Inaugurated during Berlin’s Great Industrial Exposition of 1896 (in German: Große Berliner Gewerbeausstellung), the Great Refractor is a 21-meter-long telescope that was meant to display Germany’s technological prowess to the world. When the Exposition came to an end, there were no more funds to dismantle the telescope as had been originally stipulated by contract. The city of Berlin then determined that the astronomical object could remain where it was in Treptower Park until further notice, and this officially began the founding of the Archenhold Observatory.
Berlin’s Great Industrial Exposition of 1896, which extended throughout Treptower Park, included other “attractions” such as a colonialist theme park that featured more than a hundred black persons brought in from Germany’s former colonies, including Togo, Cameroon, German West Africa (present-day Namibia), German East Africa (which comprises today Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi), as well as a number of Pacific territories. These people of color lived, worked, and performed in Treptower Park under the gaze of a paying (and largely white) audience, in what could be considered a sort of human zoo. Such racist practices of displaying people as exotic objects were frequent in European’s colonial practices up into the twentieth century. Today, a small plaque can be found at Treptower Park in remembrance of Germany’s violent colonial history—a diminutive object whose size stands in stark contrast to the imposing presence of the nearby Soviet War Memorial (also located in Treptower Park, and but a few hundred meters away from the Archenhold Observatory). This contrast in visibility, these two different modes of remembering, reveals how the city has legitimated the remembering of certain histories, while diminishing or silencing others—and this in spite of Berlin’s vaunted culture of remembrance.
Public spaces are hardly ever neutral spaces, and Screen City Biennial Other Minds accordingly aims to highlight the contested layers behind its venue, identifying the signs and traces that mark the scientific museum as such, while embracing the submerged elements of its history through exhibition storytelling and that of the single artworks. The artists, in a more or less explicit way, have respectively entered into dialogue with the Museum of Celestial Science and with the archaeology of stargazing or cosmic objects displayed in its rooms, as well as with the surrounding area of Treptower Park.
Among others, these dialogues will include engaging with the pendulum on the stage of the Einstein Hall, which the artist duo Metahaven has incorporated into their work Capture (2022); the Solar Physical Cabinet, a room employed by scientists to project a real-time image of the sun, that will home Viktor Pedersen and Ingrid K. Bjornaali’s To See Without Man (2022), a work that reflects on plants’ intelligence and the transforming potential of solar and photosynthetic processes; Patricia Domìnguez’s video installation Matrix Vegetal (2022), which will extends sculpturally to embrace the large iron meteorite in the Museum of Celestial Science; Lundahl & Seitl’s STERNWARTE—A Language of What May Not Be Said (2022), part of their series Symphony of a Missing Room (2009–ongoing), that will include atmospheric sounds recorded at the Archenhold Observatory. And finally, Anna Ehrenstein and 4DHD’ decolonial aesthetic in their Coffee Ground Imaginaries (2022) virtually draws a line connecting the Archenhold Observatory with the former colonial village that was built in Karpfenteich in Treptower Park during the 1896 Exposition, as well as the location of the Arms Industry Offices on Pariser Platz, which were integral to Germany’s colonization projects in Africa.
The team at Archenhold Observatory has welcomed Other Minds and made an effort to understand the exhibition’s needs, even going so far as to make available special areas that are usually not accessible to the public. For this collaborative spirit, we are deeply grateful to Tim Florian Horn, Stefan Gotthold, Matthieu Jimenez, and the rest of the team at the Archenhold Observatory and Stiftung Planetarium Berlin.
The Archenhold Observatory is one of the three astronomical facilities of the Stiftung Planetarium Berlin (Berlin Planetarium Foundation).