Irrlichter tour in Steeleby Nicoleta Moise
On a Saturday morning, under the heatwave called El Niño, I went on a walk in Essen-Steele with seven people and visited public artworks created specifically for places you wouldn't normally enter. Glenda, one of the art mediators for this year's Ruhr Ding: Schlaf, showed us five interventions by artists who shared their life-affirming perspectives on the urban landscape through a critical, feminist or pedagogical lens.
The tour started on a pedestrian bridge connecting Essen-Steele train station to the former entrance of the Wertheim department store, where we saw a billboard-sized collage of opaque, overlapping palms. With tomorrow, there will be no monsters, the artist Kameelah Janan Rasheed, intervened on the building's façade with fragments of indecipherable black-and-white texts and images that emerged from Midjourney AI software. Everyone wondered what could have been the original text that generated them. Then I thought about the moments when we read or see something and we think we understand it, even if we don't.
The second intervention was on the ground floor of the same department store, in an empty room that resembled a recording studio. Our eyes turned to the cut-out ceiling. A hidden infrastructure of pipes, mirrors, cables, and a ventilation system, was revealed by artist Nadia Kaabi-Linke through a transparent glass, alongside neon lights that gradually flickered on and off every few minutes. The in-situ installation, Ad Astra (To the stars), gave shape to the unseen by linking the fictional idea of "astro-mining" to Ruhr's mining past. If the sky were a mirror of the earth's man-made underground structure, then, I tell myself, I think Kaabi-Linke has made her point.
On the way to the next location, we made a brief stop to see the floor plan paved with stones of the former Jewish synagogue burned down by the Nazis in 1938. The site is now a parking lot where you can (almost) see the marking traces. A metal plaque memorial is positioned somewhere between a bank and a children's barbershop called Hair(y) Potter.
In the residential area of Steele, we entered a private apartment, where the artist Alicja Rogalska created an interventionist set-up called Sister Flats II. In the hallway there was an army of slippers. We were invited to put them on or take our shoes off. The living room had a yellow carpet on the floor that didn’t cover the whole space. We found comfort on a brown leather couch from where we watched the artist's new video work – an extensive survey mapping Steele's development overlapping with past architectural utopias. At the back of the room, where the windows were ajar and I could feel a breeze, was an ironing board with an iron placed on fragments of curtains and women's lingerie, which, sewn together, made their way to the curtain gallery like hanging plants. This work was developed in dialogue with Kosovar feminist activists and shown at Manifesta 14.
We left the apartment and headed to The Talking Corner, a mobile pavilion behind the fence of an open ball field, where children and adults were invited to participate in photography, zine and painting workshops. Maximiliane Baumgartner, artist and educator, together with Studio Nitsche, designed a free accessible communal infrastructure for artistic mediation, inspired by the 1970s sculptures as part of a radical and action pedagogy.
The tour ended with the sculptural installation Temporary not Available, by artist Stephanie Lüning. A disused yellow phone booth installed under the balconies of an apartment building from where I could hear a lady speaking Ukrainian, smelled cooked food and saw a man smoking a cigarette. While the neighbors could watch history unfold right under their window (Germany plans to dismantle all remaining phone booths by 2025), the cabin, filled with foam, functioned as a measuring station powered by photovoltaic cells, which worked in direct rhythm with daylight and weather conditions.