In a shabby, roofless room, with a floor strewn with spray cans and walls covered in graffiti, stands a pristine white plinth more likely to be found in a museum than a piece of no man’s land in Dresden. There are three white spray cans on it, but made of plaster. Visual artist Ties Ten Bosch gave his work the title Can I be a part of your party? Not a superfluous question, because almost immediately one of the local graffiti artists put a mark across the pedestal.
‘It was also an ugly mark, otherwise I might have left it,’ Ten Bosch tells a group of residents in Dresden. They are shown around an 18-hectare site in their town, where the artist collective Ipihan (If Paradise Is Half As Nice) has been working for four weeks. The twelve artists come from Rotterdam, Berlin and Oslo.
Leipziger Bahnhof was built here in 1839, the station where trains from Dresden to Leipzig departed. In 1856, a Villeroy & Boch porcelain factory followed, including the director’s villa with orangery. About thirty years ago, most buildings were half-heartedly demolished. A forest of robinia, birch, willow and rowan has grown on the rubble of bricks, concrete and railway sleepers.
A thousand shampoo bottles
The twelve Ipihan members are drawn to brick factories and city fringes, to the beauty of decay. In previous editions, they have, for example, ended up in an empty jute spinning mill, a department store’s annex bakery, a noodle factory and a shampoo factory. All complexes in eastern Germany, left to fend for themselves since the bankruptcy wave after the end of the GDR.
During those weeks, they leave their studios and experiment with new artistic concepts and artworks to finally come up with an exhibition that can only be visited for one weekend by the public. ‘The beautiful and at the same time tragic thing about these places is that there is still so much material and history to be found,’ explains Ties Ten Bosch. “In previous years we found thousands of shampoo bottles and complete personnel files.”
Although almost everything at this location in Dresden has been demolished, the ‘wasteland of ruins’ provides plenty of clues. Willem Besselink, for example, collected 1,500 old bricks to build a round wall one and a half meters high. Mauerwerk Steinofen has the same circumference as the original Villeroy & Boch oven and is located in the same place.
Unlike previous editions of Ipihan, the artists of Dresden do not have the empire to themselves. The former train station has its regular users with its own unwritten rules. Skaters and boxers share a covered platform in the green wilderness, graffiti artists share the few walls that are still standing – they are completely painted over every few days. A residential camp has been built on concrete sleepers next to another overgrown platform.
“Is what you’re doing legal or brave?” asks one of the Dresden residents during the tour. A bit of both, the answer shows. In the first five years, Ipihan squatted the abandoned factories, since then they have contacted the developers who bought the buildings with a view to a new use.
In Dresden it is more complex. Ipihan is here at the request of Geh8, but this cultural institution does not own the property. For years there have been plans for a Globus hardware store and a Kaufland supermarket with huge parking spaces. Whether they will come is the question. In the city by the Elbe, there is a discussion about whether a hardware store and a department store are the best recycling.
Handles on logs
As for the Ipihan artists, Alter Leipziger Bahnhof Dresden will remain a fringe for at least another hundred years. Michiel Jansen even started what could become a permanent landscape artwork in just four weeks. He used the landscape as a sketchbook. Scattered around the site, he placed seven ‘markers’. Thus he laid a grid of branches and twigs on the ground and laid a path over one of the thickly grown rubble mountains.
The young landscape architect Linde Keip, this year’s guest artist at Ipihan, wants curious citizens of Dresden to discover the remarkable beauty of this place. During her studies in Wageningen, she immersed herself in the use of abandoned urban areas. In Dresden, she made a footpath over concrete blocks that are sloppy and crooked. She placed handles on logs as if it were a hiking trail in the Alps. Even a single visitor over eighty ventures into the climbing party.
The Ipihan artists have no illusions about whether their artworks have a long life here. The fact is, their approach is starting to catch on. In the summer of 2023, they were invited as curators of the Salangen Biennale, in and around an empty factory complex 1,500 kilometers north of Oslo.
The name Ipihan (If Paradise Is Half As Nice) came to mind for visual artists Daan Botlek and Pim Palsgraaf when they squatted at an old jute spinning and weaving mill in Leipzig in 2012. It is the title of a 1969 song by the band Amen Corner. A bad song with a great title, according to Palsgraaf and Botlek. They see the dilapidated places, albeit spartan, as a paradise for making art.