Faraway, So Close!

Carolina Jiménez

Börsianer / The Operators, diagram – Mario Asef © 2009

Mario Asef’s first studio visit with Node’s resident curators was, for me, one of the most motivating moments of these ultimate months. It was the last studio visit of a long rainy Berlin day. The eight of us were exhausted and immediately ‘occupied’ the green carpet of Mario’s studio. What could have been an awkward meeting (because of our tiredness), instantly turned into an extraordinarily appealing talk. Every piece of work he showed us led to a conversation about several topics, sometimes related to art, sometimes to philosophy, politics or social relations. When the visit finished most of us felt the need to somehow try to work with him. We wanted “more Asef”.

For Faraway, So Close! we selected three pieces from Mario Asef’s video series History is now: Börsianer/The Operators, Man’s on Moon, and Revolution after Revolution.

In his videos, Asef brings us back to the concept of intra-history, introduced in 1895 by the Spanish philosopher Miguel de Unamuno in his book En torno al casticismo or to the most recent vision of micro-history by the Italian Carlo Ginzburg. For Asef, history should be interested in the routes whose principle leading roles are played by its peripheral actors; that is to say, the paths followed by those men who make history in an unconscious manner, by those who do not aspire to the title of heroes. The historical event is not the monumental fresco that encourages the mythification of politicians, military men and priests, the traditional heroes of history… Mario Asef decodes these concepts, recovering “micro-historical moments” (as he points out) in order to reveal the present as historically significant. Börsianer/The Operators juxtaposes the apparently sterile composure of the Frankfurt Stock Exchange with the life of homeless people from the suburbs of the city. What at first sight could be regarded as two antagonistic worlds become the two sides of the same instinct of survival. Abstract values versus reality? Civilized world versus wilderness? Every downturn of the financial market becomes crucial to our lives, as nature is experienced as an all-embracing fact and dictator of reality… like the bucolic backdrop shown through the glass of an aquarium.

man’s on moon, diagram – Mario Asef © 2006

Man’s on Moon looks back to 1969, when Commander Neil Armstrong became the first man on the moon. This scene, broadcasted to every television of the Western world, incarnated the faith of our civilization in technology and science during the Cold War era. In the same year, one of the most feared serial killers of America, Charles Manson, was arrested. His arrest marked the milestone of the end of the hippie-era, the end of Martin Luther King’s dream… In Man’s on Moon, Asef cuts together sequences from the Apollo 17 Mission and audio extracts from Charles Manson interviews, reflecting on the social dynamics that lead to an ontological discussion of truth and reality.

In the words of Asef, “when a staged revolution is part of a country’s historical reality it shapes the direction of everyday life”. Filmed in three Romanian towns (Sibiu, Pitesti and Bucharest), Revolution after Revolution examines how advertising strategies of the post-Communist era are digested as part of Romanians’ everyday lives. The modern architecture of the sixties and its dead ideology forms the background where citizens become actors (or heroes?) and revolution turns into allegory.

Revolution after Revolution, video still – Mario Asef © 2006

The illusion of security

“We are not content with negative obedience, nor even with the most abject submission. When finally you surrender to us, it must be of your own free will. We do not destroy the heretic because he resists us; so long as he resists us we never destroy him. We convert him, we capture his inner mind, we reshape him. We burn all evil and all illusion out of him; we bring him over to our side, not in appearance, but genuinely, heart and soul. We make him one of ourselves before we kill him. It is intolerable to us that an erroneous thought should exist anywhere in the world, however secret and powerless it may be. Even in the instance of death we cannot permit any deviation… we make the brain perfect before we blow it out.”
George Orwell, 1984

Priorities seem clear: first learn, then understand, and finally accept. The whole purpose here is not repetitive or blind obedience but disciplined and controlled minds… George Orwell could not anticipate the economic globalization and the sophistication of information technology in the Western world, but he formed the basis for understanding some of the most serious problems we face today.

Living in a contemporary world means to be surrounded by a multiplicity of electronic devices that gradually shape new borders of our personality. We expand and consider our private space to be inside our iPhones, computers and mailboxes. This unreal and imaginary possession of information can lead to manipulations, performed not only at an individual level. In particular, the lack of corporate and governmental transparency has been a topic of much controversy in recent years, yet the only tool for encouraging greater openness is the slow, tedious process of policy reform.

The Transparency Grenade by Julian Oliver for Studio Weise 7 was the central pivot on which the exhibition in the Fichte-Bunker turned around. It represented two actions: firstly, the invention and construction of an electronic device, and secondly, a situation. The Grenade itself was a replica of Soviet F1 Hand Grenade with a different mechanism of destruction, equipped with a tiny computer, microphone and powerful wireless antenna. It was also a situation, because it made the viewer directly responsible for pulling the ripcord to detonate the Grenade in order to unmask the decision-making processes of any corporate or Governmental Institution. Email fragments, HTML pages, images will be revealed, reminding the occasional user of his weaknesses and strengths. As stated by Michel Foucault, the individual is a part of the power structure’s cogs and secures it with his own attitudes and behaviors. However, and it may seem contradictory, this power (as read in George Orwell’s1984) is omnipresent and omniscient, a power that is constantly being apprehended, but which never answers. State institutions are mechanisms that seem to obey their own laws and rules, they are bureaucratic labyrinths completely unknown by us. Thus, we find depersonalized individuals facing an apparatus against which there is no way to oppose. Numerous references were forwarded about this in Faraway, So Close! by Argentinean artist Mario Asef, especially in the video piece Börsianer / The Operators, which juxtaposed the apparently sterile composure of the Frankfurt Stock Exchange with the life of homeless people from the suburbs of the city. What at first sight could be regarded as two antithetical worlds became the two sides of the same reality. Every downturn of the financial markets becomes crucial in our own lives…

The viewer inside the Fichte-Bunker was confronted with a dystopic reality, a world not desirable, but conceivable. John Stuart Mill coined in the last years of the nineteenth century the term “dystopia” to refer to an unwanted society, opposed to utopia. Mill described an oppressive and closed-on-itself society, usually under an authoritarian government, but presented to its citizens as a utopia. George Orwell’s 1984 was one of the most refined examples of dystopia. It insisted, in a very persuasive way, on the power of technology as a basic tool for social control and the end of privacy. Orwell portrayed a society that to survive, created a perverse, permanent monitoring system from which originated an increasingly imperceptible but ever-present control, a subtle and not clearly coercive method that left citizens with the permanent doubt of whether they were being watched. It is through the uncertainty of not knowing how to maintain the subordination of being under surveillance, through a large and always-on screen, receiving and transmitting information, that individuals were handcuffed by their actions. All this, centralized by the everpresent Ministry of Truth, which was a pyramidal structure of white concrete over three hundred meters high. The Ministry of Truth acted as a vast Jeremy Bentham style panopticon that distinguished, watched and controlled all of what happened in that society.

According to Zygmunt Bauman, uncertainty about the future, the fragility of our social position and the anxiety of our own existence are persistent elements of our society. Therefore, one of the basic actions of human beings has been to preserve the order and to ensure its durability from incursions coming from the outside: an “outside” characterized by disorder and insecurity; an exterior that, in each historical moment has had different characteristics and traits, but always an enemy, an enemy that has always been the “other”. Against this “other”, that represents the fragility and the precariousness of daily life, all societies have been provided with multiple defensive tricks and tools that allow us to preserve, keep the acquired and make it our own. In this way, any risk must be eliminated in order to procure a comfortable place in a world that shows itself as threatening and hazardous. Uncertainty and confusion have increased with the rapid changes in recent decades of new information technologies and globalization. Cities, urban areas and transport are no longer safe places and have become a major cause of worry and insecurity. Now spatial structures conceived to isolate, exclude, reject, resist, camouflage, and absorb have been encouraged.

The need and desire to feel safe in today’s world has become a handy justification for the implementation of measures that threaten the foundations of democracy and social life. It is odd that cities had never before counted on so many security measures, but never before the feeling of insecurity has been so present. Agreements have been made, according to city planner Peter Marcuse , in order to promote the physical 1 “bunkerization” of space (controlled indoors, such as shopping malls or office buildings, containing within them all the facilities necessary to work, eat or relax) up to the social “bunkerization” of all democratic activity (the limitation of movement, freedom and action, the decline in social and political participation, the growth of exclusion…). This creates new sociopolitical realities where security is exchanged for a restriction of freedoms. Power needs a fearful, insecure and vulnerable society. To keep it, people have to be submissive and in this way consolidate the power’s efficiency. However, we cannot forget that the expression of power is becoming less and less visible, and therefore its influence is difficult to recognize, to anticipate and bear up. The exercise of power is gradually more elusive and insidious, it is everywhere and nowhere, it is ubiquitous, absent, invisible… To this wicked and endless game, that creates fear and creates, at the same time, many and various systems to control it, also referred Faraway, So Close!.

Carolina Jiménez

1) Peter Marcuse, After the World Trade Center. Cuadernos de arquitectura y urbanismo, Barcelona. 2002

The Author

Carolina Jiménez, (Madrid, 1983). Journalist and cultural manager. Lives and works in Berlin. As a political journalist, she has worked in Spanish media like Cadena SER, Agencia EFE and Temas magazines. In the cultural sector she collaborated with contemporary art centers such as Matadero Madrid or La Casa Encendida in Spain. In 2012 he moved to Berlin after being selected to participate in the residency for curators of Node Center for Curatorial Studies. In Berlin she has curated the exhibitions Faraway, So Close! at Fichte-Bunker, We Can Draw It in GlogauAir and Coversation With Alice in Altes Finanzamt. He has been coordinator and manager of SAVVY Contemporary, award for best independent space Projekträume 2013  by the Senate of Berlin (Berliner Senat). She is currently in charge of the communication at Node Center for Curatorial Studies-Berlin.

Die Wand – Eine Evolutionskette in der Architekturgeschichte

Über ein Manuskript von Wladimir Krasnosowitsch


Endoskopie, Künstlerhaus Bregenz / Palais Turn & Taxis, Mario Asef © Bregenz 2008

Über die Wand als plastisches Bauelement innerhalb der Architekturgeschichte ließen sich vermutlich zahlose Entwicklungsgeschichten schreiben. In einem seiner Manuskripte aus den sechziger Jahren, das bis heute unveröffentlicht blieb, entschied sich der russische Architekt Wladimir Krasnosowitsch ganz bewusst, dies in Form einer Evolutionskette nach dem darwinistischen Modell zu beschreiben. Er klassifiziert die Wand innerhalb architekturgeschichtlicher Perioden. Sie stellt er chronologisch nebeneinander. In seinem Manuskript beschreibt Krasnosowitsch die Wand der Renaissance als eine Darstellung von unverrückbarer Realität. Im Barock funktioniert die Wand als Träger von fantastischen Realitäten, die mittels zweidimensionaler visueller Spielereien [1] eine Idee der Unendlichkeit in sich trägt. Krasnosowitschs beschrieb die Wand der Moderne als rein geometrische Form, welche von jeglicher Botschaft befreit ist, die sie in ihrem abstrakt-mathematischen Wesen nicht definierten. Sie ist, im Sinne Krasnosowitschs, ein modular- standardisiertes Bauelement eines ergonomisch multifunktionellen Raums. [2]

Am Anfang der Moderne hatten Wand, Säule und Balken eine doppelte Funktion. Zum einen dienten sie als strukturierendes Element für die Tragfähigkeit des Gebäudes. Zum anderen waren sie plastisches Element der qualitativen Raumschaffung (Konstruktivismus). Die ästhetische Reduktion der architektonischen Formensprache wurde in der Moderne soweit getrieben, bis die Wand von allen Zusatzkomponenten befreit war, welche den Benutzer vom Wesentlichen des Raumes ablenken könnten.

Das Drei-Achsen Schema (x-y-z) des euklidischen Raumes auf zweidimensionaler Ebene wird so 1:1 auf die Realität transferiert, um einen neuen Kontext für unseren Alltag zu materialisieren. [3]

Was als ein sehr praktisches bauliches System begann, eine schnell durchführbare Alternative, um breitere, offenere und hellere Räumlichkeiten zu schaffen (die drei Ideale des modernen Lebens), wurde später die am meisten anerkannte und universalisierte Form der Architektur. Sie durchzog alle Ebenen unseres Alltagslebens:

Das Büro / das Bett / das Telefon / das Wohnzimmer / der Teppich / der Spielplatz / der Fernseher / die Straße / die Tasse / der Schreibtisch / die Zeitung / die Schreibmaschine / der Hammer / … [4]

Im Laufe der Jahrzehnte verlor die Wand der Moderne mit ihrer plastisch-bildhauerischen Oberfläche und ihrer vermeintlich neutralen Signifikanz an Materialität. Die Wand erhält die Funktion eines Projektionsträgers für parallele oder virtuelle Realitäten. Sie wird so gewissermaßen zur Membran durch die sich ästhetische und ökonomische Werte im Osmose-Verfahren austauschen. Hat sich diese Funktion einmal etabliert, lässt sich im Sinne Krasnosowitsch als nächstes Evolutionsglied die Wand begreifen als eine Art polyphysischer Raumschöpfer. Dieser schöpft je nach Funktion die passende Materialität aus sich selbst. Dadurch werden multiästhetische und multifunktionale Räume kreierbar. Diese Entwicklung sehen wir heute etwa an den Glasfassaden der Büro- und Entertainmentviertel, an deren Medienfassaden und z.B. der sog. Dynamischen Architektur neuer Stadtzentren. Ein Name für diese neue Funktion, die der Wand zugedacht wird, liegt auf der Hand: die „Virtuelle Wand“.


Fig 1: .a) Vorgeschichtlich .b) Klassik – Renaissance .c) Gothik .d) Manierismus .e) Barock .f) Industrialismus .g) Moderne .h) Post-Modern .i) Virtuell

Mit dieser logischen Überlegung isoliert Krasnosowitsch die Wand vom Rest des architektonischen Raums. Er konstruiert die gesamte Architekturgeschichte neu und stellt die These auf, dass der große Triumph in der Architektur prinzipiell der Mathematik gehört. [5] Sie diene als Instrument der Raumschaffung und sei in der Lage ihre eigene Repräsentation des dreidimensionalen Raums wiederum im realen Raum zu realisieren, um diesen zu ersetzen.

Wir sind unter diesen Umständen fähig einen Raum zu kennen, bevor wir ihn in seinem Umfang erlebt haben. Denn wir kennen die Grammatik und die Logik, mit der er kreiert wurde. Wir sind gewissermaßen in die Lage versetzt durch Wände zu schauen, denn uns ist die mathematische Artikulation des Raums bekannt. [6]

Gleichwohl soll dies nicht heißen, dass keine Offenheit für neue räumliche Formen existiert. Ganz im Gegenteil:

Wenn unser Raum von logisch mathematischen Komponenten bestimmt wird, die für jede beliebige Form und Materie anwendbar sind, dann wäre es möglich, dass hinter jeder beliebigen Wand des Büros H-254 des Sekretariatshauses in Chandigarh, z.B. der Innenhof der Amerikanischen Botschaft in Athen oder sogar der unendliche mathematische Raum selbst befindet. [7]

Was sich hinter einer Wand verbirgt, wäre dann einerseits begreifbar aber genauso auch unerwartet und überraschend. Je nachdem, in welchem räumlich-logischen Bedeutungssystem wir die Wand implantieren. Das ist der Zustand, der der „Vorvirtuellen Wand“ Qualitäten verleiht, um eigene Fantasiekaskaden zu ersinnen.



Endoskopie, Skizze. Künstlerhaus Bregenz / Palais Turn & Taxis, Mario Asef © Bregenz 2008

Wladimir Krasnosowitsch wurde 1890 in einer Arbeiterfamilie geboren und schloss 1902 eine kirchlich orientierte Schule ab. Seine Karriere begann er als Laufbursche in einer Handelsfirma. 1905 trat er mit Hilfe eines reichen Förderers in die Moskauer Fachschule für Malerei, Baukunst und Bildhauerei ein, wo er 1914 seinen Abschluss in Malerei und 1917 in Architektur machte.

Seine ersten Arbeiten waren noch von der klassizistischen Architektur der Jahrhundertwende geprägt. Einen Richtungswechsel bedeutete seine Lehrtätigkeit an der Moskauer Staatlichen Künstlerisch-Technischen Meisterschule (Wchutemas/Вхутемас).

Trotz eines hohen technischen Niveaus seiner Architektur hinterfragte Krasnosowitsch stets die Grundprämisse der Funktionalität. Seine Arbeiten erinnern häufig eher an abstrakte Skulpturen als an Zweckgebäude.

1934 bis 1937 unterrichtete Krasnosowitsch am Moskauer Architekturinstitut. In dieser Zeit erfuhr er bereits Kritik an seinen “Fantastereien” und konnte viele seiner Entwürfe nicht mehr realisieren. Zuletzt lebte er zurückgezogen. Krasnosowitsch starb 1974 einsam in seinem Moskauer Haus.


Endoskopie, Künstlerhaus Bregenz / Palais Turn & Taxis, Mario Asef © Bregenz 2008

[1] Die Wand – Eine Evolutionskette in der Architekturgeschichte “ – Wladimir Krasnosowitsch, Moskau ca. 1969

[2] A. a. O.

[3] A. a. O.

[4] A. a. O.

[5] A. a. O.

[6] A. a. O.

[7] A. a. O.

 Endoskopie, Künstlerhaus Bregenz / Palais Turn & Taxis, Mario Asef © Bregenz 2008
Endoskopie, Künstlerhaus Bregenz / Palais Turn & Taxis, Mario Asef © Bregenz 2008

Shifting the Focus

Fiona McGovern

Raumprothesen – Mario Asef © 2009

The opening of Mario Asef’s exhibition Raumprothesen für frei zusammenwachsende Sozialorganismen (Spatial Prosthetics for Freely Integrated Social Organisms) at arttransponder was a big celebration. As announced on posters in the exhibition space, various Berlin-based street musicians, invited by the artist, played one after the other. The musicians hailed from northwest Africa, Turkey, and Russia, and also included a World Music DJ from Argentina. Toward the end of the night the musicians spontaneously improvised together. For viewers the gallery visit became a musical journey through world cultures whose sounds and voices became increasingly mixed over the course of the evening. At first the musical event seemed to be the focus here, however, during the remainder of the exhibition the essential conditions and multi-layered referential structures of the project became evident.

Raumprothesen – Mario Asef © 2009

The “Raumprothesen,” which give the exhibition its name, served as individual stages for the musicians. Made out of insulation board, the abstract geometrical shapes in the form of ledges and steps inconspicuously extended the stark architecture of the White Cube into the space. While the artist-designed objects that add to the existing architecture are certainly a focus of the exhibition, their designing points more significantly to a symbolic shifting of the categorization-defying architectonic remains—which Mario Asef groups under the neologism “Raumprothesen”—from the realm of urban public space to the (institutional) art context. In the sense of the dualism of Site (here: public space) and Nonsite (here: gallery room), once formulated by Robert Smithson, a kind of displacement also occurs here that changes our perceptions. Both of Smithson’s terms also explicitly refer to their respective phonetic equivalents of Sight and Nonsight: what consciously enters our field of vision first affects us and holds our attention. Shifting the Raumprothesen from urban space to the gallery space leads therefore not only to a revaluation of these elements, which are completely neglected—if not repressed—by city planners and architects, but generates literally and figuratively a platform for street musicians. In one’s perception of public space, illegal immigrants are—like some of the participating musicians—often degraded to objects that seemingly belong to the cityscape. Shifting the location of the musicians also signifies for them, in analogy to the Raumprothesen, a revaluation of their musical playing and their recognition as subjects of our society. If insulation board typically functions to isolate rooms acoustically, the voices of immigrants are now the focus of attention on top of them.

Raumprothesen – Mario Asef © 2009

This new form of public appearance didn’t seem to put all of the invited guests at ease; the fact that the Romanian musicians didn’t even show up for the opening night might be an indication of the explosiveness that goes along with this shift. The White Cube as an exclusive space closed off from the outside world becomes itself a far more open platform here; the borders between the experience of art and the urban everyday are permeable. Thus everything that transpires in the exhibition space also always points to its external reality. At the same time remnants from the opening night, such as scattered beer bottles or candy wrappers, become a part of the work as much as they are an index of a prior and potentially missed event. These can be appreciated during the concert-free period with a video from the opening celebration that plays on a small monitor in a corner of the room. Via this shift in medium a direct relationship is made to the video work Violinparis (2007)—presented at the same time in the exhibition—whose symbolism forms the point of departure and the basis of the questions being addressed here: with very little concern for technical effects and no subsequent editing, Violinparis presents the portrait of a Parisian street musician who plays her Turkish Rebec undisturbed and uninterrupted in front of the Centre Georges Pompidou while museum workers busily measure the square around her without paying her any attention. Over the years she has, as a matter of course, become a fixed element of the square, the sound of her instrument has become the constant soundtrack to local events. If, at best, she makes waiting in line for the Centre Georges Pompidou easier to deal with as a result of her playing, then in an exhibition context she is granted a presence and recognition that she hardly ever benefits from in everyday life—even if, or precisely because, a surprising number of visitors remember her from their visits to Paris.

Raumprothesen – Mario Asef © 2009

In a final action at the end of the exhibition, Mario Asef converts the here-mentioned shifts into a circular flow, thus turning the previously ideal repercussion of this project on external space into a material. As an art object, but mainly as prototypes of architectonic blank spaces, he places the slowly disintegrating insulation board-constructions in central locations around Berlin such as Potsdamer Platz, Alexanderplatz, and Mauerpark, reintegrating them (back) into urban space. They become a part of skateboard ramps, incorporated into graffiti, or used for seating. Now it’s only a question of time how long the impermanent material can hold its own ground.

Via this intermingling of two distinct spaces, each with their own inherent social customs and unspoken rules, Mario Asef’s exhibition project Raumprothesen für frei zusammenwachsende Sozialorganismen ultimately becomes itself a test case for urban development. A test case that demands a new way of looking at our architectonic surroundings and social interactions—both in the urban environment as well as the exhibition space.

Raumprothesen – Mario Asef © 2009

The Author

Fiona Mc Govern studied art history and comparative literature in Göttingn and Berlin. Since Spring 2009 she is a research associate at the collaborative research centre Aesthetic Experience and the Dissolution of Artistic Limits, Freie Universität Berlin and works on the adaption of curatorial approaches by artists since the late 1960’s.