Heimat’ is a tricky term: it compounds not only a sense of home, but also of national or regional identity, history, and consciousness – home in the broadest sense of roots and cultural identification. Berlin may be home to many hundreds of artists from across the world who settle here every year, but do they really identify with the city in this way? Is it even possible to identify with a city whose identity is so relentlessly pulled between complicated past and overambitious future that it can hardly inhabit the present, and is in a constant state of analysis by its anxious temporary inhabitants?
The Berlinische Galerie curators nevertheless chose the title ‘Neue Heimat’ to pull together 29 artists who have little in common save their current adopted place of work. Most of the works, many of which were produced for this exhibition, approach the premise from the angle of either architecture or domesticity – from Paul Ekaitz’s multicoloured shoebox-like stacked modules to Mona Hatoum’s 1950s domestic bric-a-brac strung up on wires, gliding slowly left to right. In other works, the connection is oblique at best: a full-size inflatable tank? A sphere built from conference chairs? Given the gallery’s high ceilings, the curators were at liberty to include a number of large-scale sculptures, like the two-story house stripped of everything save electrics and plumbing by Tea Mäkipää or Via Lewandowsky’s vast house-of-cards A-frame construction, glazed with windows and no obvious purpose. The installation is reminiscent of Art Basel’s Art Unlimited hall for large and unwieldy objects, a huge space filled with big things, but here it is visually complicated by the gallery’s bizarre central architectural feature: two open-plan staircases that zigzag across each other in a giant ‘X’ up to a mezzanine level.
The few works here that are able to both shed some light on the title and withstand the stilted installation are modest contemplations on a transfer of residence, on the displacement and alienation this can bring to identity, surroundings and a sense of home. A series of photographs by Erla Haraldsdóttir and Bo Melin transplants the ubiquitous graffiti, broken glass and garbage from Berlin’s streets to a quiet town in Norway – it is almost assimilated but not quite. Jeroen Jacob’s unassuming concrete lumps look like they might aspire to architectural purpose but haven’t quite decided yet. In Treasures from the past 2000 years (2001), Florian Slotawa adopts the collection of the Städtisches Museum Abteiberg, Mönchengladbach for two weeks, lovingly installs the paintings, sculptures and objets d’art in his own shabby Berlin apartment, photographs them, then packs them up and sends them back. It is always rewarding to find three or four strong moments in a mixed-bag group show, but a shame indeed that another opportunity for a comprehensive survey of Berlin’s adopted talent was missed again.