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Süden - The Villa Romana at the Deutsche Bank KunstHalle
Let’s talk: Angelika Stepken, Ingrid & Oswald Wiener on “Hot Feet”

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Süden
The Villa Romana at the Deutsche Bank KunstHalle


Prizewinners from Germany, international guest artists from the Mediterranean region: the Villa Romana in Florence has long been a nexus for generations of artists and a wide range of scenes and nationalities. Now, a program of exhibitions, music, and performances called “Süden”(South) brings the villa’s lively atmosphere directly to Berlin—and the Deutsche Bank KunstHalle.


One of the films screened in Süden (South) is the British classic A Room with a View from 1985. Among the lead actors like Maggie Smith and Helena Bonham Carter are Tuscany and Florence—the city on the Arno and home to the Villa Romana, the artists’ house founded in 1905 by Max Klinger. Florence, cradle of the Renaissance, is not only the epitome of the romantic South in the movies. For a long time the artists’ house also embodied the ideal that generations of tourist guidebooks helped its readers to internalize: situated on the hillside above the city, the classicist Villa, surrounded by a magnificent garden of olive trees and cypresses, was often described as an “Arcadia.” Artists like Max Beckmann, Käthe Kollwitz, Ernst Barlach, and Max Pechstein sought peace and inspiration here, while in the 1970s and ’80s it was figures the likes of Georg Baselitz and Markus Lüpertz. Michael Buthe staged oriental myths in his rooms. “There were boisterous parties, and his studio looked like a harem after a hundred nights of love,” is how the former director, the “Commandante” Joachim Burmeister, recalled the time shortly before his retirement in 2005.
 
Since 2007 Angelika Stepken has been running the house, and the celebrations continue. Now, the prevailing attitude toward the South has become more of a discourse that engages in the cultural and social realities of the Mediterranean region and a globalized art establishment that has undergone profound change. The South no longer ends at the Italian coast or Gibraltar, but includes North Africa, the Balkans, Greece, Turkey, and the Middle East. The young fellows arriving here through Germany come from all over Europe, and the number of guest artists from Algiers, Casablanca, and Alexandria testify to just how important the Arab countries have become. Off the beaten track of the great art hubs, the Villa Romana, supported by Deutsche Bank and its Foundation since 1929, has become a laboratory for artistic exchange between the North and South. At the same time, the house also provides vital impulses to the region as a platform for innovative artists on the contemporary Italian scene.

Now, some of this can be experienced in the program of exhibitions, music, and performances called Süden, which brings the lively atmosphere of the Villa directly to Berlin and the Deutsche Bank KunstHalle. Over a period of two weeks, fellows and guests provide a multi-faceted image of the artists’ house and the themes occupying European artists there. The fact that these are largely determined by the current political situation in the Mediterranean region can be clearly seen in a work now on view in Berlin: the artist and photographer Armin Linke has been working for several years on the project Lampedusa. The Day After. The small Italian island between Sicily and Tunisia is often the first arrival point for boat refugees from Africa; Lampedusa has become synonymous for European and Italian refugee politics. Linke collects and investigates the visual traces these tragedies leave behind in the form of media images, family photos, or Facebook posts; he is not interested in creating new images, but in placing existing ones in context, in furnishing them with a history. Linke has been researching with a team and conducting interviews for years. The collected material delves into the processes by which photography loses its credibility as an explanatory medium when confronted with humanitarian catastrophe.

Now, in the framework of a lecture in the Süden program, visitors can get to know Linke and a cross-section of artists from different generations personally who have left their mark on the house. The spectrum ranges from Gianfranco Baruchello, friend to Duchamp and artist legends of the 1960s, to the current Villa Romana fellow Mariechen Danz, a Berlin-based Irish artist whose body-sculptures, installations, videos, and performances are currently making a splash on the international art scene. Her Learning Cube is on view in the exhibition, which presents works by all four Villa Romana Prize winners in the Deutsche Bank KunstHalle. The outside surfaces of the large-scale cube are covered in reproductions of human organs, hands, pyramids, diagrams, written and graphic symbols. The human body appears here as an object that is subjected to various structures and systems. But Danz can also be experienced as a performer—in a concert with her band UNMAP, which blends cool, dark New Wave sounds with electro soul and melancholic song.

Other fellows from this year besides Mariechen Danz can also be seen in the framework of Süden: Heide Hinrichs, Daniel Maier-Reimer, and Shannon Bool. Bool, who was born in Canada and lives in Berlin, floats prominent puckered lips over landscapes. In her 24-part series The Lips, she mounts the lips of stars like Rihanna, Angelina Jolie, and Dita van Teese on photographs of empty beaches that she purchased at auction on eBay.

Süden not only offers the possibility to discover current positions, but also introduces artist legends: in the KunstHalle, one can (re)discover Gianfranco Baruchello, for instance, a great unknown of the European avant-garde who took part in the important 1962 exhibition New Realists at the Sidney Janis Gallery in New York, which Warhol also participated in. Baruchello met Marcel Duchamp the same year, who became a long-term friend and about whom he wrote a book. In 1977 his drawings were on show at the documenta 6. Despite all this, due to his strategy of refusing to take part in the art market and establishment, Baruchello’s work has remained largely unknown. Now, a survey of his film works from the 1960s to the present can be seen for the first time in the KunstHalle.

One of the main points of focus of the Süden program is on performance work. The Polish filmmaker and theoretician Jerzy Grotowski (1933–1999), who spent his last years in the small city of Pontedera between Florence and Pisa, is a classic of the avant-garde theater movement. Pontedera is also where he founded the Workcenter of Jerzy Grotowksi and Thomas Richards, in which he continued developing his concept of “poor theater.” Today, the Workcenter attracts actors from all over the world. For Süden, the Open Program travels to Germany for the first time to present its homage to the Beat poet Allen Ginsburg, Electric Party Songs, in the KunstHalle. Other Villa Romana neighbors are also celebrating their German premiere in “Süden,” some of whom also explore heroes of Beat literature: with Fourthousand | All!, the free performance group Kinkaleri from Prato honors William S. Burroughs.

On the other hand, Mirene Arsanios and Setareh Shahbazi present a blend of talk, workshop, and performance. The curator Arsanios is co-founder of the Beirut project space 98weeks researchproject. At the Villa Romana, together with the artist Shahbazi, she put on a performance based on conversations the two women began on their neighboring balconies in Beirut, in which they talked about revolution, family, and even Chinese dumplings. Now they carry this dialogue to Berlin. Whether and how the spirit of optimism of the “Arab Spring” and the civil war in Syria affects their life and art will certainly be one of the themes explored in their contribution to Süden.

The series closes brilliantly with the text-sound-film and cooking performance Heisse Fuesse (Hot Feet) of the group Wichtel und die Wuchteln. The hot feet referred to here are cooked calf’s feet separated from the bone and refined. They are prepared by the Austrian artist Ingrid Wiener, accompanied by her husband Oswald and their friends: artist and filmmaker Rosa Barba, producer Klaus Sander, and musician Jan St. Werner, a founding member of the band Mouse on Mars. Oswald Wiener is one of the theoreticians of the Wiener Gruppe (Viennese Group), which was active from 1954–1964 as one of the most radical artists’ associations in post-war Europe. Ingrid Wiener collaborated on performances by the Wiener Gruppe and on experimental films, founded legendary restaurants in Berlin like Exil and Ax Bax, and worked together with Dieter Roth for many years. The Heisse Fueße referred to here are anything but a cooking show: they’re served with a performance side dish of Oswald Wiener’s texts, Rosa Barba’s film and acoustic interventions, Jan St. Werner’s electronic sound, and Klaus Sander’s percussion.

In a certain sense, with their blend of various different art directions, generations, and disciplines, Wichtel und die Wuchteln provide a great example for the spirit of the Villa Romana, which is anything but heterogeneous. And this can also be seen in the program: even if a lot of rethinking and new ideas take place in the artists’ house in Florence, it’s still a good place to party. 

Süden
Villa Romana: Art, Music & Performance

August 27 – September 8, 2013
Deutsche Bank KunstHalle, Berlin




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