Greetings from Berlin IX

Painful experiments

„A Negro who came into the store at the mission station, had the stick hidden under his robe./An employee took the object from him and ran away, since he otherwise would not have handled it over.“  
Index card (detail)*

The index card with this text is presented together with the mentioned fetish stick in a small showcase in the African department of the Ethnological Museum Berlin. The installation is part of the exhibition experiment „Probebühne 1“ (rehearsal stage) which intends to try out novel presentation methods. The motive for doing so is the future establishment of the Humboldt-Forum (I reported about this project here). Both, the Ethnological and the Asian Art Museum will move to this new building.
All the presented experiments are worth visiting but, like the installation described, there are some I particularly liked. All of them have something in common: they are simple but sophisticated.
Artist Theo Eshetu hung a disco ball under the ceiling which reflections change the collection of Polynesian boats into a dream landscape. Curator Nicola Lepp created a “Museum of Vessels”. Starting point for her project was the observation that so many pots and jars are among the collected objects. I particularly liked that in one showcase she simply laid down the vessels, showing their mouths and thereby their emptiness – every vessel was once created to contain something but in the museum there is just nothing…
My favourite experiment was “Participants and Objectives. 8 Takes on Filming Music” created by Daniel Kötter, Julian Klein, Juliane Beck and others. They created eight different spaces (a school, a living room, a garden…) where the visitors can watch film clips taken from the archive of the Ethnological Museum. In the living room (“Pre Roll”) I watched a clipping which showed musicians and dancers in Sambia before the dance show. I learned from a text that they talked also about the cameraman, the mzungu. In the room “Flashback” the curators showed a collage of clips showing musicians performing – and looking just for one moment directly into the camera. In “Recording”, the school, clips where the camera or microphones were visible were presented. All together they raised so many questions about collecting and observing, about social and cultural anthropology and the function and responsibility of museums that my head was swimming.
I cannot say for sure if the experiments were responsible for the discomfort accompanying me strolling through the museum, looking at the conventional exhibits, but never before I have missed so strongly the living culture of the countries the collections stem from. I could hardly bear the masses of ethnological objects presented stoically side by side. All the conflicts and questions raised by the experiments are well known to me, but being confronted with them right in the middle of the exhibitions hurt like needles in the skin.
*More information about this object and the installation:
More information about the whole project:


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