A historic building on Exhibition Road re-opens its doors to an unexpected art installation: a vibrantly painted staircase inside complemented by shape-shifting sculptures outside reflect the cultural initiatives of the newly re-furbished Goethe Institut London.
After waiting 18 long months of refurbishment, the Goethe Institut resumes its work of celebrating and disseminating German language and culture, playing host to learning and encountering aspects of German society in London. Having a particular interest in involving the arts in this exchange, the Institut has given a final finishing touch to the building’s recent face-lift that marks its 50th anniversary – a commissioned installation by German artist Gloria Zein, called “I can’t stop the dancing chicken.” Despite its bizarre name, this installation is a fresh addition to the renovations, inviting visitors and staff alike into the space, and giving a new draw to this historic building.
The artwork is a three-part installation including large- and small-scale sculptures, and a lively coloured mural in the landing and main staircase of the building. The unique colour concept in the stairwell involves 27 colours chosen at random by the throw of a nine-sided die made by the artist onto colour charts. Outdoors, sculptures hang from the balcony, changing shape and depth as you approach and move around them. Inside, populating the offices on the upper floors are 30 miniature sculptures created using symbolic materials depending on the departmental activity in which they are located. Additionally, Zein has made a selection of films from their film archive to screen at the Institut over the coming weeks.
It seems German artist Gloria Zein is the ideal artist to activate the Institute. Her art is often about self-image, identity, and especially concerns with public image versus private internal affairs. This artistic infiltration of the Goethe reflects a special dialogue between interior function of the organization and public image projected widely into the UK. This installation especially energizes the important exchanges happening between the host country and Germany within this building: indeed “with a blaze of light, this exhibition exists to inspire intellectual dialogue between Britain and Germany”.
The Institut describes the work as “transdisciplinary,” a “walk through installation” that interacts with the architecture as well as the function of the organization. Clearly, Zein reacts to the departmental functions and liaisons amongst them and brings her own understanding to these elements in her art. She says about this installation, “My intention was to create something specific for the place and especially for the people who work in or use the building. It’s an experiment at infiltrating the institute’s everyday life with my own artistic world. The aim is to contrive an environment of sensuous alertness, one that theatricalises the building to the point where the sculptures as well as the visitors become performers.”
Without doubt, this commission has been a smart choice in celebrating German culture and indeed transforming the Institut into a first-hand experience of contemporary German art. Having studied sculpture (and architecture) previously, Zein is uniquely aware of spacial construction, and the impact on bodies that encounter it; she notes visitors walking up and down the stairwell activate the installation, their bodies themselves becoming moving sculpture throughout the five stories.
Most important to mention is how inclusive this project has been for all parties involved. Particularly, the construction workers, painters and builders on the renovation project became part of the experience of this installation’s formation. Grasping ownership of this unique event, the artwork became as much the workers’ project as the artist’s creation, fostering a truly community effort among the classes and breeding cultural appreciation and camaraderie between two the nations. Just as the Institut intended. Though this is a temporary exhibition on show until April 2013, let’s hope the memory of this artwork can continue to inspire exchange long after it has been painted over.
Words/Photo Sharon Strom © Artlyst 2012