Walter Benjamin is one of the most intriguing characters of the 20th century. His lasting contribution to art and media theory, his lucid essays, his published exchanges with contemporary intellectuals like Adorno, Kracauer, and others, are enough to make Benjamin interesting. However, his life story full is also full of excitement and mystery, from his university days to the tragic suicide that still is surrounded by unanswered questions to this day. The project uses this material for an interactive exploration of decisions and consequences, while simultaneously exploring Benjamin’s era and contemporaries.
His exceptionally rich life invites the application of a range of different categories, from “outsider” to “new age prophet” to “avant-garde intellectual.” Benjamin can be described as an outsider to contemporary academic discourse and to communist party dogma; as a new age prophet bringing Jewish mysticism into critical enquiry and exploring the intellectual effects of Marihuana; as an avant-garde intellectual analyzing the effects of technology on artistic production. Walter Benjamin also travelled extensively, and after Nazism’s ascend to power in Germany became a refugee.
Benjamin’s multifaceted life provides ample motives for an interactive treatment. Simultaneously, the many junctures open up a space for speculation – what would have become of him, if he had taken a different turn? At different points in time, he could have stayed in Moscow or in Ibiza. And what would have happened as a consequence? Would he have returned to Germany as a Communist party functionary and ended his life as Minister for Culture? It is this kind of questions the project explores.
The project will be realized as a physical installation featuring a number of small objects, a suitcase, a map drawn on the floor, and a projector. The objects represent significant aspects of Benjamin’s life, for example a Communist party membership card or a love letter.
Rather than giving participants direct control over specific junctures in his life in a god-like manner, the mode of engagement simulates Benjamin’s own decisions, only now they have to be made by the participants. In one session, a participant can select a limited number of objects and place them in a suitcase. In a second step, the participant places the suitcase on a map of Europe. A projection will then present the resulting biography. The tactile and spatial experience of handling objects and moving the suitcase across the map will create an intimate and immersive relationship with intangible subject and allow the interactor to feel agency over the life choices of Walter Benjamin.
Conceptual drawing (above) realized installation at Diesel House Kopenhagen (below)