Jasmin Werner Reveals How Two Unlikely Cities Intersect

For her first solo exhibition at Berlin’s Guido W. Baudach, the artist finds the concealed connections between Dubai and Berlin, relaying both places’ urban histories

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BY Sonja-Maria Borstner in EU Reviews , Exhibition Reviews | 14 OCT 21

‘Berlin is a palimpsest [subject to] constant overwriting: places disappear, are redefined or reshaped. However, something always remains, often puzzling, like the fifth or sixth layer on the papyrus,’ writes Annett Gröschner in Berliner Bürger*Stuben: Palimpseste und Geschichten (Berlin’s Citizen’s Rooms: Palimpsests and Stories, 2020). German-Filipino artist Jasmin Werner’s first solo exhibition at Berlin’s Galerie Guido W. Baudach is also, arguably, a palimpsest. Titled ‘Seniorita Latifa Sharifah’, after her Dubai-based cousin’s social-media alias, the show uncovers the ways in which Berlin unexpectedly intersects with the largest city in the United Arab Emirates, while relaying both places’ concealed urban histories.

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Jasmin Werner, Schloss der Republik Burj Khalifa OFW V, 2021, installation view. Courtesy: the artist and Galerie Guido W. Baudach, Berlin; photograph: Roman März

Schloss der Republik Burj Khalifa OFW I-V (all works 2021), for instance, comprises five LED-illuminated aluminium sculptures reminiscent of construction scaffolds, powered by extension cords plugged into toy shopping carts. Mimicking the rounded corners of Burj Khalifa in Dubai – the world’s tallest building – the sculptures are covered with mesh on which are depicted details of the original Berlin Palace (c.1443) and its reconstruction (Humboldt Forum) and the demolished Palace of the Republic (1976), as well as interior and exterior photographs, taken by the artist’s cousin, of the 828-metre skyscraper. Normally featuring advertisements or renderings of finished developments to hide the interim state of construction sites, the translucent mesh in Werner’s sculptures presents collages of the buildings’ linked histories. Replacing the war-damaged remains of the original Berlin Palace, the Palace of the Republic was built to house the parliament of the former GDR. In 2006, however, it in turn was demolished to make way for yet another reconstruction of the palace, which – after numerous delays and controversies – opened earlier this year as the Humboldt Forum. By coincidence, iron from the dismantled Palace of the Republic – an undeniable symbol of East Germany’s socialist past – was sold to the UAE and recycled in the construction of Burj Khalifa, a luxury skyscraper. In this way, Werner’s Schloss der Republik Burj Khalifa OFW not only renders visible how architectural history is intertwined with political upheaval but also how materials can become migrating vessels of multiple, at times opposing, ideological narratives.

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Jasmin Werner, ‘Seniorita Latifa Sharifah’, 2021, exhibition view, Galerie Guido W. Baudach, Berlin. Courtesy: the artist and Galerie Guido W. Baudach, Berlin; photograph: Roman März 

Echoing these methods of dismantling, reassembling and repositioning, Werner often re-uses previous works as raw material, adding new narratives while questioning traditional notions of artworks, buildings or urban spaces as ‘final’ forms. Here, two outdoor sculptures originally shown in a group exhibition at the Berlin-based Bärenzwinger gallery in 2020 – Schloss der Republik Burj Khalifa (segment 1/4) and (segment 2/4) – have been reconfigured into individual light sculptures, which are either attached to floor-to-ceiling poles or installed on the gallery walls, and newly combined with a trio of smaller objects on wooden and aluminium pedestals (Wholly Family III, 2018, Wholly Family IV and V, both 2021).

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Jasmin Werner, ‘Seniorita Latifa Sharifah’, 2021, exhibition view, Galerie Guido W. Baudach, Berlin. Courtesy: the artist and Galerie Guido W. Baudach, Berlin; photograph: Roman März 

Combining small-scale ladders and stairs with toy fruits and vegetables, topped by ornamented metal halos produced by Filipino artisans, the architectural elements in the ‘Wholly Family’ series signify, by Werner’s account, ‘the desire and hope for advancement in life’. What is at stake in this endeavour is hinted at through their obstacle course-like composition, as well as by the letters ‘OFW’ in the titles of the light sculptures. The abbreviation refers to the more than ten million ‘Overseas Filipino Workers’ (including the artist’s cousin) who have migrated to work in high-income countries, such as UAE, but are rendered invisible in their vulnerable positions within them. If Berlin – and, by extension, all cities – are palimpsests, then Werner’s work can be seen as deciphering its invisible layers and enabling us to scrape off – per the original meaning of palímpsēstos – the histories that have so frequently been overwritten.

Jasmin Werner's 'Seniorita Latifa Sharifah’ is on view at Galerie Guido W. Baudach, Berlin, until 16 October 2021.

Main image: Jasmin Werner, ‘Seniorita Latifa Sharifah’, 2021, exhibition view, Galerie Guido W. Baudach, Berlin. Courtesy: the artist and Galerie Guido W. Baudach, Berlin; photograph: Roman März 

Sonja-Maria Borstner is a writer and curator based in Berlin, Germany. She is the editorial assistant at Gropius Bau and co-editor of the online magazine PASSE-AVANT. 

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