Addressing the ubiquitous presence and role of nature in our lives, the sculptor, performance artist, activist and poet Jimmie Durham takes it upon himself to select and relay its presences. In the form of a diary, written in Berlin during the course of a year, Durham reflects and quite directly exposes forms, appearances and spirits of urban nature – and its entanglement with daily life.
The urban nature of Berlin as exemplified by the Natur Park Schöneberger Südgelände was the focus theme of the 32nd International Carlo Scarpa Prize for Gardens. With the research for this prize, we learned how the concept of urban ecology was conceived decisively in Berlin in the 1970s, stimulated and driven by the city’s unique geographic and geo-political condition. Jimmie Durham was not a protagonist of this ecological discourse. Yet, maybe similar to when he moved to Europe, first to Geneva, in the 1970s, when he, provokingly, proclaimed an anthropological interest in the ‘savage’ mask and dance rituals of alpine cultures, Jimmie Durham continued in Berlin from 1998 to make systematic sculptural and literary observations of the habitat around him.
The images in this publication – some of which are published for the first time thanks to the collaboration of Jimmie Durham’s partner, artist Maria Thereza Alves – all reference Jimmie Durham’s sculptural work in Berlin. Most of the related projects are geographically connected to his studio at the edge of Grunewald, an immense public forest full of trees, birds, and many other beings, where he worked from 1998 until 2011.
Artist, poet, performance artist, essayist, activist: Jimmie Durham (1940-2021) is an outstanding figure in the art world of the last half century. His works, marked by a strong vein of humour, range from sculptures to videos, poems, performances, installations, paintings, drawings, collages, prints and essays. Constructing “illegal combinations with rejected objects,” across natural and industrial materials, Durham generated ruptures within conventions of language and knowledge. From 1969, Durham was part of a network of thinkers and activists involved in Third World and Indigenous liberation movements, and in 1973 he returned to the US to join American Indian Movement. From 1975, as founding director of the International Indian Treaty Council at the United Nations, he worked on the integration into international law of the ‘Universal Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples’. In 1979, he shifted his focus back to art making. Durham published his first compendium of poems in 1983, Columbus Day: Poems, Drawings and Stories about American Indian Life and Death in the Nineteen-Seventies. In 1994, Durham moved permanently to Europe, after living for a period in Mexico. Initially working in Ireland, the Netherlands, Belgium, and France, he settled in Berlin in 1998. From 2006 he shared his geographical base between Berlin and Rome and, finally, from 2013 between Berlin and Naples.