Daniel G. Andújar, Wilhelm/Manfred Beutel’s Photo Collection, 1998
REVISITED: ZONES OF DESIRE #essay
Approaches (around Dortmunder U)
by Daniel García Andújar, 2021
Our activities are shaped and conditioned by how we relate to our environment, but that very relationship changes through time and in function of our cultural interpretations. Like any other cultural process, art is essentially a process of transmission, of transfer, of continuous, ongoing and necessary dialogue, and is not detached from the useful or from symbolic meaning. Throughout history, our toolbox, workshop or studio has constantly incorporated new tools, techniques, languages and pieces of equipment, and yet these all seek to respond to recurring issues. A unique stance of seeking artistic autonomy in the context of production where the work seeks a space to resist the world of control, in a clear indication of the artist’s concept of reality. Trying to understand and examine the machinery that controls and produces the processes by which our environment is perceived, trying to grasp our reality – this is and always has been a key starting point for my work as an artist. I first came to Dortmund in October 1996, spending six months in the city on a European residency programme for artists at a time when I sensed that multiple pathways and modes of analysis were opening up for artistic experimentation. At that time my work was project-oriented, and I did not restrict myself to a particular format. I refused to subject myself to tight deadlines or limit myself to exclusively artistic contexts, preferring to use different media and resources: interactive installations and media; videos and photographs; posters and flyers; postcards and stickers; institutions and public space; new and old artist’s tools. The subject matter of my artistic practice at that time concerned the social and media environment, approached through projects on xenophobia and chronic racism, as well as the self-serving engagement between economic power and the culture of pomp and circumstance, the trampling of civil liberties in the name of law and technological order (We are watching – Wir beobachten!), and memory and the urban subconscious (in the work carried out during my artistic residence at Künstlerhaus Dortmund, 1996-97). These projects often branched out into new installations, overlapping with caustic tirades against the creed of technology.
I spent those first six months researching and working on projects in and for public places, which I gave the collective title We are watching (Wir beobachten). The old heavy industry of the city and the entire Ruhr Area, the former industrial heart of Germany, had been largely dismantled, and the economy was beginning a process of structural change, focusing primarily on technology and the services sector. The industrial revolution was giving way to the information revolution. The Dortmund Project would be a groundbreaking project in Germany and Europe in the area of supramunicipal strategic planning. The city was undergoing some of the greatest structural changes in Europe, shifting from heavy industry almost exclusively to science and services. Dortmund, the beating heart of German social democracy, was synonymous with coal mines, iron and steel companies and proud workers. It was an agglomeration of industries devoted predominantly to mining and its associated activities, along with housing for the very large workforce. Its growth had been chaotic, so when the industrial crisis occurred, it featured all the problems typical of such areas, with a lack of facilities, precarious structures, unemployment and social unrest. Heavy industry had caused environmental degradation throughout the region, and prolonged exposure to coal dust and sulphuric gas had impaired the health and very life of its workers. The region also bore the stigma of two World Wars, and had been punished for supplying Germany with arms.
The city, the region, the country, Europe, and the whole world were caught up in a process of drastic change. 1996 was the year that saw the birth of Dolly the sheep, the first cloned animal. In Switzerland, scientists at CERN announced that they had obtained nine hydrogen anti-atoms, the first step on the way to creating antimatter. The term “new economy” was used publicly for the first time in BusinessWeek magazine, in a report by Michael J. Mandel entitled The Triumph of the New Economy. The Internet was beginning to pick up serious momentum, although at that time it contained only 100,000 websites, compared to 1,218,423,991 in 2021 (it reached 1,800,047,111 in 2017). The technology bubble was boiling. IBM’s Deep Blue supercomputer beat Russia’s Garry Kasparov at chess for the first time. Of course, Google did not yet exist; WebCrawler, launched in 1994, was the first search engine to provide full-text searches. Yahoo, which changed its name from Jerry’s Guide to the World Wide Web in 1994, was en route to becoming one of the main web portals. People had just begun to change their screen resolution from 640×480 to 800×600. Netscape Navigator was the leading browser by a wide margin (originally as Mosaic Communications Corporation and subsequently as Firefox/Mozilla). Indian computer scientist Sabeer Bhatia launched hotmail.com, the first free e-mail service. The new information and communication technologies such as the Internet had been adopted only slowly and cautiously in the domestic setting, but they were there to stay. Most people used dial-up Internet connections with impressive speeds ranging from 28.8 Kbps to 33.6 Kbps. Very modern 56 Kbps modems would appear in 1997. I must admit to installing the first modem in Iris Dressler and Hans D. Christ’s studio in Künstlerhaus Dortmund in 1996, infecting them with an Internet access virus just as HMKV Hartware MedienKunstVerein was starting.
The fact is, we were facing into a new utopia of freedom and global access to information and knowledge that was to vanish before our eyes. That idea of liberating technology and the Internet as a more democratic space, lauded and worshipped in a kind of pseudologia fantastica, was no more than an optimistic vision of a dream that soon turned out to be unattainable. We are probably not yet far enough removed from that time to have an objective perspective on some of the changes that were happening, but it is quite clear that some of the utopian ideals have been abandoned for good. It is also true, though, that the changes of that time have brought us to this point, some of them beginning at the start of the Nineties, and the artistic practice derived from the project Technologies To The People™ was established in the context of those changes: the web as a public space, the process of digitisation, the effects of globalisation, the electronic panopticon, free software, various processes of structural change that were somehow changing how we think, consume, produce, socialise, do business, etc. Technical and cognitive changes that entailed the emergence of new professions, the acquisition of new knowledge by artists and creators, and the need to roll out new ways of organising creative work and cultural output. Cue “Technologies To The People™, aimed at people in the so-called Third World and at the homeless, orphans, the unemployed, fugitives, immigrants, alcoholics, drug addicts, those with mental disorders or impairments, and all other categories of ‘undesirables’. Technologies To The People™ was created for those who are denied access to the new information society and the new technologies. Technologies To The People™ wants more people connected.”1 For a long time, Technologies To The People™ served as a kind of stage, a mask to portray ambiguous situations and hidden truths, but also as a way of reclaiming and liberating spaces for action.
In 1998, I was invited by Iris Dressler and Hans D. Christ of HMKV Hartware MedienKunstVerein to create a project in the Dortmunder U, a building I knew well. I had walked through it almost every day for six months, and I had studied it obsessively. An iconic building by Ernst Neufert and Emil Moog, it was a true landmark in the region, a symbol of many developments. The home of Dortmund Union Brewery, Germany’s largest beer factory. The Centre for Art and Creativity (Zentrum für Kunst und Kreativität), a symbol of the regeneration of the city and how the people of the Ruhr Area used its industrial ruins to lay more sustainable foundations through art and culture, after forsaking the capitalism of coal and steel. But above all, a building of resistance that remained standing after the devastating bombing of Dortmund on 12 March 1945, when 1,108 airplanes launched an attack that marked a record against a single target in the whole Second World War. More than 4,800 tonnes of bombs were dropped on the centre and south of the city, destroying 98% of city-centre buildings.
These last details were to be my focus for the ambitious and prophetic project Reservate der Sehnsucht (Zones of Desire). I began work on the project in 1996, using little stories to delve into the memories of the city and its citizens. It spoke of reconstruction, of overcoming and reinventing, and of rising from the ashes like the phoenix of legend. The ashes of war, of the industrial and mining past, of capitalism…
Wilhelm and Manfred Beutel’s Photo Collection (1998) was intended to put those memories to the test, to generate a context of oblivion among those visiting the building for the first time; this building that Iris Dressler and Hans D. Christ had transformed into a wonderful seed of hope and optimism through the work of a handful of artists. Many came for the first time, curiously crossing the gaping wounds of a building in ruins, its enormous holes leading them through an unprecedented cultural and artistic experience. My objective was to create a space of resistance, a frontier against convention and a test of their memory. Using a series of manipulated images, I created a fictitious yet conventional collection of photographs on the history of the building itself. I manipulated each one of the images, locating the building in quite impossible perspectives and points of view. And then I misled them once more with a sophisticated multimedia animation that explained how we were able to locate the precise geographic location from which the original photographs were taken, thereby evoking a kind of historical visualisation of the city. A city that had been completely rebuilt after the war, which we are therefore unable to recognise or walk around in its subsequent physical form.
A discerning read of the catalogue text provides the keys to the deception:
“(…)The chance to show a selection of images from Wilhelm and Manfred Beutel’s photo collection in the Union Brewery building is another example of the important task taken on by the Technologies To The People Foundation, in presenting salient aspects of our present-day reality.
Our Technologies To The People Foundation has invested substantial efforts in this task, under the guidance of exceptional experts and artists whose advice and support is deeply appreciated. One essential feature of Technologies To The People™ is its commitment to economic, technological, social and cultural development, and this commitment requires new perspectives in all fields and from all angles. Until recently, few people were aware of the existence of Wilhelm and Manfred Beutel’s photo collection. It was Spanish artist Daniel García Andújar who made the interesting find during his research into the history and architecture of the city of Dortmund. Andújar conducted interesting investigations based on his analysis of the photographic records. Technologies To The People™ immediately and enthusiastically backed the project with great commitment. Daniel García Andújar needed the sophisticated tools and techniques of Technologies To The People™ to pinpoint the exact locations from which Wilhelm and Manfred Beutel took their photographs, with a view to evoking a historical vision of the city.
In this process, Andújar used our GIS technology to locate places in Dortmund based on his analysis of the photographic records of the Wilhelm and Manfred Beutel collection. GIS has long been used as an effective tool for the management and analysis of spatial data in relation to environmental modelling, with its ability to integrate, store, process and generate geographical information. Advanced data management tools like these will improve the performance of environmental models and enhance the associated decision-making processes. There are two types of data related to geographical features: firstly, spatial data, which is information on the location and form of the features; and secondly, attributive data, which describes the features; and all of these can be stored in any vector. Vector data represents geographical features as points, lines and polygons, stored as a series of x, y and z coordinates. Satellite images are collected by sensors on satellites such as LandSat and SPOT as they orbit the earth, and survey data is used for 3D analysis.
Finally, we want to express our admiration for the work of Wilhelm and Manfred Beutel, along with our desire that it be duly recognised beyond the confines of amateur photography groups as an extension of the photo-reportage genre.”2
Some of the reflections, work techniques and languages I used for the project in Dortmunder U have since served me in developing and experimenting with different approaches and ways of working that I still use in my artistic practice today.
Questioning what one thinks one knows is an effective tool by which we artists can trigger mechanisms to help us interpret and interrogate our reality. Like dreaming from the ruins of a possible landscape and projecting past images and memories that form part of our collective imagination, informing the present of what we are keeping for the future.
Download the original Spanish version of the essay as a PDF here.
Daniel García Andújar s a visual artist, theoretician and activist. Through interventions in public space and a critical use of digital media and the communication strategies of the corporations connected to it, his theoretical and artistic work oscillates between territories that are real (the city) and virtual (the Net). He has taught and directed workshops and seminars for artists and social collectives in numerous countries. His works have been shown in exhibitions worldwide including Manifesta 4, 53rd Venice Biennale and documenta14. The Spanish National Museum Reina Sofia in Madrid hosted a comprehensive one-man show in 2015, curated by Manuel Borja-Villel.
More information on the author on danielandujar.org
Translated from Spanish by Sarah Jane Aberásturi
1 Technologies To The People™-Flyer for the exhibition un-frieden. sabotage von wirklichkeiten in Kunsthaus Hamburg, Kunstverein Hamburg, 1996
2 Catalogue of the exihibition Zones of Desire in Dortmunder U (Ehemalige Unionsbrauerei) Volume 1, Ed. Kulturbüro Stadt Dortmund in cooperation with hARTware projekte e.V. and Kultur Ruhr GmbH, 1998, p. 37 (quote linguistically revised, 2021)