In 2016, the University Museum for Islamic Art in Berlin launched the Contemporary Interventions in The Bumiller Collection exhibition series in collaboration with Taswir Projects, showcasing the Syrian artist Ali Kaaf. The underlying concept of the series is simple, yet requires a good deal of sensitivity and intuition in its realization: each respective artist stirs up the antique collection by exhibiting their works together with ours at Bumiller Studio X-Berg in Berlin-Kreuzberg, thereby creating a fresh exchange and interrelation between both. Explored anew with each exhibition is the specific selection of ancient pieces from the more than 6,000 objects of the Bumiller Collection located in Bamberg, the way in which the artworks and objects are exhibited together, as well as the relationship between these two “worlds.” Ali Kaaf, for example, chose an associative approach to our pieces, while Nicky Brukheuysen, who was featured in the second edition of Contemporary Interventions, chose to build a series of thematic links.
The aim of Contemporary Interventions is to liberate the exhibiting artists from commercial pressures too often prevalent in the gallery environment, so as to pro- vide them with the greatest possible opportunity for development and expression. This creates a very intimate relationship between our institution and the artists: they are involved in the process from the very beginning, fully integrated in the decision-making, and we work together to build an exhibition with no predefined outcome. A special form of creativity is encouraged through this approach, namely one constituted out of the engagement with, and interplay between, the collection and the artist. Our objective is to break open the stereotypes, to blur the otherwise common boundaries and clear-cut distinctions of conventional exhibition layouts for antique versus contemporary art, commonplace structures for museums versus galleries, and academic versus non-academic approaches to
art, thereby creating fluid transitions between these spheres. All of this happens with the intention of benefiting a new understanding of space and time, and with the hope that the works and objects displayed will illuminate each other, consistently revealing new aspects of the pieces themselves and their counterparts.
The third edition of Contemporary Interventions is a truly special one. This time, there are two artists, Rebecca Raue and Steve Sabella, presenting their works in conversation with two distinct groups of objects from The Bumiller Collection: mirrors and game pieces dating from the 11th to the 17th century. With this intervention, our collection’s objects, quiet historical bystanders that they are, seem to take on the role of a philosophical methodological interface. These pieces can be ascribed a meditative nature, engaging with ideas of reflection and perception and built with playful yet strategic components—precisely the point at which Raue’s and Sabella’s artworks position themselves.
A fascinating, multilayered network is developed out of the connections and cross-references between all of the artworks and objects on display. Raue’s over- paintings of medieval Arabic miniatures are ludic and secretive, while simultaneously displaying a certain honesty that speaks directly to our subconscious. They manage to communicate a feeling in the viewer that his or her soul itself is being mirrored back. Sabella’s archaeological-seeming fragments, peeled from the Old City walls of his native Jerusalem with a surgeon‘s care and precision, reach deeper into layers of time and memory. He then awakens them, bringing them back to life through his photography. In the first moments of viewing them, one catches oneself wondering if they aren’t actually antique depictions. The onlooker falls silent at their vivid appeal, to then give way and sink into the fragments. Only the silence itself, one that allows a contemplative air to resonate and breathe, seems to do them justice.
It is because of this multifaceted entirety, with its various layers and connections, that the exhibited objects and pieces should not solely be read through the lens of the here and now, but also as mementos with which one is also able to create new memories.