The Berlin Project
Edited by Colet Castano, Fanny Gjoni, Stina Gustafsson, Nora Heidorn & Filippa Forsberg
Published on the occasion of the exhibition in the former women’s prison at Kantstrasse 79, Berlin
Design: Nina Stahl
A derelict prison becomes a space for artistic and curatorial experimentation. Walls, doors, and windows is the organising principle for the contents and the design of the publication for The Berlin Project. The publication will develop in three stages which become three chapters. Individually, they reflect the progress of the artistic and curatorial working processes with the intention to move away from the preconception that an exhibition is about displaying a polished end product. The three chapters are enriched by contributions from selected authors containing their research relating to The Berlin Project.
The concept to proceed from chapter 1: walls to chapter 2: doors to chapter 3: windows has developed from a reflection about the heightened symbolism of these three basic architectural features in the women’s prison. Walls are strong and lasting structures that define inner from outer spaces, evoking enclosure. Doors symbolise a passageway and are most often used for purposes of safety, but are also associated with locks and confinement. Windows allow light and air to enter inside spaces. They allow observation of the outside from the inside and may allow for communication; they symbolise openness and fluidity. From enclosure towards openness: A derelict prison becomes a space for artistic and curatorial experimentation.
The women’s prison in Kantstraße has not been in use since the mid-1980s and is therefore referred to as the former women’s prison. Yet the building itself, regardless of its current disuse or occasional re-use, reflects the purpose it was built for in its very walls. It is still a prison. Tall red brick walls topped with rusting barbed wire isolate the plot of land the prison was built on in 1896-97 from the outside world, the bustle of Kantstraße in Berlin-Charlottenburg. The thick exterior walls of the prison are designed in a pragmatic L-shape. They create the inner courtyard of the prison: an outdoor space that is yet a confined, easily monitored rectangle. Inside the prison, long bare walls along the tracts lead to cells of just 6 m2. In an enclosed cell of that size, one becomes fully aware of the walls that make up the room: their heaviness, thickness, capacity to muffle sound, their property to absorb or reflect light, the instinctive reaction to leave marks.
Remnants from its different eras of use are discernible throughout the building in an obscure interweaving of temporalities and realities. Occasional filming that has taken place in the women’s prison during recent years has added a subtle layer testifying to an intervention in the historical integrity of the building. Traces from these activities seem to produce a hardly discernible film of fiction over the documented history of its use as a prison by the Nazis. Paradoxically, it may well be easier for a contemporary visitor to visualise the building as a film set than it is to understand its modes as a functioning prison. The fictional seems more likely than the real in this place where temporalities overlap.
Lively activity before and during The Berlin Project, as well as the presence of contemporary art, will add another layer of meaning to the former women’s prison. Where these presences will be perceived in the complex of reality and fiction depends on the artists’ transformation of the spaces and its curatorial mediation.