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Panic Room
On the Possibility of Feminizing Space


The public spaces we move through are primarily designed following logics of traditionally masculine connotated ideas. Even if not always visible, the aesthetics and functionality of cityscapes, public leisure space, architecture and interiors of public institutions are deeply intertwined with decades and centuries of patriarchal organization and the conditions of cultural production underlying these infrastructures. Even if the binary distinction of the female, private and domestic space and the male, public exteriors is nearly as ancient as space itself, it is still inscribed in the ways our environments are designed. Historically, the study and application of perspective coincides with “men looking at things”: from Vasari, through Night-Shift devices in war technology, POV Pornography to Google Street View. In the iconic Figure of the Flaneur, Brutalist Architecture or the psychogeographies of public space, masculinity has become form. The definitions of ‘functionality,’ ‘efficiency,’ or ‘neutrality’ in design, which are entangled with what historically is associated with a masculine identity, become evident in how things appear and are reproduced in our everyday surroundings. And even if not explicitly phallic: The symbolic function of architecture and city planning as illustrations of prestige result from centuries of need to manifest and signify male power, regardless of whether it’s on behalf of the church or the state.

In her performance and installation piece “WOMEN” at Haus am Lützowplatz for ASSEMBLE’s first season, Amy Ball explored the conditions of gendered space through an opaque character filling in the traditionally masculine figure of the rider. The image of the lone adventurer roaming the vast outdoors, on horseback or motorbike, is strongly connected to fictions of masculinity and freedom.

In conversation with Anna Gien, Fette Sans, and Verena Dengler, PANIC ROOM evolves around these questions, looking at various artistic approaches towards the possibilities of feminizing space: How do these conditions inflict the way we move through these spaces? What is the body’s potential, as a political subject, for appearing affected by them? How are our imaginary and emotional spaces tied to the aesthetic reality of our environment? Are there ways to reclaim the aesthetics and designs of space? Is there any way to define a feminine/feminized alternative which is not defined by lack? And how to avoid clichés of femininity which are geared at white, cis women?

The performance series ASSEMBLE commissions new live artwork for cultural institutions throughout Berlin. ASSEMBLE was founded in 2017 by Adela Yawitz and Anna Gien and is led by an inquiry into art institutions as public spaces. Its monthly program proposes public, open gatherings in art spaces, and invites artists interested in the potentialities of crowds or assemblies, and their political significance. ASSEMBLE looks at the conditions in which some bodies become visible in public, while others are hidden, exposed or discounted; how groups form and disperse; and moments of interdependence amongst bodies in a hyper-individualized environment. Over the course of the series, the performances suggest forms of public gatherings, resistance, or identities; and consider possibilities of action in public, private, and institutional spaces.

ASSEMBLE’s series for Grüner Salon runs parallel to the public performances and addresses its main questions through conversation and reflection. It invites participating artists to expand on their work; leading academics and practitioners to speak on the public sphere; and exciting perspectives on the online public sphere, Queer and feminized spaces, and Berlin-specific public space.

ASSEMBLE is funded by the Capital Cultural Funds, Berlin.

Past Activities

ASSEMBLE: Dafna Maimon in Conversation with Victoria Camblin and Agata Lisiak

Dafna Maimon recently completed Wary Mary, a new performance for ASSEMBLE, shortly followed by a solo exhibition Mutating Mary at Künstlerhaus Bremen. For both pieces, Maimon has been researching contemporary forms of social pressure on women to reproduce and care, a research process inseparable from personal contemplation of motherhood and experiencing the environment’s treatment of women who are not mothers. In Wary Mary, three figures move from the stage and through the audience, at times embodying exaggerated images of femininity and motherhood, while at others acting child- or creature-like. Meanwhile, the narrator Mary takes us through her personal and historical musings; for Maimon, “Mary” is a name laden with meaning, a projection surface for women’s various roles. Mary introduces another historical Mary: Mary Mallon or ‘Typhoid Mary,’ who became known around the turn of the 20th century as the first “Superspreader” – she carried a disease without ever being sick herself. Mary Mallon was eventually quarantined and served her sentence for unknowingly infecting her employers, though she never understood her own condition. Malon was an immigrant, single, childless woman, so that designating her body as a threat to public health reflects layered social anxieties. In both the performance and the exhibition, Maimon referenced Malon as both a victim and an independent woman, a subversive woman who neither understood her bodily predicament nor listened to the establishment regarding it.

In her conversation with Agata Lisiak and Victoria Camblin, Maimon further explores art historical perspectives as well as social dynamics around motherhood: how discourses on motherhood are shaped by class, citizenship status, race, and sexuality, among other factors; how mothering and othering intersect; the workings of stigma in relation to both motherhood and the refusal to mother; subversive tactics mothering (in art and beyond) may produce.

Dafna Maimon lives and works in Berlin. Her work can be described as a series of rebellious emotional landscapes; She stages scenarios related to our everyday but removed from it through comedic exaggeration, substitution, or the grotesque and outlandish, with the aim of deconstructing patriarchal structures and playing with them. This process creates performative situations in which audiences can participate for several days, a few hours, as well as immersive performances, films or installations. Maimon holds a BFA from the Gerrit Rietveld Academy and an MFA from the Sandberg Institute Amsterdam. She has been an artist in residence at Künstlerhaus Bethanien, IASPIS and Lower Manhattan Cultural Council. Her work has been shown globally, including at Kunst-Werke (Berlin), PS1 Moma (New York), Mahj Jewish Museum (Paris), Kim Center Contemporary Art, (Riga), Gallery Wedding (Berlin), Kunstverein Braunschweig, Centre for Contemporary Arts Uzajdowski (Warsaw), Lilith Performance Studio (Malmö), and others.

Agata Lisiak is Migration Studies professor and Academic Director of the Internship Program at Bard College Berlin. She earned an M.A. in International Relations (University of Economics Poznan, 2002), an M.Phil. in Literary Studies (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, 2005), and a Dr. Phil. in Media and Communication Studies (University of Halle-Wittenberg, 2009). Lisiak works at the intersections of migration studies, urban sociology, visual cultures, and gender studies. She is particularly interested in everyday urban encounters, urban imaginaries, and developing creative, multi-sensory, and collaborative methods in urban and migration research. She has written about urban girlhood, walking in the city, Taiwanese cinema, Polish hip hop, cultural memory in post-socialist cities, and invisible femininities, among many other topics.

Victoria Camblin is a writer, editor, art historian, and curator. She is the former editor and artistic director of Art Papers, based in Atlanta, Georgia. As of June 14, 2018, she is the executive editor of 032c magazine in Berlin, Germany.

Image: Dafna Maimon, Wary Mary, 2019. Performance im tieranatomischen Theater. Foto: Frank Sperling

ASSEMBLE: Paul Maheke & Nkisi. Sènsa

Sènsa is a word in the African language group Bantu that translates as coming to visibility, to appear, to reveal itself, to make sense. Maheke and Nkisi combine sound, movement and light to make this concept present and embodied; they portray identities lurking in peripheral visions, voices emerging from the margins or lingering in the shadows, in an attempt to set the centers in motion. The term grounds Maheke and Nkisi’s practices in a diasporic imaginary and describes an in-between vision, collaged of stories and diverting sounds and images, constantly in formation, respondent to the room, the audience, and the performers’ actions within them.

Registration closed, the event is fully booked.

Photo: Sènsa by Paul Maheke & Nkisi, work session at Abrons Arts Center NYC, March 2019

ASSEMBLE: Ligia Lewis in Conversation with Joshua Chambers-Letson

Choreographer and dancer Ligia Lewis recently concluded a massive stage production in three parts: Sorrow Swag (2014), Minor Matter (2016) and Water Will (2018). Her performers jump between individual and group identities, or engage with outside forces such as light or water in ways that regulate or permeate their bodies. In conversation with performance studies and critical race theorist Joshua Chambers-Letson, she discusses the pieces’ conceptual backgrounds and rooting in urgent political discussions. Together, they examine the issues of racial inequalities, othering, embodiment and solidarity inherent to her work.

Ligia Lewis is a choreographer, performer and dancer whose work is shown in multiple contexts including the theater and museum. Engaging with affect, empathy, and the sensate, her choreography considers the social inscriptions of the body. Her latest piece, Water Will (in Melody) for four performers, incorporates texts as well as water and other materials the performers interact with. Wrestling with language and notions of “the will”, this dystopian fantasy becomes a space for negotiating desire, imagination, and feelings of an encroaching end. Her earlier minor matter (2016), for three dancers is infused with red light and presents a vibrant social space that materializes through the interplay of light, sound and physicality. Her work has been shown worldwide, including at HAU Hebbel am Ufer, Performance Space New York, Human Resources Los Angeles, Do Disturb Festival at the Palais de Tokyo, Paris, and ImPulsTanz, Vienna. Ligia Lewis is managed and produced by HAU Hebbel am Ufer (Berlin).

Joshua Chambers-Letson is a writer and performance theorist working at the intersection of performance studies, critical race theory, political theory, and queer of color critique. An associate professor of Performance Studies at Northwestern University, he is the author of After the Party: A Manifesto for Queer of Color Life (NYU Press, 2018) and A Race So Different: Law and Performance in Asian America (NYU Press, 2013). He is currently contemplating a project about object relations, reparation, and race, and with Tavia Nyong’o he is preparing José Esteban Muñoz’s The Sense of Brown for publication with Duke University Press. His academic writing has been published widely and his art writing has appeared in catalogs for Teching Hsieh’s exhibition at the 2017 Venice Biennale, the Chrysler Museum/Grey Art, among others.

ASSEMBLE: Raimund Hoghe im Gespräch mit Prof. Dr. Gabriele Brandstetter

On May 3rd, the 2019 season of ASSEMBLE opens with a new performance piece by Raimund Hoghe at the Bethanien / Kunstraum Kreuzberg. The new commission is Hoghe’s first performance in Berlin in recent memory and is dedicated to the Bethanien and the artist’s memories of it from the 1990s. On the following evening, Hoghe reflects on this commission as well as the leading questions in his decades-long career as a dancer, choreographer and writer. Hoghe speaks with Dr. Gabriele Brandstetter (FU), who has been a long-term conversation partner.

Raimund Hoghe was born in Wuppertal and began his career by writing portraits of outsiders and celebrities for "Die Zeit," later published as books. From 1980 to 1990 he worked as dramaturge for Pina Bausch's Tanztheater Wuppertal which also became the subject matter for two more books. He has been working on his own theatre pieces for various dancers and actors since 1989 and collaborating with artist Luca Giacomo Schulte since 1992. In 1994 he produced his first solo for himself, "Meinwärts", which together with the subsequent "Chambre séparée" (1997) and "Another Dream" (2000) made up a trilogy on the 20th century. His work has been recognized with prizes such as the Deutscher Produzentenpreis für Choreografie in 2001, the French Prix de la Critique in 2006.

Gabriele Brandstetter is co-director of the International Research Centre "Interweaving Performance Cultures" and Professor of Theatre and Dance Studies at Freie Universität Berlin since 2003. Her research focuses on history and aesthetics of dance from the 18th century until today; theatre and dance of the avant-garde; performance, theatricality and gender differences; as well as various concepts of body, movement and image. In 2004 she was awarded the “Gottfried-Wilhelm-Leibniz-Prize” by the DFG, and in 2011 the Federal Cross of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany. Among her numerous publications are ReMembering the Body (2000, co-ed. H. Völckers); Bild-Sprung. TanzTheaterBewegung im Wechsel der Medien (2005); Methoden der Tanzwissenschaft. Modellanalysen zu Pina Bauschs ‚Sacre du Printemps‛ (2007, co-ed. G. Klein); Schwarm(E)Motion. Bewegung zwischen Affekt und Masse (2007, co-eds. B. Brandl-Risi, K. van Eikels), and Tanz als Anthropologie (2007, co-ed. C. Wulf).

ASSEMBLE: Artist and choreographer Manuel Pelmuş in conversation with Prof. Sandra Noeth (HZT)

Doors open at 6 pm
Tickets: 5 / 3 €

For the first event in the series, curator and researcherSandra Noeth (HZT) speaks to Romanian artist and choreographer Manuel Pelmuş. In his recent ongoing action for ASSEMBLE at the Kunstverein am Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz, Pelmuş addressed questions of togetherness. Starting from the revolutionary practices of Rosa Luxemburg and Mary Wigman, he questioned how to act together by embodying the gesture and postures of others virtually, imaginarily and physically. This insistence to engage in something collective – despite various temporal, spatial, social and political dispersion, fragmentation and intrusion – proposes a body-based idea of resilience. Pelmuş explores this idea in dialogue with Prof. Sandra Noeth, discussing an embodied notion of agency that is not directed against something, resisting or protesting, but rather relies on a collective process of learning, with bodies at its core.

Manuel Pelmuş is an artist and choreographer based in Oslo and Bucharest. His work employs dance and movement to address structures of the art world: collections, museums, and their role in cementing memory and identity. He often works site-specifically, relating his „ongoing movements,“ as he terms them, to the setting and history of the space and city they are being shown in. Trained in classical dance and having toured with the Romanian national opera and the Hamburg opera, he skillfully creates environments for his live works to be seen in, combining elements from dance, dramaturgy and visual arts.

Sandra Noeth is a Professor at the HZT – Inter-University Centre for Dance Berlin and has been internationally active as a curator and dramaturge in independent and institutional contexts. Noeth specializes in ethical and political perspectives toward body-practice and theory and dramaturgy in body-centered performing arts. As Head of Dramaturgy and Research at Tanzquartier Wien (2009-2014), she developed a series of projects on concepts and practices of responsibility, religion, integrity and protest in relation to the body. She is also a senior lecturer at DOCH/Stockholm University of the Arts and was a resident professor at ashkal alwan, Beirut (2015-16).

The event is kindly supported by the Office for Contemporary Art Norway.

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