“When they asked me to do something about the Berlin Wall, I said ‘Why? Everyone in town is talking about this.’ But then I thought back to how I used to have coffee atmy friend’s place. His apartment was right next to the wall. And we would sit there and look out of the window to the death strip and it would be the most normal thing in the world. And that is what shocked me,” says Yadegar Asisi, artist and creator of The Wall panorama at checkpoint Charlie and many others.
Born in Vienna from Persian parents, Asisi grew up in socialist East Germany, but since he was a foreigner, he had the right to move from East to West when he had finished his studies in Dresden. “When the wall came down, all of a sudden heroes came out of everywhere. But when the wall was there, we ate and slept and lived normal lives right next to it, without looking. So that became my message with the panorama. Not about how ugly the wall was, but to make people think, what would I have done?”
Asisi’s panorama became a view of the wall on an ordinary November day in 1980, when people were going around doing their business, the radio was giving the weather forecast and slowly the day turns into night. When Michelle Obama went to Berlin, this panorama was one of three places she went to visit. And it’s easy to see why. The images of city life, put together with the personal stories of hundreds of people who send in their daily life pictures – some even getting married in front of the wall – makefor powerful reflection.
This original look at historical events is Asisi’s trademark. He became a panorama artist by accident, and, he says, because it became possible to print huge canvasses. While the historical panoramas used to be hand painted, Asisi and his team use new technology. This enables them to also create light and sound with the picture. “Peopleoften think that the panorama was forgotten in the 20th century, which is not true. There were always panoramas in China and Korea and they have fantastic artists there,” he told hiEurope in his office in Berlin, which features huge pictures of some of his works. “There are so many uses for these panoramas. In1995, when they were rebuilding big parts of Berlin, we made these structures in the middle of town. There people could go inside and see what the city would look like in 2005, once the buildings were finished. “
Every panorama he has made since, has attracted many more visitors that he imagined. “When we made an expedition in Himalaya in a former gas tank in Leipzig, half a million people came,” he says. And as the panoramas developed, so did the ideas. “We just made the Titanic, the theme was the promise of modernity. At the exhibition, you just see all these posters promising how this was going to be the greatest ship. Then, when you go inside and just see the wreck at the bottom of the sea, it’s very powerful.”
Asisi spends years creating a panorama and this process involves many discussions with historians or other experts. For his biggest work to date, the Pergamon,which he made with Berlin’s museum by that name, he travelled to Turkey and had actors walking around in ancient robes. “The first thing after the idea, is to find the point. I need to know where people will stand when they see the panorama. After that, there is a long process of painting and research.”
Last year, his research took him to the Antartic. For a panorama which will come to Hanover at the end of 2017, he went to the Amazon. Asisi says he likes doing nature. “Van Gogh once said, ‘Every haystack is a universe.’ We did a panorama of the Great Barrier Reef of Australia. And in fact, in our panorama you can see very far, much further than when you would be diving under water yourself.”
There are ideas enough for the future. Asisi says he needs to do a panorama of Persepolis once, the capital of Iran until it was destroyed by Alexander the Great. He is also working on reworked version of Pergamon, and Egypt and Babylon are also on his wish list. “A panorama is what brings history to life. Scientists create distance to these places. We like to bring it up close.”
Asisi’s panorama’s are in Berlin, Dresden and Leipzig, among other places. See the complete collection at: