Tuesday, January 29, 2013

"One on One" at KW Institute for Contemporary Art, Berlin

What do you do when you only have one and a half days in Berlin? This was the toughest decision to make during our plane ride. Armed with only a DK Top 10 guide and some scribbled suggestions from a co-worker about which restaurants to visit, we had no idea where to begin.

We really wanted to experience as much of the city as we possibly could - both the go-to tourist destinations (like Checkpoint Charlie, Brandenburg Gate, the Reistag, etc.) and those places that were slightly-off-the-beaten-path (refer to the previous post for an amazing bar that John found for a nightcap one evening).

And even though I gawped at the majesty of Brandenburger Tor set against the clear, blue sky we had on Saturday, and was moved by the personal accounts compiled in the rather ramshackle Haus am Checkpoint Charlie, it was an exhibition called "One on One" at KW Institute for Contemporary Art that left the greatest impression on me during my short visit to Berlin.

Arranged over three floors, the exhibition itself consists of several small, constructed rooms, which are accessed by one person at a time (hence, the title, "One on One"). Upon our arrival, we were given a guide/notes/floorplan to the exhibition and a door hanger, which is then hung on the door knob of the room you wish to enter to signal that the room is occupied. Clever, right?

Like this:

The fun part is not knowing what to expect in each room, but I'll admit that it was - on every occasion - a very intense experience. In fact, one performance piece was so terrifying and claustrophobic (I won't give too much away!), John said he felt genuinely afraid, but then countered this with: "... but it was one of the best things I've ever experienced!" Needless to say, I didn't go into that room.

I loved that the pieces forced you, as the sole occupant of each room, to engage with the artwork. Often when I entered a room - for example, FORT's "The Charmer", which contained a small but loud, humming refrigerator in a dimly, yellow-lit room with linoleum flooring and depressing yellow painted walls - I felt a strong urge to walk straight out. Some felt overwhelmingly foreboding, or sinister - others filled me with downright dread. But I didn't. Instead, I didn't think too much about it but let the art linger with me instead. As the viewer, you're free to view/experience the art however you'd like in the room you're in. I contemplated sitting down on the floor for a few. 

My favorite installation was Annika Kahrs' (which, I am about to give away, so if you're planning a visit to this exhibition, stop reading now!) and I haven't been able to stop thinking about it since we left! 

As I opened the door to this particular room, I heard a beautiful recording (or so I thought!) of Brahm's Waltz, Opus 39. I'd actually been hearing it as I walked around the floor earlier, but was puzzled as to why it was repeatedly - and abruptly - starting and stopping. Upon entering the room, I found myself in a small corridor that featured a second, more ornate and beautifully decorated door to the left. As I gripped the handle of this door, the music became louder. I pushed the door open. 

Two pianists were seated at a grand piano, performing the Brahms. The catch? As soon as the door opened, they stopped playing, hands folded in their laps, and simultaneously turned to stare at me - expressionless, but with just a hint of disdain. I did what other people would probably do in that situation: laughed nervously, nearly apologized, and hastily retreated, closing the door behind me. Of course, the second the door closed, the music began again. I laughed, suddenly understanding that the joke was on me. I opened the door again. This time, I was braver, and walked into the room. I looked at the music over their shoulders and wondered what would happen if I played a line, an octave higher. They sat motionless and continued to stare at the music. I laughed again to myself and finally left the room for good, causing the music to begin again.

I've never experienced an exhibition that so actively engaged with the individual and was incredibly disturbed, delighted, and thrilled by "One on One". I doubt it'll be brought to London, but if you happen to be in Berlin in the next few weeks, I highly, highly recommend a visit to the gallery.


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