16 January 2014

Non-Deceased: For Berlin’s Ex-Box, the Present is Merely An Image of our Future’s Past


Crisis ∕ Home Made

Well? Do you understand that headline? It seemed vaguely smart when I wrote it. I fuzzily recall reading recently of a cultural infliction in which the present can only be seen in terms of its role as some future iteration of the past. All debate is circumvented in the race for an ideal future where everything is in its place and there is a place for everything. Berlin’s City Palace is a castrated present and a rudely potent future-reading of the past. And it’s not doing so badly to be honest. You know, all things considered. Like for example, that it’s not been paid for yet and is currently a gigantic bucket of swill with cranes in it. Not bad really: for an ex-box. To have come so far so soon. And to have departed in spirit already well before its time. Tell me: do you believe in life before death?

Sponsors do, and will throw oodles of life-affirming cash at anything prepared to pimp out some ass. Being permanently out of pocket, and permanently confused about public/private partnerships, Berlin’s schizophrenic relationship with heritage and capital is nowhere better visible than here. The city enforces the banning of intrusive advertising in historically sensitive areas, but makes generous exceptions when the synergy feels right. And thus Berliners were to endure a 50-metre-long Christmas-time ad for Microsoft’s latest black box with electronics inside, destined to reach the end of its life-cycle by 2019. Just in time for the opening of the so-called Humboldt Forum within the Berlin City Palace.

The ad – which ran along the north-western edge of the Palace building site – re-imagines the city as a typographic montage of slogans, its landmarks dissolving into a skeletal lattice of corporate messaging. Even the weather can’t escape: clouds morph into trademarked brand names. Product dominates the panorama: an unbreachable megastructure of obsidian gouged into the metropolis and an uncanny negative-image of the GDR’s parliament building, which stood here not too long ago.

Microsoft’s new Xbox and Berlin’s future ex-box are one. The ultimate black box reimagined as an “all-in-one entertainment system”. No one can begin to fathom the complexity within, and no one need know just how the black box works. Both promise to deliver a phantasmagoria of mystery and illusion.

Further reading:
Resolution of the initiative “No Humboldt 21” for a moratorium on the Humboldt Forum within the future Berlin City Palace.
• “It looks an awful lot like a 1993 artist’s rendering of 2013’s technology.” – Engadget’s review of the Xbox