Black March Berlin, 9 November 2014
Navigating the city and absorbing the waves with a black flag
On 9 November 2014, I performed Black March Berlin, joined at various points by a group of artist collaborators and participant walkers. It was the fourth in a series of walking performances that began in Tokyo in 2012, and this time in Berlin it coincided with the 25 year anniversary celebrations of the Fall of the Berlin Wall: this coincidence though vaguely planned and not, brought this performance action, which up to now has been a fairly low-key manifestation in public space, into the very public eye of large crowds that had gathered to mark this event. It opened up Black March in every sense: from extreme exposure, to intense exchange.
Waking up in darkness, heading north in the early tunnels and trains
Sleepers and chatterers and so much to say at seven am.
Opposite me senseless anger stamps a foot, glares, and soon forgets the cause
Eyes closing, tremors engulf him: a quaking body, a chattering silent jaw
Is it the cold, or the nervous frustrations of an ‘aim-less’ body, gnawing itself?
In the early grey hush
Black absorbs all the light of slanting glances
A dark figure exposed.
At least five shades of black.
At 9 November Platz, the top of Bornhölmer Straße I unfurled the black banner from its long stake. Under the eyes of the TV crews, understudies for the, somewhat altered not quite obsolete, role of surveillance: a radio reporter ran over to describe me as a ‘sad’ figure on such a festive day.
Why is ‘black’ sad? Black simply absorbs all light and perhaps invites us to not just ‘look’ at things with the all too easy assistance of the light, but challenges us to grope into the dark for what is invisible, hidden, introverted, unseen. He agreed and withdrew his comment, wishing me a good walk.
Marching towards Mauer Park I was suddenly overwhelmed by a choking wave of excitement at the freedom I felt being able to walk in a space, where I would have not so long ago been in the shadow of a 3.6 metre wall, barbed wire, and surveillance cameras, within spitting distance of armed patrols, security dogs: today I could walk with this huge provocative symbol flying above me, being solely responsible for what trouble I might stir up.
Walking south along the path of the wall, the density of my dark presence is lightened by the Lichtgrenze installation of white helium balloons which stand like lightheaded sentinels along most of the Black March: black quadrilateral teasing the bobbing white spheres.
The contrast led to varied assumptions surrounding my seeming opposition to the chosen colour of the day: the black march and its roaming black flag threat, versus the weighted down white balloon poles.
I was stopped, questioned, glared at, smiled at, photographed and filmed, people looked at me with fear and anger, confusion, they pointed fingers, was it a demo was it for peace, was it for the wall. What was it for? What was the meaning? Why the black flag?
So I consistently reflected the question back on them.
The walk I weave through cities (Tokyo, London, Paris, Berlin) has revealed through the simple constancy of a black flag, this symbol, this object and this colour’s power to absorb opinions, insults, cheers, excitement, dedication, participation, police prohibition, silence, reflection, accusation. It becomes an antenna, which vibrates with the concerns of each city at that moment in time. My body is the receptor, the base station of the black flag.
And in Berlin I marched on and I took it in, good and bad. Mostly good, mostly encouraging, and mostly willing to pause, discuss, and sometimes even to alter their first impressions and transform their preconceptions.
Verticality to horizontality
At Oberbaumsbrücke with three fellow walkers, Iphigenia, Ansgar and Macoto we abandon the balloons, the crowds, the exposure, ready to enter the quiet streets and the more muffled reactions to our black cortège.
Three teenagers accost us on Köpenicker Straße in front of the café, ‘Die Rebellion den Zimtsterns’ (‘The Rebellion of the Cinnamon Stars’).
‘What is it?’
Not the imposing black flag, but the tiny camera attached to the pole. Their joint and singular reaction is to sing ‘fucky, fucky fucky’ into the lens: our sombre oddness immediately obscured and mediated by a small eye that becomes both shield and attractor. We had disappeared for them, all that now existed was a voyeuristic world potentially seeing their aroused adolescent acting-out.
In an intimate silence that held us in its spell we crossed Gorlitzer park, Sonnenallee, Karl Marx Straße, and the final uphill of Flughafen Straße leading to Tempelhofer Park, the old airfield.
Tempelhofer Park and its immense horizontality stands in contrast to the upward motion of modern cities especially those in the grip of ‘gentrification’. The citizens of Berlin voted unanimously to keep this park as a wild and impressive expanse of ‘Freiheit’.
“You’re walking. And you don’t always realize it, but you’re always falling.” Laurie Anderson
When you walk at the speed of the vertical, you do not feel the terrain, only the urgency of the direction, the intention, the future desire. With a change in speed, comes a change in time, the slow walk opens up the ‘Time of the Terrain’. This type of time introduces a fragile balance, between the duality of the limbs, it tempts thoughts towards a paradoxical unity. This pendulum that sways from foot to foot challenges the confidence of the body, throwing it into the possibility of falling, at every step, at every moment. Each out breath is a possible end, a toppling, a death.
The ‘Time of the Terrain’ creates an other body,
This perilous balance, the contours, the uneveness, the marks and scars,
Reverberate into our verticality
Its fragments become a dance.
Black March slowed down as we arrived at the north entrance to the airfield, catching Zoe in our wake. It was on the north runway that we slowly landed around 16h30 in the fading greys of a sunless-sunset.
Each body gave way, to gravity, to weight, to the embrace of the ground. The perspective seemed to close in or perhaps we were expanding to meet it as we fell.
Lying there on our backs in the vast public space, voices and sounds filtering through, eyes wide open, staring into the amorphous world of the sky where forms are never stable, never fixed, nothing remains but winds and movements. The wall, the city, the world had gone into orbit as we softened, supine into the silence and rest of the horizontal.
A litany of labels, concerns, accusations, exchanges
Black March Berlin 2014
ISIS (most popular)
SS (modern day fascist flag)
Anti-fascist march for refugees
Exchange with a policeman at Brandenburg Gate:
PM: ‘What are you doing?”
DBB: “I am walking with my flag”
PM: “You must not walk here in this area where the balloons are.”
DBB: “I thought the wall came down?”
“True, black isn’t sad, Black is Black, I should know” (mixed race man who asked me if someone had died)
Political Protest (unknown cause)
Mourning the Fall of the Wall
“You are completely depressed because of the political situation in the world” Woman who works with Syrian Refugees
“Today you should be naked, you should be white…and black is sad…You shouldn’t be doing this. But of course you can do what you want.”
“It’s really great that you make people think”
Black Marche Paris 2013
Anarchist (most popular)
Funeral of ‘girlhood’ (enterrement de la vie de jeune fille)
A tour guide
“How beautiful to see a woman alone leading a revolution”
“I don’t like your flag, I could just shoot a bullet in your head”
“That’s ugly” (“C’est moche”)
“It’s not beautiful, it’s sad” (“C’est pas beau, c’est triste”)
Black Walk London 2013
Political protest (cause unimportant)
Black Walk Tokyo 2012
Russian protester (renewed dispute over the Kuril Islands at the time)
Stopped more than 15 times by police for potential disturbance
to be continued...
Participants and collaborators in Berlin
Pablo Cousinou, Dan, Saverio Tonoli, Zoe Goldstein, Macoto Inagawa, Ansgar Prüwer, Iphigenia Vogiatzaki