displacement as an aesthetic strategy

displacement as an aesthetic strategy

Hamburger Bahnhof—Nationalgalerie der Gegenwart

Wolf von Kries, untitled (Rio de Janeiro). Photograph. Courtesy of the artist.

May 16, 2023
displacement as an aesthetic strategy
Saray Purto Hoffmann, Kervin Saint Pere, and Pia Schmikl
May 10–14, 2023
Hamburger Bahnhof—Nationalgalerie der Gegenwart
Invalidenstrasse 50
10557 Berlin
Hours: Tuesday–Friday 10am–6pm,
Thursday 10am–8pm,
Saturday–Sunday 11am–6pm


In the scope of the Rundgang 50Hertz 2023, the Hamburger Bahnhof—Nationalgalerie der Gegenwart has awarded prizes on the topic of “displacement” to Pia Schmikl, Kervin Saint Pere and Saray Purto Hoffmann. The prizewinners’ works can be seen in scenography designed by Louise Nguyen and Olof Duus. 

The public call for Rundgang 50Hertz was on the topic of “displacement as an aesthetic strategy”. Arts academy graduates who take up the subject of displacement in their artistic work in the sense of a transdisciplinary approach were invited to apply. Displacement means the shifting of an object from one place or context to another. What happens with an object if it arrives somewhere where it traditionally does not belong? Why is it there? What significance does it have at its original site and what significance does it acquire at the new location through displacement? What happens with its new environment? And what happens in the new context in the viewer who discovers it? The topic has been intensively discussed in the context of the restitution of cultural artefacts. It can, however, be understood in manifold ways, and can also be grasped as an artistic methodology: displacement of the art object, displacement of the viewer, displacement of the exhibition context, or quite fundamentally as a global fact of the present day (as in, for instance, migratory movements). Displacement is at the same time a natural phenomenon and can also be thought of as a mental state. One aspect of these issues was intended to be visible in the artistic work submitted.

The starting point for Pia Schmikl’s work is a mental game. If we were to take the metaphor “the elephant in the room” literally, could we then rid ourselves of the problem for which the elephant is used as an image? The artist researches the etymology of the figure of speech, investigates various sources, discovers the elephant in other disciplines, in poetry, psychology and history. What interests her in the process are interpersonal relationships, basic needs and complex networks of relations. She traces the figure of the elephant and recounts what she comes across. Why was precisely this animal selected as a metaphor for a weighty problem that cannot be spoken about by everyone involved? Her research is performed in a poetological and humorous one-person lecture-performance. It is a multi-perspectival retelling, in which different angles towards the elephant are shown; in that way it is also a re-narration, providing subtle proposals for actions.

In Hamburg, the history of cultural landmarks is told on blue plaques that are mounted on the monuments’ facades in a clearly visible manner. Kervin Saint Pere gets to the bottom of this history—and reveals what has been concealed. He researches in archives and libraries, reads up on the city’s past and on its historical monuments. He finds out, for instance, that the original company Woermann is indeed referred to on the blue plaque acknowledging the so-called Africa House, but that it remains unmentioned that they were involved in the genocide of the Herero and Nama peoples by providing military transports. The artist supplements the narrative one comes upon to include the facts he has researched; he applies them, printed on tissue paper, on top of the previous representation. These interventions, designated “para-monuments” and entitled “The City of Hamburg and its Afterlife of Colonialism”, broaden the official picture of history so that it encompasses concealed or repressed dimensions. 

Il Trasloco (The Relocation) is the name of Saray Purto Hoffmann’s work. It consists of a number of large-format piles, tied in bundles and painted gray. Under a tightly stretched cloth, the contours of things like a chair, a ladder, a table and many boxes and crates can clearly be identified. Next to them, a video shows the objects piled up in the exhibition room being pulled on a rope through a landscape. The bundles look cumbersome in the space, and it appears to be onerous to transport them; the artist calls it “carrying the house on one’s back”. Through the medium of this work, she inquires into the conditions of migration and mobility. She poses the question of how we inscribe ourselves into an object by using it, and at the same time are shaped by the object as it influences the manner in which and where we live, and how we organise our society.

Films by the Berlin cameraman Alexander Gheorghiu on the artists’ creative working processes will be sown on the project website starting on Wednesday, May 10, 2023. The exhibition catalogue is also available through the website as of May 2023: 

Rundgang 50Hertz is a project to support arts academy curated by Melanie Franke, Prof. Dr. phil. in art history. It is based on a cooperation between the Hamburger Bahnhof – Nationalgalerie der Gegenwart and the transmission system operator 50Hertz. New directions in contemporary art from the arts academies in Berlin, Hamburg und Leipzig are promoted. This is the last time it will take place.

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Hamburger Bahnhof—Nationalgalerie der Gegenwart
May 16, 2023

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