It’s Berlin Art Week: With the big fairs abc and Preview, the multitude of institutional partners and the heaps of exhibition openings all over the city, I have a pleasant, but quite stressful week. But I was particularly happy to spare some time to pay a pop-up exhibition a visit, that found an unusual spot: a former women’s prison, that is abandoned for some thirty years now.
Elisa and I took a ride to Kantstraße, where, behind an unremarkable facade, in the second backyard lies a prison made of bricks, that dates back to 1896. During the Third Reich, many women from the resistance movement “Rote Kapelle” were imprisoned here. Years later, the prison was still in use by the German Government, until it closed down in 1985. Since then, a private owner bought the premises and kept everything intact – but closed to the public.
The London based art project Platform79 had the chance to plan and conduct an exhibition at this unusual site, that lasts for only a week: They invited artists to develop ideas how to use the building in an artistic approach and to install their pieces reflecting the history and mood of the space. Platform79 used only a few rooms and cells throughout the whole building for their exhibition, but opened the rest for the public as well. In that way, art takes a step back and merely highlights certain details.
There were some pieces that played well with the somewhat strange notion of this former and now abandoned prison: The British artists Kite & Laslett arranged mirrors in the courtyard and invite people to join a specific observation point to experience the installation as a panopticon similar to those known to prison history. Antonio Riello installed in one of the cells a sound piece of child laughter, that both quietly and uncannily fills the whole floor. Malin Holmberg used a peephole in one of the walls to guide the visitor’s view to a room hidden behind, where one of her paintings is shown.
However, most of the other pieces shown are not site-specifically made and thus do not or do not wholly reflect the structures found. Of course, the venue distracts a lot from the art shown, but given the fact that it unobtrusively invaded the building, the whole experience stays consistent nevertheless. In fact, Elisa and I went curiously and gingerly through all the floors and all the cells, in deep amazement of the history still visible there. The occasional art completed the experience, however, it didn’t constitute it.
The prison, which is situated at Kantstraße 79, will be closed to the public soon again: Platform79’s non-profit exhibition will only last until Sunday, so make sure to drop by in time, leave a donation for these great and self-sacrificing people until they head back to London, and discover this unusual place!