Perpetuated Transitions: Forms of Nightlife and the Buildings of Berlin in the Work of Isa Genzken and Wolfgang Tillmans

  • Philipp Ekardt


At the centre of this chapter is an interpretation of the 2001 installation, Science Fiction/Hier und jetzt zufrieden sein (Science Fiction: Being Satisfied here and now), by sculptor Isa Genzken and photographer Wolfgang Tillmans.1 Through engaging with each artist’s formal vocabulary as well as with their individual work-biographies, the chapter seeks to describe the way in which the Science Fiction installation communicates with the activity of architecture in general and with one concrete, historic architectural or urban reality in particular. The reality in question is an episode in the history of Berlin, the decade of the 1990s, which was by all accounts a transitional period. After the Fall of the Wall, large territories in the middle of the city were set free from the control exercised by one system that had just collapsed (the particular socialism of the German Democratic Republic, GDR), while another system (the capitalism of the Federal Republic of Germany, FRG) had not yet taken hold of them. In Genzken’s and Tillmans’s work one can perceive a formally highly mediated echo of two types of intervention in these urban zones of suspension: first, an administrative and corporate grip that privileges monumental representationalism and the maximizing of profit (as addressed by Genzken in her artistic comments on the development of Potsdamer Platz); second, a dedication of existing architectural structures to a culture of nightlife and its transient institutions (clubs, parties and so on, which are depicted in Tillmans’s images, but also referred to in Genzken’s sculptures).


Science Fiction German Democratic Republic Artistic Comment Dance Floor Empire State Building 
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  1. 2.
    See for example, A. Kluge (2003), Die Lücke, die der Teufel lässt (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp), p. 195.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    The argument presented here has no space for a comparison with one of Tillmans’s works which at least through its title proposes a similar summary of the decade, namely, his photo-installation, Soldiers — The Nineties. Due to its focus on the artwork, this contribution also neglects explicit references to proper histories of Berlin nightlife in the 1990s. One very recently published book focusing on the aftermath of that decade, but still rich in retrospective views, is T. Rapp (2009): Lost and Sound — Berlin, Techno und der Easyjetset (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp).Google Scholar
  3. 5.
    This is not, as Vanessa Joan Müller remarks, a reference either to the crystalline aesthetics of Bruno Taut or to the verticality of Mies’s designs, but to both incorporated in a single design. See V. J. Müller (2007), ‘Allegorie und Alltag’, in N. Schaffhausen, ed., Isa Genzken: Oil. Deutscher Pavillon. Venedig Biennale (Cologne: DuMont), pp. 166–9, p. 166.Google Scholar
  4. For Mies’s design sketches see B. Bergdoll and T. Riley (2001), eds, Mies in Berlin, exh. cat. (New York: The Museum of Modern Art), pp. 180–3.Google Scholar
  5. 6.
    See I. Genzken (2003), ‘Ein Gespräch mit Wolfgang Tillmans’, in Isa Genzken, 1992–2003, exhibition cat./catalogue raisonée. (Cologne: Walther König), pp. 134–6, p. 134, (my translation).Google Scholar
  6. 7.
    R. Koolhaas (2002), ‘Junkspace’, October, 100, 175–90, p. 178. See H. Föll and P. Ekardt (2003), ‘Isas House’, Neue Review: Art in Berlin, 3, 30–3.Google Scholar
  7. 10.
    With obvious reference to Warhol’s film, Empire. See M. Krajewski and I. Genzken (2003), ‘Fragilität kann etwas sehr Schönes sein: Gespräch mit Isa Genzken am 28. Juli 2003 in Berlin’, Parkett, 69, 88–93, p. 89.Google Scholar
  8. 11.
    See illustration in Isa Genzken: ‘Sie sind mein Glück’ (2000), (Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz), pp. 28–9; I. Genzken (2007) I Love New York, Crazy City (Zurich: JRP Ringier).Google Scholar
  9. 13.
    See the catalogue published by the Museum Ludwig (2001), Isa Genzken, Wolfgang Tillmans: Science Fiction/Hier und jetzt zufrieden sein, exh. cat. (Cologne: Walther König).Google Scholar
  10. 22.
    See P. Ekardt and J. Kedves (2008), ‘Gegenöffentlichkeit im Treppenhaus: Between Bridges/Wolfgang Tillmans’, Spex: Magazin für Popkultur, 312, 113–7.Google Scholar
  11. 30.
    Diedrich Diederichsen first wrote about this connection between Genzken’s sculptural practice and the realm of electronic music nightlife. See D. Diederichsen (2000), ‘Subjekte am Rande der Fahnenstange’, in Isa Genzken: ‘Sie sind mein Glück’, pp. 32–6;Google Scholar
  12. D. Diederichsen (2003), ‘Die Poetik der Psychocities’, in Isa Genken: 1992–2003, pp. 24–6. See also Föll and Ekardt, ‘Isas House’.Google Scholar
  13. 32.
    ‘Auch um des Schönen willen ist kein Schönes mehr: weil es keines mehr ist. Was anders nicht als negativ erscheinen kann, spottet seiner Auflösung, die es als falsch durchschaut, und die darum die Idee des Schönen entwürdigte’. T. W. Adorno (1995), Ästhetische Theorie (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp), p. 85 (my translation).Google Scholar
  14. 33.
    W. Benjamin (1985), ‘Phantasie’, in Gesammelte Schriften, 6, ed., R. Tiedemann and H. Schweppenhäuser (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp), pp. 114–17, p. 115.Google Scholar

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© Philipp Ekardt 2009

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  • Philipp Ekardt

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