Art Subtraction

Cuvrybrache, the story of a void

Friday 12 December 2014

The first tweets on Friday night showed cranes in the Cuvry-Brache area in Kreuzberg. Someone started to cover up with black paint the huge mural East and West of the Italian artist Blu.

First reaction was of sadness and anger. Then astonishment. But why? Who would have an interest in destroying one of the most impressive and iconic elements of Berlin’s landscape? This act made no sense…

This lot facing the Spree at the east border of Kreuzberg is a topical area of Berlin’s urban development. It was part of the Media Spree strategic plan, devising the riverfront between Mitte and Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg to become a globally leading creative & smart district.

Or, according to another point of view, planning the cooptation of what is de facto a spontaneous creative environment of planetary relevance into corporate economy and financialised real estate speculation.

In 2004 the project was managed by Wert-Konzept Berlin, which results to be the owner of the Spreespeicher building on the other side of the river.

But criticism and resistance to the project brought the investors to give up their plans.

During following years, while the area changed ownership and new projects were attempted, it was subject to a progressive appropriation by all sort of spontaneous practices, of which street artist where an essential part transforming the Cuvrybrache in one open gallery.

Who in Berlin has not attended a barbecue, an improvised party or given an appointment to somebody to surprise them with just one of the most astonishing views of Berlin? A terrace on the river, a wild island into the crowded Kiez, a field of convivial experiments, a potential field open to spontaneous initiative…

Since 2007 this happened under the benevolent presence of the huge mural by Blu and JR named East and West, soon becoming one of beloved symbol of Berlin.

VIDEO of the creation

Depicted on the cover of street art books and in innumerable media, this glimpse became one of the iconic images of the city, a real brand for Berlin, subtly representing its genius loci within a controversial mix of decaying architecture and renaturalization of urban space, DIY initiative and political concern, laziness and hipsterism.

In the successive years the exacerbation of living conditions and policies in Berlin led  to the occupation of the spot as emergency shelter by an increasing number of migrants, refugees and homeless people, including Roma, Sinti and other disadvantaged ethnics.

A sort of incongruous multicultural favela grew up in the middle of Berlin, which in the end accounted for almost 150 precarious inhabitants.

Until more tweets breaking in with the news that it was an action agreed with the artist. A quick check on Blu’s weblog confirmed that it was a deliberate initiative from the author and his entourage.
“It‘s the first time in my career as an artist somebody is booing me”

Arguments flamed over the web about this initiative. Some very critical, even accusing Blu of hypocrisy, suggesting that he did not owe any more its work of art and he was styling it from Berliners who loved it.

It did not take long time for me to see the point, to accept the artist’s choice. Well, it is sad, painful. But it is a reasonable decision. I respect it. It is a destruction act, but is as well a strong artistic and political statement. A work of art, and notably street art, is not - should not be - a neutral, self-standing, monadic element independent by the context in which it is produced and to which it refers. Street art is an interpretation of an urban environment and of a historical moment. It is a dialogue, a statement and a stance on spatial transformation.