The concept ‘public space’ has always annoyed me when it was used in combination with “sounds in” or “art in.” Main reason for this is the existence of the “public sector.” The public space is bureaucratic space made visible in myriad expressions of its rules, regulations, planning and maintenance works. An artist in public space is an underpaid civil servant, who got his job, because the bureaucrat could relate to the concept of “public space.”
The other reason for my aversion is that in a geographical sense it divides space in private and public. That is only two nominators for a lot of space. Logical result is they don’t say anything about space. Three of my Berlin recordings made me think of the concept again.
The first one was made during the quarter final of the world championships football in Germany in the year 2006. Germany played against Argentina in the Olympic Stadium in Berlin. I knew the stadium from earlier visits to the games of Hertha BSC. I wanted to record the agitated unisono voice of 75.000 people shouting “Deutschland, Deutschland.” I wanted to record it outside of the stadium.
The second recording is of Barack Obama holding his speech at the Siegessäule in the Tiergarten district of Berlin in the year 2008. Unaware of who or what organisation had set up this event, I had claimed Barack Obama’s performance as an appearance at my Das Kleine Field Recordings Festival. Of course I needed to go there and document his concert. It was a disappointing experience. The sounds came from big loudspeakers. It reminded too much of television or radio. I decided to leave the crowd and walk into the park.
The third recording was made during the shortest night of the year 2011. It had to serve as source material. Four other artists would make recordings elsewhere on earth. Each one of us would make a composition using all the material. I had chosen the empty space opposite from the place where once stood the “Palast der Republik.” It was reduced to a nice green lawn. I had noticed that the temporary construct of the zone offered a center of tranquility. The recording was of a highly conceptual character. I sat on the very spot where once mass manifestations had taken place. I faced the site of a governmental palace of a country that didn’t exist anymore. I was recording ghosts.
Bringing in the concept of “public space,” brought to light a central theme in the three recordings. The theme is public space against private space.
When I went to the Olympic Stadium I thought I could walk up to the entrance, as I knew it from my visits to the Hertha matches. It is there where the gigantesque stadium manifests itself as a gigantesque acoustic entity. The world cup organisation had put up fences at a good kilometer distance of the normal entrances to the stadium. The olympic stadium was reduced in perspective. I started to walk around, tried to find a place where I could come nearer, but, at the end, encountered a barrier. The call “Deutschland, Deutschland” sounded from afar. The space, normally accessible to the public, was turned into private space, accessable upon payment.
The Barack Obama walk lead me into the park. I had my headphones on and went away from the big loudspeaker sound. I ended up on a kind of trail. On this trail I found a friendly policeman who blocked the way. I saw white tents behind him. That was the place where the future president of the United States of America would drink a glass of sparkling water. Also on this recording I arrived at the border of public space. The space I could not enter was private space, only accessible to guests.
When I sat on the wooden boardwalk that temporarily connected one side of the former Palast der Republik square to the other, I disappeared into the sonic density of the night. I was at the heart of the former German Democratic Republic, the DDR. Before 1989 it was public space. Twenty-two years later it was still public space. Before 1989 the public space was confined by a wall on its west side. That’s where public space hit on forbidden space. Twenty-two years later I found myself in a public space, where a great deal of Non-Europeans would be classified “illegal,” if they’d be there without a permission.
This observation made me think about the concept of “public space” again. In my naiveity I thought of “public space” as being freely accessible to the public, without any permission whatsoever. Apparently what we in our innocence call “public space” should read as “legal space.” It is space defined by the laws of a country. To discuss such a space suddenly faces you with five thousand years of religion and philosophy. This insight took me back to my initial aversion. By working in “public space” one supports and propagates the law. An artist becomes a state artist.