Near the Westhafen port in Berlin, the moving and storage company, Tolmien Umzüge, shuffles its massive inventory of shipping containers in and out of warehouses and lots controlled by computers. The tidy grounds and the bright yellow shipping containers bring a cheerful aspect to the industrial surroundings, but the focus of the operation is squarely on logistics and not the multitude of life histories contained in the shipping containers.
That changed one evening this June, when a group of 17 young artists re-purposed the business, transforming the containers into vessels for personal and communal history with art installations focused on memory. Their subjects were not the clients of Tolmien Umzüge, but the German-Jewish communities represented in the collections of Leo Baeck Institute. The moving company lot provided a poignant backdrop for an evening of art inspired by a history full of displacement, departures, and, in lucky instances, new beginnings.
For Gregor Schneider, the sculpture professor whose students staged the exhibition, the unusual venue was also a model – and not just a metaphorical one – for the work of an archive. “For me, this is a place where an archive could be stored, preserved, and displayed with a great amount of flexibility,” said Schneider, who is known for ambitious works like the “Totes Haus u r,” a convoluted nest of rooms within rooms in a Mönchengladbach tenement building.
“That means, it is a place where the Leo Baeck Institute Archive could be preserved and experienced in three-dimensions,” said Schneider.
The students in Schneider’s class at the Berlin University of the Arts who tackled that challenge responded with works that ranged from live recreations of banquet tableaus from photographs in LBI collections to abstract sculptural installations.
Kate Mulheron, whose “Wachsen im Container” installed sod on the floor a shipping container, likened the work of an archive to gardening. Another artist, Luca Vanello, who reduced a photograph into a tiny pile of powder and poured it into a single gelatin capsule, said his work explored the relationship between physical objects and memory.
This salon was the ninth event in a long-running cooperation between the University of the Arts and Leo Baeck Institute. The artists worked closely with archivists at a branch of LBI archives at the Jewish Museum in Berlin, where important LBI collections have been available to researchers since 2001.