Car Culture Meets The Avant-Garde At Raf Simons’ Berlin Symposium
The three-day celebration of the avant-garde that Raf Simons curated on behalf of Mercedes-Benz in Berlin last weekend could be seen as an ingeniously left-field way for the car company to establish its leadership in what the press release referred to as “automotive culture.” Those words would make me think of drag-racing or custom cars or maybe even Pixar long before I got to the list of cutting-edge musicians and artists that Raf corralled at the Berlin Congress Centre, sheathed for the occasion in a photographic installation by longtime Simons collaborator Peter de Potter. And I’m not sure the so-called Avant/Garde Diaries changed my pre-conception. But it certainly offered an opportunity to get up close and personal with truly special guests like Peter Saville, Paul Morley, Casey Spooner, and Michael Clark. And, Benz connection aside, it would be hard to come up with a better location. Ordnung und Vernichtung (Order and Annihilation), a new exhibition that covers the role of the police during the years of the Nazi terror, inadvertently underscored just how much garde there was to be avant—or après, for that matter—in Berlin.
The leisurely program opened on Friday with These New Puritans, whose first number apparently featured real car engines—although the glorious thunder of George Barnett’s drumming (supplemented for this performance by two additional percussionists) effectively drowned them out—and closed two nights later with the Michael Clark Company dancing to the music of David Bowie. Actually, Fischerspooner were on last, repeating their performance from Saturday, which had to stop when an over-refreshed audience member hurled a bottle that shattered on the stage. (A feature of the spare-no-expense event was the amount of freely flowing alcohol.) But Clark’s tribute to Bowie felt like a more appropriate finale, given that Bowie is not only one of Simons’ influences but also one of Berlin’s most famous adopted sons. The video for “Heroes” was projected behind one of Clark’s pieces, and to see and hear that song within walking distance of the locale that inspired it (“I can remember standing by the Wall”) was an emotional overload for some—well, for me anyway.
Benz’s hero of the hour was the Concept A-Class, which shimmered impressively in a phantom cocoon conjured up by artist Germaine Kruip and lighting wiz Thierry Dreyfus. If it wasn’t the first car launch I’ve ever been to, it was without a doubt the most provoking. And the fact that it was labeled Transmission 1 suggests that automotive culture is going to acquire even finer new shadings.