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WHITEWASHING

These posters and ads have been gracing the streets and magazines in Berlin recently, to announce tomorrow’s opening of the hotly debated BMW Guggenheim Lab in the city. The Lab is a mobile container traveling to nine different cities in the world to host a series of talks, events and workshops on the theme of urbanisation and the future of cities, over a period of six years / five weeks in each city. It is, apparently, curated and conceived entirely by the Guggenheim New York, and funded by BMW.

Whereas New York, the Lab’s first station, apparently didn’t pay much attention, Berlin was a different matter, where the notoriously belligerent district of Kreuzberg didn’t appreciate a museum from New York and a car manufacturer usurping the very current and heated local debates on gentrification and drastically rising rents, causing the Lab to give up on their initial location and move the container to the much safer district of Prenzlauer Berg, and appropriately so.

I guess the sponsoring of cultural events by large companies has become an irreversible fact, and while one might applaud corporate brands moving further and further into avant-garde territory, it also raises some questions about credibility. While Mercedes-Benz have stuck to relatively safe ground with fashion and music, urbanisation is a trickier issue to be raised by a luxury car manufacturer, leading to its own absurdities – which unfortunately overshadow many of the pertinent issues and questions covered by the Lab’s extensive program.

But really: Hartz IV furniture (as in: how to build your own designer furniture with no budget) proposed on a blog paid for by a brand that charges a small fortune for their cars? Advertising with the phrase ‘Why are we always in such a hurry?’ while BMW in particular have been keen to celebrate speed as a sort of human right, with the car lobbies continuously throwing in all their weight to keep Germany the last country in Europe without a speed limit? And doesn’t proposing ‘confronting the comfort zone’ as a central theme of the Berlin cycle sound a little strange when it’s signed by BMW?

On a grander scheme: Not only has the car industry played a considerable role in sacrificing large areas of our cities to ever increasing traffic and parking space, it has also successfully and frequently managed to water down any political attempts to introduce stricter regulation on pollution and ultimately ward off climate change – especially in Germany, where the car industry bears a lot of power. So yes, BMW sponsoring a traveling think tank on urbanisation and sustainability does leave a strange taste.

‘Every change starts with a question’, it says at the bottom of the advertising, and we have a question for you: Why are your cars still so filthy?

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