LIVING ON THE BORDER
BERT BINNIG ON URBAN ART, CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE AND RECLAIMING PUBLIC SPACE.
Interview by Christoph Ziegler
"MAGGI TUNNEL" (detail) - Redesign of a subway passage in Singen, Germany, 2019. Photo: Martin Duckek.
BERT BINNIG's typo-manipulation of a fence sign on the Swiss-German border protesting the extensive Covid-19 measures was meant to be an act of disobedience. However, the artwork became very popular. SMCK Magazine SPOKE WITH BERT BINNIG on how Urban Art mobilizes citizens to reclaim public space and the advantages a small city offers creatives.
CZ: Why does urban art still have subversive or political potential?
BB: The works get more powerful when something surprising happens - when a street artist paints his message in a very special place, the whole impression changes. Commissioned works rarely have this freedom.
CZ: How does urban art differ from design or gallery art?
BB: Urban art is often ephemeral. Artists often act on their own initiative and at their own risk. There are no guidelines. The works are therefore more authentic and honest. It is art you can touch, a gift to everybody and an invitation to become active yourself and conquer public space.
"VIS!TE" - Konstanz, 2018. Conversion of a former hospital into a studio and exhibition space for over 100 artists. Photo: Homebase.
CZ: How did you get into urban art?
BB: I was a village punk in the 1990s. The large-scale facade designs as part of the squatter scene in big cities like Zurich, Hamburg, and Berlin had already captured my imagination. I found the art on building facades in the squatters' neighborhoods more exciting than the graffiti scene. They were more diverse, not limited to one technique or style, and often connected to a social statement. I was fascinated by the idea that it is possible to turn fall-out areas into culture sites in the middle of the city. There was nothing comparable in Constance at the time. Nevertheless, I got stuck here.
CZ: How do you earn your living?
BB: I started my own business with two fellow students right after graduation in 2003 until 2012. A point of conflict was my artistic involvement in schools and youth centers because it was not considered lucrative enough. As a consequence, I didn't pursue any more art projects within the agency. With the founding of Homebase, I resumed artistic activities.
At first, it was a pet project to get back in touch with my roots. Then I started to do more workshops for the art-in-high-school "Kulturagenten" program so that the art activity was at least paying off. The redesign of public spaces like the Maggi-tunnel is developing into a business scheme.
"MAGGI TUNNEL" - Redesign of a subway passage in Singen, Germany, 2019. Photo: Martin Duckek.
CZ: Where is the border between art and design?
BB: In design there are clearly described requirements. The crux of the matter for me is the influence of the funder. If I can stand behind the client's goals with a clear conscience and my expertise as a designer is recognized, commissioned work is a good thing.
CZ: Constance, a medium-sized town in the south of Germany, attaches great importance to tradition. How are your art interventions received there?
BB: Constance is now also a politically rather green and liberal city. People are happy when things pop up here that they would have previously only expected to see in the big city. That's why most of our projects have been well-received, even across all political camps, which is rather rare in Constance.
Bert Binnig. Photo: Homebase.