Berlin light installation
WilhelminenhofStrasse at EdisonStrasse, OberSchoeneweide
Light installation in empty flats
photographs by Sandrine Albert
Although the movement of artists into East Berlin seems to have focused mainly on the once-derelict areas of Mitte (formerly the border of the Wall) and creeping east into Friedrichshain, one group of artists has been working much further in the eastern area since the mid 1990s. In 1997 several painters who were working in old industrial spaces in the region of Schöneweide in the southeast of the city, came together to form Künstlergruppe T.R.O. TRO is Tiefenrauch Ost (a play on words which roughly translates as head-rush in the East) The group name was inspired by the fact that their first collective studio was in the former T.R.O. or Transformator building in the empty factory complex built by AEG in the early 20th century.
The group coalesced around painter Leo Königsberg and soon began to diversify into working directly with the industrial spaces surrounding them. These became the subjects of paintings and sites of active projects: installation, sound art and performance. With the addition to the collective of photographer/film-maker Denise Kluge and sound artist Christian Glass the group developed a practice of site-responsive art in the industrial spaces and in the immediate neighbourhood, which was/is still trying to recover from the economic shock of reunification.
T.R.O. was a studio and as a loose collective of artists, “a label, rather than a group” says Königsberg, dedicated to working in the Oberschöneweide district with both a studio practice (painting) and site-responsive practice in the locality.
Berlin light installation “Lichtkugel” 2002 was made by Leo Königsberg, Christian Glass and Enzo Perin of Tiefenrauch Ost (“Submerged in the East”) or T.R.O., in the run-down industrial district of OberSchöneweide in December 2002. The installation was in a broad, four-story block of flats which were erected at the same time as the district was built, by AEG in the late 19th century. The flats are at the main crossroads in the OberSchöneweide area: the crossing of Edisonstrasse which runs north to Lichtenberg and Wilhelminenhofstrasse which runs east to the bourgeois suburb of Köpenick and west toward the city centre. The trams from the S-Bahn station at Schöneweide and the east-west trams all pass through this crossroads, carrying workers, shoppers and everyone through the district.
The flats have been empty since not long after reunification in 1990. Like many GDR-era older flats they had no hot water and were heated inadequately by coal. As freedom of movement became possible in former east Berlin, people moved away into better flats. While many of the older flats in the district have been or are being restored to modern standards, the crossroads flats were in worse condition and so far have not been touched despite being in a prominent position. The parade of shops below is also mostly empty except for the run-down Sansi-bar 24-hour pub. Arriving in the OberSchöneweide district, one strong first impression is the bleak, empty façade of the abandoned flats, which in the darkness of winter becomes just a black hole in the street.
T.R.O.’s response was to take hundreds of coloured neon light tubes and fill the front rooms of the whole block with light. The facade was transformed from a dead blank into a blaze of colour from mid-afternoon when dusk fell, throughout the night. Workers returning home in the evening from the S-Bahn station were greeted by a fantasial outpouring of light amid the accustomed gloom of derelict space, restoring the visibility of the site which normally the eye just passed over, uninterested and unengaged.
Witnessing the reaction of commuters returning on the 6 pm tram from the S-bahn on the December evening when the lights were first switched on was interesting: they first registered shock and surprise at the unexpected sight, then every one of them broke out into a broad smile.