Walls, Tunnels and all the Rest
I’ve been travelling here and there for the last two weeks, ended up here, halfway round the world to perform more shows with up and coming band Fleetwood Mac. We opened the tour in a beautiful outdoor arena in Berlin, surrounded by a forest, a place which had been originally built as a place for Nazi rallies to be held. We walked to the stage along an underground corridor which was built in the shape of an arc in order that no one could get a clear shot of the Fuhrer from either end. The back of the stage was a formidable stone wall which had once been fitted with gun turrets for picking off rabble-rousers.
Over the years, many great artists have played in this arena and resurrected it for good and peaceful purposes, but being there in that place does remind you in a sobering way of the extraordinary transformations that can take place in the zeitgeist over decades.
While in Berlin, we visited a famous bunker near the train station which was designed by Albert Speer. It was built in a grand architectural style with marble panels (now residing in Russia) applied to concrete walls three metres thick, meant to withstand the aerial bombing and be a lasting monument to the might of the German Empire. Such was their supreme arrogance and grandiose vision. The building did prove to be resilient, unlike the Empire.
During the following years in what became East Berlin, the bunker was secretly used to house bananas which only the upper echelon of the Communist Party could enjoy. Ordinary Germans might only get to have a banana once a year but those privileged defenders of the state were slicing them up for their cereal every day.
Once the wall came down, this building for a short while was the most famous techno, rave, fetish and sex club in Berlin. Those flat concrete walls must have amplified those oonst oonst beats, shrieks and howls into a soundtrack worthy of Dante’s Inferno, sensory overload, transcendental horror and euphoria? In any event, all were welcome, a good night out if you were in the right mood, so I am told.
The bunker has now been transformed into a private art gallery showing the contemporary art collection of Karen and Christian Boros. The interior has been remodelled into an amazing exhibition space and there are many fascinating works of art on display. Most of these carry conceptual layers of meaning for which it is helpful, or in some cases essential, to get a guided tour to understand. This inspired reformation of the building’s original intent is, from the outside at least, a “readymade" artwork. You can really feel the intensity of the structure and its purpose and history as you wander the corridors inside.
On the top floor is an exhibition of work by a Brazilian artist by the name of Paulo Nazareth. He has spent many years walking though Africa and other continents in bare feet with no money, no bank account, no phone. He wants to have no choice but to connect directly with people everywhere he goes, to find work, to find shelter, to be fed. Every now and again he sends postal packages of work to his art dealer, e.g his worn and weathered tunic on which he has stitched a few words and a simple route map of his journey. His life and his choices are an impressive artwork of uncompromising, single minded will. I thought of him the next morning as I complained to room service about them not having sent up any butter with breakfast. This contrast of choices and circumstances had never seemed so apparent.
So this letter is in a part a travelogue, but mostly I’m just passing on a realisation that we need to be vigilant, self aware, always looking to make art that is transformational, allowing all the people to share a vision and pursuing a vision that’s good for all.
Sie kommen, sie kommen
um eine Mauer zwischen uns zu bauen
Wir wissen, dass sie nicht gewinnen werden