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The Drop Out

On how E-Werk in Luckenwalde opened a much needed space to process emotions and foster political agency in Germany.

  • May 28 2024
  • Dalia Maini
    is a writer, editor and urban mermaid.

There is an increasing necessity for grieving, which is being denied to the social body in public spaces and cultural institutions. This is especially true in Germany. In this overwhelmingly repressive and overemotionalized climate, anyone actively opposing state-level, unquestioning support for the State of Israel faces numerous obstacles to cultural participation. These obstacles include censorship, defamation, state-led physical assault, and more intimate forms of personal exhaustion. The increasingly unhinged and reactionary German state is demonstrating its inability to integrate the material experiences of the multiple identities living in the country into its cultural agendas. Museums and other cultural institutions are flashpoints in this larger state-led fight against basic forms of free expression ostensibly protected in the Grundgesetz, or ‘Basic Law,’ of the Federal Republic of Germany.

Against this backdrop, on the third and fourth of May, E-Werk Luckenwalde held space for the festival The Drop Out: Tell Them I Said No. The program, co-curated by Katharina Worf and Helen Turner, aimed to deepen the practices of resistance in cultural spaces, engaging with notions of economic self-sufficiency as well as the political connotations of ‘countercultures’ in moments of political tension and artistic repression. The festival showcased a lineup of artists, writers, and curators from both the international stage and the local scene, including Lauryn Youden, Fatoş Üstek, Melanie James Wolf, Prem Krishnamurthy, and the activist and artist collective Pussy Riot. This promised the audience a delicate rollercoaster of sensorial and mnemonic evocations around grief, vulnerability, and political consciousness. The festival felt like an oasis in which to openly process and balance the current state of political violence and cultural repression fomented in Germany.


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The workshop Some Were Carried and Some Were Dragged (perhaps unsurprisingly on body dragging) was conducted by Fernanda Muñoz and Eglė Budvytytė. The practice of dragging, extensively explored by Budvytytė, assumed a different connotation when considered in light of the images of protestors being removed by police from sit-ins, camps, and demonstrations. The workshop began with a slow build-up to make participants acquainted with the experience of being moved horizontally. It served for me to preempt the experience, to learn how not to resist the traction, and to let go of body movement autonomy—an example of resilience when thinking about the violent disruption of choreographies of solidarity on the streets.

After the participatory somatic experience with Fernanda Muñoz, the Turbine Hall of E-Werk hosted SERAFINE1369’s IV performance, a one-hour dance piece wherein four dancers were animated every minute by a synchronized clock and deep bass music. The clock dictated the intervals between free movements and restful stillness. The performance broke down cycles of time into bits on the score, leading to a reflection on the linearization of time, the expenditure of time, and the ways in which forms of capitalism operationalize time, inducing stress and burnout. The dancers, following their own pace and fluidities, created temporal experiences that questioned the influence of the quantification of time on the body's interaction with spaces and emotions. Ultimately, the performance created a geography released from a production-driven engagement with the present, in exchange for a more thoughtful conception of the future.


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Energized by SERAFINE1369, the program unfolded in a discursive manner through Artists Against Repression, a conversation convened by Candice Breitz, Zoë Claire Miller, and Lamis Ammar. The panel addressed at different levels the German pledge of unconditional solidarity to the State of Israel—a pledge to which they did not comply. During the panel, they disentangled antisemitism from Palestinian rights demands, articulating a distinction between Jewish identity and the nation-state of Israel. While unpacking the techniques deployed by the German state to cast Jewish identity in the role of the eternal victim (of Germany), the panel also discussed the longstanding leftist position of ‘PEP’: Progressiveness Except for Palestine, which haunts German cultural institutions, even those theoretically dedicated to decolonialism, as a ghost of selective memory politics. Later, the panel invited artists to radically shift their relationship to cultural production, to embrace living and embodying the values they craft into their artistic practices by moving away from the realm of the symbolic to join a more urgent struggle: demanding rights and liberation for Palestinians.


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In a calm and attentive atmosphere, this conversation raised the question of the autonomy of artistic spaces within a cultural system that, for the majority, relies on state funding. This discussion shed light on the responsibility of art spaces such as E-Werk—partially independent due to its status as a functioning power station—to amplify and preserve freedom of speech in a highly surveilled historic moment by offering different economic models for cultural institutions. This observation was not only highly educational for people who may still face difficulties articulating their perspectives on the genocide, but it also offered an opportunity for viable conjunction between the often distinct spaces of art and activism.


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On a somber afternoon, the space of the Stadtbad, the former municipal swimming pool of Luckenwalde, became a resonating chamber for a poignant vocal performance by interdisciplinary artist Abbas Zahedi. Titled Rose and STEMM, the affecting spoken word piece performed by the artist, accompanied by a misty atmosphere, solicited images of displacement and feelings of homesickness, pointing to the question of artistic belonging in the tokenizing and heavily commodified art market. In his spoken flow, Zahedi reflected on the unrelatability of migrants' experiences and the lack of space for visiblized suffering by Arabs and Muslims in Western formally democratic systems. His speech, trembling but assertive, often returned to the image of lemons as catalysts of grief, leaving the audience rapt in states of empathy and reflection.


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The last offering of the program I experienced was the breathtaking and dignified lecture performance Aster of Ceremony by JJJJJerome Ellis. His voice served as a conduit for his ancestors to express the legacy of Black disabled people, reclaiming their freedom and lives. The poet makes his stuttering a ritualistic tool to summon the gaps in Black history that persist into the present. The moments of silence that intersperse his speech mark the absence of the lives truncated by the slave trade. Ellis filled the sonic space with verbal expressions and notes blown in the air from his saxophone or played on a piano, thus broadening the spectrum of intertextual registers of historical significance. The gravity of his presence on the stage induced a reflection on compensation and which tools need to be employed to attend to what is missing, hidden, obscured, or stuck in the depths of history.


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Overall, the event at E-Werk was exactly what someone like me needed: a massage to all the parts of my body and mind to release the tiredness shared with those who are centering the struggle for justice for Palestine in their lives. The Drop Out was an example of how much a day can reveal about how a free cultural system can operate: providing space and respect to everyone, prioritizing the most vulnerable, and offering inspiration through the plurality of perspectives, all while inviting self-reflection on the role of the individual and the rights to mourn and reclaim political agency. If more programs like The Drop Out were offered to citizens, especially those working in and around artistic resistance as communitarian empowerment, surely we would move towards a healthier political and emotional environment, one where memories could be formed in relation to each other, not weaponized to pit one against another.



The Drop Out: Tell Them I Said No at E-WERK Luckenwalde in 2024 

Supported by the Kulturstiftung des Bundes (German Federal Cultural Foundation), Beauftragte der Bundesregierung für Kultur und Medien (Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media, Canada Council for the Arts and the City of Luckenwalde

Programme partners included: FRANK - Fair Artist Pay and Gallery Climate Coalition. 

Co-curated by Katharina Worf and Helen Turner.

With programme support by Florine Lindner and Alison Midgley.



    Cover, fig. 1Dragging Workshop by Eglė Budvytytė in collaboration Fernanda Muñoz-Newsome , 3 and 4 May 2024, E-WERK Luckenwalde, Presented as part of The Drop Out: Tell them I said No, Photo by Stefan Korte.

    fig. 2: SERAFINE1369, IV, 4 May 2024, E-WERK Luckenwalde. Presented as part of The Drop Out: Tell them I said No, Photo by Stefan Korte.

    fig. 3: A conversation between artist Candice Breitz, Lamis Ammar, actress and artist, curator and activist Zoë Claire Miller, 4 May 2024, E-WERK Luckenwalde. Presented as part of The Drop Out: Tell them I said No, Photo by Stefan Korte.

    fig. 4, 5: Abbas Zahedi feat. abbzah, bill dags & Saint Abdullah, rose & STEMM (E-WERK remix), 4 May 2024, E-WERK Luckenwalde. Presented as part of ‘The Drop Out: Tell them I said No’, Photo by Stefan Korte.

    fig. 6: JJJJJerome Ellis, Aster of Ceremonies, 4 May 2024, E-WERK Luckenwalde. Presented as part of The Drop Out: Tell them I said No, Photo by Stefan Korte.



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