Field of Dreams

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Within the dry and cold industrial atmosphere of southern Hamburg, a number of different arts have emerged at Hafensafari 2007. Tomoko Kinoshita writes.

“A town where people and art coexist” was a concept I developed in my early 20s. Depicted in my sketchbook was a place where art is hosted in public spaces, directly accessible to all residents. It was my ideal world. Hafensafari is an event which turns this idealistic concept, embalmed in my memory, into reality. It was my sincere pleasure to contribute to this inspirational event taking place in Germany with an art installation of my own in 2007.

The train pulls out of Hamburg’s Central Station, bound for the south of the city. I am whisked through a skyline of offices and apartment blocks and then over the Elbe – the river which geographi-cally bisects and polarises the city as it approaches its ultimate destination, the North Sea. The Elbe is both a physical and psychological partition, and the lively commercial centre fades behind me as the train forges deeper into the deserted industrial southern region. From my carriage I see factories, docks and giant stacks of shipping containers lining the network of canals. Presently, the train arrives at Wilhelmsburg station, the starting point for Hafensafari 2007, now in its fifth year. At the bus stop a few groups of around twenty people each are receiving an introduction from the event’s tour guides. I join one of the groups, today as a visitor, and we all squeeze aboard a bus and set off for the first installation.

In English, “hafen” means “harbour”. Hafensafari is an annual summer event that invites the residents of Hamburg on a guided tour in which they experience the temporary transformation of a harbour area. Lasting a few hours, the tour comprises site-specific art installations created predominantly by local artists. The tour guides lead curious visitors along the route, introducing the installations while providing a historical background to the sites which in general receive little interest from the populace. Hafensafari was initiated in 2003 by Rolf Kellner (überNormalNull) and landscape architects Heike Lorenz, Frank Sleegers and Ulrich Stief, in Hamburg’s new development zone Hafencity. Since this first transformation of a public space by intervening artists, the event has taken place every year, each time in a different location in the sparsely populated area south of the Elbe.

This year Hafensafari came to life in an industrial area, Wilhelmsburg, over three consecutive weeks in August and September, as one of the nine selected projects for the IBA (International Building Exhibition). The site includes an area that, until it was bombed in World War II, was a centre of leisure pursuits. Following that tragic episode its soil became contaminated with oil. The site is currently enclosed within fences which form a large restricted area. But the restrictions on the human population have allowed nature the freedom to regenerate so that today the area is flourishing with trees, grasses and flowers.

In addition to special weekend programmes including live music, performance art and films, Kindersafari encourages children to exercise their creativity. Hafensafari is itself a wonderful playground for artists, distant from the idea of “art for galleries”, rather the opportunity to be creative for the sake of a location, utilising materials and elements from that dynamic industrial landscape such as roads, buildings and extensive free space. It is a joy for me to interpret what the land wants to tell us, ultimately for its own benefit.

For ten minutes the bus sways amongst apartments, schools and small stores, before arriving at a Catholic church. It’s rather quiet and few residents are visible. Our guide introduces the first installation of fifteen, “SOZIALER VOGELBAU” (Christian Desbonnets), a series of wooden bird boxes emitting birdsong, installed on an outside wall of the church. The visitors listen attentively to the guide, and the sounds, and approach the boxes with curiosity. Shortly we walk on towards the bank of a pretty canal to see several 2D installations. The water is still and clear; the atmosphere calming. Passing underneath a bridge I see the dry, cold industrial area ahead of me transformed as if the land had taken the initiative for a change. It beckons me forward with three colourful pieces: red chairs staged at the end of the road, “EVENT »AUSBLICK«” (Janina Peter); sky blue on the pavement mutualising surroundings, “SCHATTEN TEPPICH” (Marnie Moldenhauer); a vivid multi-coloured room complete with recreational swing for colourful pleasure, “FARBTANKE” (Doro Hülder). Each of these is a milestone along a deserted road. We have walked a while, and it is time to rest our legs. Our guide directs us to the base camp where we have coffee, discuss what we’ve seen, and contemplate. I sit along the large canal, looking at the large factories that tower above me on the opposite bank. A light breeze comforts me for a while; and it’s then time to resume the tour. We start strolling.

The next installation resides in the restricted area. Outside the fence artist J. Georg Brandt holds two radio transceivers. His piece “BEREDTER ORT” does not allow physical access to the enclosed zone but visitors succeed in invisible intangible interaction with it. Two visitors are invited to communicate, speaking into the handsets, their voices amplified and broadcast from megaphones beyond the fence. But adult volunteers are hard to come by, their shyness a contrast to the children in the group who clamour for the transceivers and shout excitedly.

“Ah!” The project has brought the group closer together, and the children’s actions make us smile. We walk on, further along the road, towards a second restricted area – a vast empty space save for a grand sculptural work “KRATER//INVERS” (Beate Eisfeld) which consists of three large domes. Viewed from above, these domes reveal crosses which convey the feeling of the force of the bombs that fell on this area, in a manner at once both dynamic and sensitive. A little stroll along a path forged through wild grasses we reach “STÜBENS VOLKSGARTEN” (Brigitte Kratschmayr and Susanne Dettmann), a sentimental piece formed by optimistic colourful parasols perforated with countless holes. The adults in the group studiously observe writings and photographs depicting the history of this leisure area while the children run mischievously among the parasols. I sit under one of them. I sense an essence of the fateful incident as I peer up at the blue sky through the holes.

The tour continues among weeds and trees until I find white papers swaying silently in the breeze. I walk quickly between saplings and the pathway opens up to a forest transformed by thousands of papers. This is my contribution to Hafensafari, for a peaceful and harmonious world – “WISHING FOREST” has been created by the visitors. As instructed by the guide, individuals are writing their wishes on paper tags before attaching them to the branches. It is the visitors who are creating this installation, and I am grateful to them. By the close of Hafensafari, thousands of wishes will adorn these trees. Before we return once more to the base camp, our cordial guide concludes the tour with a wish that Wilhelmsburg enjoys a positive future.

Among the large grey factories, docks and bridges, Hafensafari – a dreamland – is a comforting air that descends to envelop people for three weeks each summer, before vanishing into the ether. 6,000 visitors joined the tour this year, the largest number since its inception in 2003. They ranged from infants to the elderly, illustrating that Hafensafari is for all. It is pleasing to see that the event has steadily gained support with the original members being complemented by new staff who believe in the concept. It contributes significantly to the local community and has grown organically despite the prevalence of commercially focused art events that dominate in Europe, serving the art dealers. For a person who sees the world as a place of rampant commercialisation, Hafensafari is a truly refreshing spectacle. It is simply, yet earnestly, an event for both the place and the people.

The sky is already a rich, dark blue when I board the train at Wilhelmsburg. As it wends its way north leaving the dream-land behind, people’s smiles remain inside of me. I wish I could stay. But as I survey the silhouettes of the docks there’s a sense of hope that I may meet that land again, south of the river, in summers to come. The cheerful lights of the city centre now surround the train and I remember the pages of my sketchbook. My summer is ending, and with it the finale of Hafensafari.