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The Art Bang That Shook Berlin

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The Haus closed its gates forever, a large scale advertisement now covers the scaffolding that covers its graffitied facade. Who didn’t go shall not ever see the works that bedecked both the inside and the outside of a former bank near Kudamm, Berlin’s famous shopping mile. Urban design crew Die Dixons initiated the one-of-kind project, having rented out a disused building in Nürnberger Strasse and invited fellow artists from all over the world to take part.

 

The structure will soon be demolished to make way for new apartments and all the artworks will meet the same fate. Many of the artists normally work on the streets where it is common to get one’s work destroyed, by the changing weather conditions at the latest. Particularly when crossing the line of what is legal, it is essential to finish the piece within minutes. Working in The Haus gave artists the freedom to experiment and to create works that required patience and precision.

 

 

While creating art was presumably more relaxed, visiting The Haus was rather intense. Five floors covered in paint and tape in various styles and techniques meant inevitable sensory overload. Some artworks indeed stood out for their aesthetic qualities or the artist’s mastery of their chosen technique, but there was a number heavily loaded works as well, reflecting on (street) art or on the state of the world in general. The Haus was designed to be an experience, not another image in your instagram feed. Taking pictures wasn’t allowed at all so the only way to share your thoughts was using words.

 

Rocco (credited as Rocco und seine Brüder) of the famous sprayer crew GHS (Ghettostars) delivered one of the most outstanding works of the exhibition, a piece in which illegal graffiti meets conceptual art. As part of “The Exchange”, Rocco and his brothers took some train tracks from a disused underground line and placed them in white cube environment, including the rocks and a slice of concrete wall tagged by GHS ( for the record, the wall was not taken from the underground). In return, the crew painted the part of the underground tunnel white. The installation featured a video of them dismantling the tracks.

 

Guillermo S. Quintana talked about this piece with particular excitement and told us some galleries showed interest in buying it. Guillermo is one of the artists who also did tours in The House, sometimes even five a day. One such tour took two hours, which still wasn’t enough to stop in every room. People joining the tour gained insights on graffiti styles and techniques and got to hear a bunch of behind-the-scenes stories and The Haus’ own legends.

 

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Courtesy of Artist’s website.

 

Guillermo’s own vibrant tape art filled the one of the side corridors, including floor and ceiling. It was the wave of life, as he explained to his tour. It is up to every individual to decide how hard or easy this wave will be to surf. Guillermo came to Berlin some months ago and in his work he sought to translate his native Mexican views on life and death to the european audience. The shapes on the wall symbolized mantras, things we have been assigned. Your first mantra is your name, Guillermo told us, but your name is not who you are. It is just a name. When we sat down after the tour, he talked with love and respect about his “brothers and sisters”, the artists who took part and whom he could often observe at work. It doesn’t make him sad his work will be destroyed, the experience has definitely out worthed it.

 

One the same floor as Guillermo’s was the room of the German artist duo Koikate (Lea Walloschke and Sebastian König). Their room felt like an alternative universe within the alternative universe of TheHaus, it stood out as it didn’t maintain any obvious link to street art and was also the only one that came with a description. The duo operates predominantly in the realm of performance art, so the temporality of creative work TheHaus embodied is routine for them as well.

 

Courtesy of artist’s website.

 

In their room every instagrammer regretted the photo ban more than anywhere else. The black-and-white floor complemented the pink hues of the neon tank. There was a blonde wig hung above the table (it was huuuuuge), masks that one could put on, penises of various sizes, toy dinosaurs on a chessboard and a horse suspended from the ceiling, among other things. Despite its glamour and pinkness the room’s message was in fact pretty dismal, based on in-depth research on war and weapons. The bullets in the cupboard, made of items of daily use coated in wax, might have seemed innocent, but apparently at least some of them were quite accurate models of real ammunition.

 

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If you took place by the cupboard with gold and weaponry and had a look around, everything in the room seemed to be in its right place. That’s because from the viewpoint of the wealthy and powerful, the world does make sense. But as soon as you left the privileged corner, confusion took over clarity and the room turned to mess, indications of injustice and violence then came to light.

 

According to Lea, who also did tours, one of the best things about The Haus was the rare opportunity to see people’s reactions to her work. Often unaware that she was the artist, visitors felt free to discuss the art and give their honest opinions. It was interesting to observe, she said, how people of different nationalities perceived the room differently. What they had in common was to assume it is the other country who does bad things, not their own. Another best thing was the freedom to do whatever you wanted. Once you were part of the project, there wasn’t anyone checking on what you’re doing. The artists got the freedom and the responsibility to exhibit whatever they themselves saw fit.

 

The horse from Koikate’s room already has another gig and has been spared the bulldozer’s claw. The rest will turn to dust, but the duo doesn’t feel sorry for any of it. One hoards so much stuff, Lea told me, it is more of a relief to let some of it go. Would they ever re-do the piece in a another exhibition space? No, yes, maybe. It’s not on the schedule, anyway. The installation is site-specific so even if the same concept was to be used again, changes would be inevitable.

 

Courtesy of TheHaus

 

The exhibition enjoyed unprecedented popularity, a long queue formed outside the entrance every day. It didn’t only draw attention of art enthusiast and random passersby, but of the Berlin authorities as well and the long-term debate on whether or not to establish a street art museum gained momentum. Should street art should be institutionally protected or is it against its very nature? The question remains unanswered, but is for sure that The Haus offered a neat temporary solution. The project was a means of promoting street art without bending its very rules.