole work. When one inspects the exhibition on the first floor of the gallery, passing the many colourful pictures, one can intuitively feel the arrangement each individual image has and the play of its relationship on the neighbouring images. The Poster block gives the impression of a collective action.
The highlight of this ‘picture boogie’ is found in the main room, the earlier counsel chambers, where the ‘ALUMINIUM CEILING II’ hangs in the middle area under the framed-in skylight. It is a ceiling made of aluminium strips. A very light construction, made from ready to use aluminium foil, which have been rolled out on to strips of tape that have been stuck to the opposing side of the room. A simple and elegant solution to hide a harsh skylight and create a place of peace in the middle of a room that has been set up with chairs for conversation. The viewer is then drawn to the pictures on the wall that cannot be fully seen in the middle of the room.
The urge to play with circumstances and not escape the realm of the abstruse is shown in Beutler’s octagonal installation. The extravagant hinged construction, (over an outside gallery that is connected to the main building by J.P. Kleihues, 1991) is without windows and all sorts of absurd interior architecture is filled with multidimensional ‘CARDBOARD ROLLS’. To make this piece he built a machine with large crankshafts to wrap white, commercial, fermentation foil from the farming industry, around the cardboard in varying formats to created huge cocoons. The “Harvest”, as one visitor named it spontaneously, is a bizarre landscape. It is an up and down zigzag out of the packing materials from various products. Things we use, we don’t use anymore, or second-hand products that we can use again. To all of this is a riddle: Whatever may develop in the cocoons in this funny ambiance is left to the visitors themselves as they meander through.
UTOPIA / Utopia what is it?
On the second floor of the gallery is a reading room focused on the theme Utopia.The bands stretch from Plato to Thomas More, from the scientific symposiums in the 90’s when the word utopia became taboo because of the disillusionment caused by the breakdown of ideals, to today, where it wakes as inflammatory as it was when quieted.
„5 November 2000. A Copy of Thomas More’s Utopia is gifted to the United Nations, New York.“ Ross Birrell’s presentation of Thomas Mores’ famous book ‘UTOPIA’ to the United Nations casts a reflection over their roll in the world today (maybe in the same way More had at one time with his didactic play ‘UTOPIA’).
“Does Utopia have something to do with enlightenment?” I asked Roman Janssen, after his lecture at UTOPIA STATION Sindelfingen: ‘The Orient as the western occidental Utopia? As the University of Tübingen in 1580 tried to convert the Patriarch of Constantinople to Lutheranism and what Salomon Schweigger experienced because of it’. Janssen’s answer: “Surely, for a start”.
We question further, in the presence of the different posters, the many Utopian ideas, from artists around the world. How is the “good old enlightenment” doing today? “Fits like a glove”, Alexander Kluge sums it up. His motto: “Dare to sympathize, dare to empathize, (…) observe, and recognize that you already have it.”