International symposium, international group exhibition
Project leadership / curator
Christiane Mennicke, curator and director of the Kunsthaus Dresden
Co-curators / co-ordinators
Torsten Birne, Sophie Goltz
"Socialism is victorious" – for several years this slogan stood in bright neon letters on the Pirna Gate, a residential complex with restaurant and bar located in the heart of Dresden. It was dismantled overnight at the end of 1980s and now survives solely in memory, for instance, in Via Lewandowsky’s contribution to the project "Heimat Moderne" in Leipzig. Although the visual features of cities have changed dramatically in the course of the transformation from socialism to the new social system, it is barely conceivable that a slogan proclaiming "capitalism is victorious" would flash across a building today and promote the new economic system. Nevertheless, the system change is clearly visible in new buildings, advertising, the reconstruction of historical buildings, and the tourist marketing of urban spaces.
WILD CAPITAL / WILDES KAPITAL is the title of a project taking place in late summer and winter in Dresden, a project based on encounters between Sofia and Dresden. It owes its origin to two initiatives which emerged independently of one another: the "Visual Seminar" in Bulgaria, a project of the Institute of Contemporary Art in cooperation with the Center for Advanced Study, both located in Sofia, devoted to plotting and analyzing the changes in the cityscape during the transition from socialism to capitalism; and a group of artists, curators, and other cultural participants from Germany and western Europe who have worked on the social changes to the urban space in Dresden for a number of years, for instance in the project "DRESDENPostplatz," and continue to be active in the circle around the Kunsthaus Dresden. The decisive factor for the ensuing cooperation with the project WILD CAPITAL / WILDES KAPITAL was the encounter between both projects within the framework of "relations."
Both cities and local authorities in Sofia and Dresden found themselves, and continue to find themselves, in a process that is generally described as "structural transformation." However, the economic processes within this overarching process could be grasped roughly as two different variants of capitalism: one a "civilized" capitalism of a Western character regulated through institutional ordinances, and the other a "wild," unregulated version, typical of the former Eastern Bloc. In Dresden, strict regulations and specifications for urban planning, hand in hand with efforts by local authorities and private entrepreneurs to exploit the city’s tourist potential, have led to a focus on the "historical heritage" and a homogenous, streamlined "image" of a "Baroque" old city center, disregarding the dissonances of the real historical fabric of the architecture, which ranges from nineteenth-century historicism to the socialist modernism of the twentieth century. The extreme opposite can be observed in how Sofia’s city center has developed: here what one might call "wild" capitalism reigns, or at any rate this is where the scantly regulated priorities of a great array of parties interested in utilizing urban space have come into their own, ranging from pioneer capitalists in the form of wild advertising spaces, food stalls, and kiosks, to the mirrored-glass architecture of large international investors.
How are post-socialist cities changing in terms of their architecture and utilization concepts under the primacy of economic competition and privatization? What types of conspicuous visibility and dissimilarities in the cityscape are generated by economic processes? How are social transformation processes reflected in a city’s appearance and which interests lead to a new ordering of public spaces? These are the initial questions which the curatorial teams in Dresden and Sofia are pursuing for the duration of their very different projects and activities. Corresponding to the real conditions observable in Dresden and Sofia, these questions have necessarily led to different outcomes and theses – and to an urgent need for extensive discussion and controversies, which actually makes up the productive friction to be generated by the WILD CAPITAL / WILDES KAPITAL project developed in Dresden in dialogue with the protagonists from Sofia.
Whereas in Sofia mafia-like machinations and informal economies determine in equal measure the face of the city and contribute to the sense of powerlessness pervading the critical culture scene, in Dresden the excessive "order" and the systematic blending out of historical and social development processes through stringent "image politics" are generating an increasing discontent amongst critical voices. To what extent is it possible, however, to effectively differentiate the social and visual manifestations of capitalism according to the categories of "wild" or "civilized"? Informal economies, tourist marketing, monument protection, civil society potential – or its absence – and access to the media are some of the results of the political development processes between German unification and EU accession negotiations.
Today, a significant proportion of the Pirna Gate building complex in Dresden’s inner city is vacant. Laws of the jungle, predators – this is only a tiny sample of the metaphors that were taken from the animal kingdom in the past to describe how capital behaved, and such a metaphoric is currently enjoying a revival. To what extent informal economies or the regulation of access to urban spaces and active economic involvement will determine the respective horizons of future development, what impact this will have on the symbolic capital and the social reality of urban spaces, and how ideas and experiences of "wild" and "civilized" capital can be exchanged between founding EU Member States and accession candidates – these are the issues to be broached by a series of public guided tours, lectures, and workshops in August, and an exhibition (including artistic interventions) in Dresden’s urban space in December/ January. WILD CAPITAL / WILDES KAPITAL examines, on the one hand, the urban structures of capital, and, on the other, understands the strategies and methods pursued by those involved in the workshops and other contributions as the "wild" capital of civil society, excluded from the official planning processes.
Christiane Mennicke, curator and director of the Kunsthaus Dresden, on WILD CAPITAL / WILDES KAPITAL.
Under the title "The City as Mirror" the text was published in "read relations 3" (08/2005), the magazine of the project "relations."