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  • Christian Hain

Ilya Khrzhanovski Is Building a Wall, in Berlin. A Monument to the DAU?

(Berlin.) A lot of Berlin, and German, citizens actually wouldn’t mind to get that wall back. For a variety of reasons, cultural, political, or only linguistic (wait till you hear a Saxon speak). An invisible border still divides what was united between 1871 and 1942, and has been again since 1990. Now, those prayers have been answered, in parts at least: When Ukrainian director slash artist Ilya Khrzhanovski presents his film DAU in Berlin, he will bring along bricks and barb wire.

Everybody knows, the art world values a film's form of presentation, the screening ambiance, as much as the images themselves; “sculptural” it must be and best call it a “x-channel video installation”. Set and setting. Accordingly, Illya K. came up with the idea to rebuild the Berlin wall for his premiere. If all necessary authorisations can be secured in time (latest reports are rather discouraging), the opening will take place on 12 October. To be sure, they already held a press conference to make the press help sell the idea to you. Which I hereby try.

This wall will not divide the entirety of Berlin, Germany, Europe, but only cut out a slice of the city, on the doorsteps of Schinkel Pavillon who eagerly embraced the opportunity to host said press conference at which more than the usual art suspects attended. The project’s title was not discussed, although it seems a rather interesting point.

"DAU", that’s a common term in IT language, in use for decades and designating the “Dumbest Assumable User”, a concept to render a new software (or, as marketing divisions successfully taught you to say: “app”) fool-proof. What could go wrong if a family member of the Karda- well, just any in some way or other mentally challenged human being decided to try your latest product? There’s even a German phrase to fill the acronym: “Dümmster Anzunehmender User” (no need to memorise this), but don’t ask for the Ukrainian translation. To be honest, I have some fundamental doubts regarding the people in charge‘s awareness of the context. Maybe, this DAU stands for something completely else (of all online translation tools, only google claims "dau" were Ukrainian for "a lot". No other dictionary could confirm). Currently, there’s a huge ...-ly advertised show/rearrangement of the standing collection at Museum Hamburger Bahnhof, and some intern tricked computer-illiterate curators and officials into calling it Hello World (the show’s not interesting enough to loose any more words about it).

Now, DAU is not merely a film, but a “project” – sounds so much more important - or more precisely the filmed documentation of a project extending art into life and vice versa: For several years, people who mourn the good ole’ times have been living together in a closed off compound near the Ukrainian city of Kharkov, using only items contemporary to half a century ago. The commune took inspiration from a former Soviet physical/mathematical research facility that also kept its employees close together, less deliberately. Sounds like a TV show (or Google)? Did they borrow the idea from EnDeMol or some other international trash TV production company? Similar concepts exist in numerous countries, sending people to 19th Century farms &ct. But this is art.

It does seem like a fascinating experience, to leave the “real” world behind and live in a dream for a while. The director being a shy person, refusing to take the limelight for himself and besides, the mass of the participants imports much more than any individual leader, did not show up personally at the press conference (or maybe he did but chose not to reveal himself). Instead, Tom Lola Runs Tykwer took his place on stage. Makes sense: If you’re an Ukrainian artist wanting to promote your latest project abroad, where hardly anybody can pronounce only one of your name's many syllables, send a famous friend of yours. Because you’re a shy person, not wanting to take the limelight for yourself, and besides, the totality of the participants imports more than any individual. Sadly, Ilya Kr... - come on, give the man some vowels already! - has no plans to present DAU in the US, only in France (championed by Luc Besson?) and London (Ken Loach, Dany Boyle?). Events there will be filed under the keywords “Fraternity” and “Equality”. Berlin is “Liberty”, in case you wondered.

Not quite a docu fiction, nor Big Brother, the locally world famous lead cameraman Jürgen Jürges was quick to assure that no hidden cams were used, people always knew when and which camera was shooting, yet still they “behaved perfectly natural”, did not act or if they did, so well, you couldn’t tell – this sounds kind of contradictory, don’t you think? One more word about the untrained non-actors: Talking about “all the different people” who came together on the occasion, "lived, loved, worked and aged" under one roof, in many cases stayed even longer than intended, then go on and identify them as “academics from Princeton and Yale, artists from Stockholm and Paris”... sounds varied, indeed. Not. More like the art world’s usual peer and target group (minus the collecting millionaires). But maybe there were some “real people” too, Ukrainian day labourers even who otherwise litter the streets of every European metropolis, and they just didn’t communicate it.

Be that as it may, the social experiment resulted in thirteen feature films and “numerous” mini series – you’re too lazy to put your film in a decent format, or want to economise on a professional cutter? Do a mini series, it offers more space for commercial breaks as well. 200+ hours (sic!), that’s almost a film festival by itself. And you - those of you who visited Berlinale, and if only virtually with - thought five-hour Philippinean war musicals were too long!

A temporary setback to the production occurred when K. decided to pay back all Russian money involved, not because it would be dirty per se (Ukrainian economy doesn’t seem any less mafia infested), but for political – and symbolical? - reasons. Tom Tykwer’s production company by the way is called X Films, he casually took care to drop the name more than once. I can well imagine what your browser suggests as soon as you start typing that.

One more thing transpired: It will not be possible to buy “tickets” for DAU. Only tickets that are called “visas”. These will be available in several variants, valid for two, twenty-four, or seventy-four hours, respectively, or the entire four weeks. Even during this time, you may check out at leisure (probably). At the border - "Checkpoint Ilya"? -, visitors will be obliged to change their dumbphone for a dedicated device to trace their every step just like the KGB did, or Google does. It will “help” you to discover the artwork, and “individualize” (read, as always in the case of automation: “render every change to habits all but impossible, and keep the user calculable") the experience, and besides, it's useful for all sorts of statistics and security measures. On your visit you will thus meet different actors, and participate in a variety of performances. Alternatively try and wear one of those neon wests with “Press” written upon. They do help in some war zones at least.

Much ado about... an impressive gesamtkunstwerk, or a spectacle that kept - still keeps! - a director busy for a long time, but nobody will care much about? Looking forward to finding out! This world needs more walls, not least to contain all the DAUs.

DAU: Liberty, “Four weeks” starting on 12 October

World of Arts Magazine – Contemporary Art Criticism



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