EX–EMBASSY
EXHIBITION AND TEXT SERIES

at the former Australian Embassy
to the German Democratic Republic

August 4–31, 2018
Thur–Sat, 12–6pm
* Exhibition extended until September 1

Vernissage, Performances and Artists Talk
August 4, 3-7 pm

Grabbeallee 34–40, 13156 Berlin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Introduction

In August 2018, the on-site exhibition and text series EX-EMBASSY unpacks a persistent archive of cultural and diplomatic legacies arising from, alongside and beyond the ‘productive relations’ between the German Democratic Republic (GDR) and the ‘fifth continent’. Following geographer Doreen Massey’s definition of space as ‘the simultaneity of stories thus far’, EX-EMBASSY addresses the former Australian embassy to the GDR as a site shaped by, and containing, trajectories that move far beyond its physical frame, including multiple trajectories criss-crossing both Cold War and nascent neoliberal ideological tensions. The commissioned artworks and texts attend to negotiations and contestations of incommensurable regimes of land and property, territory and diplomacy, drawing out the role of the aesthetic within re-alignments of political imagination.

Commissioned artworks and texts probe and challenge an open research archive preliminarily assembled and shared by the project’s instigator and host, Sonja Hornung (AU/DE). Artists: Megan Cope (Quandamooka), Archie Moore (Kamilaroi), Sumugan Sivanesan (AU/DE) & Carl Gerber (DE), Sonya Schönberger (DE) and Khadija von Zinnenburg Carroll (AU/AT). Writers: Ben Gook (AU/DE), Sarah Keenan (AU/UK), Peter Monteath (AU), Rachel O’Reilly (AU/DE), and Nathan Sentance (Wiradjuri). Curatorial Advisor: Rachel O’Reilly (AU/DE).

The embassy built by the former German Democratic Republic (GDR) for Australia was designed by a group led by the architect of East Berlin’s iconic Cafe Moskau, Horst Bauer. As a material and symbolic site, the embassy’s construction in Berlin’s north east captures a particular moment of geopolitical and aesthetic reorganisation. In Australia, Labor Party Prime Minister Gough Whitlam had come to power in 1972 on the back of progressive and radical social movements, including the Aboriginal-led struggle for land rights. The country was one of the first Western states to recognise communist China, while in the same period increasing military aid four-fold to Suharto’s anti-communist dictatorship in Indonesia. In the immediate wake of the 1972 Basic Treaty (Grundlagenvertrag), which facilitated recognition between East and West Germany, the diplomatic relations established between the socialist GDR and the settler colony of Australia were among the first to be negotiated by the GDR with a Western capitalist state.

To accommodate the swathe of new diplomatic missions opening to the GDR in the 1970s, a small number of prefabricated, standard-issue models of socialist-modernist design were allocated to around 140 new embassies. Australia was granted East Berlin’s largest model, the ‘IHB-III’ (Ingenieur-Hochbau-III). Located close by, its architectural ‘twin’, the Iraqi embassy, has been abandoned since 1990. The long, low-lying three-storey buildings are both constructed from concrete slabs featuring individualised ceramic brick shades and mosaic elements by Hedwig Bollhagen, a generous garden, and, singularly in Australia’s case, a tennis court. Like other capitalist nation-states, Australia was granted a 99-year rental contract and charged by the GDR for its use.

Pre-recognition, Australia had sought contact as early as 1951 with GDR representatives via the Australian Military Mission near the 1936 Olympic Stadium in West Berlin, while the GDR in Sydney occupied a small, private shopfront ironically listed as ‘KfA Pty Ltd’ (Chamber for Foreign Trade Pty Ltd). Australia’s trade aims included profiting from the export of coal, wool and wheat. The countries shared an interest in comparing knowledge on the extractive art of processing lignite (brown coal). The GDR aimed to export bulk commodities, such as lenses and glassware from the renowned firm Carl Zeiss .

Beyond trade pragmatism, other desires and counter-projects can be traced running through the embassy’s built frames that draw attention to more complex material histories of diplomatic organisation. Faith Bandler and Ray Peckham travelled to the GDR in 1951 under surveillance by the recently formed Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO), performing as part of the World Youth Festival for Peace and giving a speech to factory workers on Aboriginal equality and citizen rights . British anthropologist, land rights advocate and Communist Party member Fred Rose reported on Embassy events for the Stasi , while members of the Aboriginal rock band ‘No Fixed Address’ were effusively received on multiple occasions by East Berliners as proof of the cruelties of colonial capitalism . In the meantime, propagandised links between Aboriginal resistance movements and perceived ‘communist threats’ have been instrumentalised by successive Australian governments to denigrate material justice projects.

Ultimately, Australia’s trade with the GDR bore little fruit. As a result, the Australian Embassy prematurely ended its rental contract on the publicly-owned site well before the fall of the wall, in 1986. The monolith of a building left behind bears witness to the actual vulnerability of infrastructures representing ostensibly stable states, governance ideals, and private interests. Privatised in the 1990s as part of the ‘Treuhand’ process – which oversaw the selling-off of East German state assets for licentiously low prices – the building subsequently changed hands a number of times, narrowly escaping demolition in 2014. Albeit now heritage-listed, today it lies in a state of weedy disrepair; a long-delayed redevelopment into a luxury apartment complex remains unapproved. Artist studios presently occupy the no-longer-state infrastructure at the wavering edge of Berlin’s real estate bloom.

EX-EMBASSY opens as part of Berlin’s Project Space Festival 2018 and is hosted by the project space x-embassy, part of Atelierhaus Australische Botschaft Ost. This project has been assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council for the Arts, its arts funding and advisory body, and by the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation through the association Helle Panke e.V.. With thanks to our media partner Berlin Art Link.

Monteath, Peter (2008) ‘The German Democratic Republic and Australia’ in Debatte: Journal of Contemporary Central and Eastern Europe, 16:2, 213-235, see also Schedvin, Boris (2008) Emissaries of Trade: A history of the Australian trade commissioner service, Canberra: WHH Publishing, 279-280.
Daley, Paul (2018), ‘Revealed: how Australian spies filmed Indigenous activists during the cold war’ in The Guardian, 13/02/2018. Article retrieved online here.
Monteath Peter & Munt, Valerie (2015), Red Professor: The Cold War Life of Fred Rose, South Australia: Wakefield Press, 275
Hurley, Andrew Wright (2015), ‘No Fixed Address, but currently in East Berlin: The Australian bicentennial, Indigenous protest and the Festival of Political Song 1988’ in Perfect Beat, 15:2, 129-148
Krätzer, Tobias (1998), Botschaften und Konsulaten in Berlin: Eine stadtpolitische Analyse, Berlin Verlag, 132.
Monteath, Peter (2008) ‘The German Democratic Republic and Australia’ in Debatte: Journal of Contemporary Central and Eastern Europe, 16:2, 213-235, siehe auch: Schedvin, Boris (2008) Emissaries of Trade: A history of the Australian trade commissioner service, Canberra: WHH Publishing, 279-280.
Daley, Paul (2018), ‘Revealed: how Australian spies filmed Indigenous activists during the cold war’ in The Guardian, 13/02/2018. Artikel online aufrufbar hier.
Monteath Peter & Munt, Valerie (2015), Red Professor: The Cold War Life of Fred Rose, South Australia: Wakefield Press, 275.
Hurley, Andrew Wright (2015), ‘No Fixed Address, but currently in East Berlin: The Australian bicentennial, Indigenous protest and the Festival of Political Song 1988’ in Perfect Beat, 15:2, 129-148.
Krätzer, Tobias (1998), Botschaften und Konsulaten in Berlin: Eine stadtpolitische Analyse, Berlin Verlag, 132.
Morris Cohen and C.B. Macpherson, ‘Property and Sovereignty’, Property: Mainstream and Critical Perspectives (University of Toronto Press, 1978).
Kevin Gray, ‘Property in Thin Air’, Cambridge Law Journal, 50 (1991), 252–307.
Kevin Gray, The Legal Order of the Queue, 2007.
James E. Penner, The Idea of Property in Law (Clarendon Press, 1997); Cohen and C.B. Macpherson.
Nicholas Blomley, ‘Law, Property, and the Geography of Violence: The Frontier, the Survey and the Grid’, Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 93 (2003), 121–141.
Cohen and C.B. Macpherson.
Cheryl Harris, ‘Whiteness as Property’, Harvard Law Review, 106(8) (1993), 1721.
Aileen Moreton-Robinson, The White Possessive: Property, Power and Indigenous Sovereignty (University of Minnesota Press, 2015).
Ibid, Harris.
Davina Cooper, Governing Out of Order: Space, Law and the Politics of Belonging (Rivers Oram Press, 1998).
Emily Grabham, ‘”Flagging” the Skin: Corporeal Nationalism and the Properties of Belonging’, Body & Society, 15 (2009), 63–82.
Ibid, Cooper 629.
Ibid, Cooper 636.
Aileen Moreton-Robinson, ‘Imagining the Good Indige-nous Citizen’, Cultural Studies Review, 15(2), (2009), 61-80.
Here, there is a need to need to point towards – while refusing to appropriate – narratives of Aboriginal resistance to the settler state. A few key dates: In 1972, Aboriginal activists established the Aboriginal Tent Embassy on the lawns of Parliament House, the seat of government in Canberra, which carved out a physical, social and political space of belonging in the Australian capital until today, subverting the version of Australia that parliamentarians wish to portray to diplomatic visitors, and in constant struggle with the colonial state. In 1973 the White Australia policy, which had effectively barred non-European immigrants from moving to Australia, was disbanded with a series of legal amendments prohibiting racial discrimination from being formally included in immigration law. In 1976, following a ten-year strike by the Gurindji people, led by Vincent Lingiari, the Aboriginal Land Rights Act (Northern Territory) became the first ever Australian law to ‘grant’ land rights to Aboriginal people. The lie of terra nullius remained part of Australian common law until it was overturned in Mabo v The State of Queensland in 1992; a later Labor government reneged on the promise of federal land rights, creating a post-Mabo legislative framework for ‘native title,’ as a weaker and more limited set of rights. See Andrew Schaap, Gary Foley and Edwina Howell, The Aboriginal Tent Embassy: Sovereignty, Black Power, Land Rights and the State (Routledge 2013).
Doreen Massey, ‘Power-geometry and a Progressive Sense of Place’, in Tim Putnam, Lisa Tickner, Jon Bird Barry Curtis (Eds.), Mapping the Futures: Local Cultures, Global Change (Routledge, 1993).
Sarah Keenan, Subversive Property: Law and the Production of Spaces of Belonging (Routledge, 2015).
Glen Coulthard, Red Skin White Masks: Rejecting the Colonial Politics of Recognition (University of Minessota Press, 2014).
Ibid, Coulthard.
Matthis Berndt, Britta Grell, Andreas Holm et al, The Berlin Reader, (transcript, 2013), 14-15.
Dallas Rogers, The geopolitics of real estate : reconfiguring property, capital and rights (Rowman and Littlefield, 2016).
Sabrina Apicella et al, “In the eye of the storm. Urban Transformations in Berlin: Realities of Crisis and Perspectives for Social Struggles”, in Teaching the Crisis (Group research project, Summer school program, 2013). See also http://teachingthecrisis.net/in-the-eye-of-the-storm-urban-transformations-in-berlin-realities-of-crisis-and-perspectives-for-social-struggles/