By The Way: On the installations Wiegenlied1 and Übergang2

by Boris von Brauchitsch

Once upon a time a wall stood in Berlin. It was the tourist attraction that made the city unique. But above all it recalled an unpleasant history that was also somehow embarrassing for everyone involved. Therefore they did with the wall what the ancient Egyptians once did with unpopular pharaohs: they erased all traces of it. Thereby they not only hoped to erase the memory, but to even erase that part of history itself. The Berlin Wall, although once running through the middle of the city, can be considered today to have largely disappeared.

Naturally Synne Bull from Norway and Dragan Miletic from Yugoslavia are not really tourists, for they were living in Berlin, but when they did think about Berlin they also thought about the wall. Consequently they set out to track down the remains of this monumental structure. Large sections slumbered in a sort of no-man’s-land between undergrowth and sprawling asphalt. Forgotten. But perhaps not completely forgotten: for even while Bull.Miletic set about making their video there were others who, on government orders and beyond the ken of any public perception, were busily obliterating further sections, as though intending to take the fall of the wall quite literally and to really and truly finish the job.

The sixteen-minute video that “sings” a Wiegenlied to the enchanted ruins is projected from a beamer suspended vertically from the ceiling onto a large pillow lying on the floor. Sleep could bring forgetfulness in a dream world, or could also give birth to monsters. But sleep will not come, for initially calmingly, but then with enervating redundancy, a musical clock chirps uninterruptedly from the beamer, playing the hit of the last century Berliner Luft by the operetta composer Paul Lincke, while the camera glides hectically past bushes, concrete remains, and barbed wire.

That is not the meaningful gaze of a civilization critic, and even less the considered perception of an archaeologist. This method of comprehending things is more reminiscent of a visitor from another planet, exploring the ruins of a true piece of architectural history. Mounted on a tripod, the camera gropes its remote-controlled way back and forth across the terrain, like an earthly rover that has landed on Mars to seek out traces of life. But life is found only very indirectly in the videos of Bull.Miletic. The protagonists are not people who express thoughts and feelings, but things that inform us about people. Wiegenlied is a superb example of this. Viewers themselves can move around and view the installation from all sides, for the projected image is circular. This largely does away with an up and a down, and increases the feeling of disorientation. The circle appears like those speech bubbles that communicate words and thoughts in comics, and is reminiscent at the same time of a view through a peephole, directed skeptically at the stranger before one’s own door. What we see is oblivion, turned into a picture. Once again we are reminded that history is always the history of the victor, and that historical monument preservation does not necessarily include the preservation of significant monuments, but of politically opportune memories.

The wall has long since become a stranger to Berliners, a useless irritation when they stumble across it by accident. At best it is a confrontation with a past that either appears unpleasant, or that one wishes were back. This depends on political orientation of course, and on the progression of one’s own history since the day the wall was opened. The younger generation, among whom one can also count the pair of artists, is mostly no longer aware of exactly where it ran. Its existence has become a shadowy existence; gaudily daubed individual segments are presented as curiosities, while the vast remainder is in the process of becoming cultural debris, razed and built over with amortizable properties.

There is nothing poetic about Bull.Miletic’s Wiegenlied, nor does it wallow by any means in the romantic of ruins. It doesn’t lull you to sleep, it irritates. It also reflects the atmosphere of being torn apart that can still be felt on the border between East and West. Berlin is the capital city of this attitude towards life. Without a plan and without a clue, just treading water, it peers into the past and the future and keeps its inhabitants on the trot.

Bull.Miletic also bring their curiosity for the German capital city’s urban peculiarities to light in other ways. Scanning the solidly anchored as in Wiegenlied, and recording passing things from a fixed point of view as in the elegantly melancholic installation Heaven Can Wait, which makes a global aggregate of the world’s revolving restaurants, are united in the video Übergang. Shot from the elevated railway, over the heads of passersby and above the traffic, Bull.Miletic recorded the façades with their windows, walls, and graffiti. People and cars are kept out of the picture here as well. The title Übergang is taken from the loudspeaker voice that announces other connections at transit junctions, however it also refers to the transitoriness of their own artistic existence, and to their northwestern and southeastern European origins. It could simply refer to the everyday transfer points from one railway line to another, or also naturally to the shift from a repressed past to a dubious future, which can be felt in no other European city so strongly.

The point of view in Übergang is not insistent and ego-centric as in Heaven Can Wait, but is one of a hectic and pulsing shoving ahead. Accompanying a sound mixed from the squealing of the rails, the houses race past. Four videobeamers project four videos next to each other in vertical format on a suspended screen. Four quarters become a fugal masterpiece. They press against each other, delivering different combinations of picture and sound with every new loop, thus producing practically endless variations of surfaces, color, and rhythm without losing sight of their topic thereby.

Circumspectly and apparently unemotionally, Bull.Miletic press ahead with gathering their clues, primarily on urban battlefields and playgrounds. As all of their works impressively show, their thoughts circle around the vain desire to record the world in its entirety, and accordingly, their videos are sensual studies of the ambivalences of the aggregate and the detail, of slowness and acceleration, and of overview and disorientation. In every new work, Bull.Miletic also explore the stylistic possibilities of the medium of video. The borders of perception are thereby not to be broken open or rashly crossed, but expanded conscientiously and with precision. Berlin was a very suitable terrain for this. The city’s dominant mood of constant new beginnings and demolition of the old can be inspiring when one observes it slightly from the outside. Bull.Miletic do this—and move on.

  1. German for cradle song, lullaby
  2. German for transfer, transition

From "Bull.Miletic: Slow Seeing," Künstlerhaus Bethanien Berlin, 2004. All rights reserved.