Having moved into a new space – a former casino – that further pushes us to reflect on precarity, reckoning with the fact that we are often chips in a larger system of gambling, our first project in our new home interrogates the potentiality of the risks and realities of having to be tricksters, surviving as such. To confront the endless consumption of our societies and the affluence many hold at the expense of others’ poverty, a collective exhibition is composed as a result of ten months of research, grapplings, and reasonings together. The show unfolds as a choral questioning to challenge structural inequalities and stand alongside positions of vulnerability.

At SAVVY Contemporary, exhibition practices are always considered as spaces of research and knowledge production, exchange and dissemination, as well as spaces in which certain social norms can be challenged. The 9-weeks-long exhibition features the work of 18 international artists and activists and materialises the ideas (from open questions to proposals) that emerged from the collective research and the online internal and public discussions which animated the project in the past months – especially during the months of lockdown. It opens and closes with an INVOCATIONS programme of performances, and is accompanied by a series of workshops and seminars with young students and schools, and with vulnerable communities. A publication, printed and online, will chronicle and wider discuss the collective investigation, and the transpositioning on air – on the radio platform SAVVYZΛΛR – will echo and expand the reasoning, the pondering, and the practices entangled with the project. 

Cities, spaces in general, give to their dwellers and visitors mnemonic tools that help people remember and navigate them. These tools can be wide-ranging from remarkable buildings like churches or skyscrapers, to monuments, prominent sculptures and many other outstanding structures. Besides the obvious structures like the Gedächtniskirche or the Fernsehturm at Alexanderplatz, people that have visited Berlin in the last years, and even the city’s residents, have taken with them an unlikely feature that has been marked in their memories: the image of young and old people alike with a sack hanging from one shoulder, a torch in one hand and the other digging deep in the trash containers of the city in search of food, drinks, or mostly empty bottles to be returned for deposit (Pfandflaschen) Pensioners, students, young and old, people of all walks of life whose main income is from the Pfandflaschen they pick up everyday, whose main course of the day is the leftovers they find in the trash; whose main career is begging, and whose space of repose in the night are the streets of Berlin.

The question that arises is how could one of the strongest economies in the world, Germany, afford to treat its old and young as such? How could one of the most affluent societies not have food and shelter for all its citizens? How could a country of egalitarianism cultivate such a yawning gap between the rich and the poor? Until now, the advocates of capitalist economy have told us that the more we produce, the more we consume, the more we work, the better our lives will be. So what happened to the dreams dreamt by the architects of neoliberal economy? What happened to the dreams dreamt by the believers and disciples of free economy and the social state? It is difficult to reconcile the terms poverty and Germany, especially for some of us who have seen poverty before, elsewhere; but though the poverty in Berlin is modelled to be unseen, unperceived, unfelt, it is there in terms of the relative wealth of the society. How many people have the courage to look into the eyes of the homeless beggars who approach you in the U-Bahn asking you for money or food? Do we actually see them? Hear them? Care for what has happened to them? Do we consider their human suffering? Or do we move to the next wagon when we smell them?

Today, and in these months, these thoughts have gained an unprecedented and unforeseen significance. As Covid-19 spread around the world, and markets suddenly crashed, we witnessed and confronted ourselves, probably more clearly than ever, with the pitfalls of capitalist economies. We witnessed the vulnerability of bodies and infrastructures within such economies, and of course the frail limits of European and global solidarity. 

The project RAUPENIMMERSATTISM [1] grapples with what affluence, growth and degrowth have meant, mean, and will mean to societies, problematising the myth of endless consumption and our cultures of affluence, in particular within the context of Berlin and Germany. We look at the paradoxes of a space like Germany and other “strong economies”, whose strength more often than not relies on the weakness of others. Since the inception of the project – one year ago – what we wanted to understand is the sudden possibility of volatile change, the violence embedded in the structures we inhabit so precariously, and the possibilities or impossibilities of a sustainable future. 

The project aims at understanding the machinations, the technologies, and the cultures that allow for, and enable such a rich society, wherein production and consumption are ever rising but where there are also people in the so-called middle of the society scared of an eminent poverty, while some have to feed from the trash cans of the city and others sleep on the pavements without a roof over their heads.

Our aim is not to give the right answers, but to instigate possibilities of coming together, working together and finding ways of posing the right questions. The project is an effort to reflect on the myths of a consumer society, especially in times of advanced information technology and social media. It is a project that tries to understand the phenomenon of the “Flaschensammler”. It wants to make sense of and focus on this image, as well as its resonant sibling subjects standing in relation: laborers documented and undocumented working in unstable conditions. Those who must take jobs as cleaners, sex workers, caretakers, construction workers, factory workers and farm workers – who seek wherever possible to sustain livelihood when on the fringes of society due to gender, positions of migrancy, race, class, and other factors which systems historically and ongoingly restrict, hinder, or exploit. We think alongside members of society living in precarious positions, stark with slippery foundations and risks, where benefits and protections are often lacking. We look to this paradigm in order to address it, confront it, and share stories centering the plights coming from capitalist violence, instead of averting our gaze. We also ruminate on possible presents and futures of re-working, re-writing, and re-cycling individual and collective processes of solidarity and resistance. 

If in the 1930s, the economic crisis (the so called Great Depression) created a fertile ground for the rise of fascist governments in Europe, in the second decade of the 21st century (during the so called Great Recession, and the financial crisis of 2008-9) the economic struggles for neoliberal sovereignty have been assisting the rise of the far right. Austerity policies have crafted the grounds for discriminatory social welfare Darwinism and national economic policies (a la “America First”, “Prima Gli Italiani”, and so on). And again, a primacy of economic support has been coupled to nationalist logics; pairing growth and nation. 

Interestingly, the ranks of the European far right did not come anymore from the underprivileged and marginalised but also and especially from the middle class, the group most threatened by the aftermaths of the financial crisis. The consequences of that global financial bursting are still affecting our societies, where extremes of wealth and poverty have been fuelling plutocracy and “oligarchic domination” with dangerous forms of populism.

We still don’t know where this crisis is going to take us, but in this historic and unparalleled turning point, engaging with these cogitations is not just relevant, but fundamentally needed.


RAUPENIMMERSATTISM takes its cue from the The Very Hungry Caterpillar (In German: Die kleine Raupe Nimmersatt), a children's picture book designed, illustrated, and written by Eric Carle, first published by the World Publishing Company in 1969.