24h Dahlem | Phonogram Archives

Video Installation | Ethnologisches Museum Dahlem

Director: Clara Jo
Sound Design and Composition: Robert Lippok
DP: Michael Laakmann
Edit: Carolina Hellsgård
Project Manager: Claudia Relota


24H Dahlem | Testing Contemporariness

by Martin Heller

The basic idea behind the “Tanz der Archive (Dance of Archives)” project which led to the film installation “24h Dahlem” was to let the city of Berlin and its museums in Dahlem enter into an unusual dialog. The municipal archives to be linked were quite different: On the one hand, the collections of the Ethnological Museum and the Asian Art Museum – a huge stock of non-European artifacts located in Berlin due to various political and cultural constellations and activities. On the other, the archive of the TV production “24h Berlin – A Day in the Life,” which attracted great attention in 2009. The 24-hour documentation produced by the broadcasters arte and Rundfunk Berlin-Brandenburg portrays a day in Berlin in images shot by 80 professional crews as well as amateurs. These images are publically accessible in the online archive of the Deutsche Kinemathek – Museum für Film und Fernsehen (www.first-we-take-berlin.de), comprising 11,000 videos clips of raw material.

These archives are comparable in that human existence manifests itself in both. Tangible in narratives and rituals, determined by love and pain, and connected by people residing in Berlin. For, of course, Berliners play the leading part in “24h Berlin,” just as they make up a substantial portion of the museum-goers in Dahlem, who with each visit bring along their own experiences of life, urban perceptions and personal expectations.

Based on this, the Humboldt Lab Dahlem and the Deutsche Kinemathek organized a two-stage concept competition in spring of 2013. From the 22 submitted concept drafts, three proposals were shortlisted. In the end, the Berlin-based American artist Clara Jo was commissioned to realize her project, “24h Dahlem,” that sought to apply the 24-hour formula to Dahlem. Clara Jo was interested in both the daily routines of the Ethnological Museum and the Asian Art Museum and the major changes that they are undergoing.

Night, Day, Future

As a structure, the filmmaker suggested presenting the 24 hours of a day in Dahlem in three parts. Instead of the expectable division into three times eight hours, a dramaturgically more convincing and sophisticated constellation emerged. Part 1 was to be dedicated to the night in Dahlem, Part 2 to the day, and Part 3 to the future – with a spectacular view of the construction site of the Humboldt Forum in Berlin Mitte.

To cope with the entire project in a creative and economical way, a stepwise realization became necessary. The three parts of “24h Dahlem” were therefore produced one after the other and presented at different times, all in the frame of Probebühne 3, but in spatially separated installations.

But what did the dance consist of? How did the city and the museums get together? The equally surprising and convincing solution resulted from the artist’s collaboration with the musician Robert Lippok, who first searched the online archive of the Kinemathek and then the collections in Dahlem for suitable sounds and acoustic documents. He succeeded in creating a special and, despite all complexity, comprehensible web of references between the video and audio track for each of the three parts. This resulted in something novel: a transdisciplinary essay on this location of the collections in Dahlem, which is on the verge of being closed down and then relocated to the Humboldt-Forum.

This principle already becomes evident in Part 1, “Night,” which shows a guard on his nightly round through the museum. Spectators follow him through the exhibition spaces and depots, experiencing the Ethnological Museum in a passive state that has little to do with the actualities of the museum, but a lot with the directing of the nightly inspector. His inspection lamp at times makes grotesque discoveries, while the room lighting eliminates all differences between day and night. Lippok plays around these images with diverse recordings of nightlife in Berlin drawn from the online archive, which together with the impressions from the museum lead to ever new associations. Someone gives an account of his nightshift, while elsewhere people are partying; prayers can be heard as well as disco basses.

Part 2, “Day,” focuses on unexpectly cryptic, everyday working processes in the museum. The filmmaker observed two members of the museum staff with her camera – Ulrike Folie in the Visual Anthropology Archive and Albrecht Wiedmann in the Phonogram Archive – and edited the shots in parallel. Ethnological films are being viewed and catalogued; Clara Jo edits sequences of these films and historical material going back to the founder of the museum, Adolf Bastian, between her own shots. With the wax cylinders, in turn, a medium is depicted that radiates a sensually attractive foreignness. This almost poetic flow of images is accompanied by wax cylinder recordings from East Africa from 1930 and by sounds that Robert Lippok produced with instruments from the ethno-musicological collection – in a literally tentative exploration of as yet unknown possibilities.

Part 3 is different again: In “Future,” the city is shown for the first time with the construction site of the Humboldt Form in the center of Berlin. Of course, the film can only allude to the building under construction. In a spectacular choreography, it fantasizes about the Palace and simultaneously shows work being conducted in the Palace Workshop, where historicizing facade elements are manufactured. The substance of what is to be realized with the Humboldt-Forum cannot be shown; the future remains a promise.

A Telling Speechlessness

The plan was to set the images of “Future” to excerpts of interviews held by Clara Jo with staff members in Dahlem. However, a strange imbalance between words and images arose during the realization, so that the commentary was omitted: a perhaps telling speechlessness. Instead, one can again hear urban sounds from the online archive of “24h Berlin” and audio tracks of non-European musical instruments.

The films by Clara Jo and Robert Lippok extract moments of great intensity from the institution of the museum and the exhibitions in Dahlem, where they were installed. No documentary commission and no didactics are at play. Artistic freedom, stepwise testing, and the assurance that one is allowed to fail, if that should be the case, allow results that are convincing precisely due to this openness.

Contemporaneousness is one of the main concerns of the exhibitions in the future Humboldt-Forum. Contemporaneousness is not just the topicality of contents, but the complex result of emotions, language, stances, and approaches. “24h Dahlem” conveys a sense of what this could entail.

Photo: 24h Dahlem | Phonogram Archives