Squats in Berlin and in Kyiv at the fall of the Iron Curtain: cross-studies of cases of “Tacheles Kunstinitiative” and “Paris Commune Street” (1990-1994)

by Baptiste Perrault
March 1, 2022
Alexander Shevchuk, Série n°15 "Notre" ("Дорога или язык до Киева доведет").
Alexander Shevchuk, Série n°15 "Notre" ("Дорога или язык до Киева доведет").

On February 13, 1990, in Berlin, a group of artists broke into a ruined building on Oranienburger Straße in the central district of Mitte, which had been partially dynamited by the Soviet authorities in the 1980s. In the summer of the same year, another group of former students of the Kyiv Institute of Fine Arts around Oleksandr Hnylytskyi, Oleg Golosiy and Valeria Troubina, took over several floors of a building on Paris Commune Street - now Mykhailivska - in Kyiv. The small group was already occupying a place between Lenin Street and Franco Street.

 

The Tacheles opened its doors during the short period after the fall of the Wall, during which the number of occupied places in Berlin increased considerably. The two parts of the city could communicate again, and the many abandoned places in East Berlin were quickly taken over by the East Berlin youth, soon to be joined by those from the West. The turn-of-the-century building was renamed "Tacheles" by its new residents, which means "to speak clearly, unpretentiously, directly" in Yiddish, and announced the group’s uncompromising intentions. It was also a tribute to the inhabitants of the Jewish ghetto during the Third Reich, in which the Oranienburger Straße was located. The group of occupiers included members of the former FRG, GDR and foreign countries from both former blocs. After many confrontations with the police, the occupiers managed to settle down and obtain temporary recognition of the city. 

 

In Kyiv, the relationship between the occupiers and the authorities was very different. While in Berlin a real legal battle was being played out, Oleksandr Klypmenko, who was close to the local authorities, was informed that three floors of a building in Kyiv remained unoccupied. At the time, the large communal apartments in Kyiv were being gradually  renovated, in a Ukraine in the midst of an economic collapse, and many apartments remained unoccupied. Moreover, renovations only began when all the resident families of a building agreed to be relocated, which is an important parameter in understanding why the artists were able to occupy the empty premises so peacefully. The existence of the squat was indeed largely allowed by the presence of their neighbors, who stayed until 1994. And it was ultimately their departure that year that precipitated the dispersion of the group.

 

The relationship to authorities being inherently very different - confrontational in Berlin but much more distant in Kyiv - the two groups had therefore different approaches to their art. 

They were certainly part of the same libertarian dynamic emerging in the former Eastern Bloc capitals, but the protest did not have exactly the same meaning in the squat of the Paris Commune Street as in that of the Tacheles Kunsthaus. In Berlin, squats like the one in Tacheles appeared in response to the large-scale urban renewal projects that accompanied reunification. Their approach was decidedly anti-system and used political means such as physical opposition and negotiation to create a space for resistance. In Kyiv, protest - or even subversion - focused more on experimenting with new ways of living and suspending existing social norms. This dissolution of codes was reflected in the sexual life, the taking of drugs or the endless parties that took place in the squat on the Paris Commune Street.


The two cities were then two no-man’s-land, and thus privileged playgrounds for young artists, as Andreas Rost’s photographic account Alltag im Chaos underlines. The importance of urban fabric in the birth of new places for artistic creation and dissemination is emphasized in the recent history of art in Berlin. After the Wall, the city offered hundreds of dwellings left unoccupied by the departure of some of the inhabitants of East Berlin who joined their families or found work in the West. These large open spaces offered a place to invest and the opportunity to work in large studios for almost nothing. The reunited city regained its pre-war colossal dimensions for a population that had meanwhile been considerably reduced. Kyiv was in the same state in 1990, especially the streets leading to the October Revolution Square, renamed Maidan Square after independence. These streets are made up of large buildings of baroque architecture that belonged to the wealthy families of the Ukrainian capital, before being turned into communal apartments. Their large rooms with high ceilings were then empty and allowed for the installation of the huge canvases on which the artists of Kyiv worked. Other squats appeared in these streets, building up an artistic network with the Paris Commune one, and where artists such as Ilya Tchitchkan, Kirill Protsenko and Arsen Savadov were active. 

 

Both cities have played a central role in the narratives of the artists and their creativity. “Berlin is too big for Berlin” wrote Hanns Zischler in 1999. The artists seize the opportunities offered by this almost blank space, and its great potential of freedom. Graffiti soon covered the walls of the Tacheles and, as a sign of anti-militarist protest, Peter Rampazzo installed a Soviet MiG-29 fighter plane found in an abandoned former military base in front of the ruined building. This also took the form of art installations like “Relax Art Gardens” in 1994, a land-art artwork covering the entire courtyard of the Tacheles Kunsthaus. This way of creating by using unoccupied spaces in the city was also prevalent in Kyiv, as Serguey Anufriev shows in his famous text “Kyiv as a cultural model”. The Odessa artist describes, unlike Moscow or Odessa, the "recreational" aspect of the city. “Walking around the city, a person experiences no hideous tension. And walking through fraught spaces, he is able to behold their splendor and magnificence, not forgetting that there are recreational possibilities nearby”

 

Both squats were therefore places where creativity emerged, but also sociability, parties and intense debates - very political in Berlin and rather aesthetic in Kyiv. Both became artistic poles and hosted many artists, attached to their individuality. They coexisted rather than creating a common artistic movement. The youngest founding members of the “Paris Commune” came from all over Ukraine like Troubina, Golosiy or Hnylyntski and mingle, among others, with artists coming from the Odessian punk scene Roïtbourd and Serguey Anufriev. Similarly, the Tacheles Kunsthaus team composed of Peter Rampazzo, Stefen Schilling, Mark Divo or Andreas Rost was rapidly joined by artists from all over the world who were attracted by the growing reputation of the place.

The squats quickly became a collective scene. Lesia Zayats, an artist from the Ukrainian diaspora in Munich and wife of Oleksandr Hnylytski described the many different characters that she met during her visit to the Paris Commune: “One, an Englishman with a foreign passport, was a Minister of Foreign Affairs; another one was a shaman, like for example Serguey Anufriev, who traveled a lot; someone else was an ideologist - Solovyov, who then became the main curator of the exhibitions of the ParCom artists in the 1990s.”

 

The social bonds within the squat between the team members are perhaps the greatest similarity between the squats of the Paris Commune and the Tacheles. The great diversity of characters, the strong personalities, were in both cases at the origin of disagreements and even of the disappearance of the squat. 

In 1991 the Berlin City Council declared the Tacheles a historical monument and recognized it as a cultural site, thus allowing the occupants to continue their activities. The artists created an independent cinema, a theater, new studios and exhibition spaces, as well as a coffee to welcome visitors. This new success led to a major division in the group between the “Wessis” (from the West), who are in favor of welcoming tourists and bringing in money to run the place, and the “Ossis” (from the East) who are rather opposed to it. The Tacheles squat existed until 2012, but the project had already been weakened since 1994 and the departure of the “Wessis” including the famous scenographer Jochen Sandig. “What remains is the place itself, that gathers the participants without being able to unify them, and with which they all identify.”, writes Boris Grésillon, showing the community’s deep attachment to the place. 

 

The situation was comparable in Kyiv. The Paris Commune squat, famous for its endless parties and its international visitors, lost some of its momentum after 1992, despite large group exhibitions like “Dead calm” by Oleksandr Soloviov in 1992. The art critic Oleh Sydor-Hibelinda described at the time this phenomenon in an article entitled “The Paris Commune: Symphony of a Decay”, in 1993. For him, “the artists were no longer interesting as a unit but became interesting as creative individuals”. They started traveling more and more and tried to gain visibility abroad.

In both Kyiv and Berlin, those four years have led to a professionalization of artistic practice that has gradually brought down the initial collective euphoria. The “successful” squats almost face a structural problem. These cultural places certainly need successful artists to survive, but popularity inevitably destroys their contesting or independent dynamics. Thanks to their success, the artists of the Paris Commune were able to obtain basic necessities that were not available to the majority of the Ukrainian population. In Berlin, success allowed the Tacheles Kunstinitiative to resist police pressure. But success also led to competition among artists for contracts and exhibitions with galleries, forcing them to rethink how to be a collective. Golosiy was the first one to sign a contract with a private gallery in 1993.

 

As a conclusion, we can quote Vasyl Tsaholov, a pioneer of photography and performance in Kyiv: “No umbilical cord ties me to the ParCom. Everything ties me to Kyiv, but nothing to the ParCom.” Here the city prevails as an inexhaustible source of inspiration for artists, more than the squat itself, whether in Kyiv or Berlin. Since then, Kyiv and Berlin have continued to embody a certain freedom, thanks to the deep attachment of their artists, and the constant arrival of new dreamers.

 

Special thanks to Konstantin Akinsha, Boris Grésillon, Alisa Lozhkina and Oleg Sosnov for their invaluable assistance in the research that was conducted to write this article.

 

 

 
 
 
 

 

 

 

Valeria Troubina’s studio at the Kyiv State Art Institute. Standing, left to right: Oleg Golosiy, Oleksandr Roitburd, Olena Nekrasova, Serhii Lykov, Natalia Filonenko, Oleksandr Hnylytskyi, Valeria Troubina, Ksenia Hnylytska. Sitting: Sergey Anufriev, Leonid Vartyvanov. 1989. Analogue photograph. Photographer: unknown. Courtesy of Oleksandr Soloviov. Source: Parcomunne : Place, community, phenomenon. Kyiv, Publish Pro, 2019.

 

Footnotes:
  1. Rost, Andres, Peter Moors (Vorwort), Tacheles : Alltag im Chaos. Berlin, Elephant Press, 1992. 
  2. Marguin, Séverine, « Une scène artistique indépendante foisonnante, miroir de l’entrelacement des dynamiques  urbaines et artistiques », in Allemagne d’aujourd’hui, 2017/3, n°221, p. 198-209. 
  3. Zischler, Hanns, Berlin ist zu groß für Berlin. Berlin, Galiani, 1999.
  4. Anufriev, Serguey, « Kiyv as a cultural model », in Martynyuk, Olena, Patning in Excess : Kyiv art revival, 1985- 1993. Rutgers, Rutgers University Press, 2021. 
  5. Lesia Zayats, interviewée par Tetyana Kochubinska et Kateryna Yakovlenko pour la revue en ligne Korydor : http:// www.korydor.in.ua/ua/voices/lesia-zayats-parkomuna.html. 
  6. Ibid.
  7. Grésillon, Boris, « Le Tacheles : histoire d’un « squart » berlinois », in Multitudes, 2004/3, n° 17, p. 147 à 155.
  8. Sydor Hilbenda, Oleh, « La commune de Paris : Symphony of Decay », in Doroshenko, Kostiantyn, Iakovlenko,  Kateryna, Kochubinska, Tatiana, Malykh, Ksenia, Zhmurko, Tetiana, Parcomunne : Place, community,  phenomenon. Kyiv, Publish Pro, 2019.
  9. Dumont, Elsa, Vivant, Manon, Du squat au marché public : trajectoire de professionnalisation des opérateurs de  lieux artistiques off, in « Réseaux », 2016/6, n° 200, p. 181-208. 
  10. Doroshenko, Kostiantyn, Iakovlenko, Kateryna, Kochubinska, Tatiana, Malykh, Ksenia, Zhmurko, Tetiana,  Parcomunne : Place, community, phenomenon. Kyiv, Publish Pro, 2019. 

 

 

The Soviet MiG-29 fighter plane installed in front of the Tacheles by Peter Rampazzo. Source: Berlin Wonderland: Wild Years Revisited (1990-1996), 2014.


Bibliographie : 

- Azozomox, & Kuhn, Armin. (2018). The Cycles of Squatting in Berlin (1969–2016). 10.1057/978- 1-349-95314-1_7. 

- Doroshenko, Kostiantyn, Iakovlenko, Kateryna, Kochubinska, Tatiana, Malykh, Ksenia, Zhmurko, Tetiana, Parcommune : Place, community, phenomenon. Kyiv, Publish Pro, 2019. 

- Dumont, Elsa, Vivant, Manon, Du squat au marché public : trajectoire de professionnalisation des opérateurs de lieux artistiques off, in « Réseaux », 2016/6, n° 200, p. 181-208. 

- Fesel, Anke, Keller, Chris, Berlin Wonderland: Wild Years Revisited (1990-1996), Berlin: Gestalten, 2014.

- Grésillon, Boris, " Le Tacheles : histoire d’un " squart " berlinois ", in Multitudes, 2004/3, n° 17, p. 147 à 155. 

- Grésillon, Boris, Contre-cullture, musique et urbanisme : le cas emblématique de Kreuzberg, de la fin des années 1960 à aujourd’hui, Aix, Presses universitaires de Provence, 2013. 

- Marguin, Séverine, "Une scène artistique indépendante foisonnante, miroir de l’entrelacement des dynamiques urbaines et artistiques", in Allemagne d’aujourd’hui, 2017/3, n°221, p. 198-209. 

- Martynyuk, Olena, Patning in Excess : Kyiv art revival, 1985-1993. Rutgers, Rutgers University Press, 2021. 

- Rost, Andres, Peter Moors (Vorwort), Tacheles : Alltag im Chaos. Berlin, Elephant Press, 1992.

- Zischler, Hanns, Berlin ist zu groß für Berlin. Berlin, Galiani, 1999.

 

Ben de Biel. La cour de la Tacheles Kunsthaus. Source: Berlin Wonderland: Wild Years Revisited (1990-1996), 2014.

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