The Akademie der Künste overwhelms us with death and despair in Uncertain States, but there may be hope for humanity yet.
The words Uncertain States may have you thinking about America’s future. But the focus of the latest Akademie der Künste exhibition is multitudinous, with the rise of European nationalism, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Armenian genocide, Chechen wars, Ukrainian police torture, Algerian revolutionaries, the Iran-Iraq war, Ethiopian media corruption, the current refugee crisis and more. Conflict, expulsion and the consequences of hate swarm around the viewer throughout.
The overwhelming show does however begin quietly, with a few abstract, emotional works by Mona Hatoum and the recently deceased Wahlberliner Marwan. Documents and objects from the AdK archive follow, some detailing how the Akademie’s predecessor, the Prussian Academy of Arts, joined the National Socialists in 1933 without a fight, how some members resigned in protest, and how many members later fled. Their otherwise banal objects – a doll, a revolver, a letter – illuminate the impact of WWII on Berlin’s cultural community, creating an almost meditative space for empathy.
But in the next room, the volume suddenly gets turned all the way up. Dozens of hard-hitting, contemporary works on forced migration, violence, death and trauma overwhelm the labyrinthine halls. You can wearily wander in, or you can climb up onto William Forsythe’s shifting web of trapeze rings. The sound of yelling and gunshots punctures the air. Books on post-colonial theory and the changing demographics of Germany are scattered around. Richard Mosse’s infrared colour photographs confront you with the surreality of devastated Central African villages.
Later videos of screaming women in Nezaket Ekici’s “Tooth for Tooth – In Memory of the Murdered Women in Turkey” will consume you. Occasionally you might jump as another gunshot booms from Nasan Tur’s “First Shot”, a compilation of slow-motion videos of people firing guns for the first time.
By the end, the last shred of optimism you may have had about humanity will have been lost, and while that may seem all too dark, this onslaught of horrifying histories raises a number of questions that need to be revisited. What are the consequences of our actions, votes and policies? What are the consequences of our apathy?
Looking around you might be struck by the vicious cycle of history repeating, our impossibly short memories, our complicity. And while Uncertain States is heavy-handed, and you may leave overwhelmed, maybe, just maybe, you’ll begin thinking more critically about how you can have a positive impact. Though many of us feel powerless, and largely those feelings aren’t unjustified, each of the artists on view took action by materialising their experiences and inviting us to bear witness. Art affects how history is written, and thus how it is remembered. If it was left to government reports and media coverage, we might have a very different picture.
Uncertain States, Through Jan 15 | Akademie der Künste, Mitte, event programme at www.adk.de