Tuesday, January 19, 2010

A Confederacy of Delirium: Dubai Düsseldorf

Life in Dubai Düsseldorf: a Confederacy of Delirium

(a version of this was published in the Süddeutsche Zeitung Nr. 237)

It would seem that not even cities can remain single these days without someone trying to partner them up. Cities need twins as much as political parties need coalitions. Neither an example of town twinning nor sister cities, the proposed “Confederation of Dubai Düsseldorf” is as practical a proposal as the partnering planets. As of the autumn of 2009, a few artifacts from the actual imagineered merger of two cities, like two private corporations, have been pinned to the walls of the Kunstverein in Düsseldorf. This Confederation “DD” has been assigned its own flag, currency, and national costume. Art has all but been eliminated with the exception of two paintings and a sculpture, or rather an “it,” that is, a decaying “Entity” which bears a strange resemblance to a dried up orange under a glass vitrine. The architectural model of the twin art museums rises above the Rhine mirroring the form of its cooler underground double, an elaborate vault buried (quite literally) in the sands of Dubai. But the ultimate symbol for this ill-fated phantom marriage of two disparate cities is manifest by the now-traditional way of giving a city a recognizable face: that is, by building a recognizable building. It has been proposed that each of the former “Twin Towers” of New York, relics of vertical civilization history, be reconstructed, one in each town, as the “Friendship Towers.” A short Blade Runner-esque film poses the demise of the destruction of Tower East, that is, the one in Dubai.

The idea of Dubai Düsseldorf is part fiction, part real. Indeed, it stems from the very real kinship that began between Düsseldorf’s medical establishment and the Sheikhdom’s family’s medical needs and later culminated, apparently, in 2007 when Dubai's Transportation Authority, Matter Al Tayer, proclaimed: "I love Düsseldorf. It's my favorite city!” As he was referring to the bike lanes and pedestrian zones, he might have said the same of Amsterdam or Muenster.

It sounds strange coming from one of the few citizens of what urban critic Mike Davis once referred to as “Milton Friedman’s Beach Club: free enterprise, no taxes, no trade unions, no elections,” hence, no protest, no dissention. Dubai is the land of “supreme lifestyle” and superlatives in general: the soon-to-be tallest skyscraper, the largest replica of the world map in sand, the longest fully automated (i.e., driverless) metro, the most expensive horse race, the most most [sic] expensive hotels, and, at an estimated 1%, the tiniest “local” population. Dubai, that is, is a city of working nomads. Home to most is elsewhere.

I spent three hours on a grey Sunday afternoon soaking up the charms of Dubai’s phantom partner Düsseldorf, in search of what the locals (that is, citizens) love most. A mini-marathon had replaced the conspicuous consumption of the Kö – but the shops were closed anyway, so I was forced to one of life’s more anachronistic pleasures, what the French refer to as léche-vitrine, or “window licking.” When I asked people on the street what I should see, the unanimous reply was surprisingly “The Rhine!” And so I made my way to the river and what I found was a series of shoreside restaurants, each with its own variation of under 10 euro platters, schnitzel and French fries. Meandering through the streets of the old city, I encountered the most dire example of public art I have ever seen. It was called “Auseinandersetzung,” that very German word for which an English equivalent is lacking. Depicted were two life-sized derelict men, one fat, the other thin, cast in bronze. They wore the desolate faces of the Burghers of Calais. Their gaze lacked intensity: perhaps their intelligently intense argument, their “Auseinandersetzung” had reached the point of looping, of missing the point altogether.

My parting glance of Düsseldorf involved three grumpy (I guessed) octogenarians yelling at each other on one of the more intimate of the famed shopping streets. Two against one: the pair of older ladies were barking at a lonely one who was feeding the pigeons in front of Zara. “You can’t do that!” “I know, I know, but the bread was already in the street and they would have eaten it anyway.” “But you cannot do that!” “I know, but I’m doing it anyway!” “But you cannot do that!” They continued this loop until distance rendered them mute. If this protest in defense of pigeon feeding is any indication of what one can and (likewise) should not do in the spirit of a “supreme lifestyle,” then by all means.

April Elizabeth Lamm

“Dubai Düsseldorf,” 28 August – 8 November 2009, at the Kunstverein Düsseldorf, with Ayzit Bostan, Antje Majewski, Markus Miessen, Eva Munz, Ralf Pflugfelder, Z.A.K., and Ingo Niermann with Peter Maximowitsch and Stephan Trüby