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Anne Pöhlmann: Walkthrough, Exhibition of the media art grant of the state of NRW 2006

PHOENIX Halle | 06/10/2007 - 10/21/2007

Thu + Fri 11:00 - 22:00
Sat + Sun 11:00 - 20:00

Presentation by Anne Pöhlmann: Sunday, October 14, 2007, 17:30

For her project Walkthrough, the Dusseldorf-based artist Anne Pöhlmann (*1978, Dresden) won the Media Art Award of the State of North Rhine-Westphalia in 2006; Hartware MedienKunstVerein is entrusted with organizing the award programme.

Walkthrough is concerned with architectural visions of the future that were realized in the 1960s and ’70s. The artist is particularly interested in the spaces between the architectural bodies – the negative forms of modernist architecture, so to speak – and their modes of contemporary usage.


After the total destruction of Dresden city-centre in 1945, work began in the late 1940s and early ’50s on radically renewing the city along socially utopian lines that would transform the formerly dense historical urban topography. An era in which a new society was envisioned required an accordingly altered cityscape, and radical utopias for a modern city were developed. Proposals for the new Dresden came from, among others, Mart Stam, who in 1948 emigrated to the Soviet-occupied zone from the Netherlands in order to take up an appointment as a professor at the Dresden Academy. He would subsequently become the director of the art school in Berlin-Weissensee before leaving the GDR in 1953.

In the course of time and under the economic conditions in the Soviet-occupied zone – soon to be the German Democratic Republic – the radical nature and scale of these utopias dwindled. All the same, even after the collapse of the GDR the city-centre of Dresden centre continued to impressively exemplify the progressive drive and will to shape of GDR society, which despite the ideological aspects often intersected with non-communist modernist movements. Some parts of this new urban fabric have vanished already; in the past decade especially, Dresden centre has been transformed by vigorous construction and adaptation to the needs of contemporary society (or perhaps it was the other way round). All the same, the original utopian planning remains visible in the fragments that are partly conserved in their original form, even if they seldom exercise their original function. They testify to the will for change and the belief in progress of the era in which they were built.

One forgotten utopia can shun contemporary reality because it is hidden below the ground: a pedestrian tunnel built around 1970 beneath Pirnaischer Platz, a central traffic junction in the city-centre. Viewed as central to the plans for a car-friendly city, the generously proportioned tunnel was built to run below multilane roads that would, so it was envisaged, efficiently convey the streams of dense traffic into the centre and out again.

The rise in traffic volumes in Dresden after 1970 was less dramatic than the planners had expected, and so the pedestrian tunnel remained an oversized reminder of the way Dresden would have looked above ground if the original plans had been implemented. Elsewhere, a small number of radically modernist utopias asserted themselves over many adverse circumstances and counter-concepts to be realized with all their faith in progress– see the larger-scale projects completed in the same period in Brasilia, Paris or the USSR. These modern cities produced a new spatial reality that undermined the old social reality. In this way, it was hoped, they would mould and change the societies surrounding them. They represented the transition from an obsolete situation to one that was new.

In the same way, the Dresden pedestrian subway likewise takes on symbolic value in our times. It amounts to an urban space that intensifies and overlayers history. Its existence undermines our contemporary view of urban spaces. For one thing, its architecture suggests that faith in progress is unbroken, for another, time has caught up with the original utopia on which the subway is based: the scale of the place is no longer unusual, and the concept of a tunnel obsolete. In the meantime, what we expect from urban spaces has come to resemble the way we perceive such spaces.

Ever since the central passageway was sealed off after a fire, the Dresden tunnel has been deprived of its function. Skaters and sprayers utilize the passages and stairways in the entrances and exits. The significance of the site has changed. The gesturally functional utilitarian construction that conjured up the future has given way to decaying architecture that creates space for a new construction: a playground of urban culture that finds space nowhere else in a society that squeezes a function out of any other urban space, no matter how small, and connects up with the past with a certain romanticism – a recycled utopia.

Anne Pöhlmann

(translated by Tom Morrison)



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