Wednesday, 22 August 2007

Berlin street art revisited

Huge monsters, political drawings, metal installations, mysterious signs: some years ago we discovered street art in Berlin was something exciting and attracting. It was everywhere. And it had a glimpse of avant gardism. We liked to play around in the city, finding all kinds of objects, being surprised by all the things made in the many open spaces the city has. Meanwhile street art found its way into galleries and books and most of all in the form of guerilla commercials. Around the launch of the movie Borat, one could find the image of Borat sprayed and glued in cities all over Europe. The street art techniques are used as techniques for commercial usage, branding and marketing. But what is left of all the wonder in the city when even the nice, small drawings of birds could hide a commercial message? When street artists have to fear for police helicopters and imprisonment? And the rest of the street art scene hides in galleries or in projects funded by the Berlin municipality?

Since we got back from our trip, we looked with fresh eyes to our area Kreuzberg. What has changed? What is happening? This summer there are two large street art exhibitions in Kreuzberg: Backjumps and Planet Prozess. Backjumps has been two times before and this is announced to be the last edition. Both exhibitions are accompanied by several workshops and projects taking place on the streets. Legal and illegal pieces are created, and in case of the Planet Prozess, the exhibition is centered around actions made in the city. Although it is really great to see such an attention for street art, both exhibitions are disappointing. Backjumps leans quite on the artistic aspects of ´writing, and the only highlight I find is a project where German, Cuban and Brazilian street artists cooperate. Here one can find the only accurate thematizations of street art as a fore fighter of free speech and expression. But one could make the wrong conclusion: free expression is a struggle for Cuba, not for Germany.

Berlin streets are alive, but if you would compare the same area of Kreuzberg between 1970 and now, one would say: wow, this is getting a chique area. Even the slummy corners of Kreuzberg are preparing for gentrification. And street art is on the run. Most illegal works are ugly tags, as graffiti is more and more criminalized. A lot of great street artists have gone the commercial way. Most free spaces have been occupied by commercials, other places have become shops or bars. So, what is left of street art here anyway?

A lot. Berlin is a crazy city and even in the chique streets of Mitte, one finds a lot of nice pieces of unplanned art or forms of living. Just between two streets, someone built a two floors tree house, put up fences and grows a vegetable garden (see picture). There is still a lot of surprises to be found. The magic of this city is still alive, but it needs a more political approach. What about the declining space for art in the public domain, what about the commercial use of guerilla art? How can commercial companies such as Nokia, using street art as a way to brand themselves as cool, be sponsors of these exhibitions? It is time to invent new urban art tactics and reclaim street art. Come on, creative people of this city, we can do better! Let´s jump forward!

This travel diary will be continued. We will publish reports from Berlin and the rest of the world regularly, focusing on the themes of sustainable and creative forms of working and living, visiting alternative communities and writing reports of subcultural developments we find urgent.

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