Otago Polytechnic

Professor Leoni Schmidt considered why a repurposed Nazi bunker is so disturbing.

Built in Berlin in 1941, the walls of the Boros Bunker are 180cm thick. Even now, after a five year restoration beginning in 2003, the interior reveals stark reminders of the building's past. Spyholes and small windows closed with metal plates have been retained. Scars and marks on the interior walls can still be seen, and ventilation shafts carry sounds around the building. The Boros Bunker now houses a collection of contemporary art works. The architecture and its relationship with the artworks gave Professor Leoni Schmidt a strong sense of disquiet.

Such a building can be described as "pre-possessed"; it is haunted by the trauma of the past, which it cannot avoid, and does not attempt to. The art works displayed here fly in the face of Nazi ideas of art fit for German people. Housing a contemporary art gallery here has therefore turned the Boros Bunker into a counter-memorial to its own history. 

Leoni identified that the juxtapositions of each work with its location within the gallery create contrasts. These juxtapositions draw attention to disconcerting features of the building, while also mobilizing the power of the art to transcend the past. In this way each artwork curates - in the sense of organises - the viewer's experience of the building, and simultaneously the architectural features curate the art collection. The movements of viewers around the building, and their carried sounds, contribute to the experience also.

By engaging with the architectural features of its tainted history, the Boros Bunker avoids becoming a simple spectacle and provides an uncomfortable but memorable experience.

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NATURAL & BUILT ENVIRONMENT

November 2017

Image credit: Astrid Westvang, used under Creative Commons licence CC BY-NC-ND 2.0