By Emma Bullimore in Berlin
Situated on Pariser Platz, the bustling Berlin square in front of the Brandenburg Gate, the Academy of Arts overlooks what was once the dividing line between East and West. It is apt then, that from July 10 to October 11 this should be the location for an exhibition of photographs taken in the former East Germany just before the fall of the Berlin Wall.
But while it is the breaching of the Iron Curtain that is often the subject for such exhibitions, this display does not concern itself with dramatic historical developments. Instead it finds the people behind the politics and presents snapshots of East Germany as it really was. Mounted against a bright white background, these black and white and sepia photographs powerfully expose the rebellious undercurrents in stories of ordinary individuals from 20 years ago.
The show seeks to reveal the true face of life on the other side of the Berlin Wall in the 1980s, that fraught final decade before communism collapsed. In particular it focuses on images of the subcultures and the art scene as documented by East German photographers at the time.
The arrival of punk is documented in Christiane Eisler's series "Punk in the DDR", in which individual portraits capture the spirit of a generation. Rebellion is also the theme of Matthias Leupold's bold triptych "At the Cinema," which shows a man shouting in a cinema, ignored by his fellow audience members who remain transfixed by the big screen.
There are some nods toward the political reality of the time, including Arno Fischer's "Unter den Linden" series and some striking Kurt Buchwald shots which play with the viewer's expectations of composition and focus. And of course it wouldn't be a German exhibition without a few nude shots. Sven Maquardt's untitled works are striking examples of this.
The exhibition also includes video installations from the 1980s. Another highlight is the authentic GDR telephone box, complete with graffiti and slots for the coins to finance your (possibly bugged) phone call.
What is most remarkable about this collection though, is the basic human reality it reveals. Some of the photographs engage with their historical backdrop and some don't. Some make the East/West divide a subject and some render location completely irrelevant. But what connects these photographs is their depiction of real people. Individuals to whom the Stasi and the Wall were elements of everyday existence. The pictures seem to say: but life carried on regardless.
This exhibition is part of the Academy's season on society in former East Germany, the people that witnessed the fall of the Wall and participated in the nation's reunification. Be they punks, porn stars, intellectuals or workers, in the end the subjects of these photographs are just ordinary people.
"Kunst und Revolte '89" at the Akademie der Künste, Pariserplatz 4, 10117 Berlin runs until Oct. 11, 2009.
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