The exhibition “neues bauen 13629” by Ahu Dural combines her family history with her own artistic re-interpretation, combining the places of her socialisation (school, after-school care, day-care centre, apartment). As the eldest daughter of Turkish immigrants, Ahu Dural grew up in Siemensstadt, a Berlin modernist factory housing estate. Through their hard work, her parents enabled her and her two sisters to receive training, study and social advancement. The artist’s mother, for example, assembled microchips for Siemens appliances in the Wernerwerk XV chord. In reference to this, Ahu Dural takes the concept of the large housing estate at the time, “working, living, educating and relaxing” in the environment she grew familiar with, as a starting point for personal reflection. What relevance does the original idea of the “neues bauen” (new building) in an urban space like Siemensstadt have for then and now? What is and was for the artist the defining feature of Siemensstadt? (Short text: Jaro Straub)
In her solo show “neues bauen 13269”, at Scharaun project space, Ahu Dural (Berlin, 1984) undertakes an artistic exploration of her childhood’s surroundings. The eldest daughter of Turkish immigrants, she grew up in Siemensstadt, the renowned Modernist Housing Estates in Berlin built during the 1910th for the employers of the Siemens factories. Combining her biography with the architectural functional elements of the district, the artist investigates the Modernist concept of “working, living, educating and relaxing” embedded in the environment she grew up in and takes it as a starting point for
Shapes, lines, colors and symbols of Siemensstadt repeat themselves throughout the exhibition. Some deconstructed details, such as photos and drawings of her Kindergarten or the prefabricated building where the artist lived with her family, appear transformed, reshaped and cut out in her sculptures and large-scale collages; others, like the early Siemens company logos, the sinuose letter S, or the horse-shaped seat she remembers from the playground of the settlement at Saatwinkler Damm, are incorporated in an abstract and graphic language to pictorial surfaces and furniture objects.
References to Siemens factories dominate the artworks, in the same way they dominate the memories of Dural’s childhood -her mother, Özler Dural, worked there from 1980 to 1995 as an assembler for printed circuit boards- and the architectural and social development of the district. The culture of repetitive manual work, which allowed Dural’s parents to give an education and social advancement to three daughters, is assimilated in the artist’s collages and sculptures exhibited at Scharaun: she engages physically with the artwork by incorporating repetitive gestures, movements and patterns typical from a factory labor to different materials and surfaces.
But it is especially a female perspective that continues to surface in “neues bauen 13629”, Dural’s most personal exhibition until date. Many works allude to the female influences in her life, starting from her mother. 15 Years is a selection of analog pictures of Özler Dural at work in the Wernerwerk XV building during the 1980s. They capture birthdays, jubilees or retiring parties, those social events of a community for which, in time of no cellphones, one would have decided it was worth taking a picture on celluloid.
She is mostly surrounded by female colleagues, considered at the time to be more precise in accurate tasks such as the assembling of microchips. They are usually wearing a company working coat, from which a hand embroidered reinterpretation is to be found in the exhibition: the artist decided to create this unique textile piece while listening to her mother telling the stories behind the images of 15 Years, kind of “dressing”, this way, the narrator, and giving the textile piece a performative quality.
The artist remembers her mother’s productive energy -which seems to have been assimilated in her practice- and how it sparkled her interest in feminist critical theory, as well as in female architects and designers of the Modern and Postmodern Era. Several sculptures in the exhibition are tributes to female creatives such as Eileen Grey, Charlotte Perriand or Louise Bourgeois: one object, which resembles one of Grey’s interior lamps, is almost transformed through Dural’s abstract reinterpretation into a two-dimensional object, reminding one of Grey’s ability to give a graphical dimension to her functional industrial designs.
Another work consists of an elegant bench made out of long wood pieces, which evoques Perriand’s Japanese style. Though in Durals version, the work acquires biographical elements, such as the strong orange-reddish color of Siemensstadt’s metropolitan station and Kindergarten benches. Flat pillows on top follow the shapes of the aerial perspective of the prefabricated edification in which the artist and her family lived for around 20 years. This same geometrical form, which Dural defines as “the shape of my subconscious”, appears in two other sculptural pieces: a functional white platter table, and a large-scale paravant which revisits in a joyful version Bourgeois’ The Blind Leading the Blind sculpture.
Reflecting on the building where she spent her formative years -mainly inhabited by families with migration background- the artist has decided to add her animation video, Anatolian Borders, to the exhibition, which focuses on her family’s place of origin.
In “neues bauen 13629”, curated by Jaro Straub and located on the 3rd floor of an apartment block designed by modernist architect Hans Scharoun for Siemensstadt, Ahu Dural invites the visitors to explore her perception of Siemensstadt through artworks that, just like memories or dreams, blur the lines between functional objects and gestural-abstract images.
(Text: Anna Garbus)