work-in-process: a new appreciation

November 4, 2020 Hannah Perner-Wilson

The fifth in a series of work-in-process conversations with S&&O masters Fabian Raith who has created an area monument to what we now miss.

Our conversation played out on Discord over the course of some weeks. The conversation bellow is slightly re-arranged to create a more readable flow.

HPW_ so fabian, i know absolutely nothing about your current project, and want to ask you all about it it. but before getting into the details of the project process itself, could you reflect on what lead you to it? what circumstances, decisions, coincidences, preferences lead you to work on what you are working on now? and how does it connect (thematically, technically, methodologically….) to your past works?

FR_ Ok, so I had the feeling, that through the whole Coco Jambo-Virus, there was a new appreciation of the day to day life: Supermarket cashiers became heroes and were wildly appreciated. Nurses and doctors, especially the ones explaining the virus became public figures. They were sort of the heroes of the day. There was a feeling of togetherness, as we all were suddenly under the same risk of getting that shitty virus. That barely happens. And after i while i thought, that we will somehow need to remember this time publicly and came up with the idea of creating a statue or a flächendenkmal somewhere outside and compare it with other statues. And that is, what I am in the process of doing right now.
It connects to past work, as it is also uses AR. Thematically, it thinks about singularity and things, we all have in common. I am generally wondering, where the social common ground is to be found, as I am confused by the radicalization of society we are all perceiving right now.

HPW_ i had to look up the term “Flächendenkmal” (engl. area monument) and was surprised to find there are different classes of monument and area monument describes one made up of multiple objects, and also includes “Kulturlandschaft” (engl. cultural landscape).

i like your wording “to remember this time publicly”, it feels very open ended. especially in contrast to my associations with the artifact of a monument, which conjures up an image of something sculptural, material, solid…. with a permanence that also invites decay (the degrading, forgetting with time…).

so you are creating an augmented (AR) monument to the corona crisis? how are you going about creating a collective remembrance of our current situation from the midst of the situation? and is the current debate on the removal and destruction of colonial monuments affecting how you are thinking about monuments?

FR_ Well, it’s not really about the corona crisis, but mostly about the connections to one another and things we miss since the crisis, that we need so desperately, which became obvious through this crisis.

The current debate is of course a huge topic, especially around the area of the Thälmann-Denkmal. The whole area and the park surrounding it is so much a product of a state, the GDR, which reminenscenes are often evicted, commented or simply deleted from the public eye, that I think it is a good area to reflect on how we want to deal with those sort of monuments. I also think, that the German debate on post-colonial issues is a very imported one. The german migration history and its stolen artifacts for example are very rarely connected. I also read some Olúfẹ́mi O. Táíwò, who brought a new perspective on this whole colonial debate to me, saying that, with the exception of south africa, no other country was colonised for longer than 100 years and the whole debate shifts the narrative to a very strong focus on colonisation, instead of shifting it on what was lost through colonialisation. Which is of course not to suggest, that colonial monuments are supposed to remain.

HPW_ i’d like to ask again if you could tell me a bit more about your process of creating a monument to what we have to come to miss, to value about our lives, now that corona measures have changed many of our daily lives and interfered with our common ground(s).
i’d also like to ask you more about the monument itself. i know you are working with AR technology, but have no idea what to imagine. and maybe you want to keep it this way, so feel free to remain vague in your answer if you like:-)

the last days i’ve had to think about your project, the idea of creating a monument to the things we miss when confronted with change. i’m really curious to hear more about the “area monument” you are/have built, but just as curious to know more about your process of creation. in a very literal sense, like how did you start….. what methods, tools, technologies did you use to create…..

there was just a nice beitrag about denkmäler im deutschlandfunk:

FR_ Dear Hannah, So concerning the last question: I would very much like to expand the Thälmann-Park in a literal sense. The park was, with all the trees and buildings in it, as a park to live in, with one tree for each inhabitant. That sounded already like a wonderful story to me.
Before the end of august, i tended to make two projects, one for the Studiengang and one for Schaubude- afterwards i decided to ditch one. It was just too much.
And decided to go with the Schaubude one. The process for that project is sort of interesting, as it expanded just as i thought about it longer. Tim Sandweg, program director of Schaubude, came to us in June and asked, whether we were interested i making a project there about “Künstliche Körper”- which was my starting point and i immediatly thought of statues. What do they look like (- which was not too interesting for me), what do they represent (very interesting) and can they actually refer to some common ground- the thing we were talking about a lot during the corona crisis.
Then i asked people i wanted to work with and started just writing down my thoughts about it.
So, the thing structuring the whole work is actually a text I wrote together with my fantastic dramaturgue, Sofie who you know from speculative objekte.
So, what came out, is an AR Walk, that includes an own sculpture garden of destroyed, replaced, restored, changed and commented statues, around statues exitisting in Thälmannpark covering the very idea of: What is it, that actually brings us together. And i try to open that question up to the audience.
The last few days were actually very much focussed on the recording of the text, which is now finished and the first tests are running tomorrow- which is a very exciting moment for me.

HPW_ ah! that sounds exciting.
i bike through the thälmann park on my way to work almost daily. it stands out to me as a space where residence, leisure and the city come together… with the huge ernst thälmann monument half hidden at one edge, surrounded by trees and a big mostly empty square, and busy road. i’ve observed people using it as a backdrop for fashion photos, dance videos, bmx tricks, and every so often it is partly spraypainted in new colours. for the fact that it appears to massive and monumental, it is somehow situated, used and experienced so individually. i appreciate this about it.
and i hadn’t noticed there were other statues in the park!
the story of one tree per inhabitant is poetic, has it made it’s way into your work in some form?
is the monument/experience you have created intended for a specific audience? i wonder what it is like for the people who live there?

so my last reply to you was not really a good next question, sorry. was more like a stream of thought triggered by what you wrote. here my attempt at a better set of questions regarding “process” in response to what you said!

could you tell me more about how you and sofie collaborated in the writing process? did you sit down together, walk together, edit a shared document? simultaneously, taking turns? and what made working with sofie so fantastic?
and of course now i’m curious to know what it is “that brings us together”, but this seems well kept as the motivation to get out and experience your piece. but maybe you could tell me a bit more about how you open up the question to the audience?
and then, i think it is impossible to talk about process now without also recognising the greater circumstances under which the process in playing out. just this past week the german government a lock-down(-light) regulations that will come into effect coming monday (tomorrow). how has it been to work amid the measures we are taking to slow the spread of covid? and does the lock-down interfere with your plan to show/share your work?

FR_ Sorry, I was just very busy in the last days due to all these changes. Actually, it made the way into the work very specifically: The plan was to have digital expansion of the park, so there were more trees planted with each visitor, each tree telling the story through audio, the former visitors left there. I am now replacing it with pre-recorded messages. Which is a little sad.
It’s not really meant for a specific audience. I was aiming rather widely and did not really think in audience. I don’t know, it’s just not how i work.
The writing process itself was mostly done by me. I wrote the whole shabangsl and then Sofie looked over it, stated weaknesses or point that stood out for her.
We then took a walk through the area, read the text out loud where you are hearing it and re-furbished it afterwards. The text was also written in two stages, because i actually planned on having it way shorter but we realized that there was an important part missing.
and then, i think it is impossible to talk about process now without also recognising the greater circumstances under which the process in playing out. just this past week the german government a lock-down(-light) regulations that will come into effect coming monday (tomorrow). how has it been to work amid the measures we are taking to slow the spread of covid? and does the lock-down interfere with your plan to show/share your work?
I think, I am one of the lucky ones. I just decided immediatly, that i wanna show it no matter what. There are a few changes to be made. – the former messages for example will be pre-recorded (which is again- very sad), i will establish a website and a messenger-group for all the people who want to send in their messages. There is no possibility now to rent devices, so people can pick up small packages at the Schaubude, containing physical material for the walk and use their own devices to take the walk. It is sort of the same experience, but with some changes. But for me it was really, really important to give people something they can enjoy as well now, during lockdown, and not wait for another time. Also because I want to finish the work with the feeling of being okay and done with it. Some sort of closure, because this constant delay of: It will happen sometime is also very, very stressful.

HPW_ yes, the stress of the unknown. of living with the constant possibility that things will be different tomorrow. wanting to plan…. trying to plan for multiple scenarios.
it reminds me of Anna Tsing ‘s writing in Mushrooms at the end of the World where she talks of precarity as the condition of our times. and learning to live with uncertainty as the new skillset required of us/our society. while her writing this predates our covid pandemic, and was written in response to capitalist/progressive frameworks that shape our lives, it applies so especially well to the current pandemic.

do you think part of what drew you to the idea of working with “monuments” has something to do with their permanence as a possible tool for dealing with constant change and instability?

FR_ or that last question: No, not really. It is a very interesting thought, though and I am glad you brought it up, as it is a topic, that is often touched within the walk now, but not as clear as you just made it.

I think what is also interesting about those statues is that they also transport values of a certain age and that we try to also appreciate those old values through the building of statues.