Common Ground is a temporary site specific sculpture commissioned by Werkleitz Festival. The 2019 edition “Model und Ruine” unites 13 public art positions in and around Georgengarten park, Dessau. Typical for the 19th century the park features a series of small buildings, pavilions and build ruins which serve as a ‘fake’ romanticized landscape-scenery. Today the most common backdrop is the greenscreen. It is used in film and other media productions to ‘key in’ any desired digital image as a background. The greenscreen represents all the possibilities of cultural production, a blank space and projection surface disconnected from physical boundaries. But common ground is also a place of consent and social relationship in times where a single tweet of a president makes world markets collapse within seconds. The 6,5 meter tall green surface is a post-digital scenery on top of a much bigger romantic scenery of 19th century feudalistic times. It is also just a new tree in the park.
Werkleitz runs in conjunction with the festivities of the anniversary of 100 years of Bauhaus. Thanks to the whole team making this work possible.
From the catalog:
Interview by Kristina Tieke, for Werkleitz Festival 2019
KT: Your interest is directed at public space and how it changes through digitalization. On a meadow in the Georgengarten, you’ve placed a monumental green screen that people strolling past can pose in front of, as though they were copying themselves into a setting. Isn’t the park already a setting? What connection is there between historical backdrop and present environment?
AB: The work Common Ground (2019) addresses of course the topic to what extent we stage ourselves in everyday life. The park is already a great staging with its romantic ruins and idyllic corners that have been artificially laid out. And the green screen, which in the past was a tool used exclusively by the film industry, has been part of pop culture for a long time. It functions as a projection surface for the many realities in which we move. The projection surface of our wishes and dreams and this dream-like garden are a good match.
KT: When we contemplate primarily ourselves, the danger may arise that we no longer perceive the beauty of the world around us, since we are living with projections. Does the digital staging distort the eye for reality?
AB: I’m not playing the digital and analogue worlds off of each other. We deceive ourselves when we divide: here the beautiful nature and over there the digital stuff. Untouched nature no longer exists. Nature is over. Global warming is imminent. All of this is reality. The green screen in nature is a wink. It’s like a tree, an object of nature, if you like.
If one thinks of the dangers that arise from social media platforms and their staging reality, then one more likely thinks of how only a handful of large firms own our data. The problem is the threat to our private sphere. I’m urging us to give thought to how we want to live with these services. Digital communication changes society and politics. Should a President be allowed to twitter at all? Is that even sensible?
KT: Your work also calls to mind our dependence on the media: When the Internet breaks down, when wifi is not working – what is left? A green screen in a green park. A pretty picture. In this way you’re reflecting at the same time on the power and possibilities of visual arts. Am I right?
AB: Yes, the power of art is great. Pictures function in a world fixed on pictures. But how effectively visual art can bring about changes to society and act as a driving force – this is something I discuss time and again with friends. There are urgent problems that demand concrete actions. When will the time come when we in fact have to do more to stimulate thought than simply show works in an exhibition? Just like the Fridays-for-Future movement of the engaged young generation. That’s great to see.
KT: You studied architecture before settling on visual arts. Your interest is still directed at public space. With the Skulptur Projekte Münster 2017 you installed chandeliers in an underpass, their LED light powered by electricity generated by the warmth of candles. The inhospitable concrete architecture was transformed into a place of refuge. What role does this kind of Neo-romantic aesthetic play for you? Is the concept Neo-romanticism at all appropriate?
AB: Yes, one can use the concept. The work is site-specific, having arisen in a modernist tunnel that is actually no longer being used. It’s an awful space, from a time that was entirely subject to the “will of the automobile”, to street traffic. By now one has understood that urban planning doesn’t work like this. But the tunnel leads to a castle that invokes the idea of Romanticism. And in this respect it is, as you say, almost a place of refuge. The work unifies contradictions.
At the same time it may also be interpreted dystopically. What’s it like when there’s no longer any electricity? How will we manage then? One can observe the problem at the moment in Venezuela where there are power failures and no one can say exactly whether it’s now a cyber attack or not. These are the questions being raised today. The work contains in itself all these pictures.
KT: A further work in Münster consisted of a bonfire with which one could charge one’s smartphone on the principle of thermo-electric effect. Also a clever scenario for times of crisis. Are humans survivors, prepared for a dystopian world?
AB: Humans are certainly survivors. Yes. But how well prepared we are ourselves – that won’t become apparent until something suddenly happens. We’re speaking here from quite a privileged situation, even within Europe, in Germany. Yet in the next decades there’ll be many changes. I believe that it’s important in political discussions to remind oneself time and again that much is threatened of what we consider to be fundamentally valid or unalterable. That’s what I think about … when I’m holding my mobile phone. The device that we have to constantly charge and which we believe we can no longer live without.