Soviet (11m 41s)
In September 2015, I was invited, together with Margaret Cahill, Peter Lewis and German artist Wolf Bertram Becker, to visit the site of the 1936 Berlin Olympic Village by its current owner DKB Stiftung für Gesellschaftliches Engagement (Berlin), and Palis Advisory GmbH, who initiated the project.
The Village, which was a military base up to 1934, when work began on its conversion for the Games, is at Elstal Wüstermark, 14 kilometres west of the Olympic Stadium and is currently scheduled for redevelopment. Taken over by the Soviet military in 1945 and finally abandoned in 1992, the 325 acre site is largely in a state of disrepair. It features a fascinating blend of architectural and artistic remnants from both the Nazi and Communist phases of German history and constitutes a material index of shifting cultural and political ideologies. The shells of former Soviet housing blocks overlook a cultural centre complete with Nazi wall relief and communist murals, an international dining hall or Speisehaus der Nationen and a scattering of the original ‘cottages’ built for the national teams. A reconstruction of four times gold medallist Jesse Owens’s bedroom draws the infrequent guided tours but the artists were allowed to ‘access all areas’ and roam the site freely for a period of three days of blistering late Summer heat.
The Project has been timed to coincide with the 80th anniversary of the Berlin Olympics and the 2016 Rio Games. My work focuses on two key themes related to the site. Drawing upon historic snapshots, and my own film and photographic sources, I have examined the social contexts of the Games, and in particular the fate of Wolfgang Fürstner, the Commander of the Village and the man responsible for overseeing its construction. Fürstner was demoted in accordance with the Nuremberg Laws of 1935, when it was discovered that his Grandfather was Jewish. He shot himself at the site shortly after the close of the Games. I have also addressed the Russian occupation of the site in work that depicts the architectural and artistic evidence of the adaptation of the site to the needs of the Red Army.
The first exhibition of the Project was at Deutsche Kreditbank’s Berlin headquarters in July 2016, and was transferred to the refurbished gymnasium at the Village itself in September 2016. The first UK showing of work from the Project was at neo:gallery 23 in Bolton during March/April 2017.