Written by Cyrine Ghrissi and Reem Aljeally. Published on 25 October 2022.
What does it mean to be a good city? What do our cities look like? How do we imagine our cities?
Going back to history, cities around the globe have been transformed and shaped as a result of different zeitgeist conditions such as agriculture, trade route location, silk and gold merchant, commerce, transport, politics, and industrialization, thus witnessing many waves and cycles. With changing conditions from the bronze-age Mesopotamian cities to today’s digital cities, environmental problems and hazards have been exacerbating and shaping contemporary cities’ urban architecture, transport, and citizens. To address the question of contemporary and sustainable cities, the German artist Gudrun Barenbrock’s video installation RE: MIXED invited audiences in Tunisia to an imaginative city questioning and reflecting on cities, space, and mediums.
“I compiled my own video recordings from worldwide and processed them into a multi-layered montage. I used footage from Shanghai, Hongkong, Bogotá, Paris, London, and New York, as well as from smaller, more unknown cities in Germany, Switzerland, Uganda, Algeria, and many more.”1For all quotes of the artist: Cyrine Ghrissi and Reem Aljeally: Interview with Gudrun Barenbrock. Unpublished Manuscript 2022.
The artist’s 4-channel video installation consisted of two parts and was exhibited at Palais Kheireddine, a castle that was built between 1860 – 1870 in the oldest part of Tunis, what is currently a museum. The downstairs of the 19th historical building was transformed into a metropolis city creating a sample of energized crowding, inviting audiences to walk through, take pictures, chat, perform, and reflect as if they are Gudrun’s city citizens. Within the vibrant rhythms created by the video installation showing urban landmarks and landscapes from all over the world in a squared room located on the right side of the space, the second part of the installation taking the circle shape depicts a moving train passing through la Goulette Harbour. This video was taken on a trip from La Marsa to Tunis, out of the moving train next to the oldest harbor called TGM, a railway connecting Tunisia’s Capital city to the northern suburb via La Goulette.
RE:MIXED TUNIS, 2022, 4-channel video and sound installation, 12:00 / 28:45 min HD Loop. INTERFERENCE Tunis 2022 Installation View. Photo: Gabe Kamphuis, Gudrun Barenbrock, Hajer Allani.
“The space affects the installation, this is why I call my work installation, not video.”
“ I would rather say that it was a work about the rhythm and structures of cities.”
“ You can not escape the space, it’s impossible.”
RE:MIXED by Gudrun Barenbrock poses the questions discussed above. As the layers of overexposed footage of contemporary architecture, composed from the artist’s large archive, turn and rotate in the main hall of Palais Kheireddine, we are confronted with the harshness of tall buildings, street lights, highways, billboards and skylines of modern cities. Creating a space characterized by huge urban, partly brutalist architecture presented by RE:MIXED video installation and offering a space of reflection watching a train movement crossing a harbor landscape, revives a nostalgic memory to different audiences from different countries. The oldest electric railway lines in Africa address the question of transportation and how can we imagine our sustainable cities and the role of industrialization in the cities’ histories?
RE:MIXED TUNIS, 2022, 4-channel video and sound installation, 12:00 / 28:45 min HD Loop. INTERFERENCE Tunis 2022 Installation View. Photo: Gudrun Barenbrock, Hajer Allani.
Gudrun’s digital work makes us look back at her background in painting, specifically to her 3 piece work “Bridge”. The work in its preliminary abstract form holds a depth within it that can only be seen up close. The series looks like it speaks back to the installation in (Re: Mixed) its negative spaces that imitate looking through a bridge’s elements. Although the work is a series of paintings, Gudrun’s techniques were what gave it another level, as described by Manfred Schneckenburger in “Painting has the Last Word”2Translated by Paul Bowman: “The painter Gudrun Barenbrock incorporates, like few others, preliminary studies created with the mediums of the video camera and computer into her pictures. Although these pictures are traditional acrylic paintings on canvas, material from film clips and photos shot with zoom lenses are meshed into the creative process, as well as digital techniques to filter out colors and contract tonalities into black-and-white contrasts.“ This contrast of color and the dominance of black and white in the work has been a notable feature in the artist’s recent works. Her lack of usage of color is set to emphasize shape, rhythm, and contrast.
“What do I need color for?“
She also believes that at the moment it allows her to focus, as colors could distract us and could set preliminary views on our perception of work as color have culturally related anticipations. This contrast is as well reminiscent of old black-and-white photographs that the artist connects to. Both installations displayed in Palais Kheireddine lack color, and the darkness of the overexposed footage contrasts the white walls of the high-ceiling hall. While one part of the work takes on 2 walls of the main hall on an enormous scale that draws you in, the installation created specifically for Tunis centers itself in a circular shape that complements the archway to the entrance at Palais Kheireddine. The 2 pieces seem to contradict each other, not only in shape but also in context. The roundness of the work has also magnified its presence and movement, referencing Baroque times, and old city structures, and appearing as if the viewer is looking at the work through a window of its own, recreating the experience of the train the artist has taken.
RE:MIXED by Gudrun Barenbrock exhibited at Palais Kheireddine was the hot spot for the Instagram photos and stories of the young audience at the INTERFERENCE YMP 22 exhibition. This reaction to the artwork had the artist oppose an important question [Is art for younger people a background for good images?]
“In my opinion, and as someone who took a couple of photos in front of Gudrun’s work, I believe that the work was very much inviting to the audience to explore and question. it draws you in as a viewer, calling on you like a moth to a flame.”
“It was definitely my dream city, a dispositif that investigates our contemporary urban life, a cosmopolitan space to coexist, an invitation for people to remember, be present, and forecast our futuristic cities and the use of media devices was only an apparatus.”