ZKM | Museum of Contemporary Art, 09|17|2011 – 02|05|2012
Life Worlds and Image Worlds

A Piece of German Culture - Yara El-Sherbini’s Weather Houses


Yara El-Sherbini at the Christmas Market in Karlsruhe. CLICK IMAGE TO OPEN GALLERY. All images: Joe Miletzki. © ZKM

Yara El-Sherbini, the British artist-in-residence, constructs fake bombs from prayer rugs, and is a passionate poser of unconventional quiz questions. In Karlsruhe, it was not only the souvenir shops, but also the density of doner kebab joints which became apparent to her. Last Saturday, she sold the result of her work – a modernized weather house – at the Karlsruhe Christmas Market.

FS: How did you find out about traditional German weather houses? I ask because before becoming aware of your project I had never set eyes on one.

YES: May I ask, are you German?

FS: Yes, I am German.

YES: That makes it even more interesting because, for a non-German, a weather house along with the Cuckoo clock is a typical German artifact. For me, personally, this beautiful alpine chalet with the figure of a man and woman that make an appearance depending on weather conditions represents a very old-fashioned and idealized representation of German culture.

FS: Why did you choose to create an ‘updated’ version?

YES: I was interested in making a weather house that seemed more realistic - one that reflected the contemporary experience of life.

FS: The result is a multi-storey apartment building that houses a doner kebab shop on the first floor. Is this related to the experience you had during your residency?

YES: It was really important for me to create something in response to my time in Germany, within the context of the themes of The Global Contemporary exhibition. When I was walking around the city I couldn’t believe the ratio of Doner kebab shops to square mile. I have never seen so many within such a small area. I started looking into this and found that they were invented in Berlin by a Turkish guest worker. I like the idea that these shops, since there are so many of them, and that they are Germany’s favorite fast food, are becoming part of German national culture.

FS: Your house seems to select common stereotypes. What role does this play in your work?

YES: I think stereotypes are a way to unpack cultural assumptions and are easy accessible starting points for discussion. But I wonder if the work really addresses stereotypes ... I am more interested in taking a humorous approach that touches on something politically engaged, such as the notion of Angela Merkel stating that multiculturalism has utterly failed, and debates over Turkish populations and integration.

FS: Why did you decide to sell copies on the Christmas market?

YES: I wanted to engage a local audience with the weather houses and I was interested in the idea of the work being owned by the public; a local audience that might buy them as Christmas gifts, or as kitsch object. This creates the potential of debate that may come out of a playfully provocative moment the work might create outside of the museum context, within people’s homes. I thought the Christmas markets were a really welcome place to literally sell back this piece of contemporary German culture to a German audience.

FS: How did people react?

YES: There were, perhaps, about 200 people that stopped by. They asked about what it is, and talked with my German speaking sales person about it, before most of them began laughing, they enjoyed the idea. There was one elderly couple who found it a little uncomfortable, and one lady who asked "Is that a politically correct representation of Germany?", to which we answered "No, but it’s an updated one".

Interview by Frauke Schnoor. Visit Yara El-Sherbini's artist page and Website for further information.


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