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Raul Walch’s balcony artwork
A work by Raul Walch. Photograph: Die Balkone

Berlin’s artists are turning their balconies into open-air galleries

By
Huw Oliver
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What do you do if you’re an artist with no galleries open to exhibit your works? You make your own, of course. In Berlin last week, 50 or so creatives displayed new pieces from their windows and balconies in a two-day celebration of local talent that looks set to be replicated in cities worldwide.

As part of ‘Die Balkone: Life, Art, Pandemic and Proximity’, curators Övül Durmusoglu and Joanna Warsza invited artists, curators and art writers from across the city’s Prenzlauer Berg district to contribute installations and performances that could be made visible to passers-by – whether from windows, balconies or rooftops. In a statement, the organisers asked artists to draw inspiration from the fast-regenerating area’s long history of ‘artist squats, takeovers, one-night exhibitions’.

A work by Christine WürmellA work by Christine Würmell. Photograph: Die Balkone

Whether it’s Raul Walch’s blue kite-like structures or Ulf Aminde’s homage to anti-fascist artist Max Lingner, the results are as diverse as they are eye-popping. In one performance piece, an artist and his son have been broadcasting daily readings to the street from their intercom. If the organisers’ aim was to provide locals with ‘an intimate stroll (within current regulations) to search for signs of life, art, and points of kinship and connection’, then they succeeded.

Now the initiative is set to go global. ‘Die Balkone’ is an open-source format and the organisers are encouraging curators to host sister editions elsewhere. A similar event, ‘Open Window’, is already planned for Stockholm (where some major galleries are currently closed). And several big-name institutions including the Reina Sofía museum in Madrid have commissioned balcony-based artworks from artists, to create ‘a visual manifestation of the balcony singing that has become so popular and uplifting in Italy’. For young creatives in lockdown, square-footage and foot traffic suddenly don’t count for much. Their street is the gallery, and their neighbours the public.

Waving at You by Matylda KrzykowskiWaving at You by Matylda Krzykowski. Photograph: Die Balkone

We asked Durmusoglu and Warsza about how the ‘Die Balkone’ exhibition has brought their neighbourhood together, and why they hope to inspire other cities around the world over the coming weeks. Your daily stroll around the block looks like it might get a whole lot more exciting.

‘We were talking about the political history of the balconies,’ the pair said. ‘and how Berlin’s artists were, for once, all here – yet so rarely visible. We realised that at this moment we are all here and on our own in our spaces, trying to understand what to do when institutions are closed and exhibitions and gatherings are postponed indefinitely. This is a time to take things in our hands, find a way to communicate the healing power of art and make our community feel united again, while following the necessary public health measures.

‘So we started from our own neighbourhood: Prenzlauer Berg, a district in the former East Berlin. Prenzlauer Berg used to be an anarchist and much-squatted part of the town, with many artists resettling here after the fall of the Wall, and is now going through a lot of gentrification – a theme which some of the installations addressed.

‘We believe this particular period we’re living through requires a new look at our own neighbourhoods. This is where we both live, where we spend our everyday life. The geography of the area and the fact we all live next to each other was the decisive factor in choosing the artists – not the number of successes they have achieved, or their visibility. What was important is that we built up these community relations while in confinement. Art became a way of bringing us together: of bonding, of overcoming the isolation.

A work by Ulf AmindeA work by Ulf Aminde. Photograph: Die Balkone

‘Our call for sending “life signs” to each other through balconies and windows found a heartfelt resonance among the artists, writers and architects living in the neighbourhood. For the art community, this is very unusual time. Many of us are constantly on the road. Now the confinement has made us look more precisely at where and how we live, who our neighbours are, how we connect and relate to this place that has become our second home.

‘We’re receiving many messages from the participants and our community: how it made them happy to make something physical to connect with people around them, how it was fresh and relaxing for them to break away from their screens. The project has resonated all around the world. Thanks to this energy, we’ve decided to open our initiative to sister editions in an open-source form. We also plan to host further editions here in Berlin, with old and new neighbours alike: those who lived here before the fall of the Wall, and those who, like us, have made Berlin their home.’

‘Rapunzel’ by Christina Dimitriadis
‘Rapunzel’ by Christina Dimitriadis. Photograph: Die Balkone

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