this issue contains
>> An Interview with Andrea Zittel
>> Miwa Yanagi: The Beauty of the Prison
>> Franz Ackermann's Mental Maps
>> New Forms of Governance
>> Working on the Myth

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Don't Call Me a City
On the Works of Franz Ackermann


'Mental Maps' are what Franz Ackermann calls his drawings, psychocartographies he made of his travels around the world. Ackermann's cities are images of a globalized landscape in which the conflict between the centre and periphery is drawing closer. Harald Fricke has visited the Berlin-based painter.


Franz Ackermann: Nenn mich nicht Stadt, Studioansicht, 2003
©Franz Ackermann, Courtesy of neugeriemschneider, Berlin, Germany


It took a long time. By now, there are countless chronologies recording Alexander von Humboldt's expeditions as the economic and industrial development of the world steadily progressed. But can this 'tour d'horizon' through time be drawn, as well? Cities with magical names such as Singapore, Bangkok, or Ulan Bator once seemed so far away - how can we represent the changes they underwent throughout the urbanization process? And the South American jungles, the African steppe - can we still conjure an image of the fascination they once held, now that they've long since turned into telegenic survival-show playgrounds for unbridled celebrities on cable TV? Franz Ackermann, the Berlin painter and draftsman, is one artist who set off on endless trips around the globe prior to the onslaught of the adventure trend. Big-city chaos and the boondocks - the cartographic works he created throughout his travels now hang in international museums and collections, including that of the Deutsche Bank.


Franz Ackermann: themroc, 2001
©Franz Ackermann, Deutsche Bank Collection

Ackermann, born in 1963, works in a studio in Lichtenberg in what looks like the middle of nowhere, situated on property belonging to the German Railroad on the eastern outskirts of Berlin. A visit to the studio quickly leads into a conversation about the globalization malaise. Yet Ackermann is anything but nostalgic, worried that the rapid dissemination of information, trade, entertainment, and communication has turned the world far too much into a village. Instead, the contradiction existing between an omnipresent access to data highways on the one hand and a growing confrontation with local peculiarities on the other forms the foundation for Ackermann's work. After all, he himself comes from the small Bavarian village Neumarkt St. Veit; now a cultural globetrotter, he's been successfully maneuvering in and around the art establishment for the past fifteen years, ever since receiving a DAAD grant for Hong Kong in 1990/91. He exhibited in the German Pavilion at the Sao Paulo Biennale in 2002; last year, his paintings could be seen in Venice and in the blockbuster exhibition Berlin/Moscow in the form of an installation with steel bars going by the title Nenn mich nicht Stadt (Don't Call Me a City). Only last fall, he created a monumental, 46 meter-long mural for an exhibition in Athens. "After 16 trips, if I wanted to arrange a date with someone in Bangkok for tomorrow, I would know my way around there better than I do in Berlin," is how Ackermann sums it up following ten years on the road. Yet Ackermann's artistic practice continuously pulls the brakes on his cosmopolitanism.


Franz Ackermann: Birthday, 2003 © Franz Ackermann,
Courtesy of neugeriemschneider, Berlin, Germany

Instead of celebrating the triumph of urbanization or the modern nomadic existence intrinsic to an 'international lifestyle,' the artist unflinchingly criticizes the smooth circulation flowing back and forth between the world's hemispheres. Despite his large-scale painting productions in the manner of Birthday (2003), the artist returns to drawing again and again, transforming Peking or Bangkok into monsters scored by streets and riddled with poorly planned housing settlements almost entirely lacking in greenery. It wasn't during a cultural exchange or as the guest of a museum that Ackermann got to know the Asian metropolises, but rather as a backpack tourist sometime back in the early nineties, when he developed his concept of Mental Maps, journal-like drawings that document his dealings with local life as opposed to actual cities. Thus, in these personal maps, contact is established to even the remotest of places: at first, no more than a line on a blank sheet of paper marks the connection between here and there.

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