The artist collective Center for Political Beauty – Connecting Art and Activism

September 20, 2015

The Berlin-based collective of performance artists and activists Center for Political Beauty expands the notion of what art is. Their projects are always linked to civil disobedience, acts of resistance and participatory engagement with the public. The group believes that art must hurt, provoke and rise in revolt and coined the term: aggressive humanism - a philosophy that blends performance art and politics to end political apathy.

Courtesy of Center for Political Beauty, (c) Patryk Witt, Melilla 2014

Awareness for the Refugee Crisis

End of last year, earlier than the current refugee crisis has been that present in the media in central Europe, the group got a big media attention through the project “First fall of the European wall”. It started with the removal of white crosses commemorating East Germans killed while trying to cross the Berlin Wall. A total of fourteen signs were unscrewed from their frames set in a metal fence on the south bank of Berlin's Spree River, near the site of the Reichstag building. The action happened a few days before the commemoration festivities for the fall of the Berlin wall’s 25th anniversary. "While in Berlin balloons will rise into the air and nostalgic, sedative speeches will be held, German civil society will, in an act of political beauty, bring down the European external walls," the group said in an online statement, adding that "the European Curtain must fall." In the first part of the action the crosses travelled to EU external borders: Nine to Gourougouk, close to the Spanish exclave Melilla, three to the Bulgarian-Turkish border and two to the Greek.
The project raises questions about our commemoration culture and which events will build our collective memory. We live in a time of deep changes and the Center for Political Beauty reached out to create images that will be part of our contemporary visual culture. What will be remembered of the 21st century?

Start of the performance at the Maxim Gorki Theater Berlin, (c) Ruben Neugebauer

“The last Rest of the Refugees has to be our Political Unrest”.

With a very successful crowdfunding campaign, which received considerable publicity and raised 55,400 € in only 5 days for buses and hotel accommodation, the second part of the Center for Political Beauty’s peaceful revolution could begin. In a call for action the group invited volunteers for the revolution to drive with the group to the EU external border in Bulgaria and cut a hole with bolt cutters and electric angle grinders to state: “we do not accept the breach of international law”. Upon the departure day, the Federal Police and the Federal Criminal Police Office surrounded the theatre with more than 100 officers. The performance was considered a call for commitment of severe crimes – the artistic performance became to concrete for the state authorities. Nevertheless, the police did not find any weapons or bolt cutters among the participants and had to let them continue with the journey. 100 volunteers in two buses started their route. The buses were searched in Serbia, Bulgaria and Greece and escorted by the police through the country. In Greece, four buses filled with riot police received the participants. The atmosphere became intense as the protection of the external borders is considered highest priority. The participants were confronted with the legal consequences of opening the wall: illegal border trespassing is punished with up to 5 years in prison or a fine of EUR 150. In the end the group had to give up for safety reasons and drove back to Berlin.

Philipp Ruch of the Center for Political Beauty in discussion with the police. (c) Ruben-Neugebauer
Philipp Ruch of the Center for Political Beauty in discussion with the police. (c) Ruben-Neugebauer

The Presence of the Center for Political Beauty in Social Media and their Ability of Community Building

Did the action fail in the end? Talking about the outcome of political art is difficult as the concrete action is already part of the performance and raising awareness for the specific matter the main goal. The different projects of the Center for Political Beauty push always the notion of what art can be far over its conservative definition. If you have a look at their social media sites of facebook or twitter you will find a huge participation, positive or negative, among a diverse public. Under the hashtags #EUwall, #europäischermauerfall #DieTotenKommen (Their most recent project), you find a discourse around the refugee topic, if their performances are art or the current state of politics. This inclusion of a big public and the ability to start a discussion is a big success of their actions.
The group uses strategies that are born out of civil disobedience and articulate a protest to the current situation through the use of artistic tools. In these difficult times they do not want to represent an abstracted idea but transform the idea into action. Important sources are social and grassroots movements as the civil rights movement or the netizens movement but also community work. It transcends the field of art, entering daily life without knowing how big the real impact will be in the end. It is not just about raising awareness, but about being uncomfortable, sharing knowledge, and affecting local situations. Their specific use of social media helps them to coordinate actions and events among people and raise awareness among others who have not been present. But, even though social media is important, its relevance should not be overrated as it is the physical protest body that matters in actions for social change.

Even though the project “First fall of the European wall” happened almost one year ago, the images are as current as they can be, watching the arrival of thousands of refugees on the borders. It seems that the group anticipated a topic that has not been on the political agenda back then and seems to gain actuality now when it is almost too late.

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All images courtesy of Center for Political Beauty.