It has been a month of corners.
I suppose it began with looking down the Landwehrkanal from the corner of Luetzowufer and Klingelhoefer Strasse and realising for the first time just how close the Bauhaus Archive building is to to Potsdammer Platz. Potsdammer Platz, during the inter-war years was the busiest crossroads in Europe. However up until the fall of the wall in 1989 it was more or less a no-man’s-land. Since then, the massive rebuilding program at Potsdammer Platz has become a symbol and the ‘Showcase of reunified Germany’. From my vantage point on the Herkules Bruecke I could see clearly the profiles of Daimler Land and the Sony Centre, while in the corner of my eye the slightly sunken archive building; This view prompted a wave of questions to rush into my head, but I will come back to these a little later.
I’m not sure if I have ever given corners too much thought. A snap response makes them sound a bit bleak; you’ve painted yourself into a corner; go to the corner and face the wall you naughty child; we’ve got you cornered come out with your hands up.
I suppose it’s how you look at what a corner is though. These examples suggest to me something draining, life-sucking and concave, not something convexly pushing forward and outward? Actually, can I describe a sharp angled thing like a corner as being a curve?
A year or so ago Michael Wedgwood was obsessed with making simple drawings of just 3 lines; they were of the letter Y or the letter Y inverted. He liked what opened up from making these basic marks; both could be read as corners; one a corner to the floor and the other, a corner to the ceiling. Further to this, when a simple 2 line 90 degree corner is drawn out on paper I read it as either a 2 stage move; the end of something and then the beginning of something new or as a sweeping continuation of the same something.
Bruce McLean once told me about one of his favourite works made by Lawrence Wiener which he found,’ critical, intelligent, self-referencing and very succinct’. He describes it so, It was in the last room of The American Art Show at the Royal Academy, as you came round a corner into the room, opposite a statement said – TO SEE and as you turned into the gallery at 90 degrees on the facing end and last wall and piece in the show, it said, AND TO BE SEEN.
The month of corners continued when I found one in the street; a big multi-angled one made out of MDF. Berlin is a fantastic city for finding household goods (no longer needed by one party) which are put out in the street for others to take and use. I moved to Berlin with some basic necessities; clothes, books and records, over the past year I have supplemented these with several chairs, lamps, a hoover, a carpet, a clothes rail, a double bed and a printer; all clean, usable and found neatly stacked on the pavement with the note, FUR GESCHENKE. But what fascinated me about this board with two specific cuts taken out of it, was the intention of the person gifting it. Did they think someone might take it as a piece of timber, to refashion for another use or did they believe someone may take it to fit in an identical corner of their home? It remained propped against a wall on Choriner Strasse , each day I would pass and consider its intention. One sunny afternoon I took the time to make a quick drawing of it while starting to wonder if I may have the perfect corner to house it in the flat. Then after a week it disappeared. Taken away as rubbish, taken as timber or now sitting in the corner of someone else’s flat? I will never know.
Finding virtual corners in a city is one thing but some city centres such as Glasgow or Manhattan consist of nothing but, and this then becomes an essential part of that cities orientation; I’ll meet you on the corner of Sauchiehall and Lexington. Berlin, though not in any way a grid, has some good corners like the junction of Saarbrueke Strasse and Schoenhauser Alle, where a week ago I discovered a modest memorial stone to Karl Liebnecht. It was surrounded by conkers from a solitary horse chestnut tree that stands above and from which I collected a large bag of them thinking they could be roasted and eaten only to be informed by a friend that they are poisonous (perhaps then, a Karl Liebnecht memorial conker tournament instead for next year?).
The Dorotheenstaadtischer Friedhof (cemetery) is the final resting place of several German notables of the Arts. Around one specific corner can be found not only Bertolt Brecht and his wife, Helene Weigel but the finally rested bones and ashes of Heinrich Mann, Hanns Eisler and Paul Dessau who had been hounded around the world of the last century for their beliefs, politics and work. The Brechts’ corner looks like a leafy double bed with the two engraved boulders acting as headstones looking like pillows.
My favourite corner of the Alte Nationalgalerie is on the ground floor. Entering the first room on the left hand side you are immediately confronted by one of Gustave Courbet’s wave paintings (Die Welle, 1870) The best position to look at the painting is from the doorway, however, in a busy gallery this is impossible. So I have taken to sitting on the polished wooden bench to the left, where one can slide back along into the corner next to the door frame. From this angle you can view, undisturbed, the odd picture of two horizontal slabs, which freeze and flatten this mighty natural force.
But, back to my original corner on the Herkules Brueke. Since July this year, three German institutions, Klassik Stiftung Weimar, Stiftung Bauhaus Dessau and the Bauhaus Archive Berlin, have been celebrating the 90th anniversary of the foundation of the Bauhaus. This has seen an exhibition and a series of events under the banner of, Bauhaus. A Conceptual Model which has taken place in the hall and ground floor galleries of the Martin Gropius Bau. During this time the Bauhaus Archive building has been emptied of its exhibits and simply shown as a work itself, under the title of, Schoen angesehen or A beautiful sight. I have to confess that over the summer, whenever I had passed the building on a bike ride over to Charlottenburg or Schoeneberg, I’d mistaken it for being closed for renovations. This meant stopping off for a quick pee and a look at the postcards in the only part of the building that appeared open.
It would appear from reading the Exhibition’s accompanying newspaper, that 30 years on, the Archive building is not big enough for the ever growing collection and that something larger needs to be built for this purpose. This would then leave the original one, reconfigured from a Gropius blueprint to act as perhaps a library and a research centre. I have to say that I have always been underwhelmed by the Archive building and have found its spaces cramped and dark (the latter, apparently needed for preservation conditions), and completely at odds with the innovation and enlightenment of the objects, drawings and ideas on display.
The programmed debates listed at the back of the paper, have not only focused on the turbulent history of the school, but have also been debating the Bauhaus’s relevance in the world today. I had my own meditation on this while looking towards Potsdammer Platz, (post toilet und postkart) that goes under the banner of What If.
What if in 1989 the Bauhaus Archive building had been emptied and all the contents had been asked to make its way over to the barren waste land of cold war Potsdammer Platz and burrow down into the sandy soil?
And what if then, in the Spring , just like Paul Klee’s Pflanzen auf dem Acker picture of 1921, each idea and notion began to push its head out of the ground with the promise of something new and challenging to act as the founding structure of a new unified Germany at the heart of Europe?
The blurb accompanying Bauhaus a Conceptual Model says The Bauhaus is Germany’s most successful contribution to international art and culture of modernity in the early 20th Century, it also goes onto say that, Its dissolution in 1933……….as a laboratory and workshop of modernity was destroyed by a deliberate political act…….Considering the intentions of what the new Potsdammer Platz was hoped to symbolise, I could think of no better and poignant foundation stone than that of the Bauhaus; its history and its monumental legacy left to the rest of the world which was forcefully fragmented through ignorance and prejudice of the then political climate of its homeland. I would also add that I have nothing against the Architect Renzo Piano, but why ask him to coordinate this prestigious and culturally significant project when you have the work of the spiritual Godfathers of modern architecture and Design in abundance and in your possession? That is a little like choosing to book the Bootleg Beatles to play at your birthday party when you could have the Beatles.
So what if, following the Spring growth contemporary Architects, Artists and Designers were invited onto this site to study these new shoots and collaborate in helping them grow into something more like a living workshop than a Museum (this was indeed Gropius’s said intention and hope for the original Archive building).
And what if then the site began to grow into a network of never seen before Restaurants, Bars, Cafés, Hotels, Libraries, Theatres, Swimming pools, Concert Halls, Walk Way, Gardens and Sports Halls, etc. each with its own workshop/college and production centre attached, training and apprenticing a new workforce/student body, attracted from all over unified Germany and beyond.
What if you could enter a café and not only buy a cup of coffee, but also the cup you were drinking it out of and the chair you were sitting on?
What if you could go to the toilet and leave having bought the toilet you had used and the towel you had dried your hands on?
All wrapped, packed and replaced by the attached workshops as part of an economic learning exchange.
And what if Laszlo Moholy-Nagy’s Licht Raum Modulator really was and not just an old quirky film dragged out now and again and shown at selected art institutions.
What if the names Lego, Imax and Hyatt were the names Schlemmer, Breuer, and Feininger?
Yes what if? All this and more was being constantly generated and regenerated at the former busiest crossroad in Europe
Actually, is a crossroad a place where four corners meet?