Pauline Curnier Jardin’s (b. 1980, Marseille, France) first exhibition at ChertLüdde takes inspiration from the Luna-Lichtspiegel, a cinema formerly located in the space adjacent to the gallery at Hauptstrasse 18 in Berlin-Schöneberg. Founded around 1914, the cinema survived the air raids of the Second World War, during which it remained open despite the intensifying conflict.
In the reimagined Luna Kino, Curnier Jardin uses her unique ability to build on ambiguities, troubles and taboos to form her interpretations of histories, stories and characters. Deconstructing monumental events in German history and their surrounding discourses, her immersive installation creates a multiplex of visuals that exposes elements of society that might otherwise remain hidden or overlooked. As a director, filmmaker and sculptor, her wide-ranging practice has seen her disrupt hierarchies and explore the ambiguities of normative narratives while closely confronting the margins. These brazenly profound works expose the complexities of feminisms, traditions, rituals and popular culture. Materializing into installations that combine architecture, filmmaking, sound, set design and drawing, Curnier Jardin’s works are collaborative experiences involving other artists and professionals. As is the case of Luna Kino, which is the fruit of collaboration with the scenographer and costume designer Rachel Garcia who the artist has a longstanding partnership with in creating universes, environments and installations, the artist Quirin Bäumler and the sound designer Antonio Giannantonio.
Luna Kino takes the viewer on a journey backward, turning the pages of a twisted and intricate history in which the artist focuses on the feminine point of view. Combining various literary and cinematic references, the moon – as portrayed by Curnier Jardin – becomes an object to observe the gendered violence and misery experienced at the beginning of the 20th century and how it still might perpetuate today. In and around Curnier Jardin’s installation, she commemorates the women who kept the Luna-Lichtspiegel open during and immediately after the war as well as the women who helped rebuild the neighborhood.
Upon entering the gallery space, the viewer encounters a sculptural installation reminiscent of an observatory. With its portals and dome-like structure, Luna Kino builds on the entangled relationship of astronomical research and the imperialist militarism associated with the conquest of the sky. The moon, which has since ancient times been a source of inspiration and wonder, fell into particularly strong focus in the 20th century alongside scientific advancements. This also combined into its popularity as a key motif in literature such as George Griffith’s 1901 sci-fi novel A Honeymoon in Space (*note 1) and in early cinematic work such as George Méliès’ 1902 A Trip to the Moon (*note 2). While fascination peaked during the Space Race (*note 3), the moon continues to be a fulcrum in contemporary culture, often presented in a gendered light as a symbol of femininity and the menstrual cycle. Curnier Jardin also sees the moon as an object of desire, finding aesthetic similarities in beauty trends and treatments marketed towards women. The radiance of the moon, for example, can also be seen in facial or LED therapy masks that transform the wearer into a moon-like creature such as the one at the cinema’s entrance tunnel. Both advertised and ascribed to women, a specific gaze that sees the moon as a feminine object develops. While many feminists have reclaimed the moon as a tool for activism or the occult, Curnier Jardin’s exhibition ruminates and traverses a particular view on women’s roles in Northern European society through the historical lens.
Almost immediately after the Luna-Lichtspiegel was founded by Eduard Luft in 1914, the cinema was left in the hands of women. Anna Topp became the cinema’s owner in 1919 and chose to name it Luna, selecting the feminine variation of the word over its masculine version in German. Luna was later passed on to the care of Ilse Hetzelberger, who kept the cinema open during the Second World War, with some program records showing up to six screenings a day. This newfound ownership and economic mobility was experienced by many German women at the time; in her article “Stunde Null der Frauen? Renegotiating Women’s place in Postwar West Germany” (*note 4), Maria Höhn explains how German women had walked an important path of empowerment and gained great autonomy during wartime. Comprising a large portion of the working population during the war, women began running businesses, organizing education and security, and taking up other managerial positions that were until then always denied to them.
Inspired by the women of the Luna-Lichtspiegel and their collaborative efforts, the references made by Curnier Jardin also expand to include other women in German history as well as cinema and entertainment. At the entrance of the cinema lies a female body, whose figure is modeled after iconic women in entertainment history, such as Marlene Dietricht (*note 5) and Liza Minelli (*note 6); fictional characters like Aelita the Queen of Mars from Yakov Protazanov 1924 film and the queen in Metropolis from Fritz Lang’s 1927 film; and above all the journalist Marta Hiller (*note 7), later identified as the author of Eine Frau in Berlin, originally printed in 1959. Hiller’s memoir, a harrowing account of the final days of the Second World War, was originally published anonymously, thereby presenting it almost as a universal account of sexual violence women endure in war times. Curnier Jardin confronts the faceless anonymity that masks the body once it is expected to represent more than just itself as a way of contesting how German women were often portrayed as a vehicle for societal unity following 1945 (*note 8). While the image of German men was tainted through their defeat in war and association with the authority of the Nazi regime, the photographs and illustrations of German women became the image of a modern Berlin, and women were expected to cradle a nascent new nation in their hands. Curnier Jardin presents this female figure submerged, with hair floating in a water-less pool around her body. Looking upwards, the figure’s face morphs into what seems like a scream in response to the gore of blood dripping on a sheer, nylon-like screen inside the cinema.
Titled the only film, the video projected in Luna Kino is the visceral interpretation of what a panoptic film could look like in a cinema run by women during the war. With blood dripping around the camera’s lens, the film is a macabre yet mesmerizing sequence bringing forth imagery of trauma and violence as well as resilience and life. The blood, not oozing from a gash or a wound, instead flows constantly and steadily, bearing closer resemblance to the regular flow of menstrual blood. Projected on a screen, the formal cinema structure of the installation is contrasted with the domestic objects used to present the film. Referencing primitive cinemas, which often had to be mobile and portable, the cinema’s interior is made using domestic items. Like a bedsheet, the screen is hung on washing line poles that have been cemented in buckets. With these materials, Curnier Jardin alludes to a tradition found in multiple cultures, in which a young woman’s bloody sheets are presented to demonstrate her first menstruation and the subsequent step into womanhood, or to prove her virginity prior to her wedding night. The buckets used to prop the washing lines also have a deeper meaning as a reference to the manual labor women began to be associated with during the city-wide campaigns to remove the rubble and wreckage after the Second World War. Known as ‘trümmerfrauen’, these women were tasked to clear the wreckage that littered German cities. Translated as ‘rubble women’, they are widely honored for their strength, obstinacy, and passionate glee through photographs, publications, monuments and music. Bau auf! bau auf! bau auf! bau auf! Freie Deutsche Jugend Bau auf! (*Note 9). These lyrics used to play on loudspeakers throughout the city, urging great efforts in the name of Germany’s future.
While the labor of the trümmerfrauen was preserved through photographic documentation, the actual impact of their contributions are contested (*Note 10). Working often for minuscule food rations and in much smaller numbers than the private companies that were mainly employed, the trümmerfrauen cleaned up only a small fraction of Berlin’s rubble. They instead became representative of a cultural phenomenon that ultimately used their societal image as a tool to improve morale. Holding buckets and working in a joyous assembly-line fashion, the image of the trümmerfrauen casts a sinister feeling on the gruesome experiences these women witnessed during the war. These widely circulated images also neglect various other forms of labor performed by women at the time – including prostitution.
The use of the image of the trümmerfrauen is also explored in the accompanying bas-reliefs made by the artist, inspired by the photos found during her archival research. The series is called Was man aus Liebe tut, which was written on one of the wagons photographed while the women were removing the rubble. Bas-reliefs, historically a medium depicting extended narratives like those of a battle or war, are used here to express the turmoil felt by bodies used to uphold the patriarchal goals of Late Modern society. Like movie posters and other forms of advertisement, which themselves have a long and complicated relationship with the objectification and commodification of female bodies, the reliefs of Curnier Jardin show women dressed similarly to the trümmerfrauen, in heels and nylon stockings and with their hair tied with scarves to protect it from the dust. The backdrops of these works often show a destroyed city, desolate and covered in holes like the moon (*Note 11). Glazed in a sullen color palette, the bas-reliefs appear cast in moonlight. This is particularly noticeable in one of the works showing three women wearing facial sheet masks, transfiguring them into moons. Here the sheet masks extend to the beautification of the city and its rubble, but also of the self towards society’s standards. Painted with violet and ashy hues, these women cover their faces to emulate different phases of the moon. Their gestures are undercut by the fear they exude.
Among the multitude of references and historical contexts made by Curnier Jardin, Luna Kino’s architecture leaves the viewer with a final feeling of restriction by appearing almost like a rabbit or mouse trap. Its confined planning is part of Pauline Curnier Jardin’s motive in expressing the suppression which happens when the female body is objectified, either at the hands of consumerism or socio-political coercion. By presenting a more compounding picture of women’s contributions to society, Curnier Jardin and her women hold a mirror facing us and the not-so-distant past, while also shedding light on issues still prevalent today.
Pauline Curnier Jardin (b. 1980, Marseille, France) is a Berlin-Rome-based artist working across installation, performance, film, and drawing. The artist is known for creating fictional cinematic narratives while using the language of documentary filmmaking or historical research. Often accompanied by large installations that are musical, sculptural and architectural, Curnier Jardin unfolds and amplifies the formal and conceptual thresholds between the two mediums.
She is the winner of the 2019 German Preis der Nationalgalerie, the 2021 Villa Romana Prize in Firenze, and recipient of the 2019-2020 Villa Medici fellowship in Rome. Her work was included or commissioned over the last years in: Haus der Kulturen der Welt (HKW), Berlin; Steirischer Herbst Festival, Graz; Manifesta 13, Marseille; Palais de Tokyo, Paris; the Bergen Assembly, Bergen Biennial; International Film Festival, Rotterdam; the 57th Venice Biennale; Tate Modern, London; Performa 15, New York.
This exhibition is supported by the Institut Français, the French Ministry of Culture and FRAC Corsica.
1: George Griffith, A Honeymoon in Space, C. Arthur Pearson, London, UK, 1901. Originally written at the turn of the 20th century, this classic story imagines a solar system full of alien life and adventure. A young American woman marries an English Lord and begins an outer space journey on her honeymoon.
2: George Méliès, Le Voyage dans la Lune, Star Film Company, New York, 1902. Le Voyage dans la Lune was inspired by a wide variety of sources, including Jules Verne’s 1865 novel From the Earth to the Moon and its 1870 sequel Around the Moon, another popular literary reference using the moon as a key motif. The film follows a group of astronomers who travel to the Moon in a cannon-propelled capsule and encounter an underground group of lunar inhabitants before returning back to Earth with a captive.
3: We reference here the 20th-century competition between Cold War adversaries, the Soviet Union and the United States, to achieve superior spaceflight capability. It had its origins in the ballistic missile-based nuclear arms race between the two nations following World War II.
4: Maria Höhn, “Stunde Null der Frauen? Renegotiating Women’s Place in Postwar Germany”, in STUNDE NULL: The End and the Beginning Fifty Years Ago, Edited by Geoffrey J. Giles, German Historical Institute Washington, D.C., no. 20, 1997.
5: Marlene Dietricht (b. Schöneberg-Berlin, 1901 – d. Paris, 1992) was known for her humanitarian efforts during World War II for housing German and French exiles and providing financial support as well as advocating their American citizenship. She also offered a great deal in terms of improving morale on the front lines, which led her to receive several honors from the United States, France, Belgium and Israel.
6: Liza Minnelli (b. Hollywood, 1946) is an American actress, singer, dancer, and choreographer known for her commanding stage presence and powerful alto singing voice. After moving to New York City 1961, she began her career as a musical theater actress, nightclub performer, and traditional pop music artist. Among a rare group of performers awarded an Emmy, Grammy (Grammy Legend Award), Oscar, and Tony (EGOT), Minnelli too is revered as an unshakable entertainer. One of her most noted roles, which visually inspired features in the Luna Kino, Sally Bowles, a fictional character in Bob Fosse’s 1872 Carbarette who performs at Berlin’s Kit Kat Klub during the Weimar Republic.
7: Marta Hiller (b. Krefeld, 1911 – d. Basel, 2001) was a German journalist, and the author of the memoir Eine Frau in Berlin (A Woman in Berlin), published anonymously in 1959 and 2003 in German. It is the diary of a German woman from 20 April to 22 June 1945, during and after the Battle of Berlin. The book details the author’s rape, in the context of mass rape by the occupying forces, and how she and many other German women chose to take a Soviet officer as a protector.
8: Elizabeth Heineman, “The Hour of the Woman”, in The American Historical Review, volume 101, no. 2, April 1996. Feminist Historian Elizabeth Heineman writes of an appropriation of the female rape expeinced by the nation: ‘Although discussions of women’s experiences with rape by members of of the victorious armies became taboo a few years after the end of the war, references to the rapes hardly disappeared. In fact, they permeated the culture. But they ceased to be references to rapes of women and instead turned into allusoons to the rape of Germany.’
9: Song from Reinhold Limberg, 1951. It became the official song of the FDJ, Freie Deutsche Jugend (The Free German Youth), the official youth movement of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) and the Socialist Unity Party of Germany founded in March 1946. It is reported that this song was played by loudspeakers in East Berlin during the city’s reconstruction work after the war. Information sourced from Liselotte Kubitza,a member of the FDJ, in Titus Chalk’s article “The women who raised the rubble” published in EXBERLINER, April 2011.
10: Leonie Treber, Mythos Trümmerfrauen: Von der Trümmerbeseitigung in der Kriegs- und Nachkriegszeit und der Entstehung eines deutschen Erinnerungsortes (The Myth of the Trümmerfrauen: On the Removal of Rubble in the War and Post-War Period and the Emergence of a German Place of Remembrance), Klartext Verlag, Essen, 2014.
11: Elizabeth Heineman, “The Hour of the Woman”, in The American Historical Review, volume 101, number 2, April 1996, p. 368. In this text, Heineman expresses the deep connotations between Berlin’s bombed cityscape and the moon through the genre of photography: ‘Visual culture plays a part in this transition, as the lunar landscape of bombed cities were endlessly photographed both for their historic value and for their striking aesthetic quality.’
Installation photos by Andrea Rossetti. Repro photos by Marjorie Burnet Plaza.