in der tradition der moderne

In 1991, the German Museum of Architecture was requested to develop a special exhibition. The following year would be the 100th anniversary of the steelworkers’ union IG Metall, which had its headquarters in Frankfurt until then. IG Metall, however, was considering moving to Berlin, but the city of Frankfurt wanted to make an effort to keep the union in town. It planned to give IG Metall a birthday present in the form of a significant exhibition. It needed a concept and a staff to execute the idea in an abandoned factory hall they had on offer: the local Naxoshalle. Hans Peter Schwarz, curator of the German Museum of Architecture, was appointed head of the project, and he invited the historian Jutta Pakenis, Lenneke Büller, and me to join the team. After profound research, we came up with a concept for the presentation. We deviated from the apparent approach to displaying the development of the union year by year in one hundred steps as if it were turning pages of a book. Instead, we regarded the rise of unions in the 19th century as an unexpected or unwanted side effect of the industrial revolution. So, we devised the metaphor of the leaking garden hose to guide our choices and design process. After we presented this concept to the IG Metall during a brainstorming session in Bad Homburg, the union rejected the plan and told the city of Frankfurt they wouldn’t accept a birthday present like that.

We overcame this stalemate by softening the concept and calming the union. The city of Frankfurt now officially commissioned us to execute the new plan. The core team recruited artists, architects, designers, and producers and kept the pivotal elements of storytelling for themselves. Lenneke and I started working on a kind of media theatre, a MedienTurm in German, a narrative environment within the exhibition environment, which allowed us to stick to our original metaphor. The architectural office of Max Dudler detailed the steel construction of this 1000 m3 theatre. Its frame was covered with perforated sheet metal to partly shut out the daylight of the Naxoshalle. We needed a dim environment for our 3 part media opera Alle Räder Stehen Still (all wheels stand still), which was presented as a mix of media (slide projection and video), supported by a quadrophonic soundtrack. Additionally, the bronze sculpture The Dockworker by the Belgian sculptor Constantin Meunier was staged in the MedienTurm, while a series of historical IG Metall flags enriched the entrance.

The mixed-media program Alle Räder Stehen Still consisted of 3 parts. Part 1 dealt with the early days of the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century. It held quotations from Friedrich Engels and Heinrich Heine underpinned by Sergei Rachmaninov’s 2nd Piano Concerto. Part 2 presented a collage of images of the contemporary revolution manifested by the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. It showed the famous kiss of Leonid Brezhnev and Erich Honecker, amongst other iconic pictures. David Byrne’s Stop Making Sense provided the proper musical context. Part 3 was a collection of three similar interviews on the unions’ future and labor prospects. Its protagonists were Franz Steinkühler, chair of IG Metall, Edzard Reuter, CEO of Daimler Benz, and professor Günter Müller of the Freiburg University. The interviews were recorded separately; however, as everyone was asked the same questions, the editing allowed us to suggest one integral session. The exhibition was on show in Frankfurt, Stuttgart, and Berlin from June 1992 until March 1993.

selected projects

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