BY Mark Wallinger in Frieze | 31 MAY 05
Featured in
Issue 91


Mark Wallinger on the filming of Sleeper in the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin

BY Mark Wallinger in Frieze | 31 MAY 05

As a bear I don’t claim any special knowledge. Only that which I have experienced and how it lead me here. Growing up in the shadow of the wall was not about proximity. Imagine casting a stone into water and finding that the ripples, expanding in concentric rings, never diminish. Berlin was part of my subconscious before I ever set foot here

A sleeper may be planted years in advance – of all the double agents buried during the cold war, not all of them were sprung. The secret of a successful hibernation is a matter of provisions and a plausible disguise. At night I am examined for authenticity, during the day I pass unnoticed. The bears in the zoo are the last of their kind, as they are no longer allowed to breed. When the last one dies will they raze the whole sorry zoo to the ground like they did with the idiot Hess? Alone in the centre of this vast space I gaze toward Potsdamer Platz like the guilty conscience of the building. A bad sleeper.

Sometimes I feel quite adrift as if I have woken up in the middle of this story.

A transparent building is intimidating. It can only exist in a society that doesn’t fear its shattering. In the Neue Nationalgalerie we are open, we have nothing to hide – art is for all to experience. When the wall came down, there it was, naked. And looking at the Fernsehturm, you can’t help thinking, how appropriate; this is what you get when a culture of surveillance and paranoia commissions a representative national icon. One gigantic look-out tower.

The bear costume is an obvious disguise, I know. (Too much effort would appear ingratiating, I thought). It is both bear, and clearly not bear. Children, for all their fear of the unknown, can play with this fear. They switch from play to reality effortlessly, exist in two realms simultaneously. (Tonight I have been trailed by two small girls who tease me through the glass. I breathe a little cloud on to the pane. They fan out a pack of playing cards and bid me pick one. I point and they turn over a picture of Harry Houdini). The portal to the other side, the underworld or wonderland is the mirror as represented in Orphee or Alice. You have to pass through your own image to reach an imagined world. Risking enchantment.

As a child I was traumatised by a vision of the other side. The Singing Ringing Tree, made in a fully imagined world in Babelsberg, tells the story of a selfish princess who sends a long suffering prince on a quest for a magical tree. He reaches the border of another kingdom which is protected by a ravine and a sheer rock face and guarded by a dwarf. The prince explains his quest for the magical tree, and the dwarf offers it to him on one condition. If the princess does not love him by sunset, he must return to live in the magic kingdom. The prince is so confident that he jokes. He says that if he fails he will be a turned into a bear…

What does it dream? This empty building full of limpid darkness, like the promise of a well, a reservoir of silent thought? How often does one look at the moon and think that a man has walked there? On the other side of the wall the Palast der Republik is choking with asbestos.

In Babelsberg, tongue-tied over their short history and in grief at their estranged brothers and sisters, they turned to the long past for some unexpurgated truth. The two realms of Germany were like twins separated as children and raised in completely contrary ways. Having to cross irrevocably from one realm to another, or be divided without appeal. This is what I have learnt and it seems very cruel. Germany invented the unconscious, which is not normally credited with respecting borders.

What if I died in here?

Being alone in a Museum was a delicious recurring dream of mine, to transgress among objects of such inestimable value. But an empty museum, what would that be, exactly? I have met many people who preferred the Jewish Museum empty of exhibits. Why? Something to do with Freud and the return of the repressed, I suppose. Because what do we dream until we know what we have done? The characters in Fairy tales are hapless innocents – they do not yet inhabit a moral universe.

Bauhaus is our house, Gretel.

What are we allowed to dream? The past rises up with all its vivid detail to mock our progress at every turn. The long past of our own fear. Inside the bear’s head I am aware of my own breathing. Looking out of the jaws at my narrow view, my progress from stimulus to distraction gains some kind of animal momentum – to watch and be watched as a foreign, alien, strange, endearing, imprisoned animal.

Don’t feed the bears.

Marx wrote that history weighed like a nightmare upon the brains of the living. Without the notion of a God to console, history may seem random and uncontrolled. Joyce talks about the nightmare of history as the unbearable contingency of being: the accident of birth that would take more than a lifetime to understand. He chose exile from god and nationality. The rest, the past which lies unrecorded, are what myth and folktales retain, the long past where no details change; where things remain real and answer to their names.

The Neue Nationalgalerie declares that the modern world, so cruelly interrupted, will resume its business from such and such a date.

Tonight, the moon shone brighter than the lights of the Sony Centre.

Did I tell you about the other bear? On the seventh night a bear appeared, identical in every detail, looking through the glass. The security cameras picked it up.

My German brother. Mein Doppelganger.