Berlin Cosmogony#2: A Garden City

Jul 9, 2020

COSMOGONY 02 – A Garden City

So I plunged deep into the forest in the dark of night, raging across the paths there, smashing into trees, backtracking, unable to know where I was or trying to wrest control from the thing that wanted to control me. But soon I adhered to paths despite myself. Soon I cohered and came to know balance and lifted my hands from the atrocity jutting from my crown. Soon I walked smooth and slow and no root tripped me and no false trail fooled me. I could see in the dark by then, or It could, and what, really, by then was the difference?
(Jeff Vandermeer, The World Is Full Of Monsters, 2017)


The Entrance To The Garden

My Berlin-appartment is located in the neighbourhood around the Zionskirche, which has it’s own special story, but I will not elaborate on that now. Anno 2020 this is a vibrant and visibly wealthy part of Berlin’s Prenzlaur Berg-region. In the evenings you can walk in the middle of the road, this is a place people come home to, there is hardly any traffic passing through. Large trees line the streets, some of them taller than the five-story buildings. This part of Berlin is full of trees. Walking around you get the impression that there is a park around almost every corner.

Renovated plattenbau-blocs surround hidden communal gardens that are nothing other than small urban forests. Tall trees flourish in lush courtyards surrounded by high buildings with balconies that either kiss the leaves or overlook the treetops . Underneath paths meander, children play and people gather for a beer on lazy summer evenings. Protected, private parks,intersected by a network of hidden routes that allow for shortcuts that lead you through the buildings instead of around them. The air in every one of these gardens is heavy with it’s own atmosphere. Every one a unique Hortus Conclusus: abstracted from the world of noise, traffic and smells of the city. Harboring it’s own world, with it’s own inhabitants, safely hidden within former residential barracks, oozing post-gentrification luxury.
Forty square meters of living space cost around two-hundred and fifty thousand euros here.

Hortus conclusus is both an emblematic attribute and a title of the Virgin Mary in Medieval and Renaissance poetry and art, suddenly appearing in paintings and manuscript illuminations about 1330 as well as a genre of actual garden that was enclosed both symbolically and as a practical concern, a major theme in the history of gardening.”

Coincidentally a number of enclosed gardens have been temporary parts of my life. Two summers ago for instance, I rented a studio in an old building in Molenbeek, a neighbourhood in Brussels with a bad reputation. Molenbeek is a poor area. It houses a large northern-African community, it is vibrant, crowded, in it’s very own way beautifull but full of challenges.
In the middle of this predominantly Muslim neighbourhood stands a large catholic school. Originally run by monks the building houses a small cloister. In it’s midst lies a spatious and beautiful enclosed garden. It is a modest arboretum, home to exotic trees and plants. For a short while a small community of artists found a place to work-,
and a garden to dwell, in this cloister. I was one of them.
This garden is a true urban oasis. Large Red Birch trees grow there, in their shadow fruit-trees bend over berry bushes and edible herbs. A spikey Dragon-tree fiercely stands in the middle while a few meters further a large fig tree’s branches hang heavy, laden with soft fruit in august. Narrow paths disappear into the foliage, revealing wondrous details to whomever walks their trail. Even kiwis grow there, hidden amidst the struggling city.
All this exotica in a private park, owned by Catholic monks.
All of it seems decadently inappropriate.

…and the terrain became more floating than fixed, the ground covered with a thin stubble of vegetation while the clouds had come close above and turned sea-green and from them tumbled down a forest that hung wrong, the bird-things that were not birds stitching their way through that cover upside down. The smell came to me thick, in emerald mist, and often my forehead shoved up against the physical manifestation of the smell, which could be like mint or could be like a rotted, mossy animal body.

The leaves and branches itched the top of my skull and brushed my cheek and I tried not to look up too often for fear of what I might see, but also because I grew to be terrified that if I took in that topsy-turvy land I would lose my grip on gravity and, slow and inexorable, take my place up there, my feet glued to the cloud cover and my head hanging toward the ground stubble.
(Jeff Vandermeer, The World Is Full Of Monsters, 2017)


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From a fascination for the perception of
The Atmospheric, I am developing a practice in which Hyperperception In The Scenographic is the central notion. To activate a state of hyperfocus with the viewer through the introduction of sensory extreme physical situations is needed to block-out, or in contrast overstimulate the basic senses.

An example: a completely dark space is an extreme situation in which senses other than sight are challenged. A sound-less space is another. The introduction of such a situation in an installation-context is a very important factor.
Darkness is part of our natural rhythm, the blinking of our eyes, the transition from day into night. But we experience something completely different when the dark occurs unexpectedly. When it is induced artificially, or when we feel we have no control over the situation.
By developing installations that confront viewers with this type of environments, I investigate the transformative effects of ambience.

No place exists without it’s distinct transhistorical background and one of the questions is whether it is possible, or necessary, to break away from this, to try to arrive at a pure isolated moment in which nothing seems to exist but experience?

Atmosphere is built out of confrontation.
Confrontation with an event that produces new language, a new organization of movement through time and space. (new=what is not known to you)

A stage is not a fixed frame,it is collapsable as well as re-organisable. We are constantly moving from the dark to the light and back to the dark. Experience is only context, context is only isolating: braking up the journey into smaller parts. Hyperfocus is an extreme form of contextualization: like looking into a microscope.

Atmosphere is a topology of transformation. Within it, time, context and orientation are infinitely interchangeable.

Routes appear, in other ways than we are used to.

Unlocking the theatrical machine (which encloses that magic) remains an obsession. This has led me to equip empty boxes, like the spaces in which I work, with theatrical machines.

In the world of theatre-technics we literally speak of machinery, and technicians are also referred to as Machinists. I rather use the term as a poetic metaphor. Like an installation or a theatrical space is a machine: an active space, full of potential to stimulate the senses, that can be activated.

Films and videogames are the mystical places of today, in which the most fantastic worlds are boxed up. Unlike literature there is hardly any room for a mental continuation of the world that is constructed outside the frame wherein everything takes place . In the case of Blackboxes and cinema-screens, the pictural framework is similar: within the boundaries (the walls) of the activated space everything is possible, and everything within the walls is constructed with help from outside. Whether it is a number of strategically placed lamps, a smoke machine or a small marker on the floor, there is a strategy behind the means used to achieve a pictorial effect that is usually not intended for the eyes of the audience. The process through which theatrical and cinematographic worlds are constructed intrigues me. It is a spatial strategy that is meant to achieve the opposite of an immersive experience: the fourth wall is always there as the ultimate boundary and the audience is meant to stay behind it. This process, as a visual lie, occupied me to such an extent that the building process became more important than the end product, to the point where the latter lost all agency.

Concretely, most of my installations consist of layers of parallel worlds. There is the creative process that forms the basis of my oeuvre and which is now also shown as a performative driving force. There is the machine, which arises from the dialogue with the space in which I work and which usually ensures that that space switches itself off and a smaller active space appears in it: a magic box in which, just like in a game or a theatre play, a frame is drawn around a microcosm. Finally, and probably most importantly, there is this space in which the microcosm is pulled into, so that natural laws no longer apply in it, and concepts like scale and time lose their meaning. There, in the core of the work, you can ask and answer any question. In the core of the work everything is fragile and the viewer in the first place sees what he wants to see.

Time–>Spending Time–>Investing Time–>Undergoing–>The Room You’re In




A small figure entered the space, which was large: an imposing span of thousands of cubic meters in the belly of an immense building.

The figure imagined how a musical note in this place would automatically and independently grow into a symphonic cloud. How the roar of a chainsaw would cause a deadly vertigo. Sounds are movement that here would reflect forever and fall apart,

into millions of microscopic bouncing balls.

The smaller something is, the more time it needs to cover a distance. Narrowing sound waves would eventually become hard to hear. Because it would take longer for them to reach your eardrum. But even when they can no longer reach your ear, they will still exist

and forever keep on bouncing of the walls of this room.