Inhabiting Henrike Naumann’s Aufbau Ost

, 15 April 2016

Henrike Naumann’s Aufbau Ost uses the home as a site of deviation. Running at Galerie Wedding from April 1 to May 14, the exhibition uses the white space to mimic a film set. The viewer is invited to lounge comfortably in a vivid array of cheap decor, where room after room is set up with their walls missing, ready for a film crew that will never materialise.

Extreme fundamentalism and radical ideology features in the cheerfully seductive retro furnishings of these spaces housing neo-Nazi memorabilia and Islamic State soundtracks, where deliberation over nostalgia and morality is encouraged while your body clings to the couches of Aufbau Ost.  Naumann maps human empathy through rooms of hate and bitter unity from former East and West Germany, homes she knows all too well from her childhood in Saxony.

Plastered on the walls white supremacist slogans such as ‘Wir sind das volk’ (‘We are the people’) hang with oversized watches and family photographs. Naumann taunts the viewer with feelings of discomfort and familiarity, but is it really possible to understand where hate comes from through over-identification tactics?

Henrike Naumann, Aufbau Ost (2016). Photo by Holger Herschel. Courtesy Galerie Wedding, Berlin.
Henrike Naumann, Aufbau Ost (2016). Photo by Holger Herschel. Courtesy Galerie Wedding, Berlin.

Set in the years following the unification of East and West Berlin, the installation opens us up to what its press release calls the “post-otherness of Germany”, presenting the possessions and stories of those who enabled racial elitism to survive WWII through two very different ideological systems —communism and neoliberalism. Stepping into each makeshift room, you are initially confronted by garish post modern furniture, embossed wallpaper and wild patterns covering every inch of the space. Nostalgia would sweep over anyone living in Europe in the 90s as they look at a lamp or carpet design they or someone they knew once had.

Then one notices the wall tattoos, cushion covers and VHS playing from old analogue televisions. Propped lightly on the edge of a bold yellow leather sofa and watching a home video of a dance party, eerie acknowledgement that this is the teen bedroom of neo-Nazi Beate Zschäpe, alleged neo-Nazi and core member of the Zwickau terror cell with Uwe Böhnhardt and Uwe Mundlos, later known as the National-Socialist Underground (2011-2016). Accused of murdering Turkish and Greek migrants, alongside a spate of bombings, she has been imprisoned since 2011. On the screen she experiments with ecstasy, violence and the loyalty of her friendship group with an adolescent nonchalance. Perching on the side of a badly sprung bed opposite, there is holiday footage of young Turkish people in Syria, yet as the soundtrack comes in is recognisable as the notorious Deso Dogg (aka Abou Maleeq) singing, former 36 Boys Rapper turned pin up Jihadist. Born in Berlin’s Kreuzberg area, he’s glorified in golden chains rapping in a distant land on how he found the saviour of his soul in the so-called Islamic State. It is even more alienating when one understands the velocity of his words to recruit young teens for combat. The tenants that inhabit these rooms through videos and sound-recordings are the idols of these movements, carrying their message to the mass youth.

Henrike Naumann, Aufbau Ost (2016). Photo by Holger Herschel. Courtesy Galerie Wedding, Berlin.
Henrike Naumann, Aufbau Ost (2016). Photo by Holger Herschel. Courtesy Galerie Wedding, Berlin.

Neumann grew up in the former GDR city of Zwickau where she saw first-hand the lack of ‘new’ ideologies and thinking in relation to otherness emerging after German unity was celebrated in Berlin during the 90s. She says, “the surrounding areas were forgotten and haunted with a void, which was only filled with the freedom of buying a new IKEA sofa bed.” Examining facets of togetherness in German youth culture, Naumann psychologically maps through authentic and restaged footage the roots of far-right and Islamic extremism, from teens to adults through its prodigies. Xenophobic positions towards the dehumanisation of the Other is able to drift through the techno, rap and drug subcultures of a youth relatively undetected by society.

Naumann offers this at a time when far-right extremism, global acts of terrorism and the magnitude of the refugee crisis in Europe in on the rise. We must reexamine the home before it slips too far out of our reach, leaving us stuck in this self-fulfilling prophesy of the extreme becoming extremist, as seen through the eyes of the forgotten youth of Germany.**

Henrike Naumann’s Aufbau Ost  is on at Galerie Wedding, running April 1 to May 14, 2016.

Header image: Henrike Naumann, Aufbau Ost (2016). Photo by Holger Herschel. Courtesy Galerie Wedding, Berlin.