A bright white light beams from an unassuming street in Mitte-Nord, Berlin. As I am drawn automatically to this unusually fluorescent spectacle, I can’t help but wonder why it feels so familiar. Curiosity increasing, I begin to walk a little faster – and then I realise. It’s the same lighting that filters from the numerous conbini (convenience stores) in Japan. Aha! Even the small sign hanging above says “KioskShop Berlin“. The nostalgia made me smile, but that only lasted a moment. For this was not just any kiosk…
A refrigerated stand to the right hand side, a drinks fridge at the back, white shelves surrounding all around. What fills them seem to be your usual everyday goods, except that they are all covered in some sort of opaque-white coating, giving them an eerie presence. Actually this kiosk shop, it is a permanent installation by Berlin resident artist, H.N.Semjon.
On any average day in any average neighbourhood kiosk, people come to buy their newspapers and necessities, to chat with the owner, or simply to swap information. H.N.Semjon wants to confront how we take such familiarities for granted, confusing us and making us rethink our ordinary surroundings. His “product sculptures”, including coke cans, cigarettes, cereals, shampoo, junk food – everyday goods in instantly recognisable packaging seems to be the key – with their contents intact and coated in bleached beeswax, invite curiosity and demand to be observed as a painting in a museum would be. Originally shown as a temporary exhibition, this permanent setting of a real shop seems to be able to unleash the latent potential lurking within these artworks.
Since opening in October 2001, this shop has seen over 1000 “product sculptures” on these shelves. Part of the concept of the installation is that the shop should finance itself through the sales of these “products”. In order to facilitate that, H.N.Semjon has set up a system of hire purchase. By spreading the cost over up to 20 months, the art becomes accessible to young people and first time buyers. At this point, around 25 have taken part in the system and as products are bought, the shelves are replenished with new goods, complete with product line changes and label alterations. Whilst we sometimes forget how advertising and packaging can come to represent an era, these “product sculptures” capture the zeitgeist and preserve it eternally.
And when he’s not stocking up the shop, H.N.Semjon has been busy curating exhibitions by various artists held within the shop space. These exhibitions, named “Intervention”, began last year with the sculptures and drawings of a young Japanese artist, Takayuki Daikoku. His sculptures made of poplar and Japanese paper brought warmth to the bright white shop space, whilst at the same time bringing out a certain creepiness from the whole space. The current show, “Intervention VII”, is an installation by German artist Dorothee Berkenheger, consisting of two metal rings attached to the ceiling and floor, between which white string has been suspended in their thousands, creating a column-like effect. The columns come in various shapes, and looking through them, the products seem even more faraway across all the white layers.
H.N.Semjon considers “KioskShop berlin” as a work in progress. He’d like to add more product lines and gradually fill the still-empty shelves. So far three years have passed, and I hope that the shop will be questioning and at the same time recording the times for many more years to come.
Text and Photos: Kristy Kagari Sakai