Jukai, “Genius Loci,” 2020

Deutschsprachige Version des Artikels

In Roman mythology, the term “Genius Loci” referred to the guardian spirit of a place. Today it is mainly used to describe the atmospheric properties of buildings and spaces. During the Fresh A.I.R. Scholarship of the Stiftung Berliner Leben, the Milanese artist duo Jukai explored Berlin with this metaphor in mind, seeking out sites on the margins of official urban planning and characterized by a special spirit: abandoned and forgotten places or spaces used by inhabitants in ways that go against their intended function. This artistic form of urban ethnology grows out of the assumption that urban development and planning is seldom oriented towards those who inhabit these cities. At the same time, however, Jukai also base their work on the notion that urban architecture and order never completely dominate and control life. The spaces that the duo seeks out are unique as in-between spaces in the city—places that open up new and unplanned possibilities or at least make them conceivable.

 The artist duo came across such a proverbial—albeit tiny—in-between space within a small crack in one of the stone blocks forming the parapet of the Landwehr Canal on Paul-Lincke-Ufer. They inserted a wooden board into the fissure and attached a small crank to the board, which—when turned—activates a hidden music box. It plays the tune of “Das ist die Berliner Luft, Luft, Luft…” (This is the Berlin Air). Composed in the meter of a march by the street’s namesake in 1904, the song has recently established itself as the unofficial anthem of the new, old capital. Of course, the song’s lyrics do not extol the city’s olfactory quality, which was already quite compromised a hundred years ago, but its entertainment culture, underscoring above all the notorious obstinacy of its residents. Entitled “Berliner Luft,”the work thus draws attention to the countless, infinitesimal daily practices of Berliners that make Berlin what it ultimately is.

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The work “Rote Insel” is also about a place created and defined by the activities of its residents. The title, meaning “red island,” references the unofficial name of a district in Berlin-Schöneberg, which is bordered by three subway lines and has been regarded as a socialist, politically left-wing district since the advent of industrialization. While some residents seek to keep the memory of this political history alive and continue to adhere to its intentions, there is an ongoing tradition, dating from the Wilhelmine period, of the place as a source of real estate profit. Accordingly, a preservation of the place’s political history is at risk of being forgotten. In response, Jukai installed five rectangular concrete stelae, approx. 60 cm high and inscribed with “Rote Insel 2020” in red letters, at five access points to this island. They use language, color, and material—concrete is regarded as the ultimate urban material—to highlight and re-map the area’s political significance, visualizing and anchoring it in memory with specially produced postcards.

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Jukai found another special location on the banks of the Spree near Köpenicker Strasse. Its marginal status defines the genius loci here; the area borders directly on new buildings but also includes abandoned gardens and structures as well as an alternative residential and cultural project (Teepeeland). Working like a sensing device, hence the title Sonar”, they tried to grasp the spirit of this location in interviews with residents and on walks. On a boathouse—a massive, former “boat bunker” impervious to all change—they visualized the voices and energies they picked up on here in the form of a sculpture. Created from wooden slats, an abstract figure rises up in a delicate yet powerful way as it seemingly flows over the railing into the river. Here, too, they seek to make the specifics of this location visible and to visualize the activities and interactions that define it. And in this way they can perhaps—so the hope goes—also invoke the guardian spirit that inhabits such places in accordance with ancient beliefs.

Text: Dr. Kea Wienand

About Jukai

Marta Fumagalli and Riccardo Pirovano are a couple of Italian artists. They work together since 2011 under the name Jukai. Their research is focused on urban landscape where they detect neglected places, but relevant in terms of “potential memory”. From Europe, to Japan and Africa they have been creating temporary and permanent “organic” site specific installations sprouted from the observation and the interaction with those sites.

For more information about the two artists:

Website / Facebook / Instagram

The online showcase of Fresh A.I.R. #3

Fresh A.I.R. showcase

The online showcase offers an opportunity to get an overview of the highly diverse projects of the third group of Fresh A.I.R. artists with their different kinds of media and aesthetics.

On view are video and photographic materials about the individual projects, each of which is accompanied by an explanatory text that aims to offer insights into the work’s aesthetic experience.

learn more abouth the online showcase