Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Wolves in Wolfsburg

I kept a keen eye out for Wolves in Wolfburg and finally discovered it when my friend Alexa showed me her photos. Naturally I didn't see the wolf at the time.

I wondered why this was not called Wolksburg, being the largest Volkswagon factory in the world just here. The factory itself employs around 50,000 people and the town has about 120,000 inhabitants. The town was build around the factory in fact. I have seen smaller versions of this civic-corporate marriage in parts of France but never really been inside it, so I was fascinated to get my own view of things.

Saturday I was in the Autostadt, which for those of you who have never been to Wolfsburg, is a kind of theme park design to house many different brands of cars. It is like mixing a post-modern corporate futurist aesthetic employing a Le Courbusier's modernist vocabulary combined with Henry Fords capitalist dream. I couldn't help thinking of the online Second Life game where a fantasy virtual world has been constructed on 'islands' not bound by financial control yet at the same time upholding a deep seated capitalist understanding of the world.

Below - image from Second Life. Perhaps based on Autostadt?

The picture here shows one of the car exhibit buildings in the foreground, next to the constructed lake and the Wolkswagon factory in the background.

This was an interesting space (one of many themed information spaces). The chairs in the middle are reclined like when you go to the observatory, it is a seductive position to be in staring up at the roof and unable to communicate to the people around you. On the screens are the design 'experts' who tell you why and how they have made design decisions with specifically you in mind. You cannot help feeling that you are one of the selected few who have this awesome privilege to sit in such luxury and have such important people address you. It is an elaborate indoctrination of materialism. Aesthetic and comfort are valued highly over content, you cannot help but feel you should just relax and enjoy the good life that has been mapped out for you.

It is interesting to come to a place like this as an outsider, even more so coming from a place like New Zealand which most certainly shares the same materialistic aspirations but doesn't achieve it publicly on this scale. As an artist you become practiced at distancing yourself from this kind of cultural indoctrination but that also allows you an objectivity.

So... it was slightly weird setting myself up in this space in the little house, I was worried that people might be expecting me to tap dance or at least blow up like a bouncy castle and invite people to bounce all over me.

Surprisingly then, I had some very interesting conversations with people, hearing what was on their minds. I met three people who were here to pick up their new car and this place was an extra reward for the experience of buying a new car, like the ultimate experiential packaging. You get to pick your car up from a 15 story glass tower building that in fact is a giant elevator stacker of new cars. Each new car glides down to it's new owner with hydraulic elegance like the ultimate coke dispenser, delivering the ultimate fetish object to it's new owner. Who wouldn't want that? Here is one of those new owners, come from a neighboring city, I think Hamburg, to collect his reward. And to honest he should be happy, he has achieved something many aspire to.
And here is the next Michael Schumarker, eyeing up what might be an impeding object.
And then of course people who come to these places as we all do, for leisure. The post-modern public space is perhaps not really public so much as constructed to feel like public space for the sake of belief in our materialist aspirations. Is that so different to the civic parks and promenades of the 19th and 20th century? Or the spiritual meeting places constructed by the governing religious regimes of the 18th century, or even the 16th century meeting places sponsored by the Medicis or the ruling classes of any culture.

What I find interesting is that ultimately we bring our individual view of the world even when we understand the social forces that bring us to this place for whatever reason. Here are some other folk I met who were here because this was a place to hang out. I am part of this system too, I have no arrived here by some act of altruism, I am paid to be here, to uphold the same values that I gently mock. We live in these systems because we are born into it, we make the most of what we have been given access to.

Here are some nice people I met in Wolfsburg.