Black March Berlin | 9 November 2014


Black flag (linen and wood), walking shoes, body, digital photographs, texts

‘Black Walk Berlin’ 17’56”: HD video & sound


‘Made of Walking’ Conference, Animart, Delphi 2016

‘Loitering with Intent’ group exhibition, People’s History Manchester, 2016

Watch the film >>

On 9 November 2014, I performed Black March Berlin, joined at various points by a group of artist collaborators and participant walkers. It was the fourth in a series of walking performances that began in Tokyo in 2012, and this time in Berlin it coincided with the 25 year anniversary celebrations of the Fall of the Berlin Wall: this coincidence though vaguely planned and not, brought this performance action, which up to now has been a fairly low-key manifestation in public space, into the very public eye of large crowds that had gathered to mark this event. It opened up Black March in every sense: from extreme exposure, to intense exchange.

Waking up in darkness, heading north in the early tunnels and trains

Sleepers and chatterers and so much to say at seven am.

Opposite me senseless anger stamps a foot, glares, and soon forgets the cause

Eyes closing, tremors engulf him: a quaking body, a chattering silent jaw

Is it the cold, or the nervous frustrations of an ‘aim-less’ body, gnawing itself?

In the early grey hush

Black absorbs all the light of slanting glances

A dark figure exposed.

At least five shades of black.

At 9 November Platz, the top of Bornhölmer Straße I unfurled the black banner from its long stake. Under the eyes of the TV crews, understudies for the, somewhat altered not quite obsolete, role of surveillance: a radio reporter ran over to describe me as a ‘sad’ figure on such a festive day.

Why is ‘black’ sad? Black simply absorbs all light and perhaps invites us to not just ‘look’ at things with the all too easy assistance of the light, but challenges us to grope into the dark for what is invisible, hidden, introverted, unseen. He agreed and withdrew his comment, wishing me a good walk.

Marching towards Mauer Park I was suddenly overwhelmed by a choking wave of excitement at the freedom I felt being able to walk in a space, where I would have not so long ago been in the shadow of a 3.6 metre wall, barbed wire, and surveillance cameras, within spitting distance of armed patrols, security dogs: today I could walk with this huge provocative symbol flying above me, being solely responsible for what trouble I might stir up.

Walking south along the path of the wall, the density of my dark presence is lightened by the Lichtgrenze installation of white helium balloons which stand like lightheaded sentinels along most of the Black March: black quadrilateral teasing the bobbing white spheres.

The contrast led to varied assumptions surrounding my seeming opposition to the chosen colour of the day: the black march and its roaming black flag threat, versus the weighted down white balloon poles.

I was stopped, questioned, glared at, smiled at, photographed and filmed, people looked at me with fear and anger, confusion, they pointed fingers, was it a demo was it for peace, was it for the wall. What was it for? What was the meaning? Why the black flag?

So I consistently reflected the question back on them.

The walk I weave through cities (Tokyo, London, Paris, Berlin) has revealed through the simple constancy of a black flag, this symbol, this object and this colour’s power to absorb opinions, insults, cheers, excitement, dedication, participation, police prohibition, silence, reflection, accusation. It becomes an antenna, which vibrates with the concerns of each city at that moment in time. My body is the receptor, the base station of the black flag.

And in Berlin I marched on and I took it in, good and bad. Mostly good, mostly encouraging, and mostly willing to pause, discuss, and sometimes even to alter their first impressions and transform their preconceptions.