The architects of the peculiar building at the end of a long, cobbled driveway on Eichenstrasse 43 would find it difficult to believe what has become of their creation. Originally intended as a tire manufacturing plant, the seemingly innocuous double-storey building has been subjected to a tumultuous history. Rumours of its past use for secret satanic rituals hang about the air like cobwebs. The cracked walls battle peeling paint and ivy. It remains, however, a place of creation. Somewhere along the production line of time, it was subsumed in art. Today, E43 is fondly referred to as “The Factory” by the BCB community. It is the home of the majority of BCB’s practicing arts classes and lies at the heart of the newly instated Arts and Society program.
The practicing arts themselves are integral to a Liberal Arts education. As John von Bergen, the professor of the class Concept Building, Problem Solving, and Logistics for Sculptors in Tomorrow’s Artworld and Practicing Arts Coordinator of the program enthusiastically explained to me, “producing art is the place where one can find common ground between disciplines. It forces your brain to start working in ways it ordinarily wouldn’t”. Arts and Society offers students of all degree programs to acquaint themselves with courses forming part of an eclectic selection here at BCB. Berlin, “with its conflicted past, its central role in European and global economics and politics, its rich history and fabled openness to artists and intellectuals of all kinds, [offers the chance for a] vital exploration of the roles the arts can play in today’s changing world.” (Source: BCB website).
On Friday, May 6th, the ordinarily still courtyard was filled with laughter and chatter. Students, faculty, and guests alike were gathered in celebration of the long anticipated Open Studios event. On this evening five practicing arts classes – Advanced Studio, Photography, Sculpture, Drawing and Collage, and Video – shared their semester’s production. Their work was made accessible to the public for the whole weekend. One week later, on May 14th, the theater and performance class gave their final presentations.
This year’s Open Studios represents a rapid expansion of the program. Last semester, BCB had offered only three practicing arts courses. The practicing arts courses are complemented by those in art history and theory; the program also offers students the opportunity for internships with art galleries and professional artists connected to in the Berlin art scene.
The dying light of day invited me inside to marvel at this semester’s creations. My feet first found their way to the downstairs dance hall. Drawings and collages decorated the walls like so many beads in a kaleidoscope. Anzhelika Urusova’s piece on “The Garden of Earthly Delights: was the first to catch me in its spell. Rainbows bloomed on the paper like comfortable clouds of flowers upon which plump, nude figures — neatly sketched in still-wet seeming black ink — reclined. On both ends of the basement, video installations played on repeat. They left the taste of silky darkness in my mouth. Color was stretched like taffy through glass figurines made by Talia Kracauer, displayed on shelves just below eye level. Close by, an open-palmed hand – Vanessa Schefke’s, the artist’s, I presume – decorated with star signs and partitioned by dashed lines reached to the sky. Upstairs, photographs punctuated the expansive white walls: Smiles, sadness, and whirlwinds of motion. The factory’s office had been transformed into a Kino where multiple video works looped to an audience. A mountainous sculpture, shoes dangling above it, proudly devoured the entrance hall. I moved through the Factory meditatively, letting my gaze be drawn where it wanted.
On the future of the program, John tells me he would like for it to remain flexible as it develops. He greatly values student contributions in molding and sculpting its form. The Arts and Society program is still in its experimental stages, but, as the enjoyment and fascination surrounding the Open Studios evidence, this experiment has thus far been a success.