Monday, May 9, 2011

Adolf Winkelmann, Flying Pictures at the Dortmunder U

Uhr mit Fischen über Dortmund, Adolf Winkelmann 2010

In my travels to the Ruhr last week, bound for the Zeche Zollern outside of Dortmund, I stopped in at the newly refurbished and recreated Dortmunder U. I have to say, for all of the excitement over this project which was supposed to contribute to the transformation of a depressed city into a cultural mecca, there was not so much to get excited about at the converted brewery. Like all of these refurbished former factories, mines and breweries in the Ruhr (see also the Lichtmuseum at Unna, which is the obvious comparison here as it was also once a brewery), the building itself is wonderful. There is lots of space, lots of potential and a feeling of lightness and freedom as one moves through the open, and in this case, as often in others, vertical space. The central eight storey tower which has been the icon of Dortmund since the brewery's construction in the 1920s, has been redesigned with grace and power by architect, Professor Eckhard Gerber and his colleagues. Sadly, however the dream of a vibrant and energetic cultural centre did not seem to have come true on the day I visited. As is so often the case with these Ruhr 2010 projects, I had the building and exhibitions to myself.

c. Gerber Architekten, Photo. Jürgen Landes
The real drawcard is Flying Pictures by filmmaker Adolf Winkelmann, a three part film installation that maps the verticality of the one time brewery tower, the horizontality of the Ruhr region, and the panoramic views that are its trademark. The first installation, indeed, the first view of the Tower, shows Winkelmann’s images filling the crown of the building. The flickering images reminded me alternately of Times Square with its barrage of screens that color the sky and streets in its midst. However Winkelmann’s images are more silhouette like, they are flickering colors that also reminded me of the window displays filled with moving images from the turn of the century cities. On the overcast day that I was in Dortmund, it was difficult to see the images at the top of the tower — an obscurity that seems in keeping with the dimming of all the cultural and artistic activities in the Ruhr region that are billed as being so exciting. Apparently, the images “create the sense of a space behind the colonades and fills it with life, with imaginary water or with beer. Every hous on the hour it is inhabited by large pigeons” However, to reiterate, it was impossible to see this from where I stood because of the light conditions.
Neun Fenster in der Vertikalen, Adolf WInkelmann 2010
Just inside the entry of the building, visitors are greeted with a panoramic view of the Ruhr – an open circle of 11 screens that show the same image, with maybe a minute's time lag. Visitors are supposed to walk through this space on entry to the museum proper, however, again, the dream did not fit the reality the day I was there. There was no other reason to go inside this part of the building and so I sat, alone with the images and the pylons holding up the building. The panoramic form echoes the landscape of the Ruhr – flat, circular, and typified by its horizontality. Winkelman includes images that are said to be atypical, however, for anyone who has spent time in the Ruhr, the visions are very familiar: factories inside and out, street life, daily life intertwined with manufacture, slag heaps, and the attempt to transform the region into a cultural mecca. This is the post-industrial Ruhr region as we have come to know it.
Ruhrpanoramen im Foyer, Adolf Winkelmann, 2010

The next chapter of the installation represents nine windows, images that fill the vertical tower that can only be seen as we ascend on the escalator. This installation is as much a technical feat as the panorama on the ground floor, and with the light from the white walls, and the juxtaposition with the real windows in the tower, it has an energy that the others parts of the installation do not. Various, but not typical, Ruhr citizens are shown inside windows the same dimensions and design as those that actually form part of the building’s tower. We see a man writhing in the window, another young man holding his baby, a man playing a sax, all for a matter of minutes, sometimes with only three, even two windows “opened” at any one time. They are striking because the images are transitory in form, again speaking very much to the essence of cinema and this idea of images passing us by, in a state of transition. In their mirroring of the dimensions of the real windows, there is a sense in which Winkelmann’s windows look out onto the world of the Ruhr, from a different perspective.
c. Gerber Architekten, Photo. Jürgen Landes
After visiting the U, I strolled down to the main street of Dortmund, filled with chain stores, and teaming with shoppers. It was impossible to get a seat in any café that might be along the way, and this was the perfect confirmation of my suspicion that the “U” was not the success it had hoped to be. Clearly, shopping in Dortmund is much more enticing than any engagement with culture. Nevertheless, if you find yourself en route to somewhere else — probably the only reason to go to Dortmund — Winkelmann's images are, in my opinion, much more appealing than chain stores and sausages.


office-fesel said...

We admire Winkelmann Media Art and its transformative power for cities - Livecam at 24-7-worldwide.

scott davidson said...

What an interesting blog, introduced by a thought-provoking photo. The unusual wall painting of the dwellings is also a strangely modern interpretation. Something like this hieroglyphic view of a park by Swiss painter Paul Klee,
The image can be seen at who can supply you with a canvas print of it.