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To lift spirits, Berliners turn their balconies into art exhibits

Art is to Berlin what “Volare” was to Italy.

To lift spirits, Berliners turn their balconies into art exhibits
Raul Walch. [Photo: Christophe Gateau/Picture Alliance/Getty Images]

With so much of the art world shifting to online exhibitions, it may come as a surprise that a physical art show went up in Berlin this past weekend. The city is currently under lockdown until April 19, which prohibits gatherings of more than two people, and requires people stay 1.5 meters (about 5 feet) apart.

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In the installation, called Die Balkone: Life, art, pandemic, and proximity, artists mounted works of art on their balconies and street-facing windows, taking advantage of a middle-ground space between private and public life. Yes, a balcony is still a part of your home, but it’s also visible to the public from a safe distance. A built-in, underutilized showroom—if you want it to be.

Jan Peter Hammer, Untitled’, 2020. [Photo: courtesy Die Balkone]
The art show is just one example of how people around the world are using art to cope with isolation and lift spirits. People in Siena, Italy, burst into song from their respective homes; New Yorkers have a daily 7 p.m. cheer session to celebrate healthcare workers from their balconies; and there have been opera concerts in New York state and youth orchestra concerts in Florida and Ohio. It’s fitting that Berlin, one of the art and culture capitals of the world, would respond this way.

More than 50 artists in Berlin’s northeastern neighborhood Prenzlauer Berg accepted an open invitation from Övül Ö. Durmusoglu, a visiting professor at the Berlin University of the Arts, and Joanna Warsza, a curator and the former director of Public Art Munich, to participate in the two-day showcase.

Alisa Margolis & Jeremiah Day, Tin-Can Tabernacle, 2020. [Photo: courtesy of the artists]
The neighborhood is gentrified these days, with picturesque streets fit for strolling, dotted with restored 19th-century buildings, and populated by well-heeled young families. But after World War II and prior to the fresh look, the area was an artists’ haven, and the invitation asked artists in the neighborhood to remember that tradition, referencing Berlin’s history of “artist squats, takeovers, one-night exhibitions,” and the neighborhood itself as a critical place of resistance against the GDR.

Markus Miessen and Lena Mahr. [Photo: courtesy Die Balkone]
The works themselves ranged across the neighborhood. The artists Alisa Margolis and Jeremiah Day collaborated on an installation called Tin-Can Tabernacle, a series of banners that depict two phones made of tin cans and attached by string at either end, meant to reflect “our fractured and ‘distanced’ experience and hope for connection,” Day explains via email.

Matheus Rocca Pita, Untitled Window, 2020. [Photo: courtesy Salwa Aleryani]

Matheus Rocca Pita made a street level “portable window,” which resembles a very small curtained-off entryway, saying, “My portable Untitled Window was a very humble way to address that one does not need a wall to have a home. There’s a Brazilian child song called ‘A very funny house’ that tells of a house with no walls, ground, or ceiling . . . that did not exist but that was still made with a lot of love,” Pita says over email.

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Salwa Aleryani. [Photo: courtesy of the artist]
Artist Salwa Aleryani’s work was on a much smaller scale. As Aleryani explains it, he placed a bowl full of beads on the window sill, and slid them down the side of the building one by one on an “abacus-like thread,” imagining the shared experience that counting the beads creates—that is, if passerby notice the delicate strand along the apartment building’s wall.

One way or another, the project aimed to engage passersby in a new way, suggesting that people take “an intimate stroll (within current regulations) to search for signs of life, art, and points of kinship and connection.”

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About the author

Lilly Smith is an associate editor of Co.Design. She was previously the editor of Design Observer, and a contributing writer to AIGA Eye on Design.

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