Volkunsthalle / People’s Art Space

Collaborative performances, installation and exhibition
Berlin, Germany

Radical alienation in Berlin

Volkskunsthalle is a two-part installation and a series of daylong performances in which various individuals from Berlin were invited by the artist to “occupy” the gallery space and perform their frustrations concerning their specific “social roles.” These interventions explore the power relations that underlie society and morality.

Artist Romeo Gongora spent one year in the artist-in-residence program at the Künstlerhaus Bethanien, and created this project in specific relation to the Kreuzberg neighborhood of Berlin in which it is located. Volkskunsthalle reacts to the processes of transition and renewal that have taken place in the city of Berlin, and Kreuzberg in particular – an historically immigrant area which has undergone major gentrification since the fall of the wall. This project explores the relations of submission and domination that underlie social interactions, and asks whether violence is the ultimate way to reject an experience of subjugation. It engages in a Brechtian discourse about radical alienation, while also embracing various concepts of violence from the theories of Walter Benjamin to Melanie Klein. Incompletion, chaos, and confusion are key components of the project’s production strategy. Mutability is thus more important than the aesthetic of the work; process is more important than the finished product.

The installations which make up Volkskunsthalle consist of a trailer, a medieval military tool (quintain), and a modified bike. These elements function as a kind of theater backdrop, echoing and reinforcing the emotional tension of the daily performances. The performative element of this project includes “demonstrations” by people who are all struggling for their personal freedom in one way or another: a musician, an unemployed person, a squatter, a protester, an activist, an artist, a racist, an anti-racist… Each of these individuals spend one day in the exhibition space – in a clearly demarcated circle traced on the floor – variously expressing how their social roles are in conflict with their individual needs. These daylong performances emphasize the tensions and sense of alienation that individuals face on a regular basis. As part of each demonstration, the performers are instructed to leave behind some material evidence of their expression in the exhibition space; these items end up as a kind of documentation of what has happened in the gallery, while also modifying and contributing to the (re)creation of the exhibition over the course of its run.


Performance calendar:

A series of solo demonstrations (performances) taking place from September 17-October 4, 2009 in Künstlerhaus Bethanien.

Nine participants were invited to inhabit the exhibition space for a day, where they performed their own “fight” inside a circle traced on the floor of the gallery. At the end of each performance, participants were asked to leave behind an artifact relevant to their performance; the art space evolved organically in the process.

September 18 - An institution.
An institution that fights the limitation of its freedom

September 19, 25 - A jobless person.
A jobless person that fights social exclusion

September 20, 26 - An anti-racist.
An anti-racist that fights xenophobia

September 23 - A protester.
A protester that fights oppression

September 24, 30 - An activist.
An activist that fights injustice

September 27, October 01 - A musician.
A musician that fights unemployment

September 30 - A racist.
A racist that fights an "uncritical attitude"

October 02 - An artist.
An artist that fights normality

September 17 - Opening performance.
October 03 - Artist's Talk.
An artist as a squatter.
An artist as a squatter that fights discrimination

October 04 - People's Art Space.


Bikewar, Wargame and a Trailer

Three installation that were continuously present in the exhibition space


A publication documenting the exhibition is available from argobooks (Berlin, Germany, 2011), and includes essays by art historian Dr. Bernhart Schwenk (Chief Curator of Contemporary Art, Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich) and sociologist Prof. Dr. Gökce Yurdakul (Georg Simmel Professor, Humboldt University, Berlin), as well as a conversation between Gongora and the artist Aernout Mik.

Title: Volkskunsthalle / People’s Art Space 
Publisher: argobooks
Designer: aroma berlin
95 pages
16cm × 21cm
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 9783941230019

Available here


Volkskunsthalle / People’s Art Space was presented at the Künstlerhaus Bethanien (Berlin) from September 17 to October 4, 2009, and produced in the context of Künstlerhaus Bethanien’s International Studio Programme, with the support of the Künstlerhaus Bethanien (Berlin), the Canada Council for the Arts (Ottawa), and the Embassy of Canada (Berlin). A catalogue documenting the project was produced for the exhibition.

Personal assistants: Rowena Waack, Fee Regier, and Viktoria Mosin
Production assistant coordinator – Trailer: Toni Lebkücher
Production assistant coordinator – Quintaine: Thomas Dittrich (NAZ)
Production assistant coordinator – Bike: Severin N.
Production assistant coordinator – Graffiti: T. P. Overkill (Kreuzberg)
Production assistant coordinator – Squatter: Koepi (Kreuzberg)
Flyers, posters, t-shirts and buttons design: aroma berlin
Photographers: Dirceu Maués, Romeo Gongora
Translation: Annette Schemmel, Fee Rieger, Catherine Girard

Acknowledgements: thank you to the participants for their generosity, Mariana Calo, Birgit Criegern, Cynthia Girard, Gerardo Mosquera, Lucia Nimcova, Andre Sousa, Ilka Tödt, argobooks, aroma berlin, Künstlerhaus Bethanien, Canada Council for the Arts and the Embassy of Canada (Berlin).


Volkskunsthalle (2009), radical alienation in Berlin

Table of Contents
  1. Description
  2. Performance calendar
  3. Sept. 18 - An institution
  4. Sept. 19, 25 - A jobless person
  5. Sept. 20, 26 - An anti-racist
  6. Sept. 23 - A protester
  7. Sept. 24, 30 - An activist
  8. Sept. 27, Oct. 01 - A musician
  9. Sept. 30 - A racist
  10. Oct. 02 - An artist
  11. Oct. 03 - An artist as a squatter
  12. Oct. 04 - People's Art Space
  13. Installations
  14. Catalogue
  15. Credits