Burbidge, Matthew, Exhibition Review: "Jeroen Jacobs, Erik Smith, Sommer & Kohl, Errant Bodies," vonhundert, 5/ 2015, http://

Jeroen Jacobs, Erik Smith
Sommer & Kohl, Errant Bodies
2015:Mai // Matthew Burbidge

Property is what real estate is called in Britain, where I come from. 
Tonight, for the first time in ages, I felt the rain drop onto my head. It prompted this reflection: is it worse to be out in the rain without a hat when you’re bald – or when you’ve got a head of hair? Or perhaps you have an umbrella? Or perhaps you just don’t care? Or perhaps you don’t just care? 
Angst is an almost perfect German word. It means more in English than its direct English equivalent – fear – ever will. “I fear I have contracted a cold.” It’s an upper class verb. Stilted, conformist. Angst, or anxiety, is something for everyone. Fear is something for cold war horror-movie-posters, discussed by touch sensitive male-matinee-idols, and the career oriented. 
Angst accompanies us all, day-by-day, night-by-night, night by day – day by night. In the end, it’s nearly all night. Except when it’s light – and – err – err – here is a visual clue. 
Errant Bodies in Berlin’s Prenzlauer Berg district. I’m hardly ever in this part of town these days, despite having spent so much time here in the past. An anarchistic café society, that was Berlin back then for the likes of me. Breakfast at three o’clock, yes! Thank you very much! Mostly that was more than twenty years ago. Errant Bodies is a place where art is sometimes shown, though its main focus is publishing, at least that’s what my cursory talk with owner Brandon LaBelle reveals. He started this trajectory in 1995, just after I left Berlin for London to find a job that I could do. 
My friend Erik Smith, originally from Colorado, is, like myself and many thousands of others, an artist based in Berlin, and he has his opening here tonight, thanks to the agency of Argentina’s Mario Asef, another friend, who has done some things here in the past. Mario works a lot with sound, and “sonic…practices” are one of LaBelle’s main interests. I think he may be from America. 

The Errant Bodies website: since 1995, “it has been dedicated to supporting diverse discourses and projects in the fields of sonic and spatial practices, auditory culture and performativity, experimental writing and critical thought. The project further aims to consider the specifics of location, media and modes of address, and the co-productive details generated from cultural work and its place, through site-based research, collective actions and collaborative projects.” 

This is thus a place that prescribes its own context. Daring, I do say. 
“Urrr – can you get high if you eat cannabis?” 
“I’ll look it up on the web.” 

Later on that evening, I’m at Sommer & Kohl in Schöneberg, where yet another friend, Jeroen Jacobs, has his opening. Sommer & Kohl is one of my favourite galleries in Berlin. It’s a gloriously confident show. I’d love to imagine a never-ending amount of Jeroen’s lovely pieces: say I had three thousand, what would they mean then? Or suppose I had thirty? Or three? Art is a very rich way of getting through life, even as it makes you poor. 

At this point, when I realise that I have been lucky enough to see two good shows in one evening, I also realise that to conflate them in a sort of double review could represent the kind of challenge that you get more out of than you have to put in. We’ll see. 

For they are two very different shows, linked prima facie only by a solipsistic web of friendship and acquaintanceship: and this is the decisive factor in my appearance at both venues. Acquaintanceship: this web, just like the internet, affords a sense that I am not completely alone, and that there are plenty of other middle-aged people out there in Berlin that can animate the skeleton of Berlin’s art scene, and that we are the people that are always welcome, because we have earned a ­little respect through the years for what we have done. Or even just the ways we got drunk. But we will live with the spider at the centre of the web, which has not noticed us yet. We’ll live with it. 
But sorry, none of this matters, because in the end we are only really there to make up the numbers. 

“Art and money ain’t like vinaigrette, if you shake the bottle then you mustn’t pour.” 


Mostly, art is about seeing, and only rarely about feeling, but feelings are what wrap up the evening, feelings distilled partly from involuntary reminiscences. 

A work in Erik’s exhibition knocks the wind out of me. A steel table frame, black, the colour that Erik tends to dress in. On it are piled a few rectangular shapes cut into rubber sheets with the middles cut out of them in different ways. Specifically, they look like rubber floorplans. The record of the demolition playing in the background becomes the soundtrack to what in my eyes are shifting changing plans of buildings that probably once existed. But I never find out if they existed or not. I don’t bother. It’s when you’re a spectator rather than a participator that you tend to reminisce, and not find out, because in order to spectate you have to try to engage with what you’re spectating, and this requires a passive sort of effort, an acquiescence to truth. Partly this is the truth of your social position, the multifaceted truth that is people’s opinion of you and your relationship to the machine that is the art context to which you belong. This acquiescence can be directly compared to the surrender that you declare when you turn on the TV after a bad day. 

Erik Smith’s show is about a demolition. The demolition of an arts centre in Miami, DimensionsVariable, where he was invited to make a show. The invitation, enacted, found Erik witnessing this demolition. The whole neighbourhood had been chosen for sarcastic gentrification. Erik hid microphones in the fabric of the building and made a vinyl record edition of the sound of the building being annihilated. This record was on view at Errant Bodies for the duration of the exhibition: Erik had made a set of different sleeves for the record, in different colours and featuring different photos from inside of the soon-to-be-demolished space, and hung on a grid on one of the walls at Errant Bodies. 

INTERVAL – Eat a sandwich, it will do you good! 

A record is a classic commodity, but not as classic as real estate. Economists do not class real estate as a commodity, but it most definitely is. The reason for this is that paradoxically, any commodity’s most meaningful role is always to act as a medium of exchange between elemental currencies, fiery as hell: hereby dictating value, and thus the price of your life. In international terms. 


Real estate really does tell the most entertaining stories of all that you can hear about the differences in economic conditions from country to country. And from person to person. That’s why it’s so big; it has to record all of this. Real estate reads like a great big old black book of history. Pages with a golden edge to them. Right on back to Robin Hood, right on past the Romans, way back in the old ancient times. Hallelujahs! Real estate sings too. Sings like Deutschland Seeks the Damn Superstar. DSDS! 

This is this way in which psychogeography was born, all you have to do is combine the words and the practices and the methodologies, geography and psychology. And what do you get??? 

And whadyyaknow? If I had to use one word to sum up Erik Smith’s artworks, I would use this word: psychogeography. Although he would choose the word “conceptual”. Erik’s exhibition is a memorial to DimensionsVariable, and the smell of death hangs sweet in the air. Tragedy is the dramatic form of history, and because of our sense that the dead deserve dignity and respect, we feel forced to remember the results of evil more than the results of good. The results of good instead often make themselves manifest in art. The show feels like it’s the excavation of the site of an atrocity, I, we, can almost smell the malignance. 

The record plays on a turntable atop a beautifully finished shiny black plinth, reminding me of John McCracken’s imporous monoliths, this and the fact of the record putting me again in mind of the commercial contemporary art context, and what sells and to who. I’ve been a record collector even longer than I’ve been an artist. It’s one of my guilty secrets. Unless I am a Multi-Millionaire At Least McCracken ­Artwork Owner, I can never expect to have much of a dialogue with a McCracken piece, this despite claims against the California art of that time that it was vacuous. The record sounds like drone music, Einstürzende Neubauten meets La Monte Young. In a way, that might be a really refreshing US-German collaboration. 

Meanwhile, Berlin has been a refuge for hard up mid-‘career’ artists like Erik and I. Actually, Berlin has been a refuge for hard up mid-career ‘artists’ like Erik and I. I made my way back here in 2002, moving over completely in 2008. It’s a refuge where improbably low rents allow people without a profession to live in relative dignity. The dignity of the poor, but human dignity nonetheless. We’re likely to be slightly left-wing, and this means that we mostly see gentrification as a negative force, slowly forcing us out of the places where we lived, and where we were inspired. 

I should state here that Erik says on his website that he also sees benefits in gentrification. 

Erik Smith’s opening at Errant Bodies occurred the same night as Jeroen Jacobs’ at Sommer & Kohl. I’m pretty sure that the idea that you can gain degrees of certainty using a comparative categorical method is baloney – it never felt right … but we will try it anyway, hoping that it works. 

“It is, after all, the foundation of biology!” 

I cycled between the two spaces, clad for the task. 

The idea is to compare two different openings in different parts of the city that occurred on the same night. Because I was at both of them. This, hopefully, if it holds – which it won’t – will allow us, by comparing categories and informational blippets, signatures, trademarks: in a word, yes: similarities, yes; similarities. Which will fly past as if in storm, and we will make comparative connections, we will see the similarities between things: their colour, their shape, their translucency, their degree of wetness, their degree of dryness, their degree of west, and their degree of east. 

It was when I arrived at Sommer & Kohl that I realised that I should do a double review with Errant Bodies. Two places where I feel at home, because of the people who come to hang out at shows here at S&K’s, and the people who go to shows there (I mean at Errant Bodies). 

Memory says, “Nice places.” 

“But two places where I almost never meet the same people,” I tell it. 

“They are two different and independent micro-contexts of the great Berlin Contemporary Art Openings Context, intransferable as a credit card or a rock concert ticket”, says the memory. 

“But it is because they are so different that you should compare them, of course. That is how the best dialectics are constructed”. And this bit is said by a different memory. 

It’s this dialectic that I would build now if I were a professional. But all you get is a black page. Make it the next one after this. Imagine a black page in your head. Deep black. The blackness of space. The comparable blackness of the Internet. The black page is a link, to a video complement, and continuation of this review. It is below the next paragraph. 

The black page is an emblem of the work that I carried out here in “von hundert”. It is symbolic of death, annihilation, night. It is emblematic of all the work I carried out here because I have enjoyed all of Laurence Sterne’s “Tristram Shandy” and the version of the enlightenment project it proposes. Reading the book helps you tell the difference between the emblematic and the symbolic, the symbol and its crushingly more powerful “outline.” 

Matthew Burbidge




Suhr, Constanze, “Raumsozialist,” Tip Berlin, No. 08/2013 42, April 4, 2013,

Erik Smith in der Galerie die raum

die raum – so heißt die winzige Galerie in der Oderberger Straße, in der Erik Smith die Duschkabinen in dem geschlossenen Schwimmbad nebenan sichtbar macht
Seit 27 Jahren hat das Schwimmbecken im Stadtbad Oderberger Straße kein Wasser mehr gesehen, dafür aber umso mehr Künstler und Partygänger. Inzwischen wurde das "Volksbad" an die GLS-Sprachenschule verkauft, die nebenan bereits ihren Campus eingerichtet hat. Nach der Sanierung des Schmuckstücks im Neorenaissance-Stil soll das Schwimmbecken – abgesehen von der Einrichtung erwartungsgemäß luxuriöser Hotelzimmer und Seminarräume – wieder aktiviert und an mindestens fünf Tagen zugänglich sein.
Neben dem Stadtbad steht ein schmales Haus. "Mischen Possible" beschrieben die BARarchitekten ihren wegen seiner flexiblen Grundrissgestaltung mit dem Architekturpreis KfW-Award ausgezeichneten Stahlbetonskelettbau mit Fassade aus hochgedämmtem Holzständerwerk. Fünf Wohnungen, fünf Ateliers, im Erdgeschoss ein Lokal und eine Mini-Galerie sind dort untergebracht. Niemand sonst wollte das schmale Grundstück haben, dessen Bebauung einiges an innovativen Ideen erforderte. Ideen benötigen nun auch Lotte Møller und Jesper Dyrehauge, um im fünf Quadratmeter kleinen Betonzimmer Kunst zu präsentieren. Der Raum ist das Thema, so wollten es die Architekten und Eigentümer des Hauses, die diese Galerie zur Verfügung stellen.
Welcher Künstler wäre da für eine Ausstellung geeigneter als der Amerikaner Erik Smith? Seit er 2003 nach seinen Berlinbesuchen in der Chausseestraße hängen geblieben war, durchstreift er die geschichtsträchtigen Brachflächen und stöbert Verschüttetes oder derZerstörung Preisgegebenes auf, um es sichtbar zu machen und ihm Gestalt zu geben.
Diesmal hat er sich Zugang zu den Duschkabinen des Stadtbades verschafft, um von den Abfluss-Hohlräumen und verwitterten Fliesen-Wänden Abgüsse zu machen. Diese stehen nun in dem winzigen Betonraum nebenan als Zeugen ihrer einstigen Funktion, ein Denkmal für einen bald zerstörten Raum voller Geschichte und Atmosphäre.

Constanze Suhr





Batet, Janet, “Erik Smith: arquelogia urbana,” el Nuevo Herald, Artes y Letras, May 27, 2012,

Erik Smith: arqueología urbana.

La obra de Erik Smith, artista estadounidense radicado en Berlín, constituye un empeño de recuperación de la memoria a partir del espacio urbano o, más concretamente, de sus reminiscencias ocultas tras el acelerado y especulativo proceso de destrucción y renovación que tipifica a la urbe contemporánea.

El artista, quien se encuentra actualmente en nuestra ciudad como parte del programa de residencias de Legal Art, está presentando una encomiable muestra en el espacio transitorio de Dimensions Variable, ahora ubicado en 3850 NE Miami Court, en el Design District.

Ante la inminencia de demolición del espacio que albergó Dimensions Vairable desde su fundación, Smith se dedicó la recolección de fragmentos de reminiscencias abandonadas en el lugar que devendrían el material de creación de AABBCCDV, título de la muestra expuesta a menos de 300 pies del espacio originario todavía en ruinas.

Al atravesar el umbral, la primera sala nos sobrecoge por su tono sobrio y ralo, donde destacan tres instalaciones compuestas a partir de fragmentos de piezas ensambladas y pintadas de negro opaco.

Una de ellas llama especialmente la atención. Se trata de una apropiación de una obra de Leyden Rodríguez Casanova que consistía en una maqueta de la casa en el suburbio de Kendal donde Leyden pasó su niñez. Smith arrasó con el alzado de la maqueta, dejando únicamente el rastro a nivel del plano donde todavía es visible la distribución de los espacios. La maqueta, originalmente rosada y ahora pintada de negro deviene negación del espacio, remanente y remembranza a un tiempo.

En la segunda sala, una instalación multimedia parece erigirse en monumento póstumo. En el centro de la sala, la reja blanca retorcida –otrora guardián celoso- yace indefensa, como vestigio del violento acto de destrucción. La secundan algunos discos de vinilo desprovistos de cubierta encontrados también el la galería así como la grabación sonora del acto de aniquilación de Dimensions Variable que como bramido sacude el espacio.

El título de la exposición, AABBCDV tiene una doble connotación. De un lado, juega con la frase sonora típica de las marchas (AABBCCDD). El cambio de la D por V hace referencia a Dimensions Variable (DV) y su ubicación al final de la cadena de causalidades está directamente asociada a la posición de fragilidad de DV dentro del mercado de bienes raíces, marcado por la fluctuación de precios del mercado y la especulación sin importar el componente humano al final de la cadena.

Janet Batet


Tschida, Anna, “Dig into Dimensions Variable’s New Space,” Knight Arts, June 1, 2012,

Dig into Dimensions Variable’s New Space

Berlin has become one of the world’s top art centers, a deserved place that it lost during some dark years in the 20th century. After the horrendous destruction and death of World War II and the debilitating years of the Iron Curtain, when the divided city sat east of the free world, a phoenix rose from the ashes. After 1989, artists from East and West flooded the city, finding affordable studios in buildings that carried incredible history, both good and bad, jump-starting what has become one of the most lively and progressive art scenes.

Erik Smith was one such artist who was drawn to the edgy excitement of Berlin, moving there in 2003. Anyone familiar with that city will know the bullet holes that still pepper some buildings, imprints from war that almost destroyed it; the remnants of the infamous wall; the new construction that constantly reveals much older constructions, from decades and centuries ago. Smith was captured by this, and began excavating a section of a dead-zone —the areas around what once was the Berlin Wall. With a shovel, he dug up an old spiral staircase, bringing back to life something that was literally buried and forgotten.

So what better place to continue his structural and architectural explorations than Miami, a city constantly redefining itself, tearing down and rebuilding in rapid succession? And what better location than the new, but temporary space, of the alternative exhibition gallery, Dimensions Variable (a Knight Arts grantee)? The artist-run gallery was forced out of its old digs on NE 38th Street, as the building that housed both DV and studio spaces is being demolished to make way for up-scale outlets; it’s a Miami tradition.

In its new space, DV is presenting “AABBCCDV,” Smith’s latest line of investigation into urban transformations, which is “a process that is as much about speculative growth and renewal as it is negation and fragmentation.” To that end, Smith works with both the former and current space.

To further the topic of this type of artistic excavation, DV will host a talk among Smith, local artist and urban explorer Adler Guerrier, and the new director of Legal Art, Christopher Cook, next Thursday. It’s a convenient time to check out the new — but likely still on the move, Miami-style — location of Dimensions Variable.

Anna Tschida


Suarez de Jesus, Carlos, “Clandestine in the Open,” Miami New Times, Art Section, May 10-16, 2012, Vol. 27, No.7, p. 30,

Wynwood Art Walk: Clandestine Culture Takes Center Stage
By Carlos Suarez De Jesus Thursday, May 10 2012

Other shows you shouldn't miss this weekend:Dimensions Variable (3850 NE Miami Ct.) is presenting "AABBCCDV," by American-born, Berlin-based Erik Smith, whose project explores the shifting nature of urban landscapes in a near-anthropological fashion.

Last year Smith employed a shovel to excavate a section of the former "death zone" of the Berlin Wall. He unearthed a large spiral staircase and presented it as a sculpture.

Smith, who has been in Miami on an artist's residency, continues his investigation of cities in transition by focusing on the demolition of Dimension Variable's former Design District space, which is being torn down for a new development. "Our building also used to house Locust Projects, the Spinello Gallery, and other artists' studios and exhibition spaces," says Leyden Rodriguez-Casanova, an artist and one of DV's founders.

For his project, Erik strategically placed microphones inside the building to record the sounds of the backhoes razing it to the ground," Rodriguez-Casanova explains. "He also salvaged artworks left behind by former resident artists. He has torn them apart, painted them over, and repurposed them for the exhibit."

One of the artworks Smith is using is a piece that was commissioned by the Miami Art Museum from Rodriguez-Casanova for a group show. "It was an iron-gate wall that was too large for me to carry around anymore, so I left it. I called MAM to see if they wanted it, but they told me no since it was site-specific."

MAM is preparing to move to its new home on the bay, so the discarded gate is an apt reminder of our art scene's rampant evolution.

Smith, who is also creating a limited-edition soundtrack of the site's destruction, hopes to convey a sense of the radical transformation the area has undergone over the past decade. The process is as much "about speculative growth and renewal as it is negation and fragmentation," he says.

Carlos Suarez de Jesus




In 2004, the Berlin Senate commissioned a report on the status of the former "anti-fascist protection rampart," in which it was observed that the control areas around the wall had been left free and now were home to what was called "spontaneous vegetation in the emptiness of the former death strip."  Gardeners call them "volunteers" - plant life that grows up of it's own accord - and in the area just north of Nordbanhof one can still get a sense of this "spontaneity."

This strip of wildness down the center of the city has grown smaller and smaller in recent years.  But there seems to be little or no urban or civic planning involved in this development, leading some urbanists to call these areas "The New Death Strip," as the used-car lots, discount grocery stores, and now condominium developments are established with little broader vision of history or even the future. Paradoxically, because the new structures seem to erase or void the historical and political symbolism of such sites, new buildings full of people seem to actually diminish rather than add.

Skulpturenpark Berlin_Zentrum has, perhaps uniquely, insisted through practice on a kind of cultivation of this "dead zone." But their working area has grown smaller and smaller, increasingly surrounded by new housing developments. 

Against this backdrop, as the city grows up around him, almost overnight, Erik Smith has gone digging. Along a line of different kinds of excavations by Smith, this practice unearthed a structure below the surface: a partial staircase that he has followed down while it has emerged upwards. While the new buildings accumulate, another architecture was produced by Smith, upwards and downwards simultaneously. 

Ash, soot, and ruins where local history and world history meet frequently: which particular fire, particular burial, particular inhabitant and their particular position, function, politics. Not far from where Smith is building, the main symbolic spaces, buildings and scultpures of German nationalism, and all that brings to mind, are being rebuilt. 
I asked Smith if he would go to an archive and make that kind of research - old maps, old records - and he said he would, at some point - a point that keeps being pushed back into the future. Nietzsche wrote of the principle of a limited horizon - a space established in which one is not responsible to answer all questions, to all perspectives, and by holding some questions away, one can learn something else.  In this way, perhaps we can understand that the process of discovery made in situ, with physical persistence has it's own status, and that knowing the "facts" might not help such a kind of discovery, but only interrupt it.

That (now withering) wild streak down the heart of the city was not only a symbol of some possibility, but a still shifting fragment, a question continually posed.  In this case, on the ground, Smith has pried out and held open such a window of uncovering, as if the mechanics of revelation and experience of possibility were not only linked, but could in fact be the basis for their preservation.

Jeremiah Day
November 30th, 2011


Suhr, Constanze, “Bohrend,” Tip Berlin, Nr. 01/2012 41, Dec 22, 2011,

Erik Smith im Skulpturenpark

Der Künstler Erik Smith gräbt auf Berliner Brachen nach histo­rischen Fundstücken.
Vielleicht ist einfach nicht die richtige Jahreszeit, um es zu erkennen. Vielleicht würde eine weiße Schneedecke helfen. Jedenfalls befinden sich in der Mitte Berlins, dort, wo einmal die Mauer eine tiefe Schneise in die Stadt gegraben hatte, noch immer kleine Fleckchen Paradies. Nach und nach verschwinden die Brachen und damit nicht nur die üppigen Pflanzenwelten, sondern auch, im Verborgenen, Stücke der Historie. Der amerikanische Künstler Erik Smith, aus Neugier auf die Kunstszene nach Berlin gereist und seit 2003 "hängen geblieben", machte sich genau dort auf die Suche nach vergessenen Orten. Die geschichtsträchtigen Brachflächen, unter denen die Spuren der Vergangenheit begraben liegen, faszinierten ihn. Er beobachtete, wie diese Brachen nach und nach verschwanden, und verfolgte die Grabungen auf verschiedenen Baustellen. Es wird zugedeckt, Neues errichtet, das Alte im wahrsten Sinne des Wortes zugeschüttet. Doch in dem Prozess werden auch für kurze Zeit unter der Erde versteckte Hohlräume freigelegt. Unsichtbare Räume, die unter unseren Füßen existierten, ohne von uns wahrgenommen zu werden.
Smith will ihnen Gestalt geben, sie sichtbar machen. So auch bei seinen Grabungen auf dem Gelände, das vom Verein KUNSTrePUBLIK seit 2006 unter dem Namen"Skulpturenpark" für künstlerische Interventionen genutzt wird. Smith erwartete lediglich eine Fundamentmauer. Nach zwei Tagen Schaufelarbeit stieß er jedoch auf eine fast intakte gusseiserne Spindeltreppe, ein Bruchstück eines Gebäudes aus dem 19. Jahrhundert, das unter dem einstmaligen "Todesstreifen" vergraben gewesen war. Umgeben von reger Bautätigkeit, liegt der kulturelle Schatz nun frei zur Besichtigung, daneben ein ordentlicher Schutthaufen mit Erdklumpen, die Smith sechs Wochen lang nach oben geschaufelt hat. Nun muss der Künstler bald zusehen, wie sein erschürfter Fund wieder zerstört wird. Die Bagger stehen schon bereit. Im Januar nächsten Jahres soll gebaut werden. Den Hergang seiner Aktion wird Smith im Januar im "Stedefreund" als Diaschau zeigen.

Constanze Suhr


Reichert, Teresa, “Fundstücke der Vergangenheit – Erik Smith’s ‘Test Dig No. 1’” art-in-berlin online magazine, Dec 9, 2011,

Fundstücke der Vergangenheit – Erik Smith’s ‘Test Dig No. 1

Nur durch Zufall stieß der Künstler Erik Smith wie ein Archäologe bei einem unerwarteten Fund auf die Wendeltreppe. Nach Gebäudefundamenten suchte er und fand nach wenigen Tagen des Grabens mit der Schaufel eine abgerundete Mauer. Sein Interesse war geweckt, er grub weiter und entdeckte bald auf eine fast komplett intakte metallene Wendeltreppe, die jedoch deutliche Brandspuren aufwies. Sie ist ein Überbleibsel eines der Häuser, die im 19. Jahrhundert erbaut und Anfang der 1960er Jahre abgerissen wurden, um Platz für den ehemaligen „Todestreifen” auf der Ostseite der Mauer zu schaffen.

„Unearthing history” – so beschreibt Smith sein Interessenfeld. Geschichte ausgraben, wortwörtlich. Seine Fundstücke, metallene Stäbe, eine Schokoladenlikörflasche, sowie ein großer Hügel ausgegrabener Erde und Steinen, wurden neben dem Loch liegen gelassen. Auch in früheren Werken beschäftigte sich der amerikanische Künstler, der seit 2003 in Berlin lebt mit den vergrabenen Erinnerungsstücken der Stadt. So fotografierte er die durch Bauarbeiten temporär freigelegten Fundamente Berlins, die, wenn auch nur zeitweilig, versteckte Spuren der Vergangenheit aufdeckten; oder reproduzierte ausgegrabene Löcher in negativer Form als Betonskulpturen. Die Spurensuche in der Vergangenheit ist ein sich wiederholdendes Konzept seiner Arbeiten, wobei der Zufall oft eine wichtige Rolle spielt. Diese Suche und die spätere Aufbewahrung der Erinnerungsstücke visualisiert Smith durch Fotografien, Skulpturen und Installationen. Seine Werke wurden unter anderem im Appel Center for Centemporary Art in Amsterdam, im New Yorker Sculpture Center und der Berliner Magnus Müller Galerie ausgestellt.

Mit Hilfe von Plänen und Dokumenten wird Smith nun versuchen, die unterirdischen Räume seiner neuesten Ausgrabungsstätte in der Neuen Grünstraße zu rekonstruieren. Eine weitere Idee ist, die kommenden Bauarbeiten zu dokumentieren, so wie er seine eigenen Ausgrabungsversuche dokumentiert hat. Die beiden so verschiedenen Prozesse, sein langsames, vorsichtiges, fast archäologisches Ausgraben mit der Schaufel, will er dem schnellen, unter Zeit- und Gelddruck stehenden kommerziellen und maschinellen Grabens gegenüber stellen. Zu sehen ist das Loch samt Wendeltreppe nur noch diesen Monat, da die Bauarbeiten für das neu entwickelte Baugrundstück ab Januar beginnen sollen. Der Grünstreifen ist eine der wenigen noch verbleibenden leeren Flächen der ehemaligen Grenze, und Teil des Skulpturenparks Berlin. Der Skulpturenpark ist ein Projekt der gemeinnützigen Organisation KUNSTrePUBLIC, die von sechs Künstlern 2006 gegründet wurde. Ortsspezifische Arbeiten, die das Publikum mit einbeziehen, sowie Vorlesungen und Workshops gehören zum Programm des Vereins.

Teresa Reichert


Hard Rock & Soft Power
Research project on Berlin's public art in AIR Berlin Alexanderplatz

Derelict Public Spaces

Martine van Kampen


Excerpt from Day, Jeremiah,“The Use and Abuse of Research for Art and Vice-Versa” in See It Again, Say It Again, Janneke Wesseling (ed.), Amsterdam (Valiz,, 2011.

In the meantime – yesterday I went to help a friend, Erik Smith, by shooting some Super 8 footage of him digging holes in Berlin. It’s a piece of property that’s in limbo – former dead zone from the Wall, but in the last years a group of people have appropriated it as a site for art, calling it Skulpturenpark Berlin. The area they work in gets smaller and smaller as new apartment buildings fill in the gap; soon there will be no space at all. Erik Smith had proposed to the Berlin Senate that he could use sonar to measure the underground structures and gaps, the buried ruins of the site. Smith wanted to make sculptures out of them, to cast the negative space and make positives out of concrete.

But the city declined and so Smith is moving forward on a different scale – digging with a shovel. He’s discovered a whole buried staircase and will soon discover where it leads, descending downwards. Along the way the dirt has turned to ash and chunks of burned wood now come up.

People pass by and mostly ignore him but one man asked what he was doing. When told it was an art project the man asked, “does art have some relationship to archeology?” Smith replied, “I guess it can.”

Indeed – there is some relation.

But when I asked Smith if he knows what the structure he’s discovered was - was it a home, or an office? Was it bombed or just burned down? Who lived there, what happened to them? This is Berlin after all, where local history and world history meet frequently: did the owner die in the camps, or perhaps help organize them?

Smith replied he has plans to go to the state archive for that kind of information, but he keeps delaying the trip. He prefers to sustain the period of this kind of discovery, through digging, attending to the soil and ash, in which a different kind of information is possible, one that is not axiomatic or verifiable. As the real estate developers build all around him, Smith produces an architecture as well, the staircase downward emerging.

I believe as Smith’s staircase becomes visible it will attract more passerby’s, and it will become his, not just the staircase of some former owners. By not knowing the “truth,” Smith’s act can become a kind of “fiction” – back to the root of that word, a shaping of circumstance, the transformation that gives art it’s own status, claims, questions.

Perhaps Smith’s decision not to go to the archive (yet) is like what Nietzsche called the choice of a “limited horizon” in which not all questions have to be faced, in which one does not need to be responsible to all perspectives, to preserve the space for “becoming.”

In any case, this “investigatory poetics” does not depend upon the academy or EARN or even “artistic research” – but it does merit our support. In this way, the efforts of the new field of research in art could shake off the dust of academism and the false sense of purpose of bureaucracy, and instead actively foster those who dig in the ash and the dirt, who insist on and demonstrate art’s capacity to wrestle with broader questions and concerns, to have some stake and status (and not just a function.)

Jeremiah Day


Knight, Ben, “Digging Up Artistic Berlin,” The Local, Germany Edition,

Is Berlin really the artistic utopia everyone says? In a new series, The Local's Ben Knight talks to artists who have moved to Germany’s capital to channel the city’s muse. American artist Erik Smith found inspiration in the city's soil.

It might not seem that way, but in among the cafes, nightclubs and vintage clothes shops of Berlin’s booming Kreuzberg district, there are still a few patches of wasteland. They are gloomy places, not much more than awkward, deserted squares of broken cement and grassy outcroppings where people walk their dogs or indulge in a few lonely, contemplative drinks.

What you don’t necessarily expect to come across on a steely grey November afternoon is a solitary American digging a hole in the ground, looking for where his new sculpture might be buried.

Erik Smith, who grew up in Colorado and lived in California before moving to Berlin nine years ago, is creating his latest work in what is known as Skulpturenpark Berlin Zentrum. This five-hectare “Sculpture Park” was founded by five artists in 2006 as a temporary project to fill one of the many still-unused plots of land vacated by the Berlin Wall over two decades ago. The owners are planning to develop the property, the main part of which was recently bulldozed to make way for new condos, but for now, it is still an artist's stomping ground.

But while other artists transported their magnum opuses to Skulpturenpark, or constructed them on site, Smith decided to see what secrets the park itself had, and dug his creation out of the ground. What he found was a spiral staircase made of cast-iron encased in a cylindrical brick wall with narrow openings on both sides. The work, entitled Test Dig No. 1, is being opened to the public on December 4.

After scouring city archives, Smith realized that he had found the remains of what seemed to be a residential building built just after Berlin’s Gründerzeit in the mid-19th century.

“This is typical of a lot of vacant sites around Berlin,” says Smith. “You have all these structures of these former buildings still embedded in the earth.”

But Smith’s interest is not just archaeological. He calls it an exploratory search, an open-ended project on the theme of memory and the city, rather than a historical investigation. It’s the essential unknowability of his find - the fact that he will never know exactly what those stairs were used for, or what it felt like to be in that space - that most intrigues him.

“It’s a kind of charged anonymity – not anonymity in a negative sense, but somehow compelling because it’s this thing you can never quite make out,” he says.

“For me it was a very methodical, almost meditative, but also an adventure. I had no idea what I was coming into contact with.”

One man and his dog

For an artist interested in such themes, Berlin is obviously fertile ground, but the city offers other advantages too. It is perhaps characteristic of Berlin that Smith’s mysterious behaviour attracted little attention from passers-by.

I only had one person come up to me and ask me what I was doing,” he says. “I think he’d probably been walking his dog here for a number of years. He asked me whether it had something to do with archaeology, and my response was, ‘Yeah, I guess it probably does.’”

Smith is in the middle of a Berlin phase. Like Test Dig, many of his recent projects have evolved out of seeing the city’s many empty spaces slowly being filled in “in a way that sweeps aside the history.”

In is previous work, Naked Cities, involved taking a series of pictures of what he called “transitional zones” – areas temporarily exposed by new construction – and pasting them billboard-sized to adjacent buildings around the city, while another work, Buried Sculpture, is an as-of-yet unrealized proposal for casting concrete sculptures from concealed underground spaces.

“The idea is to evoke a life-cycle of architecture by conflating existing buildings with scenes of structural decay,” Smith’s website declares.

This focus on literally excavating a city is new for Smith, whose previous work in California was more about reconfiguring pop cultural history – for instance by making hand-cast records of existing pop albums that then play back a modified version of the original. But when he first saw the city in the late 1990s, Berlin provided different inspiration.

He found Berlin’s sheer physical presence impressive. “I liked the scale of the city, the size of the streets,” he says. “There was an immensity to it that was very appealing. It wasn’t cramped, there were lots of vacant spaces. It was a bit of a city of ghosts in a way. It still seems permanently unfinished.”

The downside of hype

But in terms of an artistic community, Smith was a little disappointed in Berlin at first. “It was still more interesting than San Francisco, but in terms of what the scene offered, the reality didn’t quite live up to the hype,” he says. Recently, though, the city has caught up with its own hype.

“Over the last five, six years, but especially in the last two or three, it’s found another gear. It’s become far more international. Because it’s still a relatively inexpensive place to live it’s drawn a lot of creative types, and that’s snowballed.”

The influx of artists from all over the world has brought many changes. The English language has become more dominant, for one thing.

“It’s easy to organize exhibitions, because there’s a certain kind of attitude, a certain interest here, and spaces are still relatively available to a variety of different projects,” he says. “Not all of them are that interesting, and maybe the downside is that it’s become too much of a party scene. And become more market-driven.”

At the moment, Smith is thinking of turning Test Dig into a book presenting the progress of the dig, or even a gallery installation that references the staircase using materials from the site.

Either way, he has no particular intention of leaving his Berlin base, though he will be taking his urban explorations to Florida and Utrecht in the Netherlands next year. The world, after all, is full of fascinating wasteland.

Ben Knight




Kasper, Chris, “Whitehot July 2008: Tom Burr Addict Love & In Practice,” Whitehot Magazine, July, 2008,

"New In Practice Projects, Winter 2008," Whitehot Magazine: Entering the courtyard of the Sculpture Center, we are confronted by Erik Smith's work, Who, Among You, Deserves Eternal Life?, 2008. The work consists of two totaled cars, one black, one white. They are full-sized late 1970s to 1980s sedans. The black car greets the viewer entering the space, and gives the courtyard the impression of being a temporary parking space for someone working on their broken down car. Moving towards the white car, it appears that, perhaps the Sculpture Center might have rented out their courtyard space as a small junkyard. These perceptions precede the play of black and white between the two automobiles; black and white, signifying good guy/ bad guy, positive/ negative, yin/yang, etc. Moving in to get a better look at the cars, the violence that each of these objects, and likely, their drivers, experienced becomes apparent. The title of the work implies that at least one of these drivers met with their fatality and has embarked in the eternal life (in heaven or hell?). The physical wrecked cars produces a much more visceral response than Warhol's cool, distanced images of car wrecks, and even more so than Charles Ray'sUnpainted Sculpture. The effect Smith's work has is at first glance humorous, yet upon closer examination, strikingly somber.

Chris Kaspar




Excerpt from Lesourd, Elodie, "Baptism or Death," Helvete: A Journal of Black Metal Theory, Incipit Issue,Wintter 2013,

From the image to the message, the lyrics have to become an object to manipulate. They are the voice incarnated. Even if melody foregoes speech, the lyrics are the body of the music. When the music stops, words stay. Moreover, words may also be visual objects, and artists are very adept at playing with semantics. Considered as elements inherent to this music, sound, and content, they are logically in the grip of artists’ creative will. The lyrics of Darkthrone, Emperor, Absu, or Bethlehem are the subject of a drawing series shown in Erik Smith’s installation The Ghost of James Lee Byars Calling (2006-7) [Figure 2]. This very clever work is a confrontation between art and history through James Lee Byars’ figure, “the artist-apostle devoted to the faith’s paradoxes,” and the history of popular culture through its darkest side. In a strong symbolic game, we come across essential visual elements such as the pentagram. The use of words in an artwork is a first step to abstraction. Words themselves could be considered as geometrical forms, but charged with powerful meanings. In order to understand the uses of these (sometimes cabalistic) signs and to reveal what is hidden, it is central to appeal to a hermeneutic.

Elodie Lesourd


Mirschel, Markus. “The Ghost of James Lee Byars Calling,” Legacy, 03/2006, Nr. 43, Juni/Juli, p.66.

James Lee Byars

The Ghost of James Lee Byars Calling

Der Tod, wohl eine der am häufigsten gebrachten Thematiken der künstlerischen Sphären. Sei es der Lebenskünstler, der an der Liebe zerbricht und den Tod herbeisehnt, seien es Musiker, die angetrieben vom Vergehen und Werden, teils sinnliche, teils zerstörerische Melodien zu Papier bringen oder der bildende Künstler, der versucht, dem Tod ein Gesicht zu geben. Viele Versuche und diverse Wege. Wo viele Wege begangen werden, kommt es zu Überschneidungen, Kunst entwickelt sich weiter und beeinflusst new. Erik Smith, studierter Literaturwissenschaftler und Konzeptkünstler aus den Vereinigten Staaten, studierte an der Üniversität in Michigan und lebte lange Zeit in San Francisco, wo er schon seine eigene Ausstellungen hatte. In der in Berlin ansässigen Kapinos Galerie setzt er sich in seiner aktuellen Ausstellung mit dem Vermächtnis des 1997 verstorbenen J.L. Byars auseinander und hat dabei eine interessante Überschneidung zwischen dem Nihilismus J.L. Byars, seiner Auseinandersetzung mit der Thematik Tod und den morbiden Facetten im Black Metal aufgetan. "Byars does Black Metal und Black Metal does Byars" lauten die Parallelen, so Erik Smith. Amerika kennt er, New York, San Francisco, aber auch Italien, doch gerade in Berlin ist die Kunstszene jung und frisch, schlichtweg eine der wichtigsten internationalen Städte für Zeitgenössiche Kunst, beschreibt er seine Entscheidung, gerade in Deutschland Kunst zu machen. Selber ein Fan der härteren musikalischen Gangart, hat ihn gerade das Thema "Metal vs. Byars" gereizt, das Mystische, der greifbare Hang zu dramatischen, selbstdarstellerischen Mitteln beider Kunstinterpretationen. J.L. Byars, der in Hunderten Nachrichten an Bekannte wie Joseph Beuys eine von Pentagrammen nur so strotzende Symbolschrift verwendete, liebte die schwarze (Nicht-) Farbe mit ihrer Ausdruckskraft oder stand um Mitternacht vor dem Kölner Dom und rezitierte Faust, eingehüllt in dei Symbolik der dreifachen Sechs. Erik Smith nimmt sich dieser Symbolik an und vermischt die Bedeutungen, die Pentagramme, die Zahl 666, das Schwarze und Songtexte verschiedenster Black Metal-Bands in ihrem Ausdruck miteinander. So wird in der Ausstellung eine Symbiose zu sehen sein, eine Verbindung beider Einflüsse. Texte aus dem Black Metal werden mit der Kunstschrift J.L. Byars neu erschaffen und dann in schwarzem Zeichnungen auf schwarzem Untergrund zu sehen sein, alles in einer überdimensioniertem Größe, und die Erhabenheit ist perfekt. Neben den eher klassischen Elementen einer Galerie wird es auch Fanzine zur Ausstellung geben. Ein Sammelsurium an Collagen, Eindrücken zur Arbeit J.L. Byars, die in der Symbolik des Black Metals angesiedelt sind und mit Live-Bildern verschiedenster Metal-Bands arrangiert werden. Eine schaurige schöne Kombination aus Lyrik, Bild und Symbol, um mit der Sprache der Metal-Szene und J.L. Byars zu sprechen und diese auf eine andere Ebene zu heben. Hier lag auch einer der Reizpunkte an diesem Projekt, hinein in den Under-ground, hinein in die Szene, nicht nur in Berlin. Schon allein das Beschaffen der Bilderrahmen steigerte sich zu einem Event, das Feilschem um die schwarzen Hölzstücke mit einem türkischem Antiquitätenhändler macht den Reiz aus, sich in den unterschiedlichsten sozialen und kulturellen Schichten zu bewegen. Ein Puzzlespiel, das ein Gesamtbild ergeben soll. Vergleichbar mit dem Anspruch des Projekts an sich. Eintauchen in die Atmosphere . Was ihn besonders erstaunt hat, sind auch die unterschiedlichsten Kontake in den Underground der Musikszene in Berlin sowie zu den Bands, die er für sein Projekt versuchte zu begeistern. Neben den Bildern der Konzerte ging es Erik Smith auch um ein auf der Gendankenwelt J.L. Byars basierendes Soundfragment, das er die Bands bat auf der Bühne zu performen."Perfect is My Death Word" ein gedanklicher Dreh- und Angelpunkt, ausdrücksstark, sowohl für die Arbeiten von J.L. Byars als auch für den Anspruch, die Aussage verschiedenster Metal-Act. Bands wie Blodsrit oder Cryptosy waren von den Projekt begeistert und erklärten sich schnell bereit, ihrem Teil beizusteuren. Richtig eingebaut, inmitten des Liedes, bekam der Satz die entsprechende Atmosphäre, und das Konzert wurde direkt Bestandteil einer Kunstperformance. Die aufgenommene Passage "Perfect is My Death Word" soll in der Ausstellung nach einer gut zwanzigminutigen Stille aus einer Boxeninstallation die Ruhe der Galerie zerstörten und den Besucher aus seiner Lethargie reißen. Als Endschlossscheife gedacht, soll trotz allendem immer ausreichen Raum bleiben, um seinen eigenen Gedanken nachzugehen. Ebenso wie J.L. Byars, der auch als "Meister der Stille" bekannt geworden ist und mit akzentuierten Kunstobjekten, Skulpturen und Rauminstallationen arbeitete, will Erik Smith einen Raum, in dem die "Schwarze Kunst" in der Ruhe installiert ist, aber die Kunst ist in Bewegung, sie soll durchgebrochen werden, eben in zwanzigminutigen Takt. So vielseitig die Parallelen auch sind, so vielsichtige sind doch die eigenen Assoziationen, die ein jeder bei der Auseinandersetzung mit dem Tod hat. Die Intention: einen Anstoß geben, aber nicht vorweg nehmen. Eine Mixtur aus philosophischen Ansätzen, musikalischen Fragmenten und bildender Kunst. Wer in die Welt der Symbolik eintauchen, sich einen Eindruck verschaffen will, sehen will, wie das Schwarze der eigene Seele mit dem Tod harmoniert, der kann dies noch bis zum 15. Juni in der Kapinos Galerie in Berlin-Mitte tun. Eine spannende Reise in eine morbide Welt der Zeichnungen, der Musik und der Kunst.

Markus Mirschel


Ars brevis vita longa

D’origine américaine, Erik Smith vit et travaille en tant qu’artiste à Berlin depuis 2002. Ses installations, sculptures et photographies explorent souvent les limites et la complexité des sujets traitant de culture au sens large du terme et de la portée des événements historiques. Il a montré son travail dans de nombreuses galeries en Europe et aux Etats-Unis et notamment à la galerie Kapinos à Berlin, à la Rena Bransten Gallery de San Francisco. Parmi ses expositions muséales et insititutionnelles les plus récentes figurent "Who, Among You, Deserves Eternal Life?" au Sculpture Center, LIC, New York, et "The Ghost of James Lee Byars Calling" au De Appel Center for Contemporary Art d’Amsterdam. Erik Smith travaille actuellement à l’élaboration d’une installation monumentale pour l’espace publique de Berlin.

1- Pourriez-vous décrire votre oeuvre?
Il s’agit d’un dessin réalisé au charbon sur un mouchoir en papier noir plié. Ce travail fait partie d’une série de dessins qui appartiennent eux-mêmes à un projet plus large intitulé The Ghost of James Lee Byars Calling (2006-7). Ce travail important regroupe des installations, des sculptures, des performances, de la vidéo, du son et des éditions.

2- Quelles sont les références auxquelles vous faites appel?
Le projet fusionne le travail de James Lee Byars (1932-1997) – artiste de performance internationalement reconnu – avec le royaume underground du Black Metal. Les dessins recréent les lettres que Byars écrivait avec son écriture si particulière et envoyait ensuite à ses amis, ses collectionneurs et ses collègues artistes parmi lesquels Beuys. Mais dans mon travail, les observations philosophiques de Byars sont remplacées par les paroles viscérales de divers groupe de Black Metal. L’idée consiste à coupler la contemplation réflective de Byars à la violence et la destruction célébrée dans le Black Metal.

3- De quelle manière aimeriez-vous que votre oeuvre soit perçue?
Comme une étude culturelle absurde qui prendrait pour thématique les contrastes entre le langage de Byars et celui du Black Metal. Bien qu’objectivement opposés, ces deux lanagages partagent certaines caractéristiques fondamentales comme de forts intérêts pour la théâtralité, le noir et le thème de la mort. Je trouve cela à la fois intéressant et drôle de constater que deux expressions aussi différentes reposent sur quelques thèmes et éléments semblables et, en même temps, que leur signification soit si éloignée l’une de l’autre. Le projet ne porte pas tant sur Byars ou le Black Metal per se, mais plutôt sur l’exploration de relations paradoxales de l’espace hybride et indéfinissable qui résulte de leur juxtaposition.

4- Quelle est la part intime de votre oeuvre?
L’atmosphère qu’elle cherche à créer.

jusqu’au 18 avril 2010
Erik Smith – Black Mirror
Centre d’Art scénique contemporain
Rue de Genève 57
CH-1004 Lausanne
T. +41 21 625 11 36

Could you describe your work?
They are a series of drawings—black charcoal on folded black tissue paper—and part of a larger project, The Ghost of James Lee Byars Calling (2006-7), involving installation, sculpture, performance, video, and sound and print editions.

What are you referring to?
What are the references enclosed in your work? The project fuses the work of the internationally renowned performance and conceptual artist James Lee Byars (1932-1997) with the underground realm of Black Metal music. The drawings recreate the letters Byars wrote in his distinctive, ornate handwriting, and regularly sent to friends, collectors, and fellow artists including Joseph Beuys and others. But here Byars’ often philosophical observations are replaced by the visceral lyrics of various Black Metal bands. The idea was to pair reflective contemplation (Byars) with violence and destruction (Black Metal).

How would you like your artwork to be read or felt by the audience?
What would be the best reading of it (if there is one)? As a kind of absurdist cultural study between the contrasting "languages" of Byars and Black Metal. Ostensible opposites, they nonetheless share certain fundamental characteristics including strong interests in theatricality, the color black, and themes of death. I found it both interesting and humorous how such opposites were based on some of the same basic themes and, at the same time, how these themes could be charged with such different meaning. The project is not so much about Byars or Black Metal per se, rather it’s about exploring the kinds of paradoxical relationships and undefinable hybrid space that result from their collaging.

What is the most personal part of this artwork?
The atmosphere it seeks to create.


Tentoonstelling: kunst voor metal fans
In galerie De Appel in Amsterdam zijn momenteel twee tentoonstellingen te zien, die interessant zijn voor metal fans. Aan één ervan werkte de Nederlandse black metal band Sammath mee.

Erik Smith
Daarnaast heeft De Appel de Duitse kunstenaar Erik Smith uitgenodigd om een ruimte in te richten. Smith creëerde een lege, geheel verdonkerde zaal met een zwarte bol in het midden. In de hoek staan grote versterkers opgesteld, waaruit gedurende zo'n twintig minuten noise te horen is. Dan klinkt er plots een kort fragment van de Zweedse band Blodsrit, dat door de hele galerie heen dendert. De kunstenaar had Blodsrit gevraagd dit fragment eenmalig toe te voegen aan een optreden, zodat hij er gebruik van kon maken tijdens deze tentoonstelling.

Naast Blodsrit, heeft de kunstenaar ook de Nederlandse black metal bandSammath gevraagd om mee te werken aan de tentoonstelling. Tijdens de opening deed Sammath namelijk een optreden/performance in de geheel verduisterde zaal. Na twintig minuten noise en gitaar-improvisatie hoorden de aanwezigen echter niet het fragment van Blodsrit, maar beukte Sammath er plotseling een genadeloos hard black metal nummer uit. Vooraf hadden de toeschouwers in het schemerduister wel silhouetten met lang haar en gitaren gezien, maar ze schrokken zich natuurlijk rot, toen er ineens een oorverdovende black metal orkaan losbarste. De argeloze kunstminnaars wisten niet goed wat ze hiermee aan moesten en keken elkaar onzeker glimlachend aan. Maar ook hier snapte de echte metal fan wel wat er aan de hand was, en wist ook wat de gepast reactie was: headbangen! Het was een bijzondere ervaring om in het pikkedonker zulke knalharde black metal te horen. Over twee weken herhaalt Sammath de performance tijdens een tentoonstelling in Berlijn en in augustus gaan ze zelfs richting New York.







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