Simon Menner: Images from the STASI Secret Archives (Berlin)

As recently announced at Wartist, from 17 January until 3 March 2011, Simon Menner presents “Images from the Secret STASI Archives”1 as part of the exhibition series “Rendezvous mit Kunst” (meeting with art)  at Berlin’s restaurant Diekmann. The exhibition of 26 authentic photographs is part of a bigger cycle that the artist selected from images he was being provided by the Bundesbeauftragten für die Unterlagen des Staatssicherheitsdienstes der ehemaligen Deutschen Demokratischen Republik(BStU)2.

The photos express the view of the East German surveillance instrument: “There are many pictured made by the Staatssicherheit, but I did not know any of them”, Menner said. Based on his interest, a screening and selection project resulted; at its end, the artist, born in 1978, pooled the chosen images in several groups. Generally, there is educational material and documentation.

In the first segment, there are e.g. instructions for dressing up, how to affix fake beards, to learn secret signs or to hide a video camera. While viewers often amuse themselves about the bizarre and obvious “disguises”, Menner remembers the ugly aspects of reality during today’s opening: “Now, we laugh about the pictures, but once, the terror was real.”

The second, documenting group is quite multifaceted: pictures of observing people or post boxes, of embassy entrances or receptions, of pieces of evidence or searched flats. There are also Polaroids, made before a room was searched or bugging devices were placed; thereafter, the room and its furnishings could be returned to their “original state” for their users. This violation of one’s private sphere is giving the creeps: the unmade bed, the view into the living room cabinet with its alcoholic beverages, “4711” perfume from the West, a “Jerry Cotton” dime novel in a drawer, posters of “Madonna” or chocolate bar wrappings from the West put on the walls of teenage bedrooms.

The banality of terror becomes clear, too. Again and again, the same post box; everybody who dropped a letter was photographed: children, adults, an elderly women. Between all these post box photos, there are two images of guinea pigs on the film; obviously, the photographer did like them.

There are also pictures of personnel of the Allied Military Liaison Missions who themselves take photos of their photographers. “I think they are utterly bizarre – and the information content is close to zero”, Menner stated.

The issue of an oppressive regime’s view is central for the artist, who has been decorated with the IBB Photopreis 2009 (IBB Photo Award): “How does terror work? (…) Terror works best when it happens in hiding while you still know that it is there.”

The story behind the pictures remains hidden for both the artist and the viewer, not just because of right of privacy. But the insight into a regime’s methods still has an effect, not the least due to the simple and documentary approach – less than a quarter of a century ago, it was the bitter reality in one part of Germany.

Simon Menner: “Bilder aus den geheimen Archiven der Staatssicherheit”

17. Januar bis 3. März 2011 

Restaurant Diekmann

Meinekestr. 7

10719 Berlin-Charlottenburg


Mo-Sa 1200-0100h, Su 1800-0100h

  1. Stasi is the short form of “(Ministerium für) Staatssicherheit” ((Ministry for) State Security), the East-German state security service.
  2. Federal Commissioner for the Stasi Archives

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