Of Urban Spaces and Urban Dreams

„Promised City“: Of Urban Spaces and Urban Dreams

Yael BartanaCopyright: Yael Bartana
Scene from the film “Wall and Tower” (Copyright: Yael Bartana)


4 March 2010

The Promised City project will be launched with the exhibition Early Years in Berlin. It deals with the myth of the city, the dreams, illusions and promises of modern metropolises while putting new forms of international cooperation to the test. By Frauke Fentloh


Zbigniew Libera removes the people from the cities. A diffuse stream of refugees – men, women and children – leave the metropolis gone to seed as part of failed civilization behind them. In his large-sized photography work, the Polish artist creates an apocalyptic panorama of a city as starting and end point in the search for a better place. This search is part of the exhibition Early Years in the Berlin Kunst-Werken, which heralds the large-scale project The Promised City initiated by the Goethe-Institut and the Polish Institute Berlin.

While the Exodus of People from the Cities produces the vision of a turn from metropolises, demographic urban development is the exact opposite in reality. Since 2007, for the first time more people live in cities than in rural areas worldwide – like no other place, the city is the longed-for site of modern times. The fascination of cities, their charisma, their promises and potentials are the starting point for The Promised City. Martin Wälde, director of the Goethe-Institut Warsaw, sums up the approach of the artistic initiative as being about “urban spaces” and “urban dreams.” In particular the mutual international production processes played a vital role – and thereby at the same time they put the networks of the Goethe-Institut in motion.

Copyright: Marta Gendera and Boris Sieverts
Photo Gallery: The other Warsaw

Over the past two years, a number of artists, curators, persons in the cultural sector and academics have developed new productions in theatre and fine arts, film, literature and urbanistics under these signs. The focus is at first on the cities Berlin and Warsaw, which, although only a few hours’ drive from one another, seem to be light years apart.

Departures and failures

The inclusion of the Indian megacity Mumbai will shed yet another light – detached from the European perspective – on the myth of the city. The Indian media artists of the Raqs Media Collective approach the three cities in their video installation The Capital of Accumulation, which is based on Rosa Luxemburg’s essay The Accumulation of Capital and tells of failure and of urban promises of a new beginning.

For the photography work Glückssucher (Happiness Seekers), young photographers from the Berlin Ostkreuzschule joined with colleagues from Poland and India to deal with the imagination of cities and the modern ideology of the pursuit of happiness and documented very different places – shopping centres and gay bars, fitness clubs and gated communities.

Copyright: Nele Kollecker, Philip Poppek, Rebecca Sampson, Rami Tufi, Stephanie Leisten
Photo Gallery: Traces of Happiness

One of the starting points for the exhibition Early Years was the public debate over the Warsaw Museum of Modern Art. Its brief history has been marked by the discourse over the use of public spaces, over the architecture of the as yet only temporary museum; the necessity of its existence. These controversies, provoked by a building, reflect the differing expectations of people in cities, says curator Joanna Mytkowska.

Therefore the works shown here take the city, its spaces as places of promise and the disillusionment as their theme, they reflect departures and failures, confidence and hopelessness. They reveal abandoned and strangely disconnected building complexes in post-Communist Bucharest or blind men in uniform before the symbolic Warsaw Palace of Culture.

Knot in the myth

The mobile event platform The Knot, developed by an international team of curators, examines art in public spaces as well for these are often linked with difficulties, merely for practical reasons explains collaborator Markus Bader of the Raumlabor Berlin. Ultimately, the lack of everyday resources such as electricity and water greatly restricts the artistic sphere of action outside the usual infrastructural dimensions. The vehicle is meant to overcome these difficulties as a mobile platform for artistic presentation and production, is intended as a meeting place for artists and those interested in art.

The Knot will occupy public rooms between Berlin and Bucharest, both in the centres and on the peripheries. It is scheduled to stop at the Berlin Kulturforum and Kreuzberg’s Mariannenplatz, in front of the Warsaw Palace of Culture and in suburbs of Poland’s capital city. The focus will be on interaction with the respective urban surroundings, emphasizes Tomasz Dbrowski, director of the Polish Institute Berlin, thus enabling the unusual vehicle to “stretch out its feelers” and, as needed, be used as a rehearsal or exhibition space, as a workshop or classroom, concert hall or café.

In the theatre project X-Wohnungen by the Berlin theatre Hebbel am Ufer, the lines between private and public spaces are also blurred. Here, private Warsaw homes are the stage for artistic interventions. Many other productions unify the examination of the city as a mythological place that promises happiness. During the Polski Express festival, Hebbel am Ufer will be showing new productions by Polish playwrights, including The Promised Land by Jan Klata and Krzysztof Warlikowski’s (A)pollonia. In the play of the same name, pupils from Berlin and Warsaw design their Ideal City. The exhibition Wystawa by the Kunst-Werke Berlin will be shown in Warsaw whose inhabitants will be shown new insights in their assumed familiar city by the Cologne artist Boris Sieverts with an artistic Urban Journey.

The series of lectures If I Can Make It There will be held in Berlin and Warsaw, the journalists’ exchange Die Welt im Notizbuch and the literature programme Die Fährte in Mumbai, Warsaw and Berlin. These enable journalists and writers to stay and work in each others’ cities. The film series Promised Cities will then round off the series of projects during the Warsaw film festival Planete Doc Review.
The project The Knot has been funded with support from the European Commission. This publication reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.
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