How Bitterfeld reinvented himself through art

DrThe loss of a third of the population, a twenty percent unemployment rate and a youth turn their back on this place of structural change. These are the characteristics of a city that, after decades of reunification, has suffered from the worst possible reputation – Bitterfeld. Artist Sven John is committed to participating in the first edition of the Austin Art Festival. Bitterfeld’s new ways” in the large Kulturpalast hall, which is located next to the famous chemical park, healed the scars of the transformation.

He has created a photographic archive that illuminates the light and dark sides of transformation and depicts the inhabitants of industrial strongholds at work, in their daily lives, and in their spare time. The images displayed on the palace’s iron curtain are accompanied by a child’s voice recounting the visits of grandparents. “I love being there. It is a tidy place. There are a few factories and industrial houses. What is remarkable is how empty it is here.” In addition, a mosaic of life after the fall of the wall unfolds in Bitterfeld and Wolfen: the first supermarkets, festivities of traditional costume associations, factory closures, protests, bowling clubs, as well as workers’ living rooms.

Authentic voices from the working community

Visual Worlds shows what the art festival, to be held in Kulturpalast until July 17, is all about: understanding the Orient artistically, conveying an attitude to life and using art to find ways to overcome social challenges. Industrial culture and contemporary art must come together, which is also evident in the sound installation “Shifts” by Franziska Klose and Lorenz Hoffmann. To do this, they asked people about their jobs and distributed the recordings to industrial facilities, factories and logistics centers. They are real voices of a working community, in a city where every job has long been feared.

Synthetic sounds: sound artist Robert Lebok on opening night.


Synthetic sounds: sound artist Robert Lebok on opening night.
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Photo: Falk Wenzel

If you look at just social statistics, you will be amazed at the numbers that show the loss of social identity. But the cultural life of the chemical district of Peterfield, Wolfen, and Leona is thriving again. New urban and architectural projects are planned everywhere and one of the important architectural landmarks of the city will be revived; The Kulturpalast is from the early 1950s, in which the cultural policy of the early GDR was defined with the Bitterfelder Weg.

At the time, the credo of Walter Ulbricht’s state leadership was that “workers should hold their brushes and pens.” Literature and art must deal with corporate reality. This is one of the reasons for the development of the circular culture in Bitterfeld, which also influenced contemporary artists. Many of her interventions are designed to interact with the festival’s audience.

Socialist classicism was combined with elements of local building traditions: the Kulturpalast was modeled after the theater in Dessau.


Socialist classicism was combined with elements of local building traditions: the Kulturpalast was modeled after the theater in Dessau.
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Photo: Palace of Culture

Henrike Naumann, known for her room installations made of historical furniture, in which she contemplates the social problems of the East, offers drawing circles in which she conveys her artistic practice to ordinary people. The thesis of the festival organizers is that the process of transformation in East Germany can be seen in the industrial city. That is why there are theoretical architecture tours, as in the prefab district Wolfen-Nord, which once housed the industrial workers of the world-famous film industry. Germany’s first color film was produced in Wolfen, and in the 1980s the new development district had developed into one of the most popular neighborhoods in what was then a growing city.

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