ARTWORKS: Sound text installation
LIEDER FüR SEXARBEITERINNEN IN EINER BERLINER NACHT,
2022, sound installation c. 25 mins
By the Weimar era, Berlin's critics were declaiming the city "the Whore of Babylon" and tourists came in search of decadence.
Exploring the fate of women on the margins, Lieder für Sexarbeiterinnen in einer Berliner nacht imagines the stories of troubled bodies, navigating the complex terrain between sexual liberation and bodily autonomy.
Through the evidence in diaries, documents, and paintings themselves, we witness the relationship between unravelling Expressionist artist Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and his life partner, muse, and fellow creative Erna Schilling.
We encounter Erna’s sister Gerda – a more shadowy historical figure – here re-imagined as a dancer and casual sex worker at fictional Club Venere. Not one of the 3,500 registered sex workers in Berlin on the eve of the First World War but perhaps one of the thousands of unregistered ones. All became symbols of urban malaise and male sexual anxiety, of excess and deviance. Adapting to
survive attacks from the vice squad, the Department of Blackmail and Homosexuality, abolitionists, and moralisers, these "crippled souls" dressed as war widows, infiltrated bourgeois spaces, sported plumed hats, or went bare-faced when the "New Woman" blurred boundaries by wearing their rouge.
We meet one such New Woman: Lila, a fictional lesbian flapper excited to explore her sexuality and out on a date with artist Jeanne Mammen. But Lila’s carefree night is disrupted by the campaigning of radical feminist and abolitionist Anna Pappritz, and by her subsequent encounter with a man.
Real-life characters include Dadaist innovator and sometime-survival-sex worker Emmy Hennings; feminist Hanna Bieber-Böhm; and Valeska Gert who mimed orgasms on stage over a century ago.
Drawing inspiration from the myriad ways women deployed visual and verbal codes to signal their position, each narrative strand has its own musical signature with songs and sounds by award-winning jazz musicians Georgia Mancio and Dave Ohm and performances by Roxana Halls and Melanie Duignan.
Lieder für sexarbeiterinnen in einer Berliner nacht asks us to draw parallels between the precarious position of today’s sex workers (especially in light of the pandemic), and their Weimar peers. And it reminds us that the control and regulation of some women’s bodies will always be dangerous for all
the others (see recent threats to abortion rights) which is why we cannot afford to fragment.
Created by Marie-Anne Mancio for the exhibition 'Bodies in Trouble' curated by Dr. Anna Havemann at Hauskunstmitte, Berlin.