“Raum des verwundeten Affen” (Room of the Wounded Ape) was created by Rebecca Horn (*1944) in 1990 as part of Die Endlichkeit der Freiheit (The Finitude of Freedom), an exhibition project that was devoted to the situation of post-reunification Berlin.

The state of Berlin acquired “Raum des verwundeten Affen” after the exhibition closed and entrusted it to the Nationalgalerie (National Gallery). This key piece of the Nationalgalerie collection was restaged for the first time in 1996 in Hamburger Bahnhof – Museum für Gegenwart – Berlin, which had just opened. It is a definite choice for first exhibition in the new building at the Kulturforum.

The installation was the first part of the IN PREPARATION series. It was set up from March 17 to May 25, 2020 in the Kulturforum. Due to the Corona crisis it couldn’t be shown to the public.

The IN PREPARATION series is supported by the Federal Commissioner for Culture and the Media.

The Original Installation

On the Creation of the Installation in 1990

Together with author Heiner Müller and artist Jannis Kounellis, Horn developed the idea of a project focusing on the Berlin Wall in both parts of the divided city in 1986. In addition to Horn and Kounellis, nine internationally known artists participated in the exhibition in public spaces in East and West Berlin: Giovanno Anselmo, Barbara Bloom, Christian Boltanski, Hans Haacke, Ilya Kabakov, Via Lewandowsky, Mario Merz, Raffael Rheinsberg, and Krzysztof Wodiczko. 

Rebecca Horn developed her kinetic, moving installation in a house that was walled up on the west side and located on Stresemannstraße right by the death zone near Potsdamer Platz. She created an ambiguous experiential space that evokes conflicting emotions on the subject of the division and reunification of Germany: anxiety and loneliness, but energy and new beginnings as well. The title “Raum des verwundeten Affen” was inspired by an incident in “The Strange Feast”, one of the Grimm fairy tales.

Working with Found Objects

Typical of Horn’s location-specific installations are found objects that she combines with objects – often mechanical ones – that she builds herself. She found a paper cutting machine from the 1920s on Stresemannstrasse and wired an electrical drive to it. From the ceiling hung three snake-like pairs of copper wire whose electrical overloads and discharges created rhythmic lightning bolts. She put three piles of coal on the floor underneath them, which could stand for energy, friction, and loss. Two metronomes ticked to opposite beats. A pair of binoculars and two round holes in the wall guided the visitors’ gaze from East to West. 

The cutting machine and the lightning bolts and arcs did not start until someone entered the room. “The audience becomes an actor. Viewers’ participation and reactions make them part of the installation,” said Horn. The elements of the work are “melancholy actors in utter loneliness,” which only became animated through the audience.

How a Cutting Machine Became a Work of Kinetic Art

The exhibition “Die Endlichkeit der Freiheit” (Finitude of Freedom) was held in urban Berlin in fall 1990. The subject was the Berlin Wall in both halves of the city. The artist Rebecca Horn developed the concept for the project together with the author Heiner Müller and the artist Jannis Kounellis. Raum des verwundeten Affen (Room of the Wounded Ape), the installation by Rebecca Horn, was the only large artwork from the exhibition that ended up in a museum collection: in the Nationalgalerie (National Gallery). In 1996, the kinetic installation was restaged for the first time in a museum: for the opening of Hamburger Bahnhof – Museum für Gegenwart – Berlin (Hamburger Bahnhof – Museum for Contemporary Art – Berlin). Raum des verwundeten Affen has been planned for the new building at the Kulturforum as a symbolic comment on the division and reunification of Germany.

A Look over the Conservator’s Shoulder: Raum des verwundeten Affen

The installation “Raum des verwundeten Affen” by Rebecca Horn has been planned for the new museum building at the Kulturforum as a symbolic comment on the division and reunification of Germany. For that reason, the installation was assembled in spring 2020 for conservation. The public conservation of “Raum des verwundeten Affen”, an installation by Rebecca Horn, at the Kulturforum kicked off the IN PREPARATION series in which the Nationalgalerie gives the public a behind-the-scenes look at the preparations for the new museum building.

Public Conservation in the Kulturforum

When a kinetic work of art is restored, the main emphasis is placed on making it function again. During the trial assembly of “Raum des verwundeten Affen” at the Kulturforum, the conservators and curators collaborated with Rebecca Horn’s studio to work on a third version of the installation that is oriented on the 1990 and 1996 versions. It was adapted to fit spatial conditions in the new building at the Kulturforum.

The Installation

1) snake-like copper elements with transformers whose electrical current and discharges create lightning bolts and arcs 

2) a pair of binoculars

3) motor-driven paper cutting machine

4) three piles of coal 

5) metronome designed by the artist (another one in the room)

The work also includes two circular openings in the wall that are not shown here.

Rebecca Horn

Born in the Odenwald region in 1944, Rebecca Horn is a highly renowned contemporary artist. She works in almost all artistic media, from sculpture, drawing, poetry, and performance to photography, film, and location-specific kinetic installations. Her works are rich in references to cultural history, literature, and religion.

In the late 1960s, she was primarily interested in the human body and its relationship to space. She preferred to create sculptural objects and masks in soft materials like feathers or fabric. Like prostheses, they draw attention to specific body extremities and were shown in performances that were captured on film. 

She started making kinetic, mechanically controlled sculptures that exhibited similarities to human sensations and seemed magically move in theatrical spatial compositions. She often integrates materials from alchemy such as mercury, coal dust, and mirrors in her technically precise works. Her examination of a specific place often starts with one of her poems – as Raum des verwundeten Affen does.

Rebecca Horn studied at the Hochschule für Bildende Künste in Hamburg, lived in New York City for several years, and has been a professor at Berlin University of the Arts since 1989.