State of Control (working title / concept)

Concept for an art project in the building Normannenstraße 19 in Berlin Lichtenberg, former Ministry for State Security of the GDR

In Normannenstraße 19, an oversized “linoleum section” is being created in the floor covering of the building; two large halls with over 800 m2 PVC floor covering form the starting material for this.
I cut directly into the found substance of this charged place and inscribe myself in it with pictures and words. I break the resistance of his material: the building or its floor is transformed into a huge stamp. A controversial place in contemporary history that has been abandoned for years is revived, reoccupied and redefined.
After the linocut has been produced, it is printed and sewn onto 3-metre-wide lengths of fabric. The site and the artistic intervention will then be made accessible to the public in an exhibition.
The six-week exhibition in Normannenstraße offers the opportunity to present the entire print (approx. 18 metres high and 30 metres wide) on the outer façade and numerous individual prints as well as the entire ground work inside the building. Here visitors can walk over the work of art – the printing block – and the print results hang from the ceiling and on the walls. The viewer finds and moves between “positive” and “negative” – the floor work and its prints become an installation.
It is particularly important to use the floor for this intervention, because it is literally “fundamental” and the starting point for all our activities. Important events, clashes, history – everything inscribes itself sedimentarily here – the ground is a carrier of meaning, in which one has to dig oneself in if one wants to find it.
For me, the process of approaching and working with the soil material symbolizes the handling of the Stasi – an open process to uncover the deposits and sediments.

Definition of content and background

For many years I have been interested in abandoned, functionless buildings as artistic source material: On the one hand, in order to appropriate and occupy the “dead” space beyond the institutional art world and thus open up new play and effect spaces for art. On the other hand, it is the socio-political dimension: the phenomenon of “vacancy” in urban agglomerations is the result of a real estate market increasingly determined by speculation and profit maximization. Intervention in this wasteland resource therefore also has a social dimension and significance. By establishing references to the social function and history of the place, my interventions can be compared with the attempt to reactivate forgotten memory by means of psychoanalysis.

The building Normannenstraße 19 in Berlin Lichtenberg, which had been vacant for about 10 years, was part of the Ministry for State Security of the GDR. Here there was a cinema, canteen and ballroom for the servants and agents as well as shopping facilities in Intershops. A few weeks after the opening of the Wall and the “Wende”, the building was occupied in January 1990 by numerous citizens of the former GDR and searched for files. Hardly any other place in Berlin was more severely rejected or even hated than this one.
The topic of surveillance and punishment inscribed in this place is the starting point and reference point of my intervention.
It is about both a critical examination of the former state security of the GDR and a historical review of various state concepts of surveillance and repression – from the medieval pillory to the Nazi block warden, from grid searches to the digital present, locating people from outer space via GPS and mobile phones.
“Telephone Surveillance, Raster Investigation, Bugging Attack, Government Access to Bank Accounts, Video Surveillance, Data Retention, Secret Searches
private computers, central storage of digitized fingerprints, internal military operations, shooting down hijacked civilian aircraft…” (Heribert Prantl, in Der Terrorist als Gesetzgeber, How to make politics with fear. Verlag Droemer Knaur 2008) – this is the direction in which new initiatives are constantly being taken by politicians under the heading “Fight against international terrorism”. They repeatedly raise the question of the relationship between civil liberties on the one hand and state control on the other. This relationship is increasingly shifted to the detriment of freedoms and in favour of state control. This development and its implicit contradictions are put up for discussion in the project in the sense of an emancipatory discourse and a civil societal confrontation between civil liberties vs. state power – data protection vs. security.

Even if problematic tendencies towards excessive surveillance can be observed, at the same time there are manifold initiatives to infiltrate and question these measures by the authorities. These impulses of resistance should also flow into the work.
In addition, the project explores the extent to which art – in times of dominant market orientation – is able to convey and transport universal contents such as the idea of “freedom” as a current social concept of life.


This labour-intensive and complex project requires substantial financial support in order to be realised. It has the potential to be perceived in and beyond Berlin as an important art project and to initiate a social debate among the general public.

Thomas Kilpper
Berlin, April 2008