As I walked down Augustrasse last Tuesday I assumed the scrawled red paint on the entrance of Galerie Eigen + Art was just another anarchist tag line, a common sight in Berlin's gentrified neighbourhood of Mitte. However, by the time I reached the front door It became obvious that the Bye Bye Testosteroni wording was not a subversive cultural marker but an accompaniment to Eigen + Art's current show Impero Dei Segni. The aggressive signal was an exciting gesture. In this city notorious for a strong tradition of counter-culture and an active young art scene I rarely see a fusion of the two and was eager to look at how Berlin based artists Nina Fischer & Maroan el Sani negotiated politics in art.
The urgency of the front-door vandalism was unfortunately not matched by the interior pieces. Any pertinent political dialogue became secondary to the sheer act of the political in general. Impero Dei Segni is presented in a story board fashion made up of a series of documentary photographs. The subject is a temporary performance at the empty Palazzo die Congressi in Rome (otherwise known as the 1930's congress building built part of Mussolini’s vision). The group of actor/activists play out non-verbal forms of gestural posing, sign language and changing body stances that gradually differ and build as you circulate the room counter-clockwise. The camera's vantage point remains stationary while the participants rearrange themselves in static configurations and stare combatively into the camera's lens.
The first image in the series is a formally composed photograph of the massive white stone unoccupied congress building. This architectural anonymity becomes a blank slate for any and every projected moral injustice. Visually, the activists have been pushed into prominence and, like actors on a blank stage, their non descriptive surroundings recede into the background.
The show's title translates to Empire of Signs, which is appropriate considering the absence of actual political description or direction given in their "protest." Hand movements and linked arms all become signifiers for unity and strength in numbers that symbolically elude to a unified front. What I found strange was how the exhibition's text positioned the show as one that engages with notions of political intervention and public art when both a public and outright political statement are both missing from the end product. While the works did retain a striking visual composition that has a undeniable man vs. institution sentiment I found myself expecting a manifesto and instead was I was given a metaphor.
~Devon Caranicas, a writer living in Berlin.
(Images: Nina Fischer & Maroan el Sani; Impero dei Segni / human chain, 2011, Colour print on alu dibond, 118 x 149 cm; Impero dei segni - Bye bye Testosteroni, Exhibition view; Impero dei Segni / Palazzo dei Congressi - exterior, 2011, Farbfotografien auf Alu Dibond, 118 x 149 cm; Courtesy Galerie EIGEN + ART Leipzig/Berlin © VG Bild-Kunst Bonn, 2011)