In 1994, Canadian multidisciplinary artist Stan Douglas (b. 1960) arrived in Berlin for a DAAD fellowship, five years after the fall of the Berlin Wall. He wasn’t drawn to the core of the newly unified city but to its outskirts: the small former East German city of Potsdam. The resulting series of photographs entitled Potsdamer Schrebergärten (1994-1995) document this moment of transition. Fragments of the former border are depicted alongside abandoned houses and allotments that were subsumed by a post-unification development boom. These photographs are on display in Potsdam for the first time since DAS MINSK opened in September 2022.
Alongside the series, the artist reinterprets E. T. A. Hoffmann’s (1776-1822) gothic novel, The Sandman (1816). The installation, which takes its title from the book, uses epistolary exchanges to examine the repressed, uncanny childhood experiences of a man named Nathanael. Two reconstructed gardens, which were built and shot in the former state-owned East German film studio, DEFA, symbolise two points in time: the narrator’s youth and 20 years later. Douglas’ camera scans relentlessly as Nathanael recounts their memories.
A seam vertically cuts through the image, yet it’s unclear whether its purpose is to divide the past from the present or to bind them together. As Douglas explains: “The old garden is wiped away by the new one and, later, the new is wiped away by the old; without resolution, endlessly.” The resulting narrative reflects his interest in depicting “minor histories,” which use local stories to explore global concerns.
The artist’s overarching themes of collective memory and moments of historical tension align well with DAS MINSK’s programmatic focus on examining and reorienting art of and related to the former German Democratic Republic (GDR). Their shared investment in understanding the present through the past makes Potsdamer Schrebergärten a fitting choice for one of the museum’s inaugural exhibitions.
Words: Jesi Khadivi
DAS MINSK Kunsthaus, Potsdam
24 September – 15 January
1. Stan Douglas, View of “An der alten Zauche” with Plattenbauten, Hochhäusern and the twin smokestacks of Kohleheizwerk Rehbrücke, Am Schlaatz (1994/95). From the series Potsdamer Schrebergärten. Hasso Plattner Foundation © Stan Douglas.
2. Stan Douglas, Path Through “bergauf”, Am Pfingstberg, Pfingstberg, 1994/95, From The Series Potsdamer Schrebergärten, 15 Parts. Hasso Plattner Collection, © Stan Douglas, Courtesy The Artist, Victoria Miro And David Zwirner