Friederike von Rauch unfurls the silence
Several bunkers in Germany have been transformed over the past few years. Once powerful wartime relics, they’ve become luxury apartments, fancy gallery spaces, or lively cultural centres. Their metre-thick walls could have an intimidating effect, but not for Friederike von Rauch. The Berlin photographer spent four summer days in the telecommunications bunker at Hallesches Ufer in Berlin-Kreuzberg. Dressed in a warm winter jacket and equipped with her medium format camera, she slowly became used to the darkness inside the space. “Every time I went there it was a new experience”, she says. “When I was working I completely forgot that I was in a bunker. The silence is striking.”
After the intervention of British architect John Pawson, this former Nazi fortification is now a private museum housing The Feuerle Collection. In two vast, windowless halls, Khmer sculptures (7th to 13th century) in stone, bronze, and wood are displayed together with works from contemporary artists Anish Kapoor, Adam Fuss, Nobuyoshi Araki, and others, and Chinese furniture from the Han Dynasty (200 BC to the 18th century). “To me, all these pieces of furniture are sculptures”, says Désiré Feuerle, the German collector and connoisseur of Asian art. For several years he has been looking for a space for the exceptional collection that juxtaposes antiques with contemporary artworks – be it in Germany or somewhere else. The decayed bunker in Berlin was perfect for the purpose, with its arcane spaces that completely concentrate on themselves and tune out any urban context. But the intervention to change the bunker into a museum space was a challenging task: “It is difficult to think of places more charged with atmosphere than these monumental concrete structures. They fall very much into the category of engineered architecture, of the sort that so appealed
to Donald Judd”, remarks John Pawson. Instead of focusing on pristine surfaces, the architect considered a series of subtle interventions that remain almost invisible but intensify the quality of the spaces. The bunker dates from 1942-44 and was never in use during wartime. Fabricated from concrete poured on site, the walls are two metres thick and the ceilings even thicker. The passage of time has made its mark on the fabric of the building, which belonged to post-war East Germany. “We can only guess what happened in here”, says Petra Petersson from Realarchitektur, John Pawson’s partner office in Berlin. In the upper hall of the bunker, traces of graffiti and paint splatters are reminiscent of the former life of the long-term abandoned spaces. In contrast, the basement level is all black; there must have been a fire at some point. A large window separates the exhibition space from the Lake Room – a lower, completely flooded hall that shows a mysterious black sea, just like in a fairy tale.
Friederike von Rauch works without artificial light – her analogue photographs fuse the shadows and the darkness of the spaces together with the power of the artworks that unfold freely in the impressive halls of the bunker. The artist approached the exhibition spaces in a careful, quiet way, her eye on the silent effect of the pieces. “I have never worked under similar dramatic lighting conditions”, she informs. Her photographs show the timelessness of Asian god sculptures while measuring the proportions of antique wooden furniture, combining their narrative with that of the spaces in which they are displayed. The story the photographer tells in her work draws no conclusion, but it uncovers many associations that make The Feuerle Collection and its new Berlin home enchanting.
Text: Sandra Hofmeister