IMAGE BANK: CULTURAL ECOLOGY OF THE DDR

ARTISTs
Michael Morris + Vincent Trasov

CURATOR
Lam Wong

EXHIBITION DATES
June 10 to July 31, 2021

GALLERY HOURS
TU–Sa: 12–6 PM; M, SU: CLOSED


The exhibition focuses on everyday life in the DDR German Democratic Republic, the Communist state which lasted 40 years from 1949 to 1989. The collection documents the history of design and culture in the Soviet Occupied Zone/ East Germany. Most of the objects in this collection are found images. They tell a story and preserve a snapshot of the society that produced them.

The collection was initiated in Germany by Michael Morris and Vincent Trasov who were living in Berlin at the fall of the wall, November 9, 1989. Realizing the historical value of these artifacts of a no longer extant culture the Image Bankers Morris and Trasov collected the mostly thrown away objects. They comprise articles incorporated into daily life (Alltagsgegenstände) and state ideology- household, photographs, children’s toys, flags and banners, military, textiles, promotional gimmicks, books, posters, newspapers, magazines, video, sound and a piece of the Berlin wall.

The DDR ceased to exist on midnight October 3, 1990. What was daily life like, under a dictatorship with no free elections, judiciary or freedom of movement? 

There was a good representation of Canadian artists (and more specifically from Vancouver), who had been part of the Berlin scene in 1989 and 1990. Their artistic endeavors were often defined by the fusion of east and west cultures as well as the clash between them. Morris’ and Trasov’s view of events will be communicated through examples of their work -Trasov’s STRASSENBILD, a conceptual word painting treating the phenomenon of the numerous street name changes, squares and underground stations in Berlin, and Morris’ Berlin photographs at the turning point.

The pop artists appropriated everyday objects into their art, and as early as 1980 Joseph Beuys incorporated DDR consumer items into a work entitled “Wirtschaftswerte – economic values”, comparing packaged goods from DDR, Poland, former Soviet Union and Federal Republic of Germany. 

The revolution of 1989 was a manifestation taking wrath out on the fallen system, destroying monuments and statues, ransacking pioneer and summer camps, storming the Stasi headquarters, changing street names, throwing out possessions, in short getting rid of everything socialist. The discussion and debate since the end of the cold war has been about these symbols, perhaps that objects remain as historical documents. It is timely for the work to be shown now when there is so much discussion about the process of history, at a time when we are questioning our own values and systems in an uncertain time.

Canton-Sardine would like to thank Silvia Krankemann, former citizen of the DDR and wife of Vincent Trasov for her curatorial assistance.

Silvia Krankemann: “As I grew up and matured, life in the DDR became more and more intolerable. With respect to the Helsinki Act, guaranteeing human rights and signed by the DDR in 1975 but never honoured, I applied for asylum in 1982. In the five years waiting for the application, I was forbidden to work and was constantly harassed by the bureaucracy. In a system with neither courts nor lawyers I was subjected to arbitrary hearings and the Stasi. When asylum was granted in 1987 I was given 24 hours to vacate the country, with two suitcases for personal belongings, never to set foot in the DDR again. Two years after my exile to West Germany on my 34th birthday, the Berlin wall fell.” 

Image Bank & Morris/Trasov Archive
Founded in 1970 by Michael Morris and Vincent Trasov the Image Bank helped facilitate the exchange of ideas, images and information between artists through the use of the postal system. Image Bank compiled and printed address and image requests lists that were sent to participants through the mail creating an open ended decentralized method of networking. The possibilities inherent in this kind of activity are limited only by the imagination so it is not hard to draw parallels between the pioneering work of the Image Bank and the later development of e-mail and the internet. As the Image Bank acted as both a clearing house and depository Morris and Trasov realized the importance of creating an archive to document and preserve the material accumulated from their activities. The concept of an artist’s archive or artist’s museum accounting for the concerns of a lifetime exists, the most famous is Duchamp’s “Green Box”. Other important examples include Ray Johnson’s “New York Correspondence School”, Robert Filliou’s concept of an “Eternal Network”, Daniel Spoerri’s ideas as outlined in his “An Anecdoted Topography of Chance”, Claus Oldenburg’s “Mouse Museum” and General Idea’s proposals for “The Miss General Idea Pavilion”. In 1973 Morris and Trasov helped found and direct the Western Front Society, Vancouver’s first artist-run centre. The Western Front remains to this day a centre dedicated to the production and presentation of new art activity. The contribution of Morris and Trasov to the Western Front’s events and visiting artist program, the directory issues of General Idea’s File Magazine, the “The Miss General Idea Beauty Pageant” as well as Trasov’s entry into the mayoralty race for the 1974 Vancouver civic election as Mr. Peanut are legend. All these activities have helped create the climate of ideas that have contributed to the recognition of Vancouver today as a major centre for contemporary art activity. Morris and Trasov left their duties at the Western Front in 1981 to accept a DAAD residency in Berlin. While there they pursued their interest in performance and video, participating in numerous events and exhibitions in Germany and around Europe throughout the decade and beyond. In 2019, a retrospective exhibition of the work of Image Bank was held at Kunst Werke in Berlin.

An invitation from the Banff Centre in 1990 to a residency dedicated to preserve and accession of the accumulation of material comprising the Image Bank legacy left in storage at the Western Front resulted in the creation of the Morris/Trasov Archive. Since 1993 the archive has been housed at the Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery in University of British Columbia, thanks to the support of Scott Watson, the gallery’s director. Numerous research projects, exhibitions and publications have resulted, including “How Sad I Am Today” a major survey exhibition and publication of the art of Ray Johnson and the New York Correspondence School, “Hand of the Spirit, Documents from the Seventies from the Morris/Trasov Archive” and “Image Bank Colour Research” for the 1994 Sao Paulo Biennial. The archive as the lifelong project of Morris and Trasov has meant casting a large net. It is time to pull that net in and make the connections that will link all the items in it to each other.

Acknowledgement
Canton-sardine, the curator and Image Bank would like to thank Anna Tidlund, Teresa Sudeyko and Scott Watson from Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery, University of British Columbia, for their immense help and support for locating and loaning the DDR objects and artworks in this exhibition. We would also like to thank Silvia Krankemann, former citizen of the DDR and wife of Vincent Trasov for her curatorial assistance.

Michael Morris in West Berlin 1989
Installation of STRASSENBILD, painting by Vincent Trasov, Berlin 1991
DDR leader Erich Honecker’s ironic pronouncement “The wall will last 100 years”, early 1990s
Street name change in East Berlin 1991
Removal of Lenin monument, Berlin 1990
Demolishing of the Palace of the Republic (DDR Parliament building), Berlin, 2006- 2008

Related Exhibition in Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery of UBC
IMAGE BANK 18 June – 22 Aug, 2021