Advice. Opinions. Conversation.

Interview: Achim Amann, Black Label, Berlin – “The state has a lot of credibility right now. They decided to help the economy by giving freelancers 5k and small companies up to 15k.”  

Germany has had twice as many diagnoses of Covid-19 but a much lower number of deaths than other countries thanks to mass testing and a fast lockdown. The state has also asked humanities academics to advise on ethical and human approaches to the lockdown. The 26-strong working group – historians, philosophers, and teachers – pulled together this report, working quickly via Zoom. The government of North Rhine-Westphalia, its most populous state, has also enlisted an eclectic mix of experts – businesspeople, telecoms executives, and legal advisors to share their views on the lockdown exit strategy.

I asked Achim Amann, co-founder of Black Label Properties in Berlin, how the pandemic has affected the real estate industry, and what support is available for freelancers & startups in the creative capital.

Germany has had a much lower number of deaths than in other countries. Why do you think this is?
As I see it, the main reasons are the mass testing approach and better organisational skills – one of the strengths of our culture plus a general acceptance of the shutdown measures. We do test a lot of people, but we still need more testing. If one hospital doesn’t have enough capacity, patients are being transported to the next one. Also, our lifestyle is very different from countries like Italy and Spain. We have fewer people per household, and elderly people live in their own apartments. 

What measures have been taken in Berlin for the lockdown? Massive state surveillance or self-responsibility?
The state closed schools, kindergartens, cinemas, and cancelled events. There is less public transport, and people are working from home where possible. They closed down all shops that don’t offer food and drugs, etc. We don’t have massive state surveillance like Austria, and there is a lot of self-responsibility. Most people follow the rules I would say.

Do you think the state has handled the emergency well and fast enough?
Yes and no. Well enough – yes, but not fast enough. Our government wasted time in January and February when we could have done much more. Helping other European countries has only just really started. This should have been done much sooner, for example, with Italy. But since the government made their decisions, we all feel a lot better. The state has a lot of credibility right now. Especially when they decided to help the economy by giving freelancers 5k EUR and small companies up to 15k EUR – that was a sage move that helped to keep people calm and happy. 

How has it affected the real estate industry?
We are fully operational. We have fewer vendors and buyers than last year but a higher quality of leads – there are fewer tourists out there as we say. Business, in general, is very good in our industry. We have decided that everyone should work from home if they don’t need to be in the office physically. We have implemented Zoom in our team meetings. We wear masks to do viewings and practice social distancing. With legal appointments, we make sure there’s enough space between the parties. We have cut costs on portal marketing and invested more into our own website and marketing team instead. The only real negative we can see is the lower speed of banks financing our clients. But they are still financing them, and we’re getting deals closed and exchanged.

What has the government done to support Berlin’s fast-growing startup scene?
They have given 5k EUR to one-man shows and up to 15k EUR to small businesses. This is generous plus tax reliefs and other advantages such as the government will cover up to 80% of employees’ salaries so the company is only paying 20%. It’s a very fair deal and much better than firing people.

Were you prepared for this – will it change how you operate?
Yes and no. We have a strong business and reasonable cash reserves. No, as we’ve invested a lot into new marketing on social media and Google. We wouldn’t have spent as much on a third party. We haven’t laid anyone off, but we have cut costs on two freelancers. So far, we are safe. We reacted very fast in January as our Chinese Sales team told us what was coming. So, we had an extra two months to get prepared.

Do you think China should offer some kind of financial compensation to other countries?
There is no point in finding a scapegoat. Actually, the Chinese are now bringing a lot of business to Europe. They are investing a lot in the German economy as well as in property. To start trade wars as the Trump government has doesn’t help. 

Advice. Opinions. Conversation.

You have no idea how lovely you are, Berlin – Dorothy Iannone – review

Since the 1960s, Dorothy Iannone has been seen as a pioneering spirit against censorship and for free love and powerful female sexuality, yet ‘pornographic artist’, ‘foxy lady’ and ‘orgasm woman’ are all terms I’ve encountered while researching her work. Critics have questioned whether she’s a feminist and her work has frequently been censored due to its alleged pornographic content. She has been criticised for including genitalia over clothing in her work and for the use of relationships as subject matter.

A new exhibition at Berlinische Galerie hopes to challenge preconceptions by presenting a retrospective of her life’s work – Dorothy Iannone: This Sweetness Outside of Time – Paintings, objects, songs, films and books from 1959 – 2014. Iannone is a self-taught American artist who has travelled extensively and lived in Berlin since 1976. The main themes running through her work are ecstatic love, the power of intuition and self-development, and she draws from her life experience as a travelling artist to create powerful and absorbing work.

The exhibition is divided into sections to give a flavour of her influences and experiences since 1959 and draws from Eastern religions, Buddhism, Tantrism and 17th Baroque erotic poetry. She is funny and dry and some of the paintings made me laugh out loud: “Sometimes men have to submit too.” (man bending over while woman flogs his bottom), the recipe section in A Cookbook (1969), which explains how to prepare a juicy duck (and how it will make you feel when you eat it). I also loved the quote to Danton, an idealised lover in Berlin Beauties (1977/8) – her advice is to create your own ideal lover if he/she’s not around and preferably one that doesn’t stray, “But listen, Danton, if you fell in love with another woman after having met me, I might take her for a walk in the mountains and make her disappear. Either her, anyway, or you.”

In 1966 she created a body of work called People. “I made a few hundred wooden cut-outs of everyone in the world I could think of, real people, imagined people, mythological people, invented people, and I always included their sexual organs even if they were fully dressed.” It was a productive period where she created books and prints, paintings and singing boxes themed around love and sex. The images showed visual genitalia, which was frequently censored.

The most powerful piece for me was An Icelandic Saga, a visual storyboard across one wall which explains her guilt over the breakdown of her marriage to mathematician and artist James Upham after meeting Dieter Roth on a boat trip to Iceland. Reading it took a while (it’s handwritten in felt) and it’s like going on the journey with her physically and emotionally. Certain passages made me cry, her message being that it’s okay to be vulnerable, take a risk and follow your heart. After the trip she left her husband and returned to Iceland to be with Roth, spending eight years with him and went on to create her Dialogues to express her joy during this time.

I Was Thinking of You (1975) is a hand-painted sculpture box which incorporates a video showing her face during sexual arousal and orgasm. In an interview with the curator Massimiliano Gioni she explains her motive for putting herself at the centre of it. “To say that it contributed to any sexual or artistic revolution isn’t really my line. I wanted to give a glimpse of, let’s call it the soul, which at the moment of orgasm, passes fleetingly over the face. I don’t think I ever gave more of myself in my work”.

“You have no idea how lovely you are, Berlin”. 

Dorothy Iannone: The Next Great Moment In History Is Ours, 1970 Courtesy die Künstlerin, Air de Paris, Paris, und Peres Projects, Berlin, Foto: Joachim Littkemann

Berlin Beauties is a poetic invocation of a fictional lover (what to do if your ideal lover isn’t around…) and a declaration of her love for Berlin. At the time she was angry at a country she perceived to be materialistic and patriarchal and set about to “reform Germany” through art and debate, creating her interpretation of mythical figures like the White Goddess and Cleopatra as a strong voice for the women’s movement of the time. I was also moved by the paintings of mother and daughter when she talks about the creative stuff her mother did with her as a child (a reminder that I want to spend more time doing fun stuff with my daughter rather than fretting about work and money). She was two when her father died and so was raised by her mother Sarah Nicoletti Iannone.

From the 1990s onwards the main focus of her work is the ecstatic union between a man and woman and how this transcends individuality. The Movie People depicts painted cut-outs mounted on wood showing scenes from her favourite films about unconditional love or what happens when you sacrifice your happiness for a lover’s (Brokeback Mountain, Lolita, Les Amants, The Piano…)

This is a big yet intimate exhibition that will make you think, laugh and cry and I do feel I know the artist a little bit better after spending time absorbed in her work. To pigeon-hole her as a pornographic artist or question her role as a feminist misses the point: she is a passionate woman who celebrates love, life and sex and who isn’t afraid to take a risk and follow her gut to be happy and authentic. It is a call to action and has an urgency in its expression which I’m still thinking about three weeks’ later.

A rather different subject matter to Ai Weiwei’s Evidence, which I saw in the same week, but they share similar goals in using their life experience and politics to create art.

Dorothy Iannone: This Sweetness Outside of Time: Paintings, Objects, Books 1959 – 2014 until 2.6.14.

Berlinische Galerie Alte Jakobstraße 124 – 128 10969 Berlin.

In Berlin? Tonight the actress Eva Mattes will read erotic poems of Renaissance and Baroque and modern-day prose including extracts from Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying and 16th-century French odes to the female body.

Photo: Thanks to Markus Spiske on Unsplash