To the Beach
May and June this year took me to do preliminary field research in Germany; a series of visits in Kassel, Berlin, Brandenburg and Ruhr. A population of eighty million, the largest in Europe and nineteenth largest in the world, had contended with an “emergency break” for almost two months, but now the country was slowly opening — and people were taking to the beach.
In Berlin, me and fellow researcher Sophie Mak-Schram visited Marina Naprushkina in Strandbad Tegeler See, a public beach about to open after being shut for five years. Marina and her collaborators from the Neue Nachbarschaft Moabit have been coming every Saturday this year, despite the virus (because of exceptions that allow people to work voluntarily in outdoor gardens) to prepare the Strandbad for visitors; rebuilding derelict kiosks and a beautiful pier, painted in brisk blue and white, with clear glass windows. I returned by myself for the official opening in early June, paying a small entrance fee of three euros on a warm and sunny Thursday afternoon. I found my spot, as so many others who were basking in the sun or playing in the water, while a theatre group performed what felt like an improvised musical, together with a small ensemble and there are birds strolling in the sandy grass.
Unannounced, and by happenstance, I arrived a few days after my visit at the Tegeler See in the Humboldthain Public Outdoor Swimming Pool at TROPEZ, “a space for art inside the public pool,” but “also a kiosk.” I was there at 17:30 on a Saturday (I had read on Instagram that there would be an exhibition opening at 16:00). Again, I paid three euros at the entrance. However, when I came to the beautiful kiosk in the swimming pool, I was told that the show was over, there was now a private party there. I could not really blame anyone for this but myself, I was there by sheer coincidence, not with an appointment as before. Nonetheless, I suddenly realised how unusual the beach at Tegeler See is as an art space. It is not an art space located in public space, but a public space as an art space. While the beach certainly opens itself to artistic activities, with an ambitious cultural program and facilities for workshops and events, it is also just what it is — a beach.
The third beach I ventured to was at the Silbersee II in Haltern am See for Ruhr Ding:Klima, an ambitious exhibition with installations in public space across several towns in the Ruhr. There was something apocalyptic about that day at the beach in the strange, humid hot weather that brought almost no sun through the clouds, and only occasional drops of water. There were people about their business, but restaurants and kiosks closed. Some from the SARS fixing gear, a few sailboarders about (co-producing one of the art works, in fact). No one really visiting the beach if not attending the art show, it was not the weather for beach going. In a slightly different way than in the other two places, a common space was being claimed, a claim was being staked. One thing that stuck with me was a very conspicuous sculpture, multiplied several times over. A surveillance camera, on a platform, branded with the festival logo. You are being watched, or more precisely; the artworks are being watched. Thus, the gallery, or the museum, is subtly traced on the beach, like a line down in the sand.