If all art is political, some is definitely more political than others. Calling Donald Trump a ‘pendejo’ seems less political and more a description of reality, regardless of whether you choose to be charitable and read the meaning of pendejo as ‘stupid’, or you prefer probably the more accurate interpretation of ‘asshole’ (it can mean much worse!). The huge image of the Berlin Wall falling and then being resurrected as €100 bank notes, is definitely politically provocative in a city where communities are increasingly divided by wealth.
We came across this latter piece by artist Blu while out on a long walk along the river. I’ve mentioned Blu before, he was one of the artists who painted over a famous piece of his own art as a protest against the corrosive role street art has in the gentrification of communities. His work has a conscience, as well as being eye-catching. Although not as eye-catching as the huge red letters that adorn the former East German, Haus der Statistik, a now derelict building just behind Alexanderplatz.
Those words, ‘Stop Wars’, have now been joined by a second message, ‘On Migration’. It doesn’t get more political than that in modern-day Germany even if artistic merit is completely missing. The Haus der Statistik would be an eyesore even if not derelict – the East Germans had a penchant for brutally ugly buildings. It was scheduled for demolition, a mercy killing in all honesty, and redevelopment as apartments or offices. Something that is almost as political in Berlin as migration.
The happy news is that after years of community activism the authorities have now decided to turn it into artists studios and affordable housing. The less happy news is that it won’t now be demolished, and the city will need to bear its ugliness for at least another generation. Given the role of artists in this decision, I’m hopeful that art will cover its facade.
On Bülowstrasse recently, I came across some social commentary tucked close to the entrance to a parking garage (I think the location was coincidental). The painting of a pipe-smoking, slightly wild-looking man was accompanied by a speech bubble: Coffee, Cupcakes and Contemporary Art Destroy My Neighbourhood. I didn’t spot any hipster coffee haunts selling overpriced artisanal drinks while people played on MacBooks, but the point is well made even if it’s an odd way of complaining about contemporary art.
There is also street art that is political by the very nature of the way it is created. Berlin Kidz are a street art collective that go to extreme, and probably illegal, lengths to paint their enigmatic ‘language’ onto the sides of buildings. Whoever is behind these pieces, they are clearly trained acrobats because some of the locations they reach are truly inaccessible. At least to anyone without a good head for heights and a mountain goat’s sense of balance.
Their work harks back to an earlier age of graffiti artists: unauthorised, unmonetized and distinctly anarchic. Something seemingly belonging to an earlier era in Berlin, one that is disappearing amongst urban renewal.