Friday, 20 August 2010
Built in 1847 and a hospital until 1970, Bethanien, in Kreuzberg's Mariannenplatz, is one of the longest squatted buildings in Berlin. First occupied in 1971 in protest to proposals to knock it down and replace it with social housing, the 450 square metre sprawl of neo-Gothic brickwork has since become an arts institute. It now contains Kunstraum Kreuzberg, the BBK Berlin printing studio, media arts lab Künstlerhaus Bethanien, and the Friedrichshain Kreuzberg district music school.
After the increasing officialdom of recent years had progressively aggravated defenders of building's public ownership, a bunch of squatters reclaimed one wing, now inhabited and decorated in the clichéd, graffitied, punk squat style, accompanied by a thriving veggie patch and Drop City style communal outdoor spaces beside caravan-cum-shacks.
The art programmes, restaurant and visitors continue, resulting in a rebel/institute dynamic that might offer a lesson in a social arrangement of dialectic harmony. That the re-squatting is supported by the institution is seen by some as an act of guilt resolution by those previously anti-establishment artists connected with Bethanien who have since found success and now happily exhibit in commercial galleries and state supported institutions.
The Glasgow School of Art final MA show, Definite Article, is currently exhibited in the main gallery space. Rosemary Scanlon's naive-looking, watercolours of uncanny scenes entitled The Hunt, Looking Glass and Say What What Way (below) are some of the show's highlights.
Other stand out works are Fiona Burke's untitled collages masquerading as paintings and Kaifeng Chun's XX washing powder stencil on the floor (both below).
Despite some questionable curatorial choices, like splitting up work by the same artist and opposing it across the mezzanine, the show responded to the grandeur of the space with professional polish. The squatters next door empty the historic hospital arches of some of their institutional hauteur, but nevertheless the columns and covered courtyards of the building give an establishment air that requires living up to.
The loudest piece in the show is Ellie Harrison's series of popcorn machines representing financial crises of the past century. From the Wall Street Crash in 1929 through the US Recession of 1937, the UK Crash of 1973, Black Monday in 1987, the Japanese Asset Price Bubble of 1990, Black Wednesday in 1992, the Asian Financial Crisis of 1997, the Russian Financial Crisis the following year, the Dot Com Bubble of 2000 and The Chinese Correction in 2007 until the Credit Crunch of 2008, the series of popcorn makers is activated in a time sequence corresponding to the years.
The lumping of the Dot Com Boom in with the 1937 US Recession is dubious, but less so the metaphor of puffing and exploding a basic foodstuff into fluffy pieces which are dramatically vomited onto the floor, only to be swept aside. Whether astute, amusing or crass, the result is a sweet smelling show.