Michael Beutler has landed his site-specific, massive installation called Moby Dick in the historic hall of the former train station Hamburger Bahnhof. This is by far Berlin’s coolest art museum that undeservedly doesn’t pull in the hipster crowds that other galleries get in this capital that never stops (re-)building.
The German artist Michael Beutler (b. 1976) lives in Berlin and I assume he is confronted on a daily basis by enormous building sites and the chaos that comes with these monumental projects. The latest debatable reconstruction is the reincarnation of the baroque Stadtschloss (City palace). I rather liked the Palast der Republik that used to dominate the open space that was the Marx-Engels Platz.
No wonder Beutler takes issue with ordered space and is fascinated by architectural installations, done on the cheap. He has transformed the former Hamburg Railway station into something resembling a giant workshop, even if the title refers to leviathan. Well, the installation is a monster of a kind. Having read Melville’s epic novel Moby Dick I can relate to Beutler’s choice of title for the exhibition. The seemingly chaotic preface of Melville’s book kicks off with some scholarly extracts and observations on whales. My initial reaction upon seeing Beutler’s project was : Can I be bothered with this deliberate mess? But then I remembered that it took some effort to get engaged in Melville’s novel. So, I gave it a go and in the end I was hugely entertained by this display, for more than half an hour.
Beutler luckily provides a site map. The whale ship from the book (the Pequod) lends its name to the carousel which forms the centre of this bohemian and colourful array of machinery and constructions. I started my journey seated on a bench inside the whaler Pequod. The seats are fixed to the floor, but the water in the centre of the carousel turns in one direction, while the great big ‘sail’, that surrounds us, moves the opposite way. This does give you a very real sense of sailing while not moving an inch. After the ‘ride’ it is time to explore the creative studio (or is it a fun park for architects?) crammed with improvised buildings, furniture and work benches made with rather flimsy materials like sheet metal, paper, wood, cardboard, and bamboo canes. You do get the impression that the artists have just left the hall for a little break and will be back any moment now to finish the various projects.
There is a sense of going back-stage, witnessing the conception process and the playfulness involved in building things (I wish I could feel the same way about building at home). There is clearly also a lot of humour involved. This is particularly evident in the videos that record some of Beutler’s previous projects.
The form and feel of the constructions are questioned by using cheaper materials. That much I can understand, but don’t ask me to explain the deeper meaning of all this. Perhaps the answer is simply that the ways of the artist, just like those of the great white whale Moby Dick, are unknowable.
Michael Beutler, Moby Dick, installation at Hamburger Bahnhof, Invalidenstraße 50-51, 10557 Berlin. Until September 6, 2015