Untamed Amusement

The last time we spoke with Stephanie Sherman C’03, she told us about the “living” art museum she runs in North Carolina with George Scheer, also C’03. The two alumni are now in the midst of a new and equally fascinating art project—a “creative investigation” of an abandoned amusement park in Germany that will “embrace histories, illuminate presences, and imagine cultural futures.” (If you’ll be near Berlin next month, be sure to check it out.)

It all began at a cocktail party nearly five years ago. When Sherman and Scheer made small talk about their upcoming trip to Berlin, another partygoer mentioned the shuttered amusement park that had become a “public secret” there. The alumni duo arrived in Berlin a few days later and explored Kulturpark the same way most locals do: by hopping the fence and dodging the security guards for as long as possible. “We spent a good 45 minutes walking along roller coasters and climbing on all these old rides,” Sherman says. “It was really incredible and sensational because these are huge machines that you usually only get to experience at a distance, and we were climbing all over them.”

They both sensed the potential for a project, and returned two years later with a grant from Art Matters. The took an official tour of the park, coincidentally with the same security guard who had kicked them out on their first trip. “We started to think about the dynamics of the place,” Sherman says. “The park closed in 2001. It’s been changing since then, but in non-human ways. We thought about how it’s been abandoned for its original intent, but how in other ways, it’s not abandoned at all. Nature has taken it over. It’s like going into a jungle and seeing the recent ruins of a leisure system just waiting there patiently. The machines have stopped, but the park is still active.”

Another year passed, and when Sherman and Scheer returned to Kulturpark again, they began making plans. “We started seeing the opportunity for a research investigation with creatives and a public opening for anyone who wanted to come,” Sherman says. Now, both will happen next month. From June 1-21, a group of creatives with ties to Berlin will produce site-specific works through a residency camp and outdoor studio in Kulturpark. “We’re calling them ‘visionaries’ rather than artists because we wanted this to be open to architects, designers, writers—anyone doing something creative in Berlin,” Sherman says. They wound up with 125 proposals and from those, selected 50 creatives who will work on 25 installations.

The projects range from photo-narratives to a series dinners cooked from local markets’ excess food. Then there’s what Sherman calls “the biggest project”: a group of architects will attach CDs to the side of Kulturpark’s ferris wheel, transforming it into “a giant disco ball” that will cast light throughout the park.

Once the installations are in place, Sherman has scheduled a “Kultur-exchange” for June 22-July 1, through which students and groups from the U.S. and Germany will participate in discussions, workshops, projects and research in Kulturpark. And finally, from June 28-July 1, the park will open to the public, overlapping with the Berlin Biennale‘s final days.

For those who can’t make it to Berlin next month but would still like to see the installations, Sherman says her team will be “intensively documenting everything and developing a robust online archive.” Check the Kulturpark website for updates.

All photos by Anthony Spinello.

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Filed under Alumni, Eco-Arts, Visual Art

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