Lars Laumann’s video work Berlin-Muren (2008), was without a doubt one of my favourite pieces in the Berlin Biennale. Even still, I always had certain reservations about it, which were confirmed by my developing unease while watching the artwork.
Laumann’s 27 minute long video traces a part of the life of Riitta Berliner-Mauer, who professes physical and emotional love for the Berlin Wall, to the extent that in 1979 the two were ‘married’. Berliner-Mauer has objectophilia – the sexual love of objects, which she calls objectúm-sexuality. In the video she discusses in depth her complex sexuality, her belief in the existence of a soul within objects, and the history of her relationship with the Berlin Wall, including her devastation in 1989 when the wall was largely demolished. She goes as far as to mention having sex with the Wall, which she claims is not masturbation, as masturbation involves objects of fantasy: which do not have souls. The video piece has prevalent characteristics of the documentary, or perhaps more specifically, the confessional. For the voice is always Berliner-Mauer’s (except for a brief segment introducing a second individual with objectophilia who shares her love of the Wall), and in fact her entirely off-screen narration is derived almost totally from the text of her own website. This fact perhaps complicates my initial reservations: are we being invited simply to laugh at the subject?
I must say that my initial reactions were to chuckle, laugh outright, or watch in amused disbelief, along with most of the audience it seemed. While I had the benefit of prior knowledge about the video’s origin, I’m at least sure some of the other audience members took this for a fiction; a spoof. But our collective amusement made me more than uncomfortable as I left the constructed screening room at the Skulpturenpark. At its root, the sense perhaps of participation in a soft exploitation. Actually, for me at least, Riitta Berliner-Mauer comes out of the work in a highly sympathetic light. Its hard not to like her, even if she puts her passion for the Wall’s survival before the lives of those who it helped oppress and divide; but as she argues, it was not the Wall’s fault – it did not ask to be built anymore then you or I asked to be born. In the end, she seems simply as a person with highly unusual aspects to her lifestyle, but who is unashamed to talk of it, and in result is tolerant of difference and individuality.
So what role then has the artist, and what role the audience? Does the subject’s collaboration in, and complicity with the artwork, mean she is not being exploited for entertainment value? It could be said Berliner-Mauer is the primary creative force here. She is the creative agent of her own fascinating character, and the scriptwriter of the artwork’s narration. Laumann is the recorder, the connector, the framer, a silent commentator maybe. An exploiter? I’m not so convinced: at least not one of Riita Berlin-Mauer. I can see that he is merely highlighting (as he often does in his work) contemporary culture’s own fascination with the perpetual wunderkammer that the Internet provides – the emailed youtube videos, the strange and amusing websites passed between co-workers and friends, the windows into lives of social Others. What role have we here then, the art audience – the freak-show gawkers?